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The average professional card player probably knows a thing or two about cheating, but the average recreational player probably doesn't have a clue. This is not to say that the average recreational player will not try to cheat, it simply means that most people don't know how it is really done.

Cheating is a controversial issue with card players. I am personally amazed (but never surprised) at the amount of ignorance I get with regards to this subject. Perhaps this is the reason why cheating at cards passed the test of time? I can best compare it with issues of drugs. Anti-drug activists have to deal with frustrations all the time, "Is it better to educate our kids ourselves or to let them learn from the streets?" Same goes for cheating. Those experts who wish to be known as reputable like to stay away from the subject. The less they are associated with the issues of cheating the better image they have in the eyes of the ignorant public.

I personally don't know if most of the people use the information on this site to sharpen their cheating skills, or to protect themselves against cheats. And these moral issues don't keep me awake at night. The information is here and it is up to the individual to decide how to make use of it. But even if some want to advance their cheating skills, they still have to learn how to protect themselves against other cheats. So this chapter may be of equal value to all.

It is impossible to eliminate cheating. One can only minimize the risks. Every card player can get cheated, regardless of skill, knowledge, and experience. In fact, even the most experienced players can fall for the simplest tricks. It is impossible to be 100% alert for all the possible ways someone might cheat. With certain scams even knowing about them and being fully aware of them during a game won't help prevent them from happening. Sometimes one would have to be a mind reader to know if a scam is taking place, or not. If a player unintentionally glimpses at another player's card and takes advantage of this knowledge it technically constitutes cheating. The fact that it was the other player's fault for being careless is irrelevant. Just as an example, in a game of stud it won't do you any good to bluff that you have a certain card, if your opponent knows you couldn't possibly have it, since the other player was too careless to flash it at some earlier time. Your opponent would be foolish not to call your bluff.

 


Following is a list of some safety procedures one can take to minimize the risks:

  1. Follow secure shuffling procedures.
  2. Follow secure cutting procedures.
  3. Follow secure dealing procedures.
  4. Enforce the deck-on-the-table rule.
  5. Use at least two decks with contrasting backs.
  6. Examine the cards and the box.
  7. Eliminate unneeded objects from the card table.
  8. Enforce the hands-on-the-table rule.
  9. Rotate players' positions.
  10. Follow secure discarding procedures.
  11. Pay attention to the pot or the score sheets.
  12. Examine the deck for crimps.
  13. Count the cards.
  14. Never walk into a card room full of strangers.
  15. Don't allow players to act out of turn (even to fold).

1. Follow secure shuffling procedures:
If you don't intend to cheat it is in your best interest that you follow the most secure shuffling procedure. General gaming rules say that another player must take a turn dealing after every round. In some games the dealer rotates clockwise, in others counterclockwise, and in some games it is the winner of the previous round. I would make a small amendment to these rules. I would still select the dealer according to the specific rules, however, I would add that the player to the dealer's left should first scramble the cards, then the dealer should shuffle, and the player to the dealer's right should cut. (This may be reversed in games which require a counterclockwise deal). up

2. Follow secure cutting procedures:
Always use a cut-card or a face-up Joker. If none of these are available you may use the advertising card. At the completion of the shuffle the dealer must square the deck and offer it to the player to his right(or left in some games) to cut. the dealer holds the deck by two corners and the other player inserts the cut-card into the deck, but leaves it protruding a bit. The dealer should then openly cut the deck at that point and carry the upper half along with the cut-card away, and place it on the table. He should then place the lower half on top and openly square the deck. It should go without saying that you should always cut the cards and never allow others to skip the cut. Sometimes players knock on the deck to indicate that they do not wish to cut. This is either a bad habit or a cheating strategy, and should not be allowed in a straight game. up

3. Follow secure dealing procedures:
Even if you use a cut-card I would still recommend that you request the everyone deals by keeping the deck on the table the whole time. This is a simple dealing technique that simulates the use of a dealing shoe. Some card rooms make use of this dealing methods in single-deck games. The dealer holds the deck from above at the corners near the short edge and keeps his index finger on top. With the other hand he slides the top card onto the table and pushes it towards the appropriate player without ever lifting it from the table. If a stud deal is required, the dealer must first slip the card off the deck and only when it is entirely on the table is he allowed to turn it over. This is important because if the dealer turns over the card while it is still on the deck he can momentarily grab two cards as one and take a peek at the upcoming card. This quick peek is useful in stud poker; the dealer may know what the first card on the next round may be and bet accordingly even if he has not way to deal a second. Furthermore, the dealer should burn a card before every round. up

