The best poker cheats prefer not to use any kind of cheating accessories. In fact, as previously discussed, the best poker cheats would prefer to win money without even cheating. And of course, the worst poker cheats feel so un capable that they hope to find solutions in some high-tech gadget that is the answer to their prayers. Just press a button and something happens. Wouldn't that be nice?

Of course, this oversimplification paints a completely inaccurate picture. We cannot really say that the use of cheating accessories is what divides the cheats into two groups, the amateurs and the pros. There are many cheating accessories that are used by pros and of course there's a whole bunch of equipment that's sold to the amateurs.


Strictly for Suckers

It is my opinion that most of the crooked gambling equipment ever made simply cannot be used for anything other than demonstrations. There's never been a shortage of suckers that nurture dreams of making a big score at gambling and gamblers are very well aware of the fact that winning is not easy. So, gamblers that have never entertained ideas of cheating must be just about as common as North Korean drag queens. I am not dismissing the possibility that they exist, but I am saying that, amongst gamblers, squeaky clean puritans who can say that the idea of cheating had never even crossed their minds, are a minority. It is only natural that it would be so. After all, gambling is addictive and quite frustrating, when one doesn't win. So, the activity creates its own demand for fast solutions. And when there's demand, suppliers show up. And once the suppliers come up with products, they put the word out in hopes to make some sales. And once the word is out, interest peaks. And once there's interest, there's temptation.

The problem is that most of the cheating accessories don't really offer the kind of easy solutions that the gamblers are hoping for. Gamblers have wild imaginations, so they have their own ideas about how some things should work. So, when a accessory shows up that promises to do what they've always dreamed of, their imaginations fill in the blanks and they imagine these gaffs to be something they are really not, or not quite. Others may have never thought of any specific toys they wish they could buy, but once the word is out they hear of all the wonders such and such gaff is able to do and their curiosities lead them to purchase the prop to see how it works. Once they receive the toy, most people realize that the gaff is neither as easy to use as they've imagined, or doesn't quite do what it should, or perhaps that they never had the nerve to use it under fire, or that it's easier to cheat without the gaff. In most cases these toys end up at the back of some drawer and are eventually forgotten, until the day when the grandchildren discover them and sell item on eBay to a collector of crooked gambling paraphernalia.

Basically, what it all boils down to, is that there's no shortage of sucker items that never stand a chance to pass in any real gambling environment.

The other problem is that most people don't realize that many professional cheating gaffs are really not easy to use. Let's take a stripper deck as an example. First of all, the professional stripper deck can pass inspection. This means that most people will never figure out how exactly to grab the deck, to strip out the cards. Even when people are taught the principle, they soon find out that they can't really do it. Unless they have the privilege to have one-on-one lessons by a real pro, they may eve have serious doubts that the damn thing even works. So, a professional stripper deck is like a violin. Just because someone shows you how to produce a note, don't expect you'll be able to do it any time soon. It may take a couple of weeks of serious practice before the stripping skill is learned. But stripping is not even half the work. To go back to my analogy, that would be like playing a single note on a violin. But where's the melody?

So, since the average Joe really doesn't stand a chance to get a hang of the handling of a real stripper deck, the suppliers must produce a stripper deck that is easier to handle - i.e. one that will work on the first try. But the obvious problem is that if it works for one person, it works for anyone, and such stripper deck can really not be used for gambling. But the average Joe realizes that the stripping alone is not enough. OK, so you can strip four aces to the top or bottom of the deck. Now what? In the most primitive of scams the cheat would then have to do a bottom deal. A more sophisticated cheat may opt for riffle stacking. Neither bottom dealing nor riffle stacking are the kind of skills that can be taught by reading the instructions that come with the stripper deck. So, the cheat now realizes that he actually needs to be a damn good mechanic, to use this gaff. And if he has to be a card mechanic, why bother with gaffed cards, to begin with. So, now we get back full circle and come to the conclusion that stripper decks are only practical for highly trained card mechanics, and in that case it might as well be the professional stripper deck that cannot be easily discovered.

There are many gaffs that simply can't perform in the hands of an average Joe. Even a holdout machine, with all it's mechanical marvels, may in fact look good in a picture, but is actually more difficult to use than learning some standard card mucking techniques. Most holdout machines are in fact just for collectors.

The fact that most crooked gambling equipment was sold to dreamers looking for simple solutions should not come as a surprise. People like to be practical. They just want to buy something and expect it to do what it's supposed to do. But even marked cards don't work quite like that, which is why most of the marked cards sold to the masses are just sucker work. In fact, I can't think of a single gaff, no matter how good, that would work just out of the box. That's why even the best of props become sucker items if they are not used by professionals. Here's the paint brush that was used by Leonardo. Now, can you paint the Mona Lisa?


Crooked Gambling Distributors

The most infamous crooked gambling distributor of all times is Will & Finck. The company was based in San Francisco and they were supplying gamblers across the nation, through mail order catalogs. A lot of their equipment was sold to gambling saloons and faro banks, some of it was sold to professional cardsharps and I believe most of it was purchased by dreamers looking for simple solutions. Original Will & Finck catalogs are rare, but many of the images from their catalogs were used in the book Sharps and Flats, which was the first in depth exposure of the secrets of the cardsharps.

