Manipulations of playing cards don't necessarily have to be elaborate or difficult and yet they can still be used for cheating techniques that we can categorize as skilled or refined. The complexity of the move is kind of irrelevant. What counts is the the effectiveness and chance to go undetected. Yes, some of these manipulations can also be complex and difficult to learn, but some are surprisingly simple.
Let's take one example of poker cheating that would have a good chance of flying under the radars for a long time in a casino cardroom. First of all, one of the oldest tricks in the book, when it comes to casino cheating, is to bribe a dealer (which is hardly something that can be considered to be refined). But what good does it do to bribe a dealer if we expect him/her to do something that takes years of serious practice, to be able to do? Teaching a dealer advanced manipulative skills may look good in a movie but in the real world the only way a bribe is going to work is if the dealer can do what is expected of him/her with minimal practice. Anything beyond that has no practical value, in this scenario.
As a general rule the simpler the manipulations are, the more the cheating strategy is relying on good card play. But the more advance the manipulations, the dependency on good play is diminished. This makes sense, because simpler manipulations accomplish less towards the outcome, so in that case the player must know exactly how to take advantage of the scenario as it unfolds. But with heavy-handed manipulations most of the work is already done before the action begins, so if a player knows he is going to hit quad aces on the river there is really not much in terms of poker strategy and weighing his odds that he needs to worry about.
Due to the fact that the mechanics of a bottom deal are quite complex and because it takes years to master the move, the bottom deal is considered to be a skilled and/or refined cheating technique. However, from a strategic point of view the bottom deal is a really simplistic cheating strategy.
The basic concept of any bottom deal scam is easy to understand. Basically, some favorable cards are kept at the bottom of the deck and when it it time to deal, the mechanic deals some cards from the bottom. But although this is such a simple concept, there's more to it. In order to pull off a bottom dealing scam, the mechanic needs to master a lot more than just bottom dealing.
The first mechanical skill that the cheat needs to learn is some kind of culling technique that will enable his to assemble the desired cards on the fly, without making it too obvious. There are numerous culling techniques, but one easy way to do it is to spot some favorable cards during the showdown and casually segregate them from the rest of the cards, while assembling the deck for the upcoming shuffle. This technique can be combined with the cards that are already exposed on the board and/or the cards that the cheat was dealt on the previous round. So, if there is already a pair, perhaps it there will be a third card exposed, to make a set. There are, of course, also some other techniques.
Once the desired cards have been secured, and placed at the bottom of the deck, the mechanic will have to shuffle, without disturbing that slug. The false shuffles used to maintain a slug at the bottom of the deck are pretty simple. But the biggest challenge is the cut.
There are numerous ways to beat the cut. The easiest methods of beating the cut involve a partner. The partner will either execute a false cut, or cut at the right place. There are also some methods of forcing the cut, thus turning an innocent player into an unwilling accomplice. There are also several methods of reversing the cut, after a player has been invited to cut the deck for real. Regardless what method is used to beat the cut, the "basement dealer" (as these guys are called) have to adopt at least one of them. Once the cut is out of the way, the deck is finally ready. Now all that remains to be done is the actual bottom dealing.
There are several techniques for bottom dealing. Each technique requires a very specific grip to allow access to the bottom card. As a general rule, the grips that best resemble a natural grip are best, because they don't stand out. But some bottom dealing grips are so weird that it's hard to imagine how they could ever pass in a real gambling environment. But apparently they do. I offer a full bottom dealing tutorial in the tutorials chapter (membership required).
In draw poker the bottom dealing can be delayed until the draw, but in a game of Texas Hold'em the mechanic would have to deal both pocket cards from the bottom of the deck (either to his partner or to himself) right away. Furthermore, in Hold'em the mechanic would have to deal some of the cards face up. Usually the flop is dealt face down and then just flopped over right before the cards are spread out. But the turn and the river are usually dealt face up, straight from the deck. So, a good mechanic will have to master the bottom deal in both ways.
From a strategic point of view, bottom dealing is really a simplistic scam and does not require any advanced strategies. This is really a fast scam and is best suited for situations where there is not enough time to waste. But from a strategic point of view a basement dealer may want to hold off until later, before attempting a bottom deal. After all, he may win legitimately, and there may not even be the need to cheat.
