At the time it first appeared, the Kepplinger holdout machine, also known as the San Francisco holdout, was considered the most ingenious holdout machine ever devised.

The Kepplinger machine is basically a sleeve holdout. In order to use it, one needs to wear a modified shirt with a double sleeve and a double cuff. The cuffs are stitched together around the outer rim, only, and a portion is left open on the inside rim. The cards are pulled into the double sleeve through the opening between the two cuffs and the machine rests between the two sleeves. Should any other player ever get a glimpse inside the cheat's sleeve, they would not be able to see anything because the machine is completely concealed inside the double sleeve.

Kepplinger holdout machine
Photo courtesy Sharps and Flats

Here is how the Kepplinger holdout works: the slide mechanism of the holdout "a" works on much the same principle as the vest holdout, except that the thief "b" travels further out. The front end of the slide mechanism has a pair of tongues with a jagged edge "j" at the front. When the holdout is installed into the double sleeve, these teeth are buried into the fabric at the inner front end of the double cuff. Right below the jagged edge there are some holes which enable the craftsman to secure the tongues into the cuffs by stitching through these holes. When the slide mechanism is in operation, the tongues will open a gap at the front of the double cuff, allowing the slide and the thief to come out. When the slide is pulled back inside, the tongues will close the opening at the inner seam of the double cuff and everything will look normal.

At the base of the slide mechanisms there is a breaker joint with a pulley "c", which can move in every direction. Then comes the adjustable telescopic tube "d", which is connected to yet another breaker joint "e". This part of the machine is securely fastened around the shoulder with additional straps (not shown).

A flexible tube "f" (made out of coiled wire) is attached to breaker joint "e". At the other end of the flex tube there is another pulley "g" - this part is fastened to the inner side of the knee with a strap. The cord "h" passes through an opening in the inner seam of the pants and is hooked onto the hook "i", which is fastened to the other knee, also with a strap. The player operates the holdout machine by spreading his knees apart.

Seam clip
Photo courtesy
Sharps and Flats
At each end of the knees, where the seams are split open, the gaps are secured with a spring-clip. This clip is stitched on the inside of the split seams and it is designed to snap ether into open or shut position. When the machine player sits down at the card table, he will snap both spring-clips open, thus producing a diamond-shaped opening at each knee. Then he will pull the cord "h" out through one end and hook it into the hook "i" at the other end. The hook itself is on a hinge, so that it may be laid to rest when not in use.

At the conclusion of the game the player will unhook the cord "h" and tuck it out of sight, into the opening. He will then lay the hook "i" flat at the other end and snap both spring-clips shut. If he played the machine right, he will get out of the game alive and walk away with some cash.


Below is a photograph of a Kepplinger holdout machine. Notice that this machine is identical to the machine that appears in the illustration above, from the 1894 book Sharps and Flats. The illustration from the book was actually taken from a crooked gambling supply catalog, at the time the book was published.

Kepplinger holdout machine

Notice the absence of any arm straps, since this machine is not intended to be strapped around the forearm. The original Kepplinger design was later modified. The next holdout machine is a model that had evolved from the original Kepplinger design.




The following holdout machine is often mistakenly called a Kepplinger holdout. Variations of this machine have even appeared in print, numerous times, mistakenly described as a Kepplinger. However, this holdout machine is called a Martin holdout and is somewhat different from the Kepplinger, which is quite apparent when comparing the two images. The main difference between a Martin holdout and a Kepplinger is that a Martin machine does not have a pair of tongues that need to be sewn into a double sleeve of a special shirt. Some people have been known to call this machine a Martin-Kepplinger holdout. This term is acceptable due to the fact that it credits the Kepplinger machine for some of the elements it has inherited from it.

Martin holdout machine

The machine on this photo is an old, somewhat beat-up, Martin holdout. This particular machine was originally made to work like a Kepplinger - meaning that it was operated by knee-spread action (which is the main reason why these machines are often confused with Kepplingers). The machine was later modified into a toe-action machine, which is how it now appear on the photo.




