Sorts are my personal favorite type of marked cards. They are actually not even marked - at least not by any conventional means of altering the cards. In effect, they are marked by altering the entire deck. Sorts, also known as assorted cards, or sorted decks can be divided into two most-popular categories: white-border sorts, and border-less sorts. In addition cards can be separated into different groups by color, texture and some other inconsistencies. Let's begin by examining a border-less Bee deck.
One can purchase many decks of cards and divide (sorts) the cards into groups. On Bee backs the cards are factory-cut in such a way that the back design extends all the way to the edges of the cards. In fact, it would be almost impossible to cut them consistently. As a result every card looks different around the edges. The picture shows close up corners of three different cards.
One could almost say that the cards have already been marked at the factory, all one needs to do is sort them into groups. This is easier said than done. First of all, you never know how many decks to buy to be able to complete a sorting system; and you have no idea how many sorted decks you'll end up with. The other challenge is that it is really hard to come up with a good system that is easy enough to use in a game. When a card has been cut to make the upper left corner in one way it automatically alters the lower right corner in the opposite way (that corner becomes the upper left if you turn the card around, which happens in the course of a game). All this needs to be taken into account while sorting the deck. So, only so many combinations can be used effectively. After all, sorts will only help if they can be read quickly and accurately.
For that reason cards should never sorted into too many groups: two groups is plenty (and practical), three groups is challenging, and four groups is already confusing and totally unnecessary. For a blackjack game one can gain a tremendous advantage by just grouping the cards into ten-value cards and non-tens. Same edge can be achieved by sorting the cards into high-cards and low-cards. In a two-group system the aces can either be grouped with the high cards (or tens) or the low cards (or non-tens). An additional edge can be gained by sorting the aces into its own separate group, or if a three-group system is achieved by sorting into lows, neutrals, and highs.
As mentioned above, sorts do not necessarily have to be of the all-over back design type. Cards with white borders are also cut inconsistently at the factory and therefore may be sorted into groups in pretty much the same way as already explained. It is also very likely that white-border sorts are far more common than border-less ones.
One of the reasons why US casinos use border-less cards is precisely because of the ease with which white-bordered cards could be sorted, and later played by casino cheats. Those same casinos use white-border cards on their poker tables, however, they do not have any stake in those games. Incidentally, there are so many security holes in poker games that a few sorts would probably not make a big difference anyway.
The US Playing Card Company [USPCC] recently introduced Stinger™ cards. Stingers are simply Bee cards with white borders, except that the white borders are separated from the printed area by a faded edge, instead of the usual outline. This idea is an attempt to make it more difficult to spot the imperfections in the alignment of the back design. So, if you see Stingers in your next game I guess you should just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. I bet a lot of casino cheats are waiting in restless anticipation for the day casinos decide to switch to Stingers; I have a few decks and personally have little trouble spotting the misalignments.
The whole faded-edge idea is just a way to avoid the real issue. The issue is not the white border, the issue is good old quality control. However, it turns out that the USPCC is not having much success with the Stinger campaign anyway, so we'll probably never see them in casinos (unless they decide to use them in poker rooms).
Another possibility of sorting a deck is to use decks purchased at different times; better say, manufactured a different times. The USPCC is notoriously inconsistent with the color of their cards. Two decks purchased only a few months apart may be of two slightly different shades of the same color. Although this inconsistency may be the pain in the necks for the painters who will always have to mix their matching dyes from scratch, it is a blessing for those who use sorts.
The inconsistencies can also be reflected in the grade of paper. I managed to find some older decks (circa 1995) that have been printed on off-white paper. In effect the off-white paper appears to have a yellowish tint when the cards are compared side by side. The inconsistency is weak enough to miss unless someone is to point out the subtle difference but it is just strong enough to stand out when the off-white cards are mixed in with brighter ones. This method can be used to mark (sort) all the face cards and aces, for example. Since the paper is most exposed along the white borders this method can easily be adopted for edge work.
I accidentally discovered yet another sorting possibility that works with KEM Plastic Cards. I've noticed that KEM cards can be drastically inconsistent with their finish. Some cards feel like rough sand paper, others feel smooth. (Such inconsistencies are also present with USPCC paper cards, manufactured at different times, but the inconsistencies are not as drastic as I have seen it with plastic KEM cards). You only have to sort cards into rough and smooth and you're in business. However, this method is more of theoretical interest because KEM cards are very expensive so it is not practical, especially because the rough cards will eventually wear off.
Nevertheless, a friend of mine suggested a clever solution to group KEM cards into rough and smooth. He suggested the use of an abrasive cloth, such as the scrubby cloth used to wash dishes, to smooth-out the finish on some of the cards. Naturally, such procedure would no longer fall under the category of sorts.
