Blackjack players will look for any type of advantage when they are playing blackjack in a live casino or in an online casino. Counting Edge teaches the art of card counting, but this is just one type of advantage in the game of blackjack that can be exploited. Some players believe it is also possible to determine the value of a card by noting inconsistencies in the design pattern that is on its back. This technique is called edge sorting.
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Casinos would prefer to regard edge sorting as illegal. Those who do it regard it as similar to card counting in that it gives an advantage to the player that rewards his or her skill. Let’s take a closer look at edge sorting and how it is used by some live casino players to win money at blackjack and other card games.
The Edge Sorting Technique
The playing cards that are used in casinos are manufactured by large companies who use specialized equipment to produce playing cards in bulk. The back of a playing card typically consists of an intricate design that is surrounded by a border of white. In a perfect factory environment the white border on each long side of the card would be exactly the same, but this rarely happens. One side of the card usually contains a larger border than the other side.
The edge sorter has a goal of being able to use the difference in the backs of the cards to his or her advantage. To accomplish this the player needs to have one type of card facing one way in the deck and another type of card facing the other so that the differences in the backs can be easily noted. For example, a player in blackjack might want to assign all tens in the deck the larger part of the white border. When this is done, the player can tell at a glance by looking at the backs of the cards if the card is a ten or another value.
If this whole process sounds impossible, think again. There are edge sorters who are very skilled at reading the backs of playing cards. Phil Ivey, the professional poker player is one such individual. We will talk more about Ivey and his edge sorting scandal later.
To complicate matters, the player has to have some help from an unsuspecting dealer to make edge sorting work. As cards are placed in the plastic holder after each hand the tens need to be rotated in a different direction than the rest of the cards. The player usually accomplishes this by boldly asking the dealer to rotate the chosen cards. The player will offer some reason for the request, usually that it is related to superstition and luck. The dealer feels that there is no harm in superstition so he complies with the request.
Once the cards are edge sorted they will generally remain so because of the way a casino dealer shuffles the cards. If an automatic shuffler is used the arrangement of the cards can also be maintained. All the player must do now is watch the backs of the cards to determine which ones are tens.
How is Edge Sorting Used in Blackjack?
In blackjack the dealer is dealt two cards. One of these is face up for the table to see. The other one is dealt face down and is referred to as a hole card. The hole card is the first one dealt. If you were a blackjack player, knowing what the dealer had in the hole could be a huge advantage. It would definitely affect how you chose to play your hand.
Let’s say that you have managed to edge sort the decks in play so that all the tens are facing one way. You are able to recognize these cards by the longer border on the back of the cards. You see that the hole card the dealer was dealt was a ten. The dealer then gets a six as his second card. You now know that the dealer has a total of 16.
Knowing that the dealer has a 16 means that you are probably going to stand on whatever total that you have. You might choose to even double down on some hands that you would normally just hit. It is likely that the dealer will bust when they have a 16.
On the other hand you may see that the dealer does not have a ten in the hole. They also have a five showing. You know that this could be big trouble for you since the hole card could easily be another five or six. Any card except a ten in that situation is not so bad for the dealer. The edge sorter will then play his or her hand accordingly.
Is Edge Sorting Legal in Blackjack?
Do you remember that we mentioned poker player Phil Ivey at the start of this article? Ivey found himself at the center of a huge scandal involving edge sorting and baccarat. The case ultimately wound up in court where the casinos attempted to argue that edge sorting was an illegal technique.
In 2012 Phil Ivey and another individual were playing baccarat at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The two players used edge sorting to win $9.6 million from the casino. As you can imagine, the casino was not too happy about taking such a beating. They began to investigate and determined that Ivey and his partner were edge sorting.
The Borgata took the matter to the courts in New Jersey where gaming authorities ultimately decided that Ivey was guilty of violating a gambling prohibition against marking cards. The strange thing about this is that no cards were marked. Ivey only managed to accomplish edge sorting and used the differences in the backs of the cards to increase his advantage. Ivey was ultimately ordered to repay the Borgata Casino $10 million.(source)
Ivey wasn’t done. He managed to accomplish the same feat at a casino in London. This case also went to court but the casino chose to refund Ivey’s original stake and promise to pay his winnings. The casino later revoked its choice to send the winnings and Ivey sued but lost in court.
Is Edge Sorting Skill or Cheating?
The big question that is promoted by edge sorting is whether or not the practice is a skill or whether it is cheating. The same question was applied to card counting when it first became popular. Casinos believed that counting was illegal, but the courts disagreed. Today, card counting is frowned upon by the casinos but not considered illegal. It can still get you banned from a casino, though.
Ivey and others claim edge sorting falls into the same category as card counting. They do not regard edge sorting as cheating but as a skill that can be applied to lower the house edge. So far, the courts have not agreed with this assessment. In almost all cases the practice has been found to be illegal.
In time there may be a successful challenge to edge sorting in the courts. In the meantime it is reasonable to expect that the casinos will do what they have always done when confronted with this situation. They will take measures to make edge sorting very difficult.
A logical first step will be to inform dealers that they cannot comply with any requests to sort the cards. Another measure could be to ban the player that is requesting the edge sorting. Finally, the casino could insist that the player make only flat bets instead of varying their bets up and down as the advantage changes.
Those who play blackjack online don’t have to worry about learning edge sorting, but these virtual games can be fun and profitable. We recommend that you choose one of our online casino partners for your best place to play blackjack.