Gaming expert David Parlett describes playing cards as follows: "All card games hinge on the fact that a card has two sides, one of which reveals its identity, while the other conceals it..." For the purpose of his book, A Dictionary of Card Games, David Parlett is absolutely correct, because his book deals primarily with describing legitimate card games. In his text, he merely describes what the two sides of playing cards were originally designed for. However, I decided to use this quote in this chapter because some card cheats may find this statement amusing. When marked cards are in use the purpose of the back side of a card is to conceal the card's identity from the suckers, while revealing it to the cheat(s).
From personal experience I know that when average people think of card cheating they usually first think of marked cards. Furthermore, whenever the subject of marked cards is brought up, most people usually suspect miniature marks on the backs of the cards. Unfortunately, they don't hit the nail quite in the head.
First of all, marked cards are just one of the many gaffs that may be used to cheat during a card game. Furthermore, even if marked cards are used, the markings are not necessarily small nor do they have to be on the backs of the cards. Sometimes the marks can be large symbols on the backs, and sometimes they are not even marks (see sorts below). Sometimes the marks are not on the backs, but rather on the sides, or even on the fronts. By now you probably have guessed that cards with those miniature marks that everyone looks for on the backs are usually used by less knowledgeable amateur card cheats.
Marked cards are also called readers or paper. Card cheats who use paper are called paper players. Another popular term for paper players is painters. This is because expert cheats like to "paint their own paper," as opposed to buying a ready-made marked deck from a crooked gambling supplier.
An expert painter will only prepare as many cards as absolutely needed for a particular game. For example in some games, such as blackjack, the suits are irrelevant so there is no need to mark them. Furthermore in blackjack cheats usually mark only the relevant groups of cards. The aces, the tens (this includes picture cards), high cards (7's, 8's and 9's) and low cards (2's to 6's). To use this system the cheat only needs to develop three marking patterns. One of the four groups (in this case the low cards) will be left unmarked. It should be noted, however, that another very effective marking system for blackjack would be to mark only the Aces and the tens. What groups of cards the cheat decides to mark is a matter of personal preference. As a general rule there is less chance to discover markings if fewer cards are marked. By the same token, the fewer times the cheat resorts to those markings, lesser the chance of being caught cheating.
In poker the suits are relevant because they can complete flushes. However, contrary to what people may think, expert poker cheats do not often mark the cards for suits. There are several reasons for that, but the number one reason is to keep things simple. However, there are plenty of other card games where suits play a much more significant role than in poker, and those are the card games where the cards are more likely to be marked for suits. But in this case the values may be omitted.
Marked cards have also frequently been discovered in casinos. Under rigorous casino security it is even more necessary to keep things simple and minimize the amount of work put on the cards. So, interestingly enough, the higher the stakes the simpler the work.
It also should be noted that a marked deck is just a tool, but a tool does not do one any good if one doesn't know how to use it. An amateur cheat who purchased a marked deck from a crooked gambling supply house will not really know how to use it correctly. When you play cards you don't really have time to study the backs or ask your opponents to please hold their cards in such way so you can see the backs. Using marked deck is a skill that requires practice. An expert paper player will spend time developing an effective cheating strategy.
To better illustrate how hard it is to use marked cards feel free to do the following experiment. Take a deck face-up in dealing position. Then deal the cards as if for a four-handed game of poker, in effect into four face-down piles. As you deal you have the chance to glimpse at the cards while they are in your hand. After the cards are dealt players might cover them up with their hands and you may no longer have the opportunity to see them, nor the marks, which is why you dealt the cards face down. As soon as the cards are dealt try to reconstruct each player's hand. Get the idea? This is obviously a poor strategy for using paper but nevertheless it is a problem that every inexperienced cheat might face if they just buy a marked deck and jump into a game without really knowing how to use it.
Besides using inferior methods of marking, amateur cheats also tend to rely on those marks too much. This gets them caught as they feel too confident and therefore tend to make illogical decisions during the game. On the other hand, experienced cheats will only resort to those markings whenever absolutely necessary. To be convincing they need to lose some and win some. They will always lose those hands with low stakes and win when there's something worth winning. In fact, the only time they really care to cheat is when the stakes are high enough. The rest of the times they may simply play the game like everyone else.
"Taking the deck to the movies" is a gamblers' expression to test the deck for markings. It refers to the riffle test, which is, if you will, a more official term. If you riffle through the deck as if it were an animated flip-book and keep your eyes focused onto one spot you may be able to notice flashes, if the deck is marked. This works only for some methods of marking. As we will see, professional cheats have developed methods that will pass the riffle test, so the suckers can "take the deck to the movies" all they want and let a nicely juiced deck pass their approval.
You may be surprised how poorly trained most poker-room security personnel are; more than half of them have no idea what to look for. Some cheats can hardly suppress their amusements. For all we know the riffle test may have even been invented by cheats, only to make the suckers feel in control of the situation.
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