Cheating or Taking Advantage of the Rules

Phil IveyAn interesting case is taking place in England about a poker player who won a significant amount of money from a casino. The casino is refusing to pay because the player supposedly cheated. What I find intriguing about the case is that the so-called cheater, Phil Ivey, is not accused of breaking the rules but of taking advantage of the failure of the casino to note a printing error on its cards.

Basically, Ivey and a companion at the table supposedly noted a mistake on the cards which allowed them to correctly identify which cards were dealt even when face down. The question becomes: Is this sort of behavior is cheating? Is taking advantage of a weakness in the system cheating?

To my way of thinking this is different from cheating in that a cheater doesn’t play by the rules to gain an advantage. In this case the casino dealer had access to all the same information as Ivey. It all becomes rather interesting from a philosophical point of view.

I think we can say without reservation that it’s unethical. If you are playing baseball and note that your opponent’s shoelace has become untied, the sporting behavior is to point out the potential game-changing lace in order to even the playing field. It’s certainly the morally correct behavior but I’m of the opinion that ignoring the shoelace in the hopes your opponent falls down at a crucial time in the game does not rise to the level of cheating. If the casino’s accusations are true, that Ivey noted the printing flaw and played with that advantage to win a large sum of money, his behavior is unquestionably unsporting but, in my opinion, doesn’t rise to the level of cheating.

On the other hand, if he was somehow involved in introducing the printing flaw to the cards, then I think his behavior is not only cheating but criminal. In that case he committed fraud and theft. I don’t think anyone is accusing Ivey of such a thing and I only mention it as a philosophical idea.

The real question I’m pondering is at what point I would engage in unethical behavior myself. I like to think that in a friendly game of cards with friends; if I noticed that the cards were printed badly and I had an advantage, I would immediately alert my friends and we would get a new deck. I know that if a friend of mine noticed such a mistake on the cards and didn’t notify the rest of us and went on to win some money I would be somewhat angry. Not to say they cheated, just that I would consider it poor behavior.

I think it’s become normal behavior in our society to win at all costs. That taking advantage of a situation rather than pointing it out is largely the way we function in the modern world. I don’t think it’s a good thing but I do think it’s accepted. Judging by the comments I read on the Ivey story most people think what he did was perfectly reasonable. I don’t think so. I think it was unethical. I also think the casino owes him that money. He didn’t cheat, he just took advantage.

Would you take advantage of misprinted cards in a game with friends? In a game with tens of thousands of dollars at stake? Does the prize make the behavior acceptable? Interesting questions. What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300 pages of action packed adventure!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

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  1. Pingback: Phil Ivey did Cheat – According to a Judge | Tom Liberman

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