This simple, perhaps somewhat crudely-constructed, holdout machine appeared on the market in 2002 and was being sold for $750.

pneumatic holdout machine pneumatic holdout machine pneumatic holdout machine

This holdout uses pneumatic power to push the thief out of the sleeve. I have not tested this particular machine, but as a general rule, I think that a mechanically-operated holdout offers better control over the movement because the operator can actually feel the motion, the tension and the force as the moving parts are set in motion. There is no doubt that a pneumatic holdout would offer very silent operation, though.

Studying the photographs above it seems to me that this holdout machine was not really constructed correctly. As you can see the card would not even be concealed deep enough inside the sleeve. In any well-designed holdout machines the card would have to end up much closer to the elbow. Also, the strap closer to the elbow is wrong. In this type of holdout the strap should always be designed to wrap around the elbow, not just around the forearm, so that the machine cannot accidentally move forward.

It seems to me that this entire holdout was rigged up by an enthusiast who managed to find a pneumatic mechanism that almost fits the purpose. It is a good attempt but this particular machine really doesn't look like the real deal.




A deck switcher is essentially a mechanical holdout machine designed to conceal an entire pre-stacked deck of cards and assists the user in the maneuver of switching an entire deck. In general, the practice of switching an entire deck of cards is called "cold decking." The incoming deck is called a "cold deck" or a "cooler." The reason for this hustler's jargon term is because the fresh deck has not been warmed up, yet.

deck switcherThere are several different designs of cold-decking machines. To the best of my knowledge the one shown on the photo is not the most commonly-known one. In fact, I am not really sure how practical it is. As you can see from the photo, the machine is strapped at the side of the abdomen. Just how is the strap supposed to be concealed is a mystery to me.

Furthermore, this machine cannot possibly be concealed under the shirt, because there would be no way for the Jacob's ladder to extend outwards that way. So the only thing I can think of is that the machine has to be worn right under the jacket, and that it extends out through the front when the jacket is unbuttoned. But that doesn't really resolve all the issues. How does the operator make sure the machine is not accidentally exposed through the front of the jacket? The machine doesn't seem to have a bag into which to drop the witched-out deck, so where exactly does the switched-out deck go?

I have no doubt that this machine can operate smoothly, speaking strictly mechanically. But I don't see that the design resolves all the practical issues of switching a deck. It seems to me that there may be a lot more fumbling, during the switch, then if the player just used manipulative skills alone. This machine is probably one of the ingenious inventions that really don't resolve any practical issues. Such inventions are not uncommon.

The most practical cold-decking machine I know of is not even a machine. It consists of a bag into which the switched-out deck can be dropped. When the operator leans forward to move his chair closer to the table (which is definitely a natural gesture) the machine gets pulled out of sight by a simple elastic strap. There are no moving parts and nothing to be broken through normal use. But the switch itself is not assisted by the machine. However, even with mechanical cold-decking machines the operator still has to execute a good switch.

The most commonly known cold-decking machine consist of a bag that looks like a double apron. This bag is concealed under the waistline and the cold deck rests in a clip that is attached to a vertically-positioned Jacob's ladder. The machine is activated through a system of pulleys.

This machine needs to be worked with a series of perfectly-times and well-coordinated moves. The operator needs to suck-in his belly, to make room for the double apron to open up at his waistline. At the same time he needs to activate the pulley mechanism to activate the actual machine. These two maneuvers must be perfectly timed to the natural moment when it is most effective (and safe) to perform the actual deck switch. Since deck switches are rarely attempted alone, the other members of the team have to create a perfectly-timed distraction that will momentarily make the suckers look the other way, while the deck is being switched.

When the machine is activated the pulley mechanism will cause the double apron to open up right before the Jacob's ladder starts to extend outwards. The operator must bring the old deck towards the edge of the table, while his deck is erected from behind his waistline. At that time, his wrist turns inwards and drops the old deck into the open bag. As soon as his hand is free he uses it to grab his deck and pull it out of his pants, with the opposite turn of a wrist, and brings it onto the table. At that precise moment he can exhale while disengaging the pulley mechanism. This will cause the Jacob's ladder to retract and the double apron bag to close.

As you can see this machine requires a lot of perfectly-coordinated movements. It should also be noted that the bag doesn't open up a whole lot; plus there is a Jacob's ladder clogging-up the open space that is already narrow. Despite all that, the operator still has to be able to drop the old deck straight into the bag, without looking down, without bumbling, and without missing even a single card. Again, some people may be hard to convince that this machine is simplifying a deck switch in any way.

