Poker Collusion and Conspiracy

 

While there's never been a shortage of written references for card cheating manipulations, poker collusion has never really been discussed in great detail anywhere in print. There are several reasons for that. First of all, manipulations are by far more interesting and fascinating to the general public and authors alike. By comparison, collusion is only likely to be of interest to skilled poker players that really understand the ins and outs of poker. This also means that collusion is not as easy to understand (as for example a bottom deal) so there are not too many people that actually know how it works. Those that really understand collusion are those that have learned it through experience, and those folks are not likely to spill the beans for the general public.

Collusion is a broad term that covers numerous poker scams where more than one player is involved. One thing that all types of collusion have in common is that they all use some kind of signals to secretly communicate the information during the game. Some colluders only use signals, others may incorporate any number of other cheating techniques into their scams, such as various manipulations or even marked cards. But as a general rule, when people talk about collusion they are referring to various misleading tactics.

Colluders usually split the money at the end of the evening. However, in some cases players work with their own bankrolls and don't split the cash, but just agree to stay away from each other's pots, by exchange of information and agreeing which one of them has better odds to win the pot. This is one form of playing best hand (described below).

In poker tournaments colluders could be working on separate tables, with an agreement that they are working with a joint bankroll. Basically, in tournaments, the element of chance plays a bigger role, so good poker players are often crushed and knocked out of the tournaments, by weaker players, purely because of bad luck. But when the players are working with the same bankroll they can play the odds more confidently because they know they are basically covering the entire tournament as a team. So, even if some players get knocked out, these players will still be included in the split, if members of the team make it to the final table (or "in the money"). Furthermore, when members of the same team end up at the same table, as the tables consolidate, they can easily employ other collusion tactics to gain a further advantage over the other players. Big tournaments are attractive for such teams because the cash pool is substantial and if the team makes it to the top there will be enough money for everyone. Also, unlike cash games, in tournaments it is a very clean cut because all the members of the team know exactly how much each player ended up winning; that is not necessarily the case in cash games where one of the colluders may decide to skim some money off the top. For example, if the colluders are working a cash game in a casino cardroom, one of them could easily palm off one high-denomination chip from his stack, before they cash out.

Any kind of arrangement between two players or more is a form of collusion, simply because poker is not a partnership game. Sometimes players end up colluding, totally unintentionally, without even having the slightest clue that they are doing it. This often happens in "friendly games" where two friends may not want to play against each other. But ignorance hardly makes things right as it still boils down to the fact that any kind of arrangements end up giving a mathematical advantage to some of the players, even if they are unaware of it.

Many writers and bloggers have stated that collusion is the most common form of cheating in poker. I am not really sure if anyone has ever gathered any real statistic data, to make such statement, but I think we can all agree that collusion attempts are not exactly uncommon. It also depends what we mean by collusion. If we classify a bottom deal scam that involves two or more partners as a form of collusion, as well as any other form of cheating where there's more than one person involved, than, yes, collusion is definitely king. But of we are just talking about pure collusion, that only involves signaling and entrapment schemes, then perhaps not - at least not successful collusion. And that brings me to the next point.

I think we should differentiate between collusion and and collusion attempts. Poker is a game of skill. But even so, I can still show up with a stack of chips and gamble - if I'm lucky I'll win and if not I'll lose. Good poker players are actually a minority, so most people that play poker are actually just gambling. So, if we say that there is a difference between players and gamblers, we should also say that many collusion attempts are nothing but another form of gambling. For example, two colluders managed to exchange a few signals and now know what cards each one has been dealt. So what? Does that mean they really know what to do with that information? I will argue that they are still gambling, if the don't really know what to do, despite the fact that they have exchanged information.

One of the most common mistakes that many bad poker players do is to play too many hands; in other words, they don't fold enough. So, when you play a hand you should have folded you're gambling. Same goes with bad colluders. Most amateur colluders don't realize that collusion schemes should only be attempted when the situation presents itself. In a real poker game one may have a perfect strategy to play a particular situation, but what if that situation doesn't present itself? Well, it should be obvious that in that case you won't have the chance to play it out.

