Is Edge Sorting Cheating?

Vector illustration featuring two playing cards and a clubs icon.

In Roald Dahl’s famous short story, “The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar”, a clever gambler trains himself to see through cards via meditation. Sadly, this is not possible, but perhaps there is a way to give yourself an advantage in live dealer games like baccarat. Ever heard of edge sorting? Read on to find out what this intriguing technique is all about.

What is edge sorting?

Edge sorting is a method of identifying facedown cards by noting very small differences in the patterns on the back of the cards. Even though for most people, one facedown card is the same as another, it is possible, with certain decks, to distinguish cards on the basis of their reverse sides. 

With edge sorting and cards, how does one tell the difference between the patterns on the backs of the cards? It sometimes happens that when the cards are manufactured, the patterns on the backs of the cards aren’t perfectly symmetrical. Certain decks have tiny pattern flaws, where the edges on either side of the card differ from each other. The left edge, for example, could have a slightly smaller diamond than the right side.

You’ll need laser-eyed vision or a trained eye to note these minuscule differences in design. However, this alone is not sufficient for edge sorting of cards at casino table games like online poker or baccarat. You will still need the dealer to sort the cards based on the patterns you have identified. 

So, how do you achieve this?

Getting the dealer to edge sort the cards

This part of edge sorting is tricky. After they have “read” the patterns on the back of the cards, players need to convince the dealer to sort the shoe, a casino gaming device to hold multiple decks of cards.

A player keen to implement a sorted edges algorithm will find some kind of excuse to get the dealer to rotate the individual cards in the shoe. Often, players will pretend to be superstitious – and if players are lucky, casinos will indulge these requests. Once the deck is in play again on the next rotation, the cards will be arranged in a specific way – generally, high-value cards facing horizontally or vertically and low-value cards facing the other way. The player can now know the value of the deck merely by looking at the patterns on the back of the card.

Edge sorting and baccarat

A woman holding a stack of tall chips at a casino table.

Edge sorting is an advantage play technique when it comes to baccarat, a relatively simple casino game that is popular among high rollers in Las Vegas and around the world. In baccarat, the goal is to bet on the winning hand. Players can choose to bet on the banker or the player. The winning hand is the one closest to a score of nine. The hand total is calculated by adding the numbers of the two cards together and then removing the first digit – for example, a hand containing a 7 and a 9 would have a value of six. Aces count as one, and 10s through kings have a value of zero.

Edge sorting in baccarat lets you know when the high-value cards are about to be presented. Ideally, you want to rotate the 6s, 7s, 8s and 9s – the high-value cards. This knowledge gives you the upper hand against the house. 

When to use edge sorting

Edge sorting, in reality, can only be used in a few scenarios. Poker, for example, does not offer the correct conditions for an edge sorting strategy. The kind of controlled environment required for edge sorting cards only happens with games like baccarat when you are the only one playing against the house. With poker, as soon as cards are dealt to other players, cards will be rotated and any previous sorting of the cards will be canceled. 

Other requirements for the technique to work include:

  • The dealer agrees to your requests
  • Cards need to be shuffled in the same way as they have been rotated
  • No changing of decks during a card-playing session

Is edge sorting cheating?

This is a complicated issue. Cheating generally has to involve interfering with the game in some concrete way. Because there are no special tools or touching of the cards, the elements of cheating aren’t present with edge sorting. However, players caught using this technique by casinos are unlikely to get their winnings, though they probably won’t be prosecuted. 

There was a high-profile edge sorting case that hit the news headlines in 2012. It involved Phil Ivey, a professional poker player who was accused of using this technique during high-stakes baccarat sessions in Atlantic City and London. Ivey admitted to using edge sorting to justify his huge wins – $9.6 million in New Jersey, followed by $10 million in London – but claimed it was legitimate. The court ruled that Ivey was not entitled to his winnings. So edge sorting seems to be a risky thing to do.

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