The Cut Card
One attempt to put an end to bottom dealing scams is the introduction of the cut card. The cut card accomplishes two things. First it makes it more difficult to beat the cut because some of the techniques of nullifying the cut are either a lot more difficult do do or completely impossible, when there is a cut card in the mix. The other thing that it accomplishes is that it seals off the bottom of the deck, in place of the bottom card, so the mechanic no longer has direct access to the bottom card. But the cut card is not a 100% solution. In fact, in some cases it just offers a false sense of security.
Although it may be impossible to use many of the standard shifts that can normally be used to nullify the cut, there are still several techniques that work with the cut card. The techniques are just more difficult, but more difficult is not the same as impossible. Also, the cut card does not protect the game against forced cuts and cutting techniques that use a partner to cut at the right place.
Regarding the bottom deal itself, it is true that the bottom deal is out of the question. After all, if the mechanic were to deal the bottom card, the first card that came from the bottom of the deck would be the cut card. That would look pretty weird even in the softest of games. But although the cut card does restrict access to the bottom card of the deck, it still does not make it impossible to deal from the bottom. The technique is called the Greek deal and is basically just a modified bottom deal.
So, the cut card is not a foolproof solution, but it's still better than nothing. Cynics could say that the cut card only weeds out the amateur cheats and leaves the playground for the professionals. I can't say that I disagree. But one other thing that the cut card ends up accomplishing is making some scams easier to do than without the cut card. One scam that come to mind is the bubble peek, that requires the dealer to rotate the deck hand, to peek at the top card. Normally that action would expose the bottom card and players would be likely to object when the dealer turn the deck hand over. But with the cut card sealing off the bottom of the deck, everyone feels safe, so people don't really care if the dealer occasionally turns the deck hand over.
The Greek Deal
The Greek deal is basically a modified bottom deal. The technique is used to deal from the bottom of the deck when there is a cut card at the bottom. So, it is basically the same as saying that the mechanic deals the second card from the bottom of the deck. It should be obvious that almost any bottom dealing scenario can be used with the Greek deal instead.
The Greek deal is by far more difficult to learn than any bottom deal. But the irony is that once the deal is learned it actually may become easier than a bottom deal, in some situations. One situation that comes to mind is when the hands feel sweaty and sticky on a hot humid day. In that case a bottom deal is quite difficult because the bottom card tends to stick to the skin. But during a Greek deal the bottom card is isolated from the hand because there is a plastic cut card in between, so in that case it is actually easier to pluck the second bottom card out of the deck, than the one at the very bottom. There are also other situations that make a Greek deal easier.
Although the Greek deal is superior to the bottom deal, it should be noted that the superiority is only from the point of view of the mechanics of the move. Any bottom dealing scam that is done with the Greek deal instead is still a very primitive scam. In fact, despite the complexity of the move the Greek deal is really not the choice of a professional cardsharp.
The Greek deal is basically a high risk move that really doesn't stand the chance to fly under the radars forever, especially in controlled gaming environments. For example, in a casino cardroom every poker table is fitted with CCTV cameras. The dealer may be a good mechanic but the CCTV cameras record every move and the action can be played back at a moment's notice, without interrupting the flow of the game. In fact, the CCTV cameras would record enough footage to secure a good conviction in any court. So, for this reason alone it is very unlikely that anyone would ever encounter a Greek deal in a casino cardroom.
But even in home games the Greek deal is just not any better than any other bottom deal. Any bottom deal is a move that can be spotted very easily when one knows what to look for. A good execution may fool most of the people, but with a move like that it's just a matter of time when something doesn't go quite according to plan. The odds of being busted are greatly increased if the move is used over and over again, even if expertly executed. Also, most card hustlers just want the money and they don't really care to spend years practicing difficult moves.
The second deal is a powerful tool, because it can be used sparingly and in a variety of ways. Some specific second dealing scams are being discussed separately, namely the peek and second deal scam and the punch deal.
