MINIMAL SKILL POKER CHEATING METHODS
The easiest methods to cheat at poker require no special abilities, just some basic skills and the nerve to do it. A lot of the unskilled attempts at cheating are done my amateurs or desperados, and a lot of them are perpetrated as improvised opportunistic attempts to take advantage of a situation as it happens to present itself. But many are also premeditated and even trademarks of certain low-level card cheats.
I really don't want to spend too much time digesting all these unskilled techniques and it is impossible to list them all. I just want to go over some of the more common ones and get this out of the way.
The Short Deck
This is a simple method of cheating at poker that I have only seen described in books, but I have no personal knowledge of it ever being used in live games. My guess would be that it is probably not a very common method of cheating at poker.
The idea is to "accidentally" leave one card in the box so that the player with that knowledge is armed with an advantage. Although the knowledge of a missing card is undoubtedly an advantage it is not a quick hit-and-run scam. The player must wait for the proper situation do develop and then know how to trap their victims. For example, if one of the Kings was removed from the deck anyone with a pair of Kings would have a disadvantage. Mind you, that doesn't mean that the player armed with the knowledge of the missing King even has any business being in that pot, nor does it mean that he knows that such and such player has a pair of Kings. But it does mean that other players that happen to catch a pair of kinds will lose more often and bet more heavily, not knowing that their odds are not what they ought to be. So, when someone loses at one end, somebody else must win at the other end. Also, when the player with the knowledge of the missing King happens to catch a pair of Kings, he will know his odds are diminished and will know when to fold. And in poker the winners are those that maximize their wins and also minimize their losses.
Although I have no knowledge of anyone using this method deliberately in a live game, I have in fact encountered one game where one of the decks being used was short of a Jack. It was just one of those home games where the host supplies two decks of plastic cards and no one ever bothers to check if all the cards are there. When the game is over the host puts both decks in the case and when there's a new game he just pulls them out of the case. But no one ever bothers to check if all the cards are there.
As a general rule, I always check. But sometimes I don't do it openly. In this game I first noticed that one of the decks was short one card. Then I narrowed down my search and eventually figured out that there were only three Jacks in the deck. I really don't think that the host had any idea, but since it was one of the games that I kept coming to at one point, I decided to keep an eye on this, from week to week. That same deck was always short of the same Jack every week and no one ever noticed. Naturally whenever the short deck was in use I made my decisions based on the fact that one of the Jacks was missing. To me it was more frustrating than beneficial, but it was interesting to see that none of the regulars and none of the guests ever noticed the discrepancy.
Miscalling of Hands
The expression "four flusher" comes to mind when we talk about miscalling hands. This is the term used for players that showdown their four card flush as if it were legit. In reality the fifth card is just masquerading as a suited card, btu it only matches the others in color. The term four flusher is quite old and was used in games of 5-card draw poker.
In hold'em I've seen people miscall straights on a number of occasions. This will most often work when there are only two players and one of the players is already suspecting the other player might have hit a straight. If the straight is announces with the right tone and body language, at the right moment, the frustrated player is likely to just throw his hand into the much, without even seeing the evidence. Now, here's the trick. Once a player thrown his cards into the much, his hand is dead. This is the rule even if the player showed what the cards were. So, once the player has given up his right to the pot it really doesn't matter what the other player does. The rules of poker say that one must show his hand to collect the pot, if the round went all the way to a showdown. But when the only opponent folds the last player doesn't really have to show his cards, especially if he was just the caller. The fact that he only has a four card straight is just an assurance that he will not be labeled a cheat, if it somehow becomes known that he only had four cards of a straight. After all, reading straights can be confusing, so the player can just put on a stupid innocent act. But if the other player folded, there is no poker rule that would allow him to retrieve his cards out of the muck.
Shorting the Pot
The procedure of stealing chips from the pot is called check copping (in the casino industry chips are commonly referred to as checks).
There are numerous methods of stealing chips from the pot. One ballsy method is to simply steal one or two chips as a player helps push the pot towards the winner. Some more premeditated methods involve deliberate placement of discards to cover up some of the chips, while tossing a hand into the muck, or (as was the case in the old draw poker games) while discarding cards for the draw.