To better illustrate what I mean it is good to compare collusion with bluffing. Another common mistake, in poker, is to bluff too much or not really know when to bluff. I'm sure you'll agree that bad bluffing is a sure way to lose all your money quickly. Well, same goes with bad collusion. If colluders don't really know what to do their "tactics" are going to const them money. And unlike bluffing, collusion is a beast with multiple heads.

So, a good collusion team should know exactly when to play, when to told, when to bluff, when not to buff, when to collude, when not to collude. Collusion is just another skill that can be added into the mix. When used properly it increases the odds of winning, when (over)used without any rhyme or reason it will simply deplete the bankrolls just like bad bluffing.

I've also read on several web sites that collusion is one of the easiest forms of cheating to learn. If you paid any attention to what I just said you can probably guess that I couldn't disagree more. OK, soft playing is definitely easier to do than riffle stacking. But consistently making a profit from collusion is nothing but easy. If collusion was so damn easy, it'd be worthless, because everyone would be good at it. And if everyone were so good at it, there'd be no winners, because there'd be no losers.

Finally, we should differentiate between two types of collusion: passive collusion and strategic collusion. Passive collusion is sometimes unintentional. Other times it's an unspoken agreement and sometimes it may even be an arrangement to not play against each other. This kind of collusion can be classified as passive because there are no mal intentions to hurt other players and most often the financial benefits are not direct or apparent. By comparison, strategic collusion is a deliberate attempt at cheating. Either way, both kinds of collusion are forms of cheating and they do hurt some players. But I still think it's good to have these two separate categories.

Now, let's have a look at some common collusion schemes.

 

Joint Bankrolls

By simply consolidating their bankrolls and the playing separately players are engaged in a collusion scheme, without ever exchanging a single signal or doing anything else that may be objectionable. The biggest impact of this form of collusion is in tournaments, but this scheme can also be used in cash games. Let's talk about tournaments first.

Tournaments can be very volatile for individual players. This is due to the fact that chance plays a bigger role in tournaments, than in cash games. So, a good player may get crushed, simply because he cannot wait for a better opportunity because the blinds are escalating. The escalating blind structure forces the players to take greater chances, so if they don't gamble, the escalating blinds will eat up their stacks. Now, mathematically, these players still play a good game, but all that they get in return is a mathematical advantage. But since tournaments have a time limit, the players only get to play a limited number of hands. And with a limited number of hands the results are indistinguishable from luck. The only way to make the math kick in is to increase the number of hands that are played with this mathematical advantage. And there are two ways to do that.

One way is to be patient and enter many tournaments. This increases the number of hands played, but it also spreads out the action over time. And who's got time for that nonsense?

The other way is to put a few players together, consolidate the bankrolls and take random seats in a tournament. The bankrolls don't have to be literally consolidated. The players just have an agreement that they are playing together and whoever wins will share the piece of the pie with the rest.

At the beginning of the tournament most of the team players will be scattered around, but some may already be seated at the same table. However, as the tournament progresses some of the team players will get knocked out and some will eventually end up at the same table(s). Whenever team players are at the same table they will not play against each other in the same way as they play against real opponents. In other words, they will be using other collusion tactics, ranging from soft playing and chip dumping, and possibly even hard-core collusion schemes, such as signaling and playing best hand.

Playing a joint bankroll does not have nearly as big an impact in cash games. The reason is because in cash games players can leave any time, and walk away with money, so there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But nevertheless, playing with a joint bankroll does have an impact in cash games. But consider this: ten player table, nine of them are playing the same bankroll, one player is a tourist, the goal is to have the tourist lose money and then balance-out the joint account. How hard is that?

Of course, this scheme will only make sense if all the players know how to play poker on the square.

 

Local Courtesy

In his book, Poker Protection, Steve Forte describes one form of collusion as "local courtesy." I really can't think of a better name for it, as this term pretty much hits the nail in the head. This is the one collusion tactic that may be argued to fall into a gray area, simply because there may not be any actual mal intentions or deliberate cheating. I already describe an example of unintentional cheating in the article How Common is Cheating in Poker?