Mathematically, the second deal gives a huge edge because it interferes with the random distribution of the cards. In other words, if we believe poker is a game that combines luck with skill, the second deal substantially reduces the element of luck, because it a) eliminates some unwanted cards, and b) steers some of the cards into desired positions. In a game that combines skill with chance, each player is supposed to be dealt a fair share of favorable and unfavorable combinations. So, although we are still dealing from a random deck, some of the unfavorable random combinations are being eliminated, for some of the players.
A second deal basically enables the operator(s) to gain advantage by doing a number of things. Let's go through some possibilities
In this first example, the operator has the option of taking a second chance at a card, in the event that the legitimate card is not a favorable one. The second card is still a random one, but it is a second chance; a privilege that no other player has. So, basically this would be as if the dealer asked the player, "The card I am about to deal to you is the 3♧. Would you like to accept this card, or do you wish to draw another one?" Then the player answers, "I definitely don't want the 3♧. Would you be kind enough to deal any other card?" That's what the second chance is all about.
In the next example the dealer can withdraw a wanted card that would have normally be dealt to an opponent and steer that card to a different position. For example, the dealer may know that the top card of the deck is an ace. This ace is supposed to be dealt to player #1, but the dealer's accomplice is seated in position 3. So, instead of dealing the ace to the player in position 1, the dealer throws another random card to that player that should get the ace and continues to deal seconds until he reaches his accomplice. In this example the second deal accomplishes two things. First it deprives one of the players of his fair share of favorable cards, and second, it steers a known card into a desired position. Normally, every player get a fair share of favorable and unfavorable cards. So, in this case the second deal interferes with these odds. It's as if we were flipping a coin, but every now and then I was allowed to just place the coin down on the side that is best for me. In the long run, my opponent is playing with a big disadvantage.
In both afore mentioned examples, the second deal is used to deliver random (unknown) cards by avoiding to deal the top card, which is the only known one. But it doesn't have to be that way. If the dealer can perform a peek at the second card or if the cards are marked with some kind of edge work, the dealer can use the second deal to deal a known card to a desired position. For example, the dealer's accomplice has a pair of kings and during the betting round the dealer notices that the second card from the top of the deck is an ace. That ace could potentially hurt the pair of kings, if it were to be dealt on the board. So, if the dealer is a #2 man, this ace can be eliminated, by doing a second deal during the burn card procedure. In this case the second deal is not used to get a second chance at another random card, but rather to deal a known second card into a desired spot (which in this case happens to be the burn card pile).
From this last example we can see how the second deal can be used sparingly, just to eliminate some undesired combinations. Every player that sits behind a pair of kings has to go through his own share of aces showing up on the board. But with a single second deal some of these occurrences are eliminated.
A similar situation occurs when the top card is the desired one and it would have to end up being burned. For example, the dealer's accomplice has a pair of kings and the dealer knows the top card of the deck is also a king. This card would have to be burned, but a second deal takes care of that problem.
All the afore mentioned examples make it clear that the dealer must have a way of identifying the top, or the second, card, before doing a second deal. The identification of the card can be done in a three ways: either the dealer is using a marked deck and reading the work, or the dealer is peeking, or the dealer is flashing the card(s) to an accomplice who then gives the dealer a sing al, telling him when to second deal.
Peek and Second Deal
If I were asked to name my top two favorite card cheating strategies of all times, the peek and second deal would be one of them. The other one would be riffle stacking.
The peek and second deal is exactly what the name implies. The dealer sneaks a peek and then decides whether or not to second deal. Usually the dealer only peeks at the top card, but there are some techniques that enable the dealer to peek at the second card, too. Furthermore, there are some multiple peek techniques that enables the dealer to see several cards at the same time and there are also some techniques to peek deeper into the deck, at a specific point. For example, in Texas Hold'em an expert mechanic can peek at the 8th card, which is the card that will (should) be dealt on the river (see the tutorials). Armed with this knowledge, the dealer can decide way in advance if he will deliver that card on the river, or perhaps kill it with a second deal.
The reason why I like the peek and second deal is because I am a purist; I like simple things that don't require gaffs. The peek and second deal can be done any time, any place and requires absolutely no preparation.
There are a few opportunities, in every round of poker, when the dealer can quickly sneak a peek at the top card. The first opportunity is right after the cut, as the dealer puts the deck into his hand in readiness to deal the first card to the first player. Right then, if the dealer sees a favorable card on top of the deck, the dealer can deprive the player of that favorable card and steer it into the hand of his accomplice.
