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Phil Ivey refused winnings by court

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Phil Ivey refused winnings by court

October 15, 2014

Phil Ivey has lost his attempt to claim over seven million pounds in winnings from Crockford's Casino which the casino refused to pay on the basis that, in their opinion, he cheated.

Top poker player Phil Ivey loses £7.7m court battle

Through his spokesman, Mr Ivey said he was "obviously disappointed" with the decision, but added that it was not in his "nature to cheat".

"I am pleased that the judge acknowledged in court that I was a truthful witness. I believe that what we did was a legitimate strategy and we did nothing more than exploit Crockfords' failures to take proper steps to protect themselves against a player of my ability.

"Clearly today the judge did not agree," he said.

A spokesman for the casino said: "Crockfords is pleased with the judgment of the High Court today supporting its defence of a claim by Mr Ivey.

In another article, the judge's ruling is given in greater detail. In his own words:

Top poker player Phil Ivey loses court battle over £7.7m winnings

If Mr Ivey cheated, he is not entitled to recover his winnings. If he did not, he is.

What Mr Ivey and Ms Sun did was to persuade the croupier to turn some of the cards in the dealing shoe to permit them to know that they were or were very likely to be sevens, eights or nines, and in circumstances where she did not realise she had done so – and, if she had, would have immediately stopped play.

The fact that Mr Ivey was genuinely convinced that he did not cheat and that the practice commanded considerable support from others was not determinative of the question of whether it amounted to cheating.

Mr Ivey had gained himself an advantage and did so by using a croupier as his innocent agent or tool. It was not simply taking advantage of error on her part or an anomaly practised by the casino, for which he was not responsible. He was doing it in circumstances where he knew that she and her superiors did not know the consequences of what she had done at his instigation.

This is, in my view, cheating for the purpose of civil law.

In my own view, this does not represent cheating, in civil law or otherwise. My copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines cheating thus:

To act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage.

This is simple and logical, and I cannot see there being any additional shades of meaning in the judge's legal textbook that would contradict or meaningfully add to this definition. The decision hinges on the fourth paragraph above:

Mr Ivey had gained himself an advantage and did so by using a croupier as his innocent agent or tool.

It was not simply taking advantage of error on her part or an anomaly practised by the casino, for which he was not responsible.

He was doing it in circumstances where he knew that she and her superiors did not know the consequences of what she had done at his instigation.

Something akin to this stance was my initial reaction to the case, so I have to have some sympathy with the ruling. However, I have changed my initial stance, and judge's opinion here, largely similar, is incorrect in my view.

The crux is not that the casino "did not know the consequences of what she (the croupier) had done", which is self-evident. The crux of the judge's finding is that Ivey went beyond simple observation when he induced behaviour from the casino that would not have occurred in the normal play of the game, vis-a-vis the turning of the cards.

So how closely is "behaviour inducing" correlated to "cheating"?

In truth, not particularly.

In a previous article I compared Phil Ivey's observational skill to that of card counters who also take advantage of the information available to all players to gain an edge for their own game. Card counters, who do nothing illegal and who can be refused a game but cannot be refused winnings accrued before the casino realises that they may be undesirable customers, also use inducement techniques on occasions. They will sometimes ask a dealer to cut out of play fewer cards than would normally be the case, which increases the counters' advantage - just one deck cut out of a six-deck shoe is a lot better for the counter than one and a half. This will not normally happen unless the player is reasonably well known to the dealer and they have a cordial relationship, although a judicious tip might help in other circumstances. The player in this way induces behaviour on the part of the casino that is to the casino's detriment and where that detriment is not known to the casino, as they would not willingly comply with requests that would be against their interests. And this is not illegal. The player makes a request which the casino can either comply with or refuse. If they comply, the player cannot then be held accountable for what amounts to an ill-informed decision on their part.

The difference in the Ivey case is simply one of scale. A blackjack counter is gaining a relatively small advantage with a smaller cut. Ivey gained an larger advantage in percentage terms, but in terms of the actual money involved the advantage was enormous as he was betting around £150,000 pounds a hand. But the principle is no different. Ivey made requests that the casino could comply with or refuse, and the compliance or refusal is the casino's responsibility. And in truth, baccarat is a very simple game and is played absolutely automatically - all the dealer has to do is count the value of the cards in the two hands to determine the winner. It's hardly asking a lot for them to deal a bullet-proof baccarat game.

This was a poor judgement and an incorrect one. Ivey did not cheat. He's clearly a trier, an operator and a bit of a rascal. But he did not cheat, and the casino had no right to withhold his winnings.

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