Many poker rooms use plastic KEM cards. However, their procedures may often be stupid from the security point of view. Many card rooms want to use their plastic cards forever. They wash them and then they replace the damaged cards with new ones. Many smart cheats have recognized the value of such irresponsible procedures. For this reason some cheats damage cards on purpose because they know they will be replaced by new ones; sometimes replacement cards will look like they came from another deck (which, come to think of it, they did). This is better than planting your own paper; the management is actually helping you sort your own decks.
The presence of sorts is impossible to prove. Although very unlikely there is always the possibility that the cards were arbitrarily arranged in that way at the factory. Precisely the reason why sophisticated cheats like them.
Cards altered in by way of trimming are called trims. This type of work alters the cards drastically. The cards are trimmed around the edges to alter the widths of the white borders. Sometimes the cards are trimmed so that the edge is no longer parallel to the design. If an all over back design is used, then the alteration would change where the back-pattern was originally cut. In a way trimming achieves the same visual result as sorting, except that there is no subtlety - the cards end up being smaller. Yuck!
If you haven't already developed a feel for the size of a regulation deck then you may want to remember a few tips on how to spot trims. If the deck is brought into the game in a box (even a sealed one), you may want to shake the box prior to opening it. Trimmed cards will rattle more than regular cards because it is not possible to find a box that will be small enough to hold them tightly. Once the cards are out you may pay attention to the backs and see if the width of the white border varies. This doesn't necessarily mean that the cards are trimmed as they may really come like that from the factory (or they may be sorted). Another test is to look at the faces, the distance between the index mark and the edge should be somewhat consistent on all the cards. Again it could be a factory mistake (and often is). And finally look at how they are cut. If the cut looks uneven around the rounded corners you may suspect they have been trimmed.
They haven't invented the words that would be adequate for me to proficiently express my personal dislike for trims. If you are going to mark cards, do me a favor please, do not trim them.
Short cards are close cousins of trims, except that they are used in a totally different manner and serve a different purpose (if we disregard for a moment that the ultimate purpose is to take the money). They are not meant to enable the cheat to identify them from the backs, like conventional marked cards. Instead they can be quickly located inside the deck by riffling across the side of the pack.
Short cards can be shaved at the corners, along the short side, or along the long side of the card. Different positions of the shaved end will each require a different handling. For example, short cards that have been shaved along the long edge can easily be located during a riffle shuffle. When located the deck is cut at that particular spot, so that the short card falls on top of the undercut pile. Then the halves are riffle shuffled together, so that the short card ends up on top of the deck. If the process is repeated two more times there will be a three of a kind on top of the deck. The three card slug can easily be transferred to the bottom during the cutting procedure and the slug is ready for bottom dealing. All this can be done without even glancing at the deck during the shuffles. But there is still skill involved.
There are far more possibilities than I care to describe here. One other example would be to play the popular bar bet game Cut at the High Card, except in this case the rules would have to be modified to pick the top card of the bottom pile, instead of the usual bottom card of the top pile, after the cut.
I can honestly not say that I know of any cheats that use short cards. But then, one is not supposed to know about those things anyway, I guess.
Strippers are similar to short cards, just described. Once again, strippers are not really marked in the conventional sense, which would be to facilitate identification. Instead they are marked, or better say gaffed, so that they can easily be located and/or stripped from anywhere in the deck, during a shuffle.
There are several kinds of stripper decks. The image shows an exaggerated example of belly strippers. All the important cards have been shaved in a convex fashion (right), so that they each end up with a "belly", hence their name. The rest of the deck has been shaved the opposite way, so that the sides of the deck end up concave (left). The convex cards will easily be stripped and then manipulated during a riffle shuffle. Once again, there are too many possibilities to describe them all.
Those strippers just described are ideal for a casino-style riffle shuffle. There are, however, other kinds of stripper decks that may be better suited for an overhand shuffle, that would require the deck to be held by the short edges. Those would have to be stripped along short edges.
In addition to belly strippers there are several other kinds of stripper decks. Wedge strippers are perhaps the best known ones. Those are shaved to make the deck narrower on one end and wider at the opposite end. To work such deck one would have to turn the desired cards around 180 degrees so that they may be stripped during a shuffle. Wedge strippers can also be shaved either at the short edge or along the long edge.
In addition to belly strippers and wedge strippers there are also some other kinds. However, they all work on the same principle, which is to say that the wider or the longer cards stick out so it is possible to grip them at one end and strip them aside. Some stripper decks are combination packs with cards shaved along all sides.
The amount of shaving varies from deck to deck, depending who made the deck. Like anything else, novices will grab a ready-made deck for $9.99 at a local novelty shop and perhaps even think they have the goods. Such ready-made decks are usually so heavily shaved that the the cards can not even be properly squared up. The pros will make their own stripper decks, and that work will not be visible from across the table.
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