It should be noted that this may be the worst time to do a second deal, right on the first card. In fact, there is an old rule amongst wise card cheats, that goes: Always give the sucker the first card. What this means, basically, is that a mechanic should never second deal on the first card. There are many good reasons for that rule. First of all, there may be too much attention on the first card, as the players are waiting for the dealer to start dealing. Also, there is no guarantee that the cards aren't marked by another player. If this is the case, the player who put the work there will put two and two together and figure out that the dealer is a #2 man. Of course, that's a rule that's been adopted by wise card cheats, but no one said that all card cheats are wise. So, someone may still do this.
It should also be noted that dealing too many consecutive seconds is a high-risk cheating strategy in poker. For example, let's imagine that the dealer's accomplice is seated in position 8. If the dealer wanted to steer the top card to that player, he would have to do seven consecutive seconds, starting with the first card. In poker, that's just not the best way to do business. But if the accomplice was seated in position 2 or 3, the mechanic would only have to deal 1 or 2 seconds. That's by far less risky, btu he would still be breaking that golden rule.
The other problem with this strategy is that the mechanic would engage in a high-risk activity, before there's even any action. At that point the dealer doesn't even know if a) there will be enough players in the pot, or b) if they may even catch a good hand by chance. So, why even bother cheating at that point?
The Punch Deal
The punch deal is basically a deal with punched cards. Sometimes the punched cards are used only for information (to know which players received the marked cards) and sometimes it is used in conjunction with the second deal. The earliest mention of the punch deal in print appears in a 1552 pamphlet, by Gilbert Walker, entitled A Manifest Detection of Diceplay. The term "punch deal" had not yet been in use, so the author says, "Some play upon the prick..." Interestingly, the author does not elaborate and gives no further explanation beyond that brief mention. Also, around 1596, Caravaggio painted The Cardsharps, where one of the cheats is fitted with worn out gloves, which may indicate that cheats were known to use punched cards.
The cards are marked with a card punch, usually somewhere along the edge or near a corner. The exact position will vary depending on the natural grip that the mechanic is using. Typically, only a small group of cards is punched. Some mechanics like to punch the court cards only, because it is easier to hide the dimple on the face of the card, if it falls somewhere along the border that surrounds the image of the court card. However, this precaution was more applicable in the during the era that preceded the Texas Hold'em craze, when players were more likely to hold their cards in a fan and thus more likely to notice some dimples in the white areas. But even then there are still easy ways to hide these dimples, so that they're not too visible. One technique is to put the work right at the edge of any printed area. For example, to punch the aces one could simply put the work anywhere at the very edge of the printed letter A, to make the blister show up near the upper right corner of the deck. There is also one trick to hide the dimple anywhere within the white area, but it involves extra work.
The cards can be punched either ahead of time or during the game. There are several techniques for punching cards during the game. Some involve accessories, such as a modified thumb tack concealed under a bandage, or a thumb prick especially made for the purpose of punching the cards. It is also possible to sharpen the thumb nail into a point and do the work that way. Also, nail nicking along the edge of the cards can be used for the same purpose.
The punch deal is a very powerful cheating technique, because the mechanic doesn't have to look at the deck at all while manipulating the cards. Instead, the mechanic can just look up at the opponents and make sure to deal seconds only when no eyes are on the deck. The disadvantage is, of course, that the cheating can only be done when the mechanic is the one dealing. So, in an underground poker club, where there is a house dealer, this technique can be quite powerful. There are a few problems, however.
First of all, the punch deal works better with paper cards. Plastic cards are more difficult to punch and some brands of plastics are noisier during the second deals. Any poker club will use plastic cards, so this is definitely an issue. The other issue with plastic cards is that most brands of plastic cards are with white borders. Also, poker clubs typically use kidney-shaped poker tables. This means that there are at least two players seated at each side of the dealer, that the dealer cannot clearly see, but those players may be looking down at the deck, when the dealer is dealing. This problem can be addressed by making sure that the dealer's accomplice is seated across the table, so the accomplice can watch those players and send secret signals to the dealer, if it's OK to deal seconds. The dealer could also work with two partners, both occupying the two vulnerable spots at the sides of the dealer. There is yet another obstacle when a dedicated dealer is working the punch deal.