Blue Book Crooked Gambling Supply Catalogs

Other infamous crooked gambling distributors were the KC Card Co, HC Evans, Hunt & Co, Mason & Co, TR King, George & Co, etc. All of these companies were in the business of distributing legitimate gaming supplies, the crooked stuff was just sold as "novelty items" for "entertainment purposes." These companies always had two kinds of catalogs, one catalog listed only regular gaming supplies and a separate catalog was used to list all the cheating gaffs. The catalogs with the cheating supplies were often called The Blue Book and were printed in blue ink. Many of the cheating gaffs sold by the crooked gambling distributors are displayed in our Virtual Museum of Crooked Gambling.


Cheating Gaffs

Some of the most elaborate and fascinating mechanical gaffs used to cheat at poker are holdout machines (described fully in the Holdout Devices chapter). There are of course some other, much simpler, accessories that do the same job as mechanical holdout machines, and sometimes even more effectively. Those are various bugs and clips used to secure one or two cards out of play. In either case, the player attempting to use any such mechanical accessories will still have to learn some difficult sleight of hand skills to be able to work under fire. The skill required to switch a card using any type of holdout accessory is about the same difficulty level as the skills required to switch cards without using anything at all. Sometimes the accessory can actually make the job more difficult, if the accessory is not well built. But the idea is of course to be able to do a cleaner job, when an accessory is being used.

There is no argument, definitely a lot of gaffs have been invented for card cheating, but we don't want to discuss all of them here. So, let's just go over some of the gaffs that are actually useful and practical


Marked Cards

Marked cards are probably one of the most widely-known card cheating accessories of all. Various marked cards are described in the Marked Cards chapter on this site, so these descriptions will not be repeated here.

The basic idea behind marked cards is easy to understand. But having an understanding of the idea and being able to use the work are two entirely different things.

Professional cheats will rarely mark more than a few cards in any deck. This is not because they can't be bothered with it, but because too much information is often not needed or even helpful. A professional cheat is likely to work one angle and exploit limited information. Imagine if you were to color-code the backs of playing cards in 13 different colors, to represent 13 different values, from ace to king. How does that compare to a simpler solution where all the aces have red backs, the kings are green and the rest of the deck is blue? The simple 3-color combination offers instant recognition of the important cards and makes it easier to spot them and estimate their positions inside of a shuffled deck. But the 13-color combination is just a mish-mash of colors that ends up being more confusing than helpful. However, some paper players do work in teams and do utilize elaborate coding systems. But we would be talking about highly experienced professionals, here, that work together like a well-oiled machine.

An amateur cheat is likely to purchase a deck of marked cards that has been marked for suit and value, with 52 different combinations. That's not the type of marked deck that a professional would ever consider using. The amateur will of course soon find out that the work is not as easy to read as he had expected.

One type of marked cards that has always attracted amateur cheats are luminous readers, particularly those that use contact lenses instead of sunglasses. Early luminous readers were somewhat of a joke, but technology did manage to advance to a point that made it possible to produce some quite impressive solutions. I've written numerous articles on luminous readers on my blog, under the luminous readers tag, so there is no reason to repeat all the details here. However, I will just briefly mention that all luminous readers were not created equal. And then it still up to the user. While an amateur cheat will consider using luminous readers simply because he knows of no other solutions, a professional is more likely to use them only if he knows that this is the only option for a particular "gig." But what professional cheat in the right state of mind would want to bother with any kind of elaborate gaffs if he knows he can take the game down without any gaffs at all, the same way he's done it a million times before?

What it really all boils down to is that marked cards are just tools. There is no such thing as a fully-automatic tool, no matter how elaborate or high-tech the tool may be. To use any kind of marked cards effectively in a game of poker the player must know how to work the angles and deceive his opponents in ways that go beyond reading the backs of the opponents' cards. Psychology plays a big role in poker and that is still the case when the game is crooked. If experts say poker is a game of skill, well, so is the crooked version of the game, except that the skills are somewhat different.



Daub is a very simple gaff. It's basically a paste or powder that's used to put smudges on the cards. The daub is carried on the cheat's person and used sparingly to mark some of the important cards in the deck.

Daub workers sometimes work teamed up. The simplest arrangement consists of two people. The painter plays in the game in the earlier part of the evening and puts the work on the cards. When this job is done the painter leaves the game, and the building. The painter will never make any memorable play, as his purpose is solely to prep the game for the "meister."

Shortly after the painter has left, the partner comes in. He is totally clean. If any marked cards are discovered (which is unlikely), no one can pin it on him. His job is obviously to play the paper that has been planted there for him. A small team like that can go in and out of any game and most people don't even stand a chance to know that anything even went down.

The teams could consist of more players. Perhaps two players come, after the painter has left. Larger teams could have a coupled of painters and a few players that come afterwards.

These arrangements have all the elements of a professional scam that is likely to take place in a casino poker room. The fact that the players reading the work have not put the work on the cards is the key element that makes this scam fall in the category of top professional gambling scams. And since poker is not the top priority for casinos, daub workers are very likely to target that game, now that its popularity has blown out of proportions. A professional team will play paper and use collusion tactics to extract the most money out of the suckers. Even average colluders don't really stand a chance against a team like that.