The image on the right is a still taken from a secretly-taped video, in one of the clubs in Gardena, California, during the 1980's. The woman is seen deliberately sneaking one chip into the discards, as she gathers the cards for the next deal. The stolen chip first ends up inside the messy pile of cards. At this point, if caught, she can simply apologize and pretend she didn't realize that one chip "accidentally" got trapped inside the discards. The next step is to bring the pile of discards closer to her own messy chip stack and let the trapped chip wiggle its way out of the cards, and conveniently landing in front of her own messy pile, thus blending-in perfectly with the surrounding chips. It should be noted that her own pile is momentarily out of view in this particular still image, because she leaned forward, over her own pile, to reach for the cards. While stealing chips from a pot is one of the lowest forms of cheating, one cannot deny the fact that this woman has balls.
Some methods of check copping require the use of gaffs. If you ever had the chance to leaf through some of the old crooked gambling supply catalogs you may have noticed a product called Check Cop. That is a sticky paste that you are supposed to apply onto the palms of your hands to assist you in stealing chips from the pot. The paste makes it easier to palm out a chip without straining any of the muscles of your hand (which would telegraph the dirty work)
Some of the simpler methods of stealing chips involve shortchanging the pot while apparently making change. This could be done during a
While it can be argued that cheating at cards (even when played strictly for money) is a form of swindling, which is not exactly out-right stealing, the same cannot be said for check copping. In this case the chips are taken, after the fact, right out of a pile that belongs to another player. This is the equivalent of just reaching into someone else's chip stack a taking a few off the top, which by the way, I've seen happen a few times. It is not my intention to get into a deep philosophical discussion if card cheating is or is not out-right theft. I merely want to state that check copping definitely is a simple act of stealing and at least in my mind it is a much higher degree of transgression than most of the cheating methods that just increase the odds of winning.
Glimpsing at Opponents' Hands
In many loose poker games some players don't really know how to protect their hands. Some players notice those weaknesses and simply glimpse at their opponents' cards, when players are looking at their hands. This is, of course, a very unsophisticated form of cheating and also quite sleazy. But there are some other scenarios.
Oftentimes players take good measures to protect their hands from accidental exposure, only while the players seated next to them are still in the hand. But as soon as those players fold, they feel there is no longer a need to maintain a high level of security. After all, there's no reason to be paranoid, this is a friendly game. So, instead of continuing to play their cards "close to their chest" (figure of speech) they loosen up and allow the players that are no longer in the hand to catch glimpses of their cards. Furthermore, some players actually show their hands to inactive players deliberately, in frustration, when a tricky situation develops on the board and they are not quite sure what to do next. As if by showing their hand to one of the inactive players will make them any wiser. It only takes a set of simple signals to communicate the strength of someone's hand to an accomplice.
Sometimes this strategy is a bit more deliberate. In some games players are known to develop buddy relationships, so when one of those "buddies" is no longer in the hand it becomes acceptable to let this player look at his buddy's cards, as long as he doesn't advise him how to play. When two colluders work in a game where this behavior is acceptable they may take advantage of the ignorance of the group. So, one of the colluders may pick a mark and occasionally let him see his hand, when the mark is no longer in the hand. The mark is likely to return the favor, just feeling that it is only fair to do so. But since the colluders already know each other's hands all that remains to be done is to send a simple signal that says if the mark has his partner beat. A simple set of "yes" or "no" signals does the trick.
If I have to include all the cheating methods I can think of, then I have to include this one, as well. Have you ever seen poker players fiddle around with cell phones, Blackberries or other communication devices throughout the evening? Have you ever seen more than one player fiddle around with a cell phone at the same table? It really depends where you play, but if you ever frequent any of the underground poker clubs that popped up like mushrooms during the latest poker craze, you can see this all the time. In many private games it is a commonly accepted practice. Well, guess what?
Any communication devices can easily be used as accessories for a primitive form of collusion where two players may be in agreement to help each other out. I can't really say that I've ever caught, or seen anyone get caught doing this, but what I have seen, on numerous occasions, is more than one active players fiddling with their cell phones and no one objecting. What is stopping these players from communicating? Nothing.
Primitive Manipulation Attempts
Any manipulative techniques have been attempted by unskilled cheats, at one time or another. I have seen people try to blatantly pull cards off of the bottom of the deck, try to peek at the cards by lifting up the rear of the deck, try to execute false shuffles, and also switch cards in the middle of a hand. Better yet, I managed to capture one such lousy cheat on video.
