Although more commonly associated with baccarat, it’s perfectly possible for edge sorting to happen during a game of blackjack as well, and in this article we will be covering everything from what it is, how it works, the legal grey area, and famous cases of this method of advantage play or cheating, depending on how you look at it.
Players have been looking for ways to reclaim the advantage for as long as card games have existed, and over the years various weaknesses have been exploited and then strengthened by casinos and the companies that make their products.
It’s a never ending game of cat and mouse where even the tiniest chinks in a casino’s armour can be used to strip them of cash.
Edge sorting is a method that requires confidence, charm, and a little bit of play acting as well as a keen eye, so let’s look into it a little deeper.
How Does Edge Sorting Work?
When a pack of cards is manufactured, the pattern on the back is supposed to be symmetrical, and for the most part it is.
However, the two long sides can have imperfections that are barely noticeable unless you know they are there – study the red areas of our image to the right.
All you need to do to spot them is turn one card around 180 degrees and lay it next to another. This will show a noticeable irregularity in the patterns if there is one.
This is not immediately useful in a casino because a dealer will use cards that are all the same way around, but if the player can find a way to turn high value cards around, then next time they came around they could spot them before they are turned over, and have a huge advantage over the house.
The player can’t do this themselves, but they can ask the dealer to do it for them by feigning superstition, or feeling lucky about spinning the cards for example. They could even get the dealer to spin low value cards to cover their tracks, but would have to ensure they keep spinning them 360 degrees so they end up the same way around as before.
However it’s done, once enough high value cards have been turned around the player can begin to take advantage.
In a game of blackjack they could see:
- If the dealer’s hole card is likely to be dangerous
- If the next card to be dealt is likely to be high value or not
Using this knowledge the player could adjust their bet sizes and make decisions with more certainty going forward.
Even shuffling shouldn’t affect a deck that has been edge sorted, unless the dealer shuffles by hand and in a way that turns the cards in different directions.
If they do this, there is no way to know which cards have been turned around and which haven’t, so not only would you be back to square one, but you wouldn’t even be dealing with a deck of cards that were all the same way up from the start.
Tables using automatic shuffling machines are no danger because they don’t turn cards around, so they should come out facing the same way as they went in, just in a different order.
The other thing that could ruin a sorted deck, especially in blackjack where multiple decks are often used, is a deck change.
This is when someone comes along with a whole new shoe of cards and swaps them out with the shoe that has been sorted. Shoes are often swapped out when only half the cards have been dealt, which obviously makes it difficult to make any progress with edge sorting.
Is Edge Sorting Legal?
It is and it isn’t.
Edge sorting cases have gone to court on several occasions, but every time the case has gone in favour of the casino.
This doesn’t make edge sorting illegal, but it is considered to be breaching the house rules of a casino.
This is because the players used the dealer as described above, thereby using an innocent party to ‘cheat’ the casino.
If, on the other hand, the imperfections had been completely on the casino’s part, or the dealer had turned cards for some reason without being asked by the players, things might have gone the other way.
The bottom line in both cases was that the player orchestrated the advantage themselves rather than innocently spotting a weakness and exploiting it. You can learn more about this in the next section.
Famous Cases of Edge Sorting
There have been two high profile edge sorting cases in recent times, but who knows how many times it has been successfully deployed in smaller casinos or private games.
Phil Ivey was at the centre of the frenzy on both occasions, the first of which taking place at the Borgata in 2012 when Ivey and his partner Cheung Yin Sun took $9.6 million playing baccarat.
In 2014 they were sued by the casino and lost the case in 2016, having to pay $10 million back. They were found to have breached their contract with the casino, although not to have committed any sort of fraud.
Also in 2012, Ivey used a similar trick playing Punto Banco at Crockfords in London. He won £7.7 million, and the casino agreed to pay him but in the end only refunded his stake, refusing to pay out on the rest.
This time it was Ivey that did the suing, although the court ruled against him. He lost his appeal and even took it to the UK Supreme Court, but all five justices ruled in favour of the casino.
They found that what he did ultimately constituted cheating, whether he went into the casino intending to cheat or not.