When people play poker together, frequently, they sometimes develop some kind of respect for each other. They've seen each other go through some bad beats and they know how it feels. They've come to a point that one feels bad for the other, when one sees the other one lose a pot. So, eventually there is a situation when the two of them find themselves heads' up against each other, competing for a pot that has developed during previous betting rounds. So, in this situation, what occurs from now on is important.

Let's say the river card is dealt and the first player just checks. He does have a good hand, but he doesn't really want to play against his buddy. Now, his buddy also has a good hand, actually a great one. Normally he would make a bet that would put the other player in a situation to call or raise, but he feels bad doing that to his buddy. He could just check, but that would mean that there is going to be a showdown for the pot. That actually doesn't suit him, because there are a few tourists at the table and he doesn't want them to see either one of their hands. So, he makes a ridiculous bet. His buddy knows that this means he's got the goods, and he quickly folds. These two players were just colluding, without even prearranging anything.

The ridiculous bet was actually a signal that was meant to say, "Fold your hand." And it worked. In any normal situation this player would not want his opponent to fold, so he would make a much smaller bet, inviting a call or a raise. In other words, good poker strategy would say to make a bet that would make it very tough for his opponent to fold. A bad player may actually over-bet this situation, but that would be due to lack of poker skills. But in this case it was a signal.

Steve Forte describes some other examples where a local player was holding a single high denomination chip in his hand, in hopes that his buddy would notice and figure out that he was betting with one big pair. In other cases a local may kick another local under the table, to warn that he's got the goods. There could be a local signal to call with marginal hands, when one tourist is playing against two locals. The reasoning is that it's better to keep the money "in the family" and not let the tourist take it.

There should really not be any such thing as courtesy in poker, because, in the words of John Scarne (Scarne's Guide to Modern Poker, 1980), poker is not a partnership game. So, any "courtesy" to one player is at the cost of another player.

 

Soft Playing

Soft playing comes in many forms. Sometimes it's done unintentionally and other times it's used as a collusion tactic. In either case it's cheating.

Imagine a poker table at a local casino where most of the players know each other. Two of the players have become poker buddies over the year(s) and one really hates to see the other lose money. They do play at the same table, but they prefer to win money from tourists. Eventually there is a situation when the two of them find themselves against a tourist. The tourist bets, one of them makes a substantial raise and the only other player left to act is his buddy. The buddy would normally call (or even raise) but he feels bad taking money from his pal. Besides, he's not really invested in this pot and the tourist was the one who made the initial bet, so he's inclined to just let his buddy work this one out with the tourist. There's bound to be another opportunity for him to make money, from another pot, from some other players, so he folds.

Even without any spoken agreements this is collusion. If the tourist ends up winning the pot he had been deprived of the money that would have come from another caller.

Let's imagine a Texas Hold'em tournament. Final table, six players, but only top five get the prize money. You and your buddy are playing and there are four other players. You both know that the next one to get knocked out doesn't get a penny of the prize money, so you make sure this doesn't happen neither to you nor to your buddy. You do that by soft playing against each other and let one of the other players get knocked out.

Soft playing is very common in cash games and tournaments alike. Sometimes players notice it because they see that some players tend to "show respect" for each other by not being aggressive. Many times players don't even bother complaining because there is no apparent direct financial benefit. However, the financial benefit is just part of the big picture.

 

Signaling

Since there's no such thing as mind reading, signals are the basic building blocks of any collusion scams. The first signals most colluders will learn are a set of "yes" and "no" signals. Signaling is basically a secret language and as with any language, there may be several different ways to say the same words. So, with any collusion teams there may be several different ways to signal "yes" and "no."

So, with "yes" and "no" signals, the first thing that colluders may say to each other is, do they have a playable hand. If both colluders are signaling "no" they know they will both fold and there will not be any more collusion during this round. But if one of them is signaling "yes" the next step is to exchange hole-card information.

 

Poker Collusion: signaling yes Poker Collusion: signaling no
A set of standard "yes" and "no" signals using the natural placement of the hand. At the beginning of a round this signal could be exchanged amongst the colluders to indicate if they have playable hands. Later during the round the same signals are used for other information.