The punch deal works best when the accomplice is seated in late position. This is simply because late position gives the dealer more chance to stumble upon a punched card. However, in that case the dealer can still make sure to know which players caught the punched cards. In this case the punch is only used to gain information.
Compared to the peek and second deal, the punch deal is much better suited for dealing consecutive seconds.
Every card mechanic will know how to do several kinds of false shuffles. There are two kinds of false shuffles, those that are used to preserve the order of the cards in the deck and those that are used to stack the deck. The shuffles used to preserve the order of the cards are commonly referred to as blind shuffles.
There are two kinds of bind shuffles, those that preserve the order of the entire deck, and those that are used to control the order and position of a slug or preexisting stack. It isn't usually necessary to preserve the entire order of the deck, so 100% blind shuffles are not too common. However, sometimes it is necessary to preserve a large portion of the deck, so some principles of 100% blind shuffles can be used to accomplish that; in that case a big portion of the deck would still be shuffled.
Some blind shuffles are extremely easy to do, in both common styles, i.e. riffle-shuffle style and overhand style. For example, controlling a small slug of cards at the bottom of the deck hardly requires any explanation. This kind of shuffle may be used for a bottom-dealing scam. Another possible use for a bottom slug is for some location play scenarios.
Controlling a small slug on top of the deck is a bit trickier, for a number of reasons. The main reason is that there's not much that can be done by just keeping a slug of cards at the top of the deck, without doing some extra work with the slug before the deal. Also, controlling a top slug is more visible and therefore potentially more obvious.
Some blind shuffles are more elaborate, however. The best examples would be any of the 100% blind shuffles. In riffle-shuffle style the most common ones are the push through shuffle, the strip-out shuffle, the Zarrow shuffle and the Shank shuffle. The last two shuffles are credited to their "inventors" but, if you ask me, these inventors just re-discovered the wheel and were simply credited for publishing their work. But in reality, these false shuffles are so logical that it's hard to believe they did not exist for long before their inventors-to-be were even born. I hope I don't sound too negative, it's not meant that way.
A riffle shuffle is commonly accepted as the more professional and thorough style of shuffling, compared to any overhand shuffle. But the truth is, riffle shuffles have some weaknesses.
One problem is that a small group of cards will remain in the same order, even after two or three, or even more, riffle shuffles. This is because a riffle shuffle basically just inserts random cards from one pile in-between cards of the opposite pile, but does not change the sequence of the cards in neither pile. This weakness can be, and has been, exploited by cheats and advantage players. Mathematicians tell us that a riffle-shuffle cycle requires a total of 7 riffle shuffles to achieve true randomness. By true randomness they mean a new sequence that bears absolutely no resemblance to the order in which the deck started in, before the shuffling cycle. But that stands true only if all seven shuffles are executed without any of the usual flaws and imperfections.
The most common mistake of a riffle shuffle is the short shuffle. That's when the dealer keeps a chunk of un-shuffled cards either at the bottom or at the top of the deck. This can be done unintentionally or deliberately. In any event, it has always been a weakness, and when it happens at the bottom of the deck it's impossible to see.
The other common mistake is a lopsided shuffle. That happens when both, the bottom and the top, don't get mixed in, into the opposite pile. Once again, it can happen by mistake or it can be done deliberately. Both of these imperfections require minimal practice, if the dealer wants to do it intentionally.
Clumping is another imperfection, but it is generally not such a big problem, unless it's really bad. That occurs when the dealer is unable to get the cards to alternate in small groups, or a single cards, so clumps of un-shuffled cards get carried.
So, since it is unpractical for dealers to go through a total of seven shuffles, and since such long procedure still has potentially vulnerable points, the casino industry has adopted the RRSR cycle as the industry standard. The abbreviation RRSR stands for, Riffle, Riffle, Strip, Riffle. Basically, the dealer does two riffle shuffles, then executes a stripping action and completes with another riffle shuffle. If we ask mathematicians they will still tell us that this sill does not achieve true randomness, but for any practical purpose, this is an acceptable shuffle. And when we add a wash procedure into the mix, this simplified shuffle becomes even better.
