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Holdout devices are card-cheating accessories used by crooked gamblers to help them "hold-out" an extra card (or cards) during a card game. Holdouts are most commonly used to cheat at poker. Please note, many of the holdouts that appear in this chapter have been clipped from the classic gambling book Sharps and Flats, published in 1894.

Some holdout devices are extremely simple but require moderate or advanced manipulative skill to be used properly. However, there is a group of holdout devices that are complex mechanical gadgets and fall under a separate category known as holdout machines. Even though a good holdout machine is a smooth-working mechanical apparatus, it still requires a good deal of skill to be used properly.

Most of the known holdout devices have been invented in the 19th century. Later some of the old models have been perfected and few additional ones added to the arsenal of crooked gambling devices.

The main purpose of a holdout device is to temporarily hold a card out of the game, so that it may be retrieved at some later convenient time. Only one card out of play can increase the odds of catching a monster poker hand. Not only is the identity of this card known to the holdout man, he also knows that it couldn't possibly be dealt to any other player since it is no longer in the deck. The possession of the extra card is the equivalent of receiving a bonus card on every round, so that he may decide which combination of cards he likes best and finally discard the unwanted one. The advantage gained by the possession of one extra card are tremendous and in a game of high-stakes poker add up to a nice bundle of cash.

The favorite card of holdout men is a king. An extra king can come in handy to complete high pairs and sets, or a monster full house. It does not fill as many straights as a 10 would, but it can come in handy to fill some flushes. Furthermore, it seriously harms other players who may be holding onto one of their own kings in hopes to hit big in the following betting round. But their king has lesser chances of hitting, for the simple fact that the deck has is short of one king.

There are, of course, many other strategies involved with holding out, but the specific strategies will greatly vary depending on which particular poker game is played. it is beyond the scope of this article to review them all. For now, we should just focus on the descriptions of different holdout devices.




The term "utility holdoout devices" is a term I made up by myself for the purpose of this text. This is a group of simple gaffs designed to hold cards out of play. These utility gaffs are not mechanical by nature. They are basic gaffs that require some manipulative skill to use. Following is a list of usual ones.



This is a very old gadget used to hold a card (or cards) secretly clipped under the table. A basic bug consists of a straight piece of spring steel inserted into the handle of a shoemaker's awl, or any similar button shape, with a sharp needle at one end.

Bug Holdout
Photo courtesy
Sharps and Flats
The bug is easily carried to any card game and may me put to use at a moment's notice. At the offset of a game the bug is quickly installed under the table. The needle is stuck into the wood on the under side of the table, so that the spring lays pressed against the flat surface. The bug is installed so that the spring points towards the user. The tip of the spring is left protruding for a few millimeter beyond the edge of the table. This allows the user to slip a card between the spring and the table surface. The card will stay there until it is next desired.

Usually the holdout man will get a hold of an extra card either by double dealing, or by discarding fewer cards. The whole process of loading the card into the bug, or adding it to the hand is worked at the edge of the table. If the player starts by holding an extra card in his hand, he starts by examining his hand. Once he examines his hand he decides which card to leave out. The unwanted card is first transferred onto the face of the hand. Then the cheat spreads his hand in a fan, not exposing the extra card and rests both hands, holding the fan, at the edge of the table. Once in this position, he can use his thumbs to slide the odd card off of the face of his fan, below the tabletop, and slip it into the bug.

Later, when the holdout man is dealt another hand, he may sweep the pile of dealt out cards towards himself (a natural motion). During this natural motion one of his thumbs will naturally fall under the edge of the table and retrieve the hidden card out of the bug. Then the maneuver is repeated as described above.

This is just one of the possible scenarios. As you can see the bug is relatively easy to use as it realy doesn't require any advanced sleight-of-hand skills that require months of practice. However, expert holdout men will work the same scam without a bug.

One of the advantages of the bug is that it doesn't look like anything in particular if you don't know what it is. Sure you may figure out the scam, should you find it installed under the table, but this is not likely to happen. First of all the cheat will not just leave it there once the game is over. Second, should there happen to be any sudden heat the cheat will quickly dismount it. In this case he may drop the bug and step on it so that you would not be able to see it. He may even pin it under his shoe and walk away with it.


Ring Holdout
Photo courtesy
Sharps and Flats

In my opinion this is strictly a sucker item. however, since it was listed in the popular crooked gambling supply catalogs I feel that i should still include it in this description.

A short watch-spring is attached onto a finger ring. Some manipulative skill needs to be employed to use this gadget and it is quite possible that the same thing can be accomplished a lot easier without this gaff. The ring holdout is usually used to quickly steal a card (or cards) off of the top of the deck. This action is technically called "topping the deck".