The image shows a still from a video clip that I secretly recorded during a "friendly" poker game. As you can see the guy is stashing cards under his shirt. You cannot see the cards, but one day I will be able to release the entire video and you will be able to see the entire order of events. For now I will just tell you the story.
Shortly after I joined the game a medium-large pot had developed and I was heads-up with a guy seated at the opposite side of the table. Something about the guy didn't feel right from the start, but I had arrived when the game had already been in progress, so I didn't get to watch the guy from the very beginning. Then, when I was heads-up against this guy he looked extremely nervous as he kept re-raising me. Then I saw him bring his cards towards the edge of the table and improvise a lousy 2-card switch. I pretended not to have noticed. His timing was awful and hardly worth describing, but no one else seemed to have noticed.
Since his switch was so lousy, I knew exactly what had happened and had to think for a moment what would be the best course of action. I quickly decided that the best thing would be to call and see what he had (already knowing that it would be a pot I would lose). So, I called. He shows down pocket aces (lousy) and the ace on the board made him a set. It was exactly what I had expected, actually. Obviously he was holding onto two aces and waited for the moment when his "pocket" (literally) aces would hit a set. The night was young, though, I had plenty of time to make it all back. But he didn't know that.
Another thing that he didn't know was that I happened to have my video camera on me. So, I casually put the camera under the table and recorded the rest of the night for my own future reference, so I could watch later what had been going on under the table. Also what he didn't know was that I had counted the cards as soon as the deck was passed to me. Sure enough, the deck was short of two cards.
What you see on the still image is the moment when he was stashing some cards under his T-shirt. But this is not the moment when he had switched cards on me (as I was not recording at that time). To be honest, the guy was so nervous and constantly fiddling under the table that it is hard to believe no one (but me) noticed anything.
you may be wondering what happened next and if I was able to recouperate my losses. I think I better save the story for a blog post, but in short, yes, I did get it all back.
First I bought more chips, so that I could take him down with a single all-in bet. I didn;t have to wait too long. Then he made his second mistake: he re-bought. So, since I'm a nice guy, I gave him a chance to make his money back.
Once he lost everything he stoop up and announced it was time to go. I pretended to feel pretty bad and stood up to show some solidarity. "Hey, that's poker," I said to him. The I walked him to the door and engaged in some small talk. As he was walking out I told him, "You're good, kid. But as long as I'm around, you'll always be second best." For those of you who are into oldie gambling films you should recognize this famous quote from the old classic, The Cincinnati Kid. I threw that line at him to confuse him. I am not really sure how he took it. I don't really care all that much, to be quite honest.
Deck rigging is an amateur attempt at stacking the deck during the course of a game. While an expert cardsharp will have the skill to stack a deck during a shuffle, and do it right in front of everyone's nose, the desperate amateur cheat will try to replicate this procedure by "secretly" arranging cards in a specific order. I have seen people do this in many different ways, some will start arranging cards with the deck on top of the table, but many such amateur cheats will just take the deck into their hands and to all the work under the table. If you watch these guys at work it is quite obvious, and the skill required to do this work is nothing to marvel over.
This deck rigging procedure is common practice in casual private games where it is commonly accepted to rotate two decks, to speed up the game. While one deck is in use the other deck is being shuffled. While, in theory, the two-deck procedure does in fact speed up the game, it also opens up numerous possibilities to cheat. And of course, since this is an amateur procedure, most of the cheating strategies that evolved thanks to this procedure are also amateur work. However, it is not unlikely for an expert card shark to work these kind of games. After all, a lot of people with fat bankrolls also play poker, and also have no idea how to properly run a game. At the time of this writing, this two-deck procedure is quite common on the East Coast, in all circles, from dorm games to Wall Street.
I've already published a video clip of some amateur cheat rigging a deck in some baby home game. The video clip is listed in the Video Archives chapter. However here's an image of another guy rigging a deck under the table.
This image is a still taken from a video that I have secretly recorded during a home poker game. The guy rigging the deck in this picture is the same guy switching the cards in the picture above, under Primitive Manipulation Attempts. You will notice that he had changed seating position, but you can recognize his shoes. This picture was actually taken earlier in the night, before one of the players left, which gave the cheat a better spot at the head of the table, without anyone sitting at his sides.
As with most amateur cheats, this guy also did not have a specialty. By contrast, professional cheats will specialize in one or two strategies and learn those really well. But amateurs will often try whatever they think they may get away with. As you can see from the two photos, this guy is switching cards in one round and rigging the deck in another round.