4. Enforce the deck-on-the-table rule:
Some cheating is easier to accomplish if the cheat can take some liberties with the deck. You should follow the rule that the deck must be on the table the whole time. The only exceptions are when the dealer has to count the cards, which is another safety precaution, and for a brief moment during the cut. Other than that all the shuffles should be done on the table, the dealer should never flash the bottom card, and the deck should be kept on the table during the deal. Furthermore the deck should remain in full view the entire time. up

5. Use at least two deck with contrasting backs:
The use of two decks with contrasting backs makes it more difficult for cheats to hold out cards. The rule is that any player can request a deck change at any time, but it is usually up to the dealer to change the deck whenever he feels like. THe inactive deck should be kept on the table in full view. up

6. Examine the cards and the box:
If you play for money you should always insist that a new deck be used. Before and after the box is opened every player should have the right to examine the cellophane wrapper, the box, and the cards. Keep in mind that if the box has been tampered with you will most likely not discover any traces of tampering on the security seal. Boxes are usually opened from behind, or from the side where the flaps are glued together without being secured with a seal. If the bow was tampered with you may be able to discover some traces there. The cellophane wrapper is as important. Usually tampered boxes are glued back with Krazy Glue® or Epoxy®. This doesn't look quite the same as a factory sealed cellophane wrapper. Upon close examination it is possible to discover the inconsistencies. So don't just throw the wrapper away. Keep it, and if you lost too much money have another look at it. up

7. Eliminate unneeded objects from the table:
Sunglasses, walkmans, coffee cups, pipes, ZIPPO lighters, cigarette cases and other object that are not used in the actual game are unnecessary, and create clutter, and could be used to cheat. It is in you best interest to eliminate them. up

8. Enforce the hands-on-the-table rule:
Players should never be allowed to rest their hand on their thighs, reach into the pocket for cigarettes, or even to hold their hands near the edge of the table. You will have a hard time trying to enforce this rule, but it is still the way it should be in an ideal word. Most payers will never take this rule seriously; but then most players are either suckers, or cheats. There is a really small percentage of players that are 100% on the square and street-smart. up

9. Rotate players' positions:
Some cheats operate best by being seated in a certain way around the table. Some will not agree with me, but I think it is better to change sitting positions after a break. If nothing else, you should use a proper procedure to determine sitting positions. When you open a new deck the cards are in numerical order. Separate one of the suits, shuffle the pack and have players draw cards at random to determine sitting positions. If you play with the same group on Fridays, you should never allow that payers assume the same positions around the table every time. up

10. Follow secure discarding procedures:
If you play 5-card draw poker you should not allow players to toss some cards into the discard pile and call for a number of cards. Also if a player folds, he must put his cards into the discard pile openly, so that everyone can see how many cards he is tossing away. Same goes at the end of the round. Even if the deck will be counted, make sure you see how many cards each player is tossing away. In trick taking games, do not allow any player to touch the discards. up

11. Pay attention to the pot or the score sheet:
Don't allow players to just toss a bunch of chips into the pot. Always count. If you play a game that requires score sheet, always pay attention to the scores. If you play any of the games in which each player adds up his points from the tricks he took, make sure you count the opponents' points as well as your own, and pay attention to all entries in the score sheet. up

12. Examine the deck for crimps:
When it is your turn to shuffle and the deck has been in circulation for awhile examine the deck for crimps. Some crimps may not be deliberate, but you should eliminate them anyway. Finally if any card is badly bent and can not be fixed, a new deck should be used. up

13. Count the cards:
To discourage a houldout man the dealer should always count the cards. In some games it makes more sense if the dealer does it as he concludes the game, and in others it makes more sense if the new dealer does it as soon as he receives the deck. If you follow the procedure that another player scrambles the cards then the dealer should count after the scramble (just to make sure that a couple of cards didn't get trapped under the other guy's fingernails). If it is not your turn to deal, you should pay attention to the count. up

14. Never walk into a card room full of strangers:
We've all heard the expression "Don't play cards with strangers". The best cheating method is collusion. It is also the least talked about, and the most frequently used method in card rooms. up

