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Phil Ivey back at UK Supreme Court in £7.7m baccarat case 13/07/17
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• Ivey has twice failed to convince judges he didn’t cheat

How to Play Punto Banco
Edge Sorting Technique

Professional poker player Phil Ivey has been accused of using a 'Robin Hood' defence at the Supreme Court today as he bids to reclaim £7.7million of casino winnings - in a case dubbed 'The Battle of the Dictionaries'.

The 40-year-old American, dubbed 'The Tiger Woods of Poker', has been fighting for five years to reclaim the winnings he took from Mayfair's Crockfords Club along with Cheung Yin Sun.

After successfully playing a version of baccarat known as Punto Banco there in 2012, Ivey was told the money would be wired to him and he left for his Las Vegas home, but it never arrived - although his stake money of £1 million was returned.

He sued the casino in 2014 after they refused to pay him his huge winnings but a High Court judge reached the landmark decision that edge-sorting was cheating according to civil law.

Edge sorting is a skill of recognizing small defects on the backs of the cards, allowing the player to distinguish favorable from unfavorable cards in the game of baccarat. Although it doesn’t guarantee the win, successful application of edge sorting turns the edge in player’s favour.

Last year the Court of Appeal rejected Ivey's argument that he was an 'advantage player' who was simply exploiting irregularities in the design on the back of the cards to work out which card was being dealt next.

Now the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, together with Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lord Hughes and Lord Thomas are being asked to resolve whether Ivey cheated or not.

IThe case has been dubbed 'the battle of the dictionaries' because Ivey relies on the Oxford English Dictionary (1989) definition of cheat ('to deal fraudulently, practice deceit') while Crockford's relies on the more recent Concise Oxford English Dictionary definition ('to act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage').

Ivey did not appear in court but his barrister Richard Spearman QC argued that cheating requires dishonesty and therefore Ivey did not cheat. After making reference to 'the battle of the dictionaries', Mr Spearman said: 'We say we have won that because we have the better dictionary.'

He added: 'There is no finding at all that Mr Ivey was dishonest in any sense. He was found to be an honest witness who didn't believe what he was doing was dishonest. 'He contends he is entitled to be paid his winnings because edge-sorting is a legitimate advantage play technique.'

However Crockford's say that Ivey's belief about his own behaviour is irrelevant and amounts to a 'Robin Hood' defence. Crockford's barrister Christopher Pymont QC said: 'It does not follow that just because he genuinely believed he was not a cheat he did not appreciate that what he was doing would be regarded as dishonesty by ordinary honest people.
 
Written arguments on both sides consider the meaning of the word 'cheat', the differences between criminal and civil law and acts of parliament going back to the Gaming Act of 1664 - although that refers to 'ill-practice' rather than cheating.

During the original hearing at the High Court, Ivey admitted he used the edge-sorting technique to win a total of £7.713.650.60 at the punto banco variant of baccarat over the 20 and 21 August 2012. Ivey and Sun, known as 'Kelly', requested that the same 'shoe' of Angel Co. Ltd cards be kept in use after noticing that the design on the back was slightly asymmetrical. They then attempted to sort the strongest cards - the seven, eight and nine - by asking the dealer to turn them around 180 degrees. The strongest cards could then be identified the next time they came into play.

Crockford's claimed that Ivey and Sun covered up their strategy by disguising their requests as being down to superstition and referring to their 'lucky deck' and 'lucky Crockford's hat'.

If you know the Player's first card is a Nine then Player has a 21.5% advantage. Eight gives 17.3% and Seven then its 7.4%. Also if the first is a Ten or Ace then the Bank will have a 5.5% advantage.

Ivey, who lives in Las Vegas, told the High Court edge-sorting was well known in the gambling industry and that Crockfords should have taken steps to protect itself. He said: 'When I walk in the doors I look at every mathematical advantage I can to win. I found something we thought would work in casinos, that we could have an advantage over the house and make money. That is why I came to Crockfords. 'Casinos make their money by taking advantage of a lot of people so I have the right to observe and if there is something wrong with the house procedures I have the right to take advantage of that.'

Crockford's argued that Ivey cheated because he 'interfered' with the card game. Mr Justice Mitting accepted that Ivey was a truthful witness but his play amounted in law to cheating. The Court of Appeal, by a majority of two to one, agreed that edge-sorting was cheating.

Lady Justice Arden said: 'Mr Ivey achieved his winnings through manipulating Crockfords facilities for the game without Crockford's knowledge. 'His actions cannot be justified on the basis he was an advantage player.' Lord Justice Tomlinson said: 'In my view most right-minded people would regard what was done by Mr Ivey as cheating. 'This was a case of physical interference with the cards brought about in a consciously deceptive manner.' Lady Justice Sharp said that the original judge was wrong to conclude Ivey cheated, on the basis that cheating requires dishonesty.

Mr Pymont said that it would be 'absurd' if the decision depended on what a punter subjectively thought of his own behaviour.

Ivey is also still fighting to keep the £7.68million that he won at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City four months before visiting Crockfords using the same method. A judge at the US District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that the edge-sorting technique allowed Ivey to 'violate the essential purpose of legalised gambling'.

The Supreme Court judges are expected to deliver their judgement at a later date.