The image is just a still, but you can see how he is holding a card (or a few cards) above the deck. It is not very clear from the still image, but in the video it is apparent that he is looking through the deck and rearranging cards. As you may expect, once he was done rigging the deck he just kept it in his hands. Then, as soon as the rest of us were done playing with the other deck, he just started to deal - never even offered for a cut.
Skipping the cut is a common procedure in many soft games; and by "soft" I mean games that have very loose procedures. So, soft games should not be confused with low-stakes games. In many metropolitan areas, where there are communities working in the financial sector, there are plenty of loose poker games with substantial stakes.
It should be noted that rigging the deck can only be done in games where the players rotate two decks. While one deck is being used, no one pays particular attention to the other deck, that is supposedly being shuffled. There are several variations of the two-deck procedures. In one case the dealer of the upcoming round will shuffle the cards and hand over the deck to the player seated on his right, for a cut. Then the dealer will complete the cut and deal from the deck that he just shuffled. That was the procedure used in the example above, except that the dealer never offered the deck for a cut.
In another procedure the previous dealer will shuffle, while the player to his left is dealing from a previously shuffled deck. Then, at the conclusion of the round, the newly shuffled deck is passed on for a cut to the person that was just dealing; that person completes the cut and passes the new deck to the person at his left. So, in this case three different people are involved in the handling of the cards: one shuffles, another cuts and a third person deals. If a player wanted to rig a deck during this procedure, he would have to find a way to beat the cut. In some cases the person that is supposed to cut never really pays much attention to the procedure, so the player that was just shuffling can just pass the deck ahead, without anyone noticing that there was not cut. Same thing can be accomplished with a false cut or with a partner cutting.
Amateur Paper Players
A "paper player" is a card player that plays "paper." And "paper" is the hustler's jargon for marked cards. So an amateur paper player would be someone who is attempting to use marked cards, but really has no idea how marked cards should be used.
For detailed descriptions of various marked cards, please visit the Marked Cards chapter on this site.
I have only discovered marked cards once, in my entire card-playing career. To be honest, I rarely put any effort to look for the work. In fact, I am really concerned very little about the possibility of someone trying to use marked cards against me. First of all, good paper players are rare. So, if I ever bump into one I don't really mind if he takes a few pots from me. I will probably not be in those pots anyway, since I have my own "winning strategies" that work quite well for me and they flush any paper down the drain. And secondly, if anyone is using paper I will probably figure it out simple because most amateur paper players will tip their work. Once I suspect paper, I will know to look for it, and even then it will not bother me in the least.
So, as I had mentioned, I did discover marked cards, in a poker game, once. The reason why I had discovered them, in this particular case, is for the simple fact that I was already very familiar with those particular factory-made marked cards. They were the 2003 Connell Bros. counterfeit 'Bee' cards, produced in China. The cards were supplied by the guy who was hosting the game. These cards were hard to miss for anyone familiar with the work, or with 'Bee' cards in general. The quality of these counterfeits is quite poor, so anyone who is used to playing with genuine 'Bee' cards should immediately feel then difference.
Nevertheless, as soon as I noticed those cards I kept my mouth shut. I wasn't exactly afraid of them and I also had the opportunity to see how they were going to be used. Not that I was expecting to learn anything, but by requesting to change the decks I would blow away my chance to observe, and possibly also blow away my chance of getting invited to the same game in the future. So, I just kept my front-row seat and kept my mouth shut. Not to mention that by knowing how to read those cards it is not exactly as if I was at a disadvantage. In fact, I knew the host was going to be reading the cards, but he didn't know I was going to read them, too, with the added knowledge of knowing that he was going to read the. Not to mention, I was not the one who brought these cards in.
It had also occurred to me that the host of the game may have gotten the information about these cards from my own web site (the site you are browsing now). After all, it is at the top of the search results in any search engines, if looking for this kind of information. But even if he had gotten the information from my site, the guy had no clue that i was there. As soon as these thoughts crossed my mind I was hardly able to contain my amusement.
To cut a story short, the guy didn't have a clue how to use marked cards, as expected. It is really hard to say what was on his mind and how he was contemplating his moves, but at the end of the game he was just another sucker that proved the statistical fact that most amateur cheats will walk away losers.
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