The person planning to use such cold-decking machine is well-advised not to drink too many liquids before or during the game, because frequent trips to the bathroom may prove to be a bit inconvenient, due to the location of the machine.




The old table holdout machine is very different from a model that has been recently designed. This machine not worn on the cheat's person. It is a machine which must be attached to the under side of the table and worked in a similar way as the bug. The only difference is that the bug must be worked by manipulating the cards in and out. The holdout machine, being a mechanical device, is supposed to substitute for this lack of kill. It of course gives the amateur cheats the wrong impression that it does all the work for you and no practice is needed to work it. Unmarked graves must be full of amateur cheats who got the wrong impression.

The 21st century model is quite different. The machine must be installed into the arm-rest of a poker table. This cannot be done on a moment's notice, so it is really mostly practical for the host who has all the time in the world to rig-up his own table. I guess it would be also possible for an outsider to break into the premise where the usual games take place, and install the holdout into someone else's table, while no one is home. That would totally put the heat on an innocent person, should this holdout ever be discovered in the future.

This holdout is basically a slim box that is inserted right under the arm-rest of the card table. A super strong magnet is used to release the mechanism. Due to the fact that the machine only needs to conceal one single card, it can be built very thin. Since it is not really a machine that can be installed and removed at a moment's notice, like a bug, or the old style table holdout, it could be said that it basically converts the table into a holdout table, which is a slightly different gaff, described next.




A holdout table is not to be confused with the table holdout. Holdout tables are card tables that were specially manufactured (or modified), with a permanently-built-in holdout mechanism.

The number one advantage of a holdout table lies in the fact that the holdout machine is not worn on the cheat's person. Also, a good holdout table is a great deal easier to use than a holdout machine.

Most of the old-style holdout tables were made so that there was some kind of veneered design around the edge of the table. This design looks like a flat frame and there is usually a groove all around where the frame design hugs the table top. At one end of the table a slim slot is camouflaged into this groove and a slide mechanism is concealed underneath it. The mechanism is easily operated by pushing a lever somewhere under the table, usually by pushing with one's knee.

The underside of the holdout table must be boxed-off to hide the holdout mechanism. This is one of the giveaways of these gaffs. Some holdout tables are even equipped with an additional carousel mechanism that enables cards to be transferred from one player to the other.

holdout tableContemporary holdout tables are somewhat different from the old ones. The best designs are tables that are replicas of tables that are commercially-available - such as the one on the image.

The image shows a still from a demo video, that was produced by the maker of the exact table shown in this picture. This holdout table has gone through several improvements since the era of the old holdout tables, described above. As you can see, the hidden card (highlighted in the picture) comes out flat from under the armrest. This is far superior from the old holdout table principle because of two reasons.

For one, the card comes out flat, instead of vertically, making it easier to manipulate the entire maneuver. Second reason is that such mechanism does not require the table to be excessively thick, to conceal the holdout mechanism. Instead, this table can be as flat as the board used for the tabletop, as the entire mechanism is concealed in the armrest itself.

This particular table is built very nicely. The holdout mechanism itself is equipped with a gate that closes the slit through which the card travels. This works automatically. When the mechanism is in retracted position the gate is closed; as soon as the mechanism is engaged, the gate opens up before the card starts to slide out. Should anyone be looking for a slit, around the edge of the armrests, they will find nothing, unless the mechanism is engaged (something that will obviously never be the case).

The mechanism is operated by pushing the side of the table post, with the foot (also highlighted at the bottom of the picture). It could hardly be any simpler than that.

The mechanism on this particular table is also equipped with a secret lock. I do happen to know where the lock is located, on this particular table, as well as how it works (it was all shown on the demo video) but I feel that there is no real need to revel the secret. It is just enough to say that when the table is locked it will not be possible to push the lever. So, to find the gaff one would would really have to know exactly where to find the locking mechanism, first.

Holdout tables are usually used in private games. I guess the host invites some close friends for a friendly game of poker, usually at the end of the month, when the bills are due.


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