Edge Sorting: How Phil Ivey Won and Lost Millions Playing Baccarat

The notion of making a proper Baccarat strategy to win remains elusive to most gamers. The game’s perceived simplicity leaves little to the player’s skills, so it remains largely a game of chance. This has driven some to surprising depths of ingenuity in their attempts to learn how to win at Baccarat.

Phil Ivey is known to most as a professional poker player. However, in 2014, he devised a new technique for Baccarat called Edge Sorting. It allowed him to quickly win $9.6 million across 4 visits to the Borgata Hotel Casino in Atlantic City.

What is Edge Sorting?

Edge Sorting is a technique in baccarat which relies on irregularities on card edges to achieve an advantage. It was most famously used by Phil Ivey and his partner Cheung Yin Sun. That said, it was also subsequently ruled as a cheating method by the UK Hard Court. Bear that in mind as we continue.

The backs of cards are typically indistinguishable from each other. However, different companies use different card backs on them. Specifically, the ones Ivey relied on had a fine diamond-shaped print pattern. He noticed that the pattern is irregular on some cards. This meant that a particularly observant player could distinguish between face-down cards.

Ivey made things easier on himself by asking the dealers to rotate the cards horizontally – ostensibly to bring good luck. Dealers generally go along with such superstitions if they don’t break any rules. Now, this was only done to high-value face-up cards. Once the cards were shuffled back into the deck, they remained oriented one way while low-value cards were turned the other way around.

Over time, he could distinguish between cards due to the way the slightly irregular print was oriented. Once enough cards were sorted into high and low this way, Ivey could gain an advantage over the house.

How Edge Sorting Works in Baccarat

Edge Sorting is by no means an easy technique. It also obviously can’t be used in online or live dealer baccarat. It requires the dealer to go along with the player’s strange requests, use an automatic shuffler, and not change the deck. Furthermore, you have to have a sharp eye to spot the differences and an applicable set of playing cards. Ivey specifically asked for a Borgata set that he was familiar with.

If all those are met, however, you can “mark” the best cards in baccarat – which are generally 7s, 8s, and 9s. Moreover, you can use the system to avoid bad cards like very large or small-value ones.

Is Edge Sorting Legal?

This brings us back to the story of our good friend Ivey. Edge Sorting in baccarat came into the spotlight with his major attempt at using it. Now, while many have gone on to dispute this, two separate courts ruled that this method was illegal.

A US federal judge ruled that Ivey was in breach of contract with the casino because he “marked” the cards. While Ivey only used the equipment offered by the casino, he relied on imperfections of said equipment to achieve victory.

A UK judge’s ruling was much more damning, though. The UK High Court ruled edge sorting to be “cheating for the purpose of civil law”. Apparently, the issue was with actively using a croupier to relieve the casinos of their money which is the issue.

In short, this technique is a great example of gambler ingenuity, but also a reminder of how hard it is to outsmart big-name casinos.