There are several kinds of daub. The most popular types of daub (that have been used for decades) are silver sheen and golden glow. There is also a black/gray daub called N-daub. All of these are professional grade daubs and a small can of daub can last a lifetime. Of course, there's also luminous daub, but I will argue that the plain daub is still the professionals' choice. Why bother with some contact lenses, if one can get the same money without them?


Card Punches

Card punches are used to put a small bump at the back of a card for the purpose of identification. The maneuver that is used to manipulate punched cards is called the punch deal (discussed separately).

poker cheating: card punch

There are basically two kinds of card punched, those used to prepare the cards ahead of time, also called peggers, and those used during the actual game. Peggers have already been discussed in the Marked Cards chapter, so there is no reason to repeat things here. The card punch used during the course of the game is quite a useful, in the hands of a skilled mechanic.

The punch is just a miniature disc with a protruding pin in the center. People have been known to make them in various sizes ranging from about 2mm to about 8mm in diameter. They are usually made from some kind of soft metal, such as lead or even gold, and the pin is usually just the tip of a needle. The back of the punch is just glued to the inside or the side of the thumb, usually right over the first joint so that there is a harder surface behind it. Some hustlers leave it on all night and some get rid of it after they've punched the cards they normally punch (such as the aces and the kings). Once the cards are punched, the hustler can either use the work just to know where the high cards end up or he can incorporate a second deal.

Due to the fact that the hustler can only read the cards when it's his turn to deal, this gaff is more effective in games where there are less players at the table, or even heads up games. The mechanic can also work with a partner, usually seated to his right. The position of the partner is important because a late position enables the mechanic to catch the punched cards more frequently. At the end of the evening the hustler(s) may go through the extra step of taking the work out of the cards.



A shiner is any object with a reflective surface, used to secretly peek at the cards. A shiner is also sometimes called a glim, a flick, or a light; and using a shiner is sometimes called "light work," or "working the light."

Shiners can be improvised objects, such as a cup of black coffee, the dark screen of a cell phone, a metal cigarette lighter, sunglasses, and so on. One of the cleverest improvised shiners is a single drop of red wine, "accidentally" spilled at a strategic spot on the table.

Of course the most logical shiner is a small mirror that the light worker holds palmed in his hand as he deals the cards from the deck. The better shiners are curved. A convex surface makes it easier to catch the reflection without adjusting the angle. Those kinds of shiners are usually the size of a larger coin, to make it easier to palm and manipulate, as in the image on the left.

poker cheating: shiner poker cheating: shiner
Two types of shiners. The one on the left is a round convex mirror that is palmed under the deck, and the one on the right is a much smaller square mirror with a flat surface.

The image on the left shows the glim palmed in the left hand, right below the deck. This work requires the dealer to kick the card back, right before the card is tossed towards the sucker. When done right, this kicking looks perfectly normal, especially if the sucker is seated at the other end of a long table,because it appears as if the dealer is using the backwards kick as an anticipation to pitch the card forward more forcefully. The shiner used in this photo is squeeze-palmed by the edge of the hand. This is, once again, a completely natural position for the hand, because that's exactly how the hand falls in place when it hugs the deck.

On the right you see a shiner that has been cut from an ordinary mirror and then edged. This shiner is much more difficult to use because a) it is actually more difficult to palm and manipulate a very small object , and b) because the surface is flat, so it is not as easy to catch the correct angle to see the reflection. Also, a flat mirror may bounce off a light that may actually be seen on the ceiling or against the cheat's body. This is why a shiner is sometimes called a "light."

There is another kind of shiner that does not require this kind of palming. I guess it's just a matter of time when this gaff will also be exposed to the public, but I just don't feel like being the one credited for doing the exposing. That shiner is quite simple, home made, and very well concealed. A good light worker can easily show both hands empty while picking-up or putting-down the deck. But that shiner is much more difficult to work with than the one pictured above.

Some have come up with the idea of building a shiner into the thief of a mechanical holdout. Although the gaff may be fascinating to look at, I really think it's overkill.

A ring shiner is also a very popular gaff. It is basically a ring with one polished up surface that is used to read the cards. The ring would be worn on the pinkie and rotated inwards, to be used in more or less the same fashion as the flat mirror light pictured above. Hence the expression: Don't mess with a guy that wears a pinkie ring. Ring shiners used to be sold by many of the infamous crooked gambling distributors, but I would imagine any jeweler could easily make one.

Shiners are best used in head's up games, i.e. when the light worker is only facing one opponent. This makes a lot of sense, for a couple of reasons. First, the opponent is situated across from the light worker, which is absolutely the best angle to conceal a shiner. Also, when facing a single opponent it is much easier to remember what cards were dealt to that person. And Texas Hold'em is actually a very good game for light workers, as long as it's head's up. That's because there are only two pocket cards to peek at and there is no draw. The sucker might as well keep his cards face up. Makes it a bit hard (and costly) to bluff, when the other guy knows your pocket cards.


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