The RRSR cycle can still be faked in many ways. But doe to the fact that this shuffling cycle consists of a stripping action, we now have to have a way to fake that.
There are several ways in which a stripping shuffle can be faked, to achieve a number of different objectives. However, the options are so numerous that we cannot discuss them here. Some fake stripping cycles preserve the entire order of the deck, some preserve the bottom, so the top and some are used just to mark-off a position. But if you are interested in more information please visit the tutorials chapter, on this site.
I should also mention that there are several other kinds of blind shuffles that look very convincing, because they involve a false cascade. Although they look really good, and convincing, a card cheat may feel that they show off too much skill. As a general rule, card cheats don't like people to think that they have some special abilities with cards, so they rather stick to plain stuff and not risk attracting attention.
Stacking the Deck
The deck can be stacked in a number of ways. If we were to divide stacking methods into two groups we would have methods that involve stacking before the shuffle, in one group, and methods that involve stacking during the shuffle, in the other. Of course, there is also the possibility to do a partial stack before the shuffle, and then complete the stack during the shuffle. Either way, stacking involves some controlled shuffles. If the stacking was done prior to the shuffle, a blind shuffle needs to be employed, and if it is done during the shuffle, then the shuffle itself is a stacking method.
If you want to know some of the exact mechanics of various stacking methods, please visit the tutorials chapter, on this site. I have many fully-illustrated step-by-step tutorials that will explain all the details of various stacking procedures. Some of the stacking procedures described there are quite advanced, and materials are added on regular basis.
The lay stack is, shall we say, the most "innocent" of all stacking methods, because it only involves spotting an existing stack and making sure it ends up on top of the deck, then controlled during the shuffle, and, if needed, manipulated to the exact location. The lay stack is really more of a casino cheating strategy, best used for blackjack. But it can also be used in poker. However, Texas Hold'em is probably not the game that lends itself best to the lay stack.
Basically, with many cards exposed at the end of a round, the dealer is able to spot that a group of cards already lays in an order that will benefit one of the players, if the cards are just picked up as is and re-dealt. So, the dealer just makes sure that group of cards ends up on top of the deck, then performs some blind shuffles and sets up the deck for the cut. Again, if this was a multi-deck blackjack game, this stack would be marked-off with a brief (a card that protrudes from the back of the multi-deck pile) or a crimp (a bent card) and either controlled during the cut, or memorized to be used as soon as a sequence of cards is spotted during one of the consecutive deals. But this chapter is about poker, so we don't want to get too much into it. But basically, the lay stack probably works better in Stud games than in Hold'em.
The pickup stack is kind of similar to the lay stack, just described. The difference is that the dealer must rearrange the order of cards and groups of cards, as they are being picked up for the next shuffle. So, the pickup stack obviously happens during the showdown. However, some of the work can also be done during the course of the game, as players fold their hands. The dealer must then place the stack on top of the deck and go through some blind shuffles to preserve the stack. As with the lay stack, some of the stacking can be done during the shuffle, to complete the stack, in which case the stack is really a combination of two stacking methods.
The pickup stack actually works quite well for Hold'em, but the dealer has to be good enough avoid making it obvious that he is arranging cards during the pickup. One way that the pickup stack works well to use it as a partial stack to set up a specific card to hit the board and lay the desired pocket cards on top. Then, with a riffle stack the dealer can stack the pocket cards, making sure that the group of cards further down the deck don't get disturbed. It is relatively easy (for a very good mechanic) to run up two cards for a partner, during RRSR. However, it is almost impossible to stack anything beyond that, beyond that, without adding riffles to the shuffling cycle. So, the idea is to do part of the stacking during the pickup and finish off during RRSR. While stacking during the RRSR shuffle can secure a pocket pair, doing a combination of two stacks can secure a set or even a 5-card combination, such as a flush or a full house.
Finally, we've come to the last stacking procedure, that involves stacking during a controlled shuffle. There are too many ways to run up a hand during the shuffle, to describe them all here, but let's just go over some basics.