15. Don't allow players to act out of turn:
At the card table every player has his/her proper turn to play. You should never allow other players to act out of turn just because they seem to be impatient. Even if a player intend to fold, he should do it when it is his turn to act, because his action may influence the actions of the other players. I suggest that you assign a penalty point system for layers who act out of turn. In poker the player could pay all others the amount of a minimum bet, and if he does it more than three times he is asked to leave the table. If everyone agrees to these rules ahead of time there should be no problem. Furthermore, everyone should agree to these rules, simply because it is the proper way to play. up

 

Expecting that people will follow all these regulations in friendly private games is like expecting suburban home owners to follow security procedures at Fort Knocks. People just won't do it - it's human nature. But then, how many suburban home owners get burglarized? Usually they install an alarm system after they had their home broken into. Well, then it's too late. When it's too lat people say, I wish I did this, I wish I did that. Then they install the burglar alarm and pick-proof locks, but after awhile they get tired of these useless and annoying procedures, so soon they start leaving the key under the doormat as they used to. The fact is, most people are naive when it comes to personal safety, and they approach the card games with the same ignorance. Serves them well, I guess.

Most card rooms are pretty lax about procedures in any games where players do not play against the house. I do not even agree with some of their gaming procedures but there is nothing you and I can do about it. In private games, however, one should be able to convince other players to follow procedures for their own good. But in home games it will never happen. People are tired of rules. They have rules at work, in school, in the military, can't park here, can't park there, can't buy wine on Sundays in New York state...etc. When they go home they just want to relax and "not worry about no stinking rules". So let's play some cards.

 


If you are going to take precautions against cheating you might as well take the time to learn the proper rules of the games, and convince other players to play by them. Most home games are played inaccurately. People kind of remember the rules and start to play. This is not devastating if it is only a camp-fire game for fun, but if you are going to continue playing the same games it is in everyone's best interests to learn the rules from a reliable source.

One rule that has always raised the hairs on the back of my neck is the cards-speak-for-themselves rule that is very often practiced by poker players who play games such as Hold 'em, 7-card Stud, or use wild cards. I recommend that you enforce the rule that every player is on its own and therefore it is the player's individual responsibility to announce the rank of his/her hand. Poker is not a partnership game, you do not have to help out other players in arranging their best possible 5-card hands out of the 7 available cards (or wild cards). All the other players are your opponents. At the poker table you are the other players' enemy, not their guardian angel. Your goal is to take everybody else's money, not to help others take your. Make it clear before the game that you wish to enforce this rule. Once the player lays his hand down and announces the rank of his hand it stands. As soon as another player announces his rank (in proper turn) no other player is allowed to change his mind just because he happened to realize something that should have been obvious. The only time when others should correct another player's mistake is if the hand was declared inaccurately, for example if a player declared a straight that he does not have, such as K_A_2_3_4.

I totally oppose the rule that cards speak for themselves and everyone collectively agrees to the ranks of everyone else's hands. This is nonsense. Same goes for card room regulations that the dealer declares all the hands at the showdown. It is simply not poker, and the dealer should mind his own business, which is definitely not playing hands of other players. If you follow this cards-speak-for-themselves habit you might as well play 5-card draw by allowing players to take their discards back and reassemble a better hand after they've seen what cards they received on the draw. Once a player acts, he should act on his own and it should stand as is. That's the essence of the game.

Finally, card rooms have their own agenda. They may enforce the cards-speak-for-themselves rule for reasons that have nothing to do with the player's real interests, nor with the way poker should be played to begin with. First of all they have nothing to lose. Players play against each other and they pay the house for the privilege to do it there, use their own cards, and dealer. The rule that I recommend, which is that each player declares his own rank and can't change his mind after another player has acted, may spring some arguments. For example a player may completely overlook a glaringly obvious possibility and realize he had made a mistake only when it is too late. I say, that's too bad for him. Next time he should pay more attention and less to the cocktail waitress. In theory there should not be any argument if you make it clear at the beginning that this is how the game will be played. However, card rooms want to take the easy way out. The dealer declares the hands and that's it. They will help out the weaker players even if card games are all about the better players beating the weaker ones. In short, they just don't care, they want to keep it simple and move on without arguments because they want to keep the action going. The action pays them; arguments waist their valuable time.

 


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