 

There are some standard signals that have been used for ages, representing the values of cards. Naturally, if the signals are standard they ain't worth much. But I still mention their existence, because I know for a fact that they have been used extensively in poker rooms. These standard signals are easy to learn, easy to read and easy to spot. The code is very simple. The placement of the index finger represents the value of the card. This is done by holding the cards against the table and positioning the index finger at the spot that represents the value. For some values two fingers are uses and for other values the index finger if off.

 

Poker Collusion: signaling Poker Collusion: signaling Poker Collusion: signaling
Some standard signals used to represent the value of the card. These kind of signals were used extensively in the poker rooms of Gardena, California.

 

On one level it doesn't seem to make much sense to use these standard signals, since they are so widely known. But on another level it actually does make sense to use them. In the book Scarne's New Complete Guide To Gambling the author tells us that in his time hustlers used to communicate with this sigh language, to collude against tourists. This does in fact make sense because the world of crooked gambling is actually a big subculture, so members of this subculture would either know each other, or use the same jargon or hand signals. According to Scarne, these hustlers would exchange a few introductory signals at the offset of the game and agree to work together using standard signals. Those who had no idea what to look for would never notice the introductory signals; and those would be the players that never figured out who was the sucker at the poker table.

So, although standard signals do exist, it should be obvious that the best signals are those that colluders develop on their own. Some signals may involve gestures, chip stacking, or even speaking in code language, such as, "I raise 20," "I raise you 20," "20 on top," and so on, can all have different meanings.

Much can be accomplished with the exact knowledge of the cards held by, or folded by, one (or more) of the partners. For example, you are on the big blind with 10-2. There are a couple of limpers and your partner signals he is folding 10-5. Although he folded a 10 you stay in the pot because there was no raise. You check your big blind and the flop comes 10-10-Q. You obviously hit trip 10s, by luck, and end up better than you've expected. You don't put anyone on Q-Q because there was no pre-flop raise and you know no one else has trip 10s because your partner folded a 10. But, normally you'd be worried that someone has a better kicker.

There are still some hands that you do need to worry about, such as K-J, which is likely to be a limper, but you'll just have to see what else gets dealt on that board. The point is, you've gained some valuable information from the exchange of signals.

Signaling is also the nuts and bolts of a very effective colluding scheme called playing best hand (discussed separately).

 

Crossfiring

The term crossfiring is pretty self-explanatory. One player is caught in the crossfire between two payers raising and re-raising. The tactic is used to force the third payer to put more money in the pot. For example, when one of the colluders has the nuts and the other one has nothing. But the keep raising and re-raising, making it tough for the victim to fold. This way they extract more money from a player that would have folded a big raise, but he keeps calling smaller raises because he gets more and more pot committed on each raise and he is calling because of the pot odds involved. At the end the player with junk just calls the last raise. Then, on the showdown, the colluder with the goods shows his hand and the colluder with junk quickly mucks his hand, in apparent frustration.

In another example crossfiring may be used to accomplish the opposite, i.e. to force one player to fold. After a raise and re-raise the player caught in-between cannot really call. After the victim folds the two players left in the pot put up a show on the next betting round, which "forces" one of them to fold. Once there was an un-called bet the last aggressor mucks his hand and takes the pot. No one ever saw what cards they were playing, but they still have the vic's money. Obviously, this strategy is combined with a joint bankroll scheme.

This second crossfiring strategy may not make too much sense, at first. But think of it as a bluff. A bluff is definitely a powerful strategy to steal a pot. But it has to be done at the right time, in the right situation, otherwise bad bluffs are costly. So, this second crossfiring strategy is basically a double bluff. If a good bluff is powerful then a double bluff is twice as powerful. But of course, if the colluders don't really know when the right time to bluff is they will end up losing their money (out of their joint bankroll) twice as fast, with this strategy.

In high-low games crossfiring can happen naturally, without any collusion, when one player has an excellent high and another player is going for low, but the third player is trying to make a hand. This is why there is a limit on the number of raises.