The deck can be topped right after a round has been dealt. After the deal the dealer will end up with the remainder of the deck in the left hand, in dealing position. It is a natural gesture to use the left hand to pick up the remainder of the deck and put it aside. In this moment, when other players are busy looking at their newly-dealt hands, the dealer steals one or two cards off of the top of the deck as it is put aside. Immediately after the steal he will assemble his own cards by dropping his hand onto them. Again, in my opinion, a simple manipulation is a much better choice. For example, if the dealer loads an extra card to his hand by dealing a double card, he can easily explain the mistake - two cards happen to stick together. But who wants to get caught with a loaded gaff, when the same result can be accomplished with an easier maneuver that can be brushed off as an honest mistake?

Another method to achieve the same result, without the use of a gaff, is by simply palming a card off of the top of the deck. However, the ring holdout will (supposedly) allow a more natural hand gesture and position.

Needless to say that the use of this gaff requires not only some practice but also a nerve.




The cuff holdout, also known as the "cuff pocket," is a secret silk-lined pocket situated on the under side of the sleeve, at the seam, where the sleeve meets the cuff. The illustration shows the opening of the secret pocket highlighted in red. As mentioned above, the pocket can be lined in silk. However, the best material is a fabric made of horse hair, which is extremely slippery. Another usual material is satin.
Cuff holdout
Photo courtesy
Sharps and Flats
Although simple in design, this type of holdout is not in any way easy to use. For example, one strategy would require the cheat to first control a three of a kind to the top of the deck and give the deck a few false shuffles, retaining the three of a kind on top. Then he must take the deck in dealing position and insert the tip of his pinkie just below the three-card slug; the technical term for this is "holding a break." Now he must reach with his right hand over the deck, concealing it for a brief moment. This is done under the pretext of depositing a cigarette or checking the amount of chips left, or any other acceptable reason. During this moment his left fingers maneuver the top three cards upwards. This maneuver is perfectly timed with the motion of the right hand. The elevation of the slug allows it to be slipped straight into the pocket. This is, in fact, another technique for topping the deck. The cards are now dealt in a regular manner.

After the first round of betting (speaking strictly of draw poker, which was the popular game at the time this gaff was developed), the holdout man will deal cards to his opponents. Just before he deals cards to himself he will repeat the same maneuver in reverse, therefore depositing his cigarette (or whatever else) and stealing the slug out of the pocket. This is easier said than done but when it is done the holdout man has a good chance of "catching" a full house, if he dealt himself at least one pair, on the first round. In any case he is guaranteed to have at least three of a kind.

Alternately he may even deal his accomplice the slug. Pairing up with an accomplice is common practice amongst consistently-winning poker players.




The slit shirt is a professional cheating gaff, usually used in casinos to switch a hand in a high-stakes game of baccarat. It consists of a silk-lined pocket that is somewhat similar in design to the cuff holdout, described above, except that it is not installed in the sleeve. Instead the secret pocket is installed inside a slit at the side of the shirt, right below the armpit. The material used to make a slit-shirt pocket does not have to be as slippery as the material for a cuff holdout.

To work the slit shirt, the player crosses his arms and leans against the armrest of the baccarat table. By crossing his arms, his hand naturally reaches under the jacket and inside the slit of the shirt. Retrieving the two cards (for a baccarat hand) in this position is a piece of cake. The real skill comes next when the two cards have to be switched into the game, while switching the original two cards out.

The slit shirt will often be used just once in a night, at the opportune moment, when a mob of baccarat cheats is ready to hit the casino for a big score. As with many casino scams, some of the dealers and pit bosses may be bribed to look the other way. The mob may play the game, seemingly on the square, for some time, by betting against each other, and balancing out their communal bankroll. Then, at the opportune moment, all the players may place large bets against the house. This is the round when the switch happens; the big player catches a natural nine and everyone else gets paid. However, all such casino scams have one things in common - they all have a suspicious development in action when a lot of people seemingly get very lucky and win big. In casinos, the eye in the sky records all the action. This is why this orchestrated scam has very little chance of success without inside help.

Another obvious reason why this scam requires inside help lies in the fact that casinos use monogrammed cards (although that was not the case in the old days, and is still not the case in some countries where gaming procedures are not as strict). The cards to be switched into the game must be the original casino cards. Furthermore, security procedures require casinos to sort-out all the decks of cards that were used in a baccarat game (in baccarat cards are usually used just once, although there are still some casinos that have not adopted this security procedure). At some later time, the original two cards must be switched back into the discards, and the two culprits removed, so that the decks pass inspection.




Short Sleeve HoldoutThis simple utility holdout is used mostly by professionals, working in card rooms. Some cheats have also been caught using this device in casinos.

It is a simple clip (usually plastic), which is attached to a rubber strap and worn on the biceps of the arm, right under the shoulder. The operator must wear short sleeves, but long enough to safely cover the holdout, and loose enough to comfortably reach under the sleeve.