Any stacking procedure has to mimic a regular shuffle that the dealer would normally do in any given situation. So, in a casual home game the players may shuffle in any number of overhand styles. In a better-run home game players are likely to be using riffle shuffles, but in many cases these riffle shuffles are the off-the-table style. In a poker club or casino cardroom the dealer will always use the proper on-the-table riffle shuffle. It has been said that card cheats will always use whatever shuffling style is used by their opponents, to better blend in. That's not necessarily true, in my opinion. I've seen many private games where each player uses a different style of shuffling and no one ever thinks anything of it if one of the players is using a proper casino shuffle. So, as long as the mechanic doesn't display amazing skills and dexterity with a deck of cards in his hands, any standard shuffle will be accepted in any private game. I've never seen any evidence to the contrary.
Stacking with overhand style shuffles is inferior to riffle stacking. That's because overhand shuffles are not how experienced and serious card players shuffle the deck. Most of the overhand stacking methods are also quite primitive and obvious, as they involve openly counting individual cards in cycles, which is quite obvious. However, there are some more advanced overhand stacking methods that are less obvious and quite tricky. One of these methods is called formula stacking. In any event, any overhand stacking method will still be easier than riffle stacking.
Finally, the most advanced, most difficult and most fascinating of all stacking methods is riffle stacking. I have provided examples of riffle stacking, with detailed illustrated descriptions, down to the last detail, in the tutorials chapter, but let's still go over some basics.
First of all, there are several styles of riffle shuffling, but there is only one style that is the casino industry standard riffle shuffle. Riffle stacking can be done in all the shuffling styles, but the casino style is the most desirable style to master; it is also the most deceptive one. Also, in addition to the styles of shuffling, there are differences in shuffling cycles. In casinos, the most commonly accepted shuffling cycle is RRSR (short for Riffle, Riffle, Strip, Riffle). Casinos have adopted the RRSR cycle, because it is practical and shirt, and presumably secure. Of course, that last statement is not entirely true.
In private games procedures are either lax or nonexistent. This means that the player shuffling the deck can do as many shuffles as he wants. Although, in theory, a shuffle with more riffles is better, because it breaks up sequences, in practice there is another side to it. By allowing the players to do any number of shuffles they wish to, we are opening up endless possibilities for cheating. With an RRSR cycle I can run up a pocket pair any time; a set (i.e. three of a kind) is harder to do and a flush is almost impossible. But with the flexibility of being allowed to do any number of shuffles I see fit, I can run up any combination I want, and even decide in advance, specifically, where the cards will fall on the board. I can do that much easier than I can run up a set with RRSR.
Location play is a subtle cheating technique. I guess I should say that location play is a powerful cheating technique, but if I say that I should also say that it's only powerful in the hands of a good poker player. This also means that in the hands of a poor poker player, the advantages of this great strategy get completely lost. That's because location play just gives the cheat the perfect knowledge of some of the cards that will be dealt out (or that have no chance of being dealt) without giving the cheat an actual hand. So, a bad cheat may have no clue how to exploit that information or may even lose more money than he normally would, simply because he thinks he is playing with an advantage.
Location play is basically a simple stacking technique. It's a strategy based on memorizing a slug of cards and then tracking and manipulating its location through the shuffles. This is accomplished through a set of simple shuffles, usually just short shuffles and/or some simple shuffles that are controlled by a brief.
The best way to think of location play is that there are a few available schemes that can be used depending on the situation. Then, once a particular scheme is used it opens up countless possibilities, in much the same way at a legitimate game of poker does. Basically, even with location play strategies one is still dealing with random distribution of cards and unpredictable actions of the opponents. The advantage is in the prior knowledge of one small portion of the deck. The fact that this is perfect information still doesn't mean that it can be of any use to make a score during that round. But this kind of perfect future information is always of use, even if it tells one that this is the perfect time to fold. Also, the information can easily result in a "bad beat. Not quite a bad beat in the true sense of the word, but a bad beat in a sense that the correctly "predicted" event still got crushed because one still doesn't know what cards the opponents have. So it ended up being a "bad beat" because the cheat may not have even played that particular hand if he hadn't known part of the outcome.
Since location play is not often discussed in detail I decided to leave the examples for the tutorials chapter. Please note that as of now, there are no examples listed in the tutorial. Please check back at some future time (I am working on them as we speak).