Crossfiring is also called squeeze play, whipsaw, or middling.

 

Pot Building

This is somewhat similar to crossfiring, except that it's more subtle.

When a player catches a monster hand he would want to make his opponent(s) put more money in the pot. A legitimate player would have to make a substantial bet and hope for a call. But a big bet may scare some of the weaker players. In fact, even a moderate bet, without pot odds may make a player fold a marginal hand. But when colluders work together they can build-up the pot with "reluctant" calls, to make it tough for the victim to fold, because he thinks he thinks he is getting pot odds. The other callers have absolute junk, but the victim doesn't know that, so he calls. In later rounds the victim is pot committed and also sees a nice pot, so he may, once again, be reluctant to fold. When the round is brought to its conclusion, the colluder with the only real hand will be the last aggressor, so that his partners with junk hands don't have to show (in case they haven't folded already).

 

Chip Dumping

Chip dumping works best in tournaments where a player sitting behind a big stack of chips has better chances to make it to the end. Of course, any chip dump must be done at an opportune and logical moment. There are a few situations when this can be done, if the situations happen to present themselves.

Imagine a multi table tournament where a few members of the colluding team have already made it "in the money." As tables consolidate two of the team members find themselves at the same table. One of the team members has a substantial stack and the other one is short stacked. Blinds are escalating and they both know that the short stack is likely to lose these chips. So, in one round the big stack catches a good hand and the short stack is in late position, with absolute junk. They exchange signals and there are no callers by the time the action gets to the short stack. The short stack goes all-in, knowing that his partner has a monster hand. The big stack has every right to call, with his monster hand. The big stack will most likely win. At this point in a tournament the action of the short stack is in line with expected actions of a player with a short stack, so nothing stands out. He went all-in because he knew the blinds were about to go up and he had to "make a move" in late position.

Now imagine a single-table tournament. Two of the players are colluders and the idea is to make one of them double-up. The colluders just have to wait for an opportune moment to dump. If they also happen to trap a third player, and if they both have good hands, there will be two hands competing against one and the winner will more than double-up. The colluders are a favorite to win against one player and they also have the chance of knocking an opponent out of the tournament.

Another opportunity could present itself at the final table of what started as a multi-table tournament. When there are only a few players left, and the blinds are high, it is common practice for the player on the small blind to try to steal the big blind by going all-in, even with a total bluff. The player on the big blind only has to have a marginal hand to call and not make it look suspicious. One of them will win and build up a his stack, which will make it harder for the remaining players to compete for first place. Of course, the colluders have to end up at the final table, to begin with and they both have to last to a point when there are only a few players left, which is when a chip dump can be most effective. If it's done to early the effect is diminished. So, once again, it's not only enough to know what the collusion tactics are and understand how the work. The situations for collusion must present themselves.

Another interesting chip dumping scheme occurs in online poker. Basically, a person registers two separate accounts. One account is tied to a stolen credit card number and the other account is used to clear the funds. The scheme is simple. At an opportune moment the player will just dump chips from the account that uses the stolen credit card, over to the account that is used to clear the funds. Then the money can be dumped again to a third account, to further obfuscate the trail and eventually the money is cleared. This scheme is not exactly a collusion tactic, it's credit card fraud, because the sole purpose is to steal money from a credit card, but I still thought I'd mention it.

 

Stack Balancing

This is the opposite of chip dumping. The colluder with a big stack will purposefully lose some chips to the colluder with a short stack, to help him stay in the game without having to re-buy. This would be used with other collusion tactics, when the player needs to keep his partner in the game to continue colluding.

 

Playing Best Hand

Playing best hand (also called playing top hand) is a form of collusion. This works on a very simple principle that gives the colluders a slight mathematical advantage over the other players. Basically, two players agree to secretly let each other know the strength of each other's hands. Based on that information alone they determine which one of the two hands is a favorite to win, so they player with the weaker hand folds and the other player stays in the pot. This does not guarantee a win on every round (in fact, sometimes it may turn out that the other hand would have won) but in the long run the colluders have a mathematical advantage because they play the odds.

