I am the son of gambling professional Jerry L. Patterson. For thirty years, my father took money from casinos, wrote books on gaming, had a casino gaming news letter, and held clinics on gaming techniques and systems for Black Jack, Craps, and Roulette. He predates the MIT kids who won all that money playing Black Jack, and his technique was better.
Dad was a mathematician. He was not the typical gambler. He never bet the house on a single throw of the dice, and he never got caught up in addictive gambling behavior. He knew math too well to go chasing bad bets. He knew the odds of every game cold.
On every single casino game, the odds are in the casino’s favor. Every single game. How much the game favors the house depends on the game. For example, if you play Black Jack, the house’s edge is about 0.5%, meaning for every $100 you wager, and if you play the game correctly, the house will take fifty cents. Over time, your pockets are empty. Craps is better than that if you know how to play. Keno is awful – they take twenty-five cents from every dollar, and Roulette is pretty bad as well – you lose a nickel on every dollar. But, every game sucks you dry over time.
Unless you know what you are doing, and you have a system. Mathematics makes assumptions. When calculating the odds of casino games, the assumptions are that the game is random – the cards are shuffled to be random every hand, the dice are thrown randomly each time, and they are balanced properly, and the ball on the roulette wheel is spun in a random manner. Given all this assumed randomness, the odds pan out that the house gets the advantage, and thus the money. It’s these odds and assumptions that pay for all those lights and cheap buffets and complemented rooms in Vegas.
What dad did was discover systems that took advantage of the arbitrage between pure mathematical odds and reality. Math says the cards are randomly shuffled. In reality, they are not. Math says that the roulette ball is spun randomly. In reality, it is not. Math says that the dice randomly fall on the felt. You can play the game so that the dice don’t fall randomly on the felt. Since the games have a narrow house edge, all it takes is a little nudge to get the odds to be in your favor. Card counting in black jack will do that by letting you know if there are lots of tens, or few tens, in the remaining cards. The more tens there are remaining, the better your odds are, so bet big! When the cards are in your favor, the odds are in your favor, and you take advantage of that by increasing your bet.
Dad’s systems give you the advantage over the house by noting (or creating) these anomalies. The casinos consider it cheating. They consider anything cheating that removes their edge. Thankfully, the law does not agree – usually. Which brings me to Phil Ivey.
Last month professional gambler Phil Ivey was ordered by a federal judge to pay back to the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey ten million dollars he had won in a casino game called Baccarat. Why? Because the judge found that Ivey had breached his contract with the casino. What was the contract? The New Jersey Casino Control Act, which disallows the use of marked cards at casinos.
Since gaming is part of my life, my ears perked when I heard about this. How could that be?
Ivey discovered that the cards the casino used had a flaw: The card patterns on the edges were not consistent.Thus, if you can get the casino to flip them around, you can find the card in the deck again. Or cards of a certain value. The result is that after a period of play, all the good cards are flipped, and you can see whether the next card to be played is good or bad. Ivey set the game up with the casino so that only one set of cards would be used for days in a private gaming session, only an automatic card shuffler is used, and the dealer would flip any card around that Phil asked to be flipped.
The casino agreed to all these requests. And being a pro, Ivey took them to the cleaners to the tune of ten million dollars.
Edge sorting is what this technique is called. It can only happen if the casino allows it to happen. They use cards with inconsistent patterns. They agree to the demands of the gambler – same cards, flip requested cards around, don’t mess up the order.
But, according to the Federal Judge, asking the casino to do this, then the casino doing it, and then the gamer using the information, is the same as marked cards. And even wilder, he is demanding that all winnings be returned to the casino. Ridiculous.
It is exactly the same as if Ivey had asked the dealer to bend the card in half and place it back in the deck, and the casino complying. Casinos are not dumb. They know the systems, the games that are played. So Borgata should have known what Ivey was up to.
Ivey is planning to appeal. I hope he wins, because if this stands, every time a casino suspects you of using an advantage, like card counting, they can not just ban you, but get the money back. That is just wrong. So, go Phil Ivey!