This term should not be confused with the term "mucking your hand," or "throw your hand in the muck." Hand mucking is the art of switching cards during play and the cheat the specializes in hand mucking is commonly called a hand mucker. Sometimes the cheat could be called a holdout man, because he is holding out. But oftentimes people may assume that the term holdout man refers to a cheat that uses some kind of holdout device. This could definitely be so, but not necessarily. These terms are all basically slang and hustler's jargon, and sometimes there's no clear distinction between the exact meanings of some terms. A hand mucker will definitely have to keep the card concealed somewhere, for later use, and it's likely that he will employ some kind of accessory, i.e. holdout device. On the other hand, many hand mucker's don't employ accessories because they don't want to be caught with incriminating evidence. While a smooth talker may explain the presence of a single card under the table (or let the suckers come up with their own "logical" conclusion) the presence of a holdout device, even the most primitive one, is hard to explain. Furthermore, the presence of a holdout device proves that the scam was premeditated. And premeditated scams are perceived as serious offenses, by far.
While on the subject of terminology, a player that plays with extra cards is often said to be "playing heavy" and a hand that consists of a extra card is called a "heavy hand."
Texas Hold'em is actually not well-suited for hand mucking. The reason is because there are not many good opportunities to steal a card. The best opportunity to steal a card, generally speaking, is when a player tosses his hand into the muck. So, in games such as 7-Card Stud it is easy to get away with it, when tossing away a group of cards. However, there are still some opportunities to steal a card in Hold'em, but as a general rule hand mucking is not a Hold'em scam. Multi-player Omaha is even worse, because not many cards remain in the deck. In a 10-player Omaha game, for example, there will be 4 cards left in the deck, after the river card is dealt.
Having said that, I should also mention that there is always a possibility of collusion of two players switching cards between their hands, without stealing an extra card from the deck. Although this is a possibility, the odds of it happening are actually slim. First of all, the scam is not very practical, and second, hand muckers usually work alone.
A hand mucker will typically steal one card, at the first opportune moment. This first card is called the "starter card" and it could be just a random card. If there are not many opportunities to steal the starter card, then it's very likely going to be a random one. Unless the starter card can already be used to improve a hand, it will most often just be used to switch-out a better card. From then on the hand mucker plays with an extra card, which gives him a big mathematical advantage over everyone else.
The best moment to steal an extra card is during a misdeal, when everyone realizes the dealer made a mistake and they all toss their hands into one pile, at more or less the same time. A misdeal can be deliberately staged, if the dealer is helping one of the players. In Hold'em, this would definitely be a possibility, especially in an underground poker club where the dealers don't follow the best procedures.
In a home game the hand mucker can steal the starter card when the deck gets passed on to him for the deal. But the problem with many home games is that many poker players have adopted a two-deck procedure, to speed up the game. So, a mechanic is actually better off working a shuffle scam, which leaves no physical evidence.
And finally, the most obvious opportunity to steal a card is when the player folds. But, as we've already discussed, that doesn't really work for Hold'em.
Typically, there are two styles of playing with an extra card. If the man is using some kind of holdout device, such as a bug or a holdout clip, he will wait until the right moment, before adding the extra card to his hand. The he will switch-out the unwanted card. But if the player is mucking without any accessories he may keep the card palmed in his hand all the time and muck cards in and out of his hand on every single round, just to keep his hands clean and avoid having an extra card anywhere on his person. Most of the muckers I've seen on some covert videos that were recorded in Gardena cardrooms, in the 1980s, worked like that.
The actual techniques for switching cards vary. There are too many of them to describe them here, but it should be noted that the techniques will vary depending on the game being played and also depending on the style of handling the cards, that is commonly accepted in the locality. A hand mucker is taking a big risk, every time he does a switch, so his techniques must mimic the handling that is commonly accepted amongst players.
The best countermeasure against any kinds of holdout scams is to count the stub, every time the rounds goes all the way to the river. In Hold'em this is very easy, because the number of cards that remain in the stub are fixed, depending on the number of players at the table. But in stud games the math is more involved, which is yet another reason why hand mucking works better in stud. But if the dealer is helping the holdout man, then counting is pointless. How many players ever pay any attention to how many cards the dealer counts in a stub?
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