This kind of arrangement between two players is almost the same thing as being able to play two hands, as a single player, and then deciding which one to keep. While other players always play with a single hand, as they should, the colluders have a better chance of catching the winning hand because they are always dealt two hands. The only minor disadvantage is that when two players work together they will end up putting more money into the pot, usually through the blinds alone, but sometimes also by one of the players sweetening the pot, basically to lead the victim into believing that he is getting pot odds.

Playing best hand can be done in two different ways. The colluders could either be working with a joint bankroll or separately. In either case they are working with a mathematical advantage.

If they are working with a joint bankroll they are basically teaming up as a company. Each player in turn will get the chance to play the best hand as a representative of the company that plays against individual players. The individual bankrolls held by each of the members of the team will fluctuate up and down, but the main objective is to end up with a positive balance for the joint bankroll. The money is pulled together at the end of the evening and then divided amongst the members.

If the colluders are playing with separate bankroll the arrangements are a bit different. In this case each player individually has to make sure he ends up on top. This is of course not always the case, but in the long run the mathematical advantage does work in their favor simply because they colluders are playing the odds.

In either case the colluders gain one additional advantage by knowing what cards their partner(s) folded. This plays an additional role in some situations. For example, if the colluder that remained active caught a set on the flop, he will hope that the board will pair. But if he knows that his partner folded one of the cards that would put a pair on the board, he knows his odds of turning his set into a boat have been reduced. There are many other situations when knowledge of the folded cards can help a player.

 

Exploiting Colluders

Due to the lack of direct physical evidence, good collusion is impossible to prove. In fact, without a confession, even bad collusion is impossible to prove, even when it's obvious. But, ironically, since bad collusion does tend to be more obvious, this opens up some possibilities for cheating on a totally different level.

Since collusion is impossible to prove it is more or less a waste of time to throw accusations and argue about it. But bad colluders will actually provide an observant poker player with information that would normally have to be obtained by cheating. So, instead of trying to prove what one knows to be true, a smart poker player may just crack the colluders' code and exploit the information for his own benefit. Bad collusion is actually a costly experiment, because poker is still a game of chance, if one has not mastered the skills and a couple of colluders throw twice as much money into the pot. So, a player that knows how to exploit collusion will be getting great value from them since the colluders are giving away 2 to 1 odds.

 

The Negative Impact of Collusion

This chapter would not be complete without explaining that collusion has some negative impacts for the colluders. When you take this into account and also consider that most colluders don't really know what the hell they're doing, you may come to the conclusion that collusion actually doesn't work for most of the people that try it.

The first obvious negative impact of collusion schemes that use joint bankrolls is that there are more blinds to pay. This may not seem like much, but every successful business has to maximize the income and minimize the costs. So, more blinds to pay is adding to the overall expenses. Of course one could say that these "business" expense are dampened by the fact that there is a bigger bankroll. True. But every member of the colluding team will not be a winner. So, when the money is balanced out there is a negative impact on the bottom line.

Another negative impact of collusion is the fact that colluders have to chop the winnings. Some will be up others will be down and the idea is to keep the joint bankroll up. This may be worthwhile in tournaments, where there is a big prize, but in cash games the advantage may be marginal. Once all the losers are paid out there may not be much of a profit margin to really satisfy the greed of the colluders. After all, it's all about the bottom line.

One way to resolve this is to collude in online poker, but without an actual team. One would have to have several computers, with different ISPs and different IPs, and then register several online poker accounts under different identities. The advantage would be a complete oversight of the accounts and no one to blame for mistakes. Also none to suspect of skimming and more importantly, no one to chop the winnings with. (For further information about online poker, please refer to the Online Gambling chapter.)

Crossfiring can cost money because one of the players is basically bluffing and dumping money into a pot, without a real hand. The intended victim is forced to call, but if the colluders don't really wait for the right opportunity to crossfire they may end up losing more money than they normally would have, in the same situation.

Colluders tend to play too many hands and play them badly. Colluders engage in these schemes for the sole purpose to win more money faster. Many are not quite satisfied with the results so they tend to play too many hands, trying to win by colluding when it may not be the time to collude. That's like bluffing too often when it's not the opportune moment to do so. It may win a few pots but in the long run it costs money.