During the game the player gets a hold of one extra card (the first card is usually a random one and is commonly called a starter card). The card must be expertly palmed and deposited into the clip. To do this unnoticed, the player will lean onto the table and use his elbows for support. His arms will be almost crossed so that the hot hand lays over the elbow of the opposite arm (the arm with the clip). Then he will casually reach under his short sleeve and relive an itch, and deposit the card into the clip. At some later time, the player will use the same maneuver to secretly steal the card out of the clip and add it to his hand. The extra card is again deposited into the clip and so on.

An even simpler version of this holdout can be rigged within minutes. It requires one rubber band, a paper clip and a square piece of paper folded in half. Such version of a short-sleeve holdout is obviously built from three very common objects. Some prefer that option because in the event that they sense any heat the rubber band can be quickly torn and all that remains is a broken rubber band, a paper clip and a folded piece of paper.




A shirt-front holdout is a simple self-contained holdout that fits between two buttons that the front of a shirt. It is actually somewhat similar to the vest holdout, except that it doesn't have any intricate mechanical parts.

The shirt-front holdout is made out of two pieces of plastic (or plexiglas), a couple of rubber bands, some velcro and a piece of packing tape to hinge the two pieces together. The holdout itself is quite easy to make but it is also necessary to make some slight modifications on the shirt. So, unless you want to be known for being the guy that always wears the same shirt, you would have to rig-up a few shirts so that you can alternate your clothing. On second thoughts, some (celebrity) poker players are actually known for always wearing the same "lucky" shirt to attend tournaments. Of course, I am in no way suggesting that they are wearing a shirt-front holdout. But we all know that experts say that poker is a game of skill, so I am not sure how effective a "lucky" shirt can be, unless it is equipped with a holdout.

The shirt-front holdout is a very clever gaff, but I should not fail to mention that it is also an outdated one. This holdout works by bringing the cards all the way up to the chest, with the intention to peek at the hand discreetly, with minimal chance of exposing any of the cards. This manner of peeking at the hand is something we see in the old Western movies, but it is not something we ever see in the current TV productions of all the poker tournaments. For this reason it is very unlikely that a player would get away with this type of handling the cards. In fact, in most games (unless the games are totally loose) a player will be asked not to remove the cards off of the table, while peeking at his hand.

The hustler terminology for using this type of holdout is "playing the shirt."




bean shooter holdooutThe bean shooter is one of the simplest, yet quite practical holdout devices for switching cards in and out of a sleeve. This holdout is the one of the simple gaffs that comes closest to an actual holdout machine, but since it does not have an intricate mechanical mechanism, it does not qualify as a holdout machine.

The bean shooter consists of a card clip, called a "thief," attached to an elastic band. The elastic can either be attached to the inside of the sleeve, or wrapped around the arm right above the elbow. This elastic band will pull the thief back into the sleeve. The front part of the thief has a hook that is used to operate the thief in and out of the sleeve. Also, on the thief itself you will find a spring that clips the card in place, in much the same way as a bug would hold a card clipped to the under side of the table.

The bean shooter must be operated with both hands. However, the design is so clever that it can be worked very smoothly, without any fiddling. In the hands of an expert holdout man, there is nothing to see.




Wizard HoldoutIf you ever searched eBay for "card cheating" you probably stumbled up on several sellers offering a nifty-looking clip that has the word WIZARD stamped on it. There is even a patent number stamped on the other side of the little Wizard. And the usual eBay description is that this is an old gamblers' cheating device, called a holdout. These nifty little Wizards usually sell for 10 to 20 bucks, but I have seen them go for over $80 apiece. If you ever purchased one of those Wizards, I'm afraid you've been had.

The Wizard is not a holdout device, has never been used or even intended to be used as a holdout device and it was not designed or made for that purpose. In fact anyone trying to sell one of these Wizards, as card-cheating devices, around the late 1800's or early 1900's, would have hade trouble making a sale. Not because at that time there was no eBay to sell these things through, but rather because at that time everyone knew what these gadgets were really for.

So, if the old Wizard is not a holdout device, what is it?

Well, the Wizard is just a cuff holder - not a card holdout. In the old days, gentleman used to wear shirts with detachable collars and cuffs. When the collar and cuffs got dirty (and we all know those are the part of a shirt that get soiled first) the person could just remove them and replace them with fresh ones. This way gentleman could always maintain the appearance of wearing a fresh shirt. But don't just take my word for it. Take a look at this antique (and rare) display ad for the old Wizard.

Wizard Display Ad

In this display ad we can clearly see that the Wizard is called a cuff holder. There is an image of a fairy holding the little gadget. She is standing next to a wizard that seems to be forging new ones. The text on the ad reads, "Frank's Unequalled WIZARD CUFF HOLDER." The old faro playing card, pictured next to the display ad, has been placed there just as a visual decoration. But we now know that the old Wizard is not a holdout, or any kind of card-cheating device whatsoever, and had never been used or been intended to be used for any purposes other than clipping detachable cuffs to the sleeves of a shirt.

If you are still not convinced do a Google search for "Wizard cuff holder" or simply get the facts from the Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine page.


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