When slow playing the player actually doesn't take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. So a colluder may fold a hand that he would normally play and win with. That's a lost opportunity to win money.

Also, along the same lines, since colluders don't play against each other they actually reduce the number of opponents that they could win money from.

 

Peep Joints

A peep joint is a room that's been set up for the purpose of cheating at poker. As the name suggests, a peep joint is a room equipped with some kind of a peep hole through which someone can peep at someone's cards. Peep joints have been set up in private residences and even in hotel rooms. The November 1933 issue of Popular Science had an interesting article entitled Strange Inventions Used by Crooked Gamblers (PDF), in which there was a rather nice illustration of an old peep joint.

 

Poker Cheating: peep joint

 

Oftentimes peep joints are set up to target a single sucker for the evening. The sucker is seated in the "reserved" seat, which is strategically situated so that his hand is likely to get exposed to a conspirator, hiding behind a peep hole. There always has to be some way of communicating the information to the other players. In the afore mentioned article the author describes a fake package with hidden light bulbs that flash the value of the dupe's hand.

The old peep joints had actual peep holes in the walls or in the ceiling, but later, as consumer video cameras became available, those became the next logical choice for the job. Nowadays cameras are so small they can literally be hidden just about anywhere. If I were to design a high-tech peep joint I would simply do something along those lines.

I would first organize a big poker tournament with TV coverage. Then I would install hole-card cameras on some tables (at least on the final table) and I would explain that this is absolutely necessary, for editing, and so that the commentator can analyze the hands. I would explain to the suckers that this makes good TV because their hands will be displayed with fancy graphics and percentages for the benefit of the viewers at home. Once I sell this "package" the suckers would think it's perfectly normal to show the pocket cards to a miniature camera hidden in the armrest. After all, this makes good TV, right? The rest is self explanatory. I would basically have access to the live feed of everyone's pocket cards and all that would remain to be done is to send a few secret signals to my accomplice. Due to the fact that the cameras are not even hidden and the suckers are actually willingly showing their pocket cards to these cameras, no one would ever suspect the whole thing was just a peep joint. After all, who in the right state of mind would make it so obvious? Hence the old expression: If you want to hide something really well, paint it red. Of course, should any half-wit even as much as suggest that this is all a scam, the players would simply ridicule him and call him a "paranoid conspiracy theorist."

Do you get my drift?

 

Stickup Games

Those are totally crooked games where everyone is in on the scam, except for one dupe. All the betting is bogus, except when the dupe is in the hand. In other words, the buys put up a good show for the dupe, but the only reason for the game is to rip him apart and split the money.

Stickup games can be organized in many different ways. One possibility is a peep joint, described above. Another possibility is a cooler scam. The conspirators could also be using marked cards or any number of cheating strategies discussed throughout this chapter. Whatever strategies they may be using, they will always have something in store for the end, in case they need to do something quickly before the sucker decides to leave.

Since the scam targets one individual sucker, the colluders are after a big score. This means that the sucker is likely to be a wealthy businessman, or something along those lines.

Good stickup games always have a psychological angle. One common scenario is to load the game with exorbitant amounts of cash, so that the sucker feels like his bankroll is not even all that significant. Another angle is to work some kind of a con game, where the sucker is lead to believe that he is somehow cheating, but despite his illusive angle bad luck somehow played a role and he ended up losing his shirt, this one time. A con game is always a good angle because it puts the sucker in an awkward position; he cannot complain to anyone because he would have to disclose his own mal intentions to explain what had happened to him.

Situations may extend beyond the loss of the entire bankroll. A desperate sucker may actually borrow money to have a chance at making his money back. In a dire situation an emotional sucker that just went through the shock of losing all his money may not think straight and may want to make his money back right then and there. Of course any such arrangements only lead to serious gambling debts. Come to think of it, this scenario is not a whole lot different than casinos extending a line of credit to their best customers, knowing that no one can beat the built in negative expectations.

 


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