Playing cards can easily be marked during the course of any card game. This approach offer some advantage and some disadvantages. One advantage is that there is no need to bring a marked deck to the game. In fact the scam can be worked at a moment's notice without any prior planning. The deck would preferably be brought in by one of the suckers.
The disadvantage is that the owner of the deck (be it a casino or a host of a home poker game) may discover the work at some later time. For obvious reasons a smart cheat should not consider putting any permanent work on the cards, if a two-handed game is played. However, if several people were involved in the game and there is little chanced any of them would meet again in the future a card cheat would probably not care too much about some suckers catching a wind of it once the money is already in the bank. In any short scam the main objective is to take the money and go. If the work is discovered no one will know for certain who put it there. Common sense would suggest it should probably have been the guy that took all the money, but if the deck was used before and/or after the game in question it becomes hard to reconstruct when the cards could have been marked, or by whom.
Marking cards during a game is a common practice. Sometimes there is even more than one person marking cards at the same time. One card hustler that I am acquainted with once shared a good anecdote with me. He had been marking cards during one particular poker game and had discovered someone else's work on some of the cards, as he was putting on his own work. He figured out who the other cheat was and also figured out his code. He then proceeded by replicating the other guy's work on some of the other cards and completely threw him off balance. The other guy eventually figured out he'd been had, but had very little moral stranding to file any kind of complaint or clam for a refund.
Daub is a card sharper's term used to describe any of numerous sticky colored substances that can be used to smudge a mark anywhere on the back of a card. Daub can be a secret personal recipe developed by card cheats and passed onto younger generations through word of mouth, or a ready-made product, such as facial makeup, such as lipstick, or even a product that has been manufactured specifically for the purpose of cheating at distributed by a crooked gambling supply distributor. Even if some particular daub happens to be nothing but ready-made makeup that anyone can buy over the counter, the exact brand and type is typically kept secret. Next time when you see a guy browsing through a women's makeup department and he doesn't look like a drag-queen on a day off, ask him if he knows where there's a poker game in town.
Last time I had been browsing the women's makeup department (at JFK airport) I had earned a few odd looks by the women who saw me smear display samples over a deck of cards. My quest was quite fruitful because I had stumbled upon a type of bright makeup that leaves an invisible smudge. However, that particular makeup had extremely fine (almost microscopic) glitter in it. If you apply a very light touch of that glittery makeup it leaves no apparent smudge, but if you tilt the card back and forth you will be able to catch miniscule glittery reflections. Naturally, if you put it on to heavy the work is obvious, but if you put just enough it is very unlikely to be discovered. Another good thing about that particular makeup (let's call it daub) is that it seems to have a nice strong binding substance and the glitter is not easily rubbed off. This glittery daub will work particularly well on cards with a linen finish because the glitter gets trapped inside the tiny crevices.
The marking patterns vary as each card cheat may develop a personal coding system. The cards are marked while being handled throughout the course of a game. Being able to identify the occasional face down card will be very advantageous in stud games, or in any trick-taking games where there is a talon. Another possibility is daubing the corners of one particular suit for cheating at spades or any games where one of the suits become a trump suit.
A clever improv place to conceal daub is the underside of the shoe. The best place being the corner between the sole and the heel. This is of course a safe place in case some bully suddenly decides to strip-search the suspect players. A sticky substance on the bottom of your shoe could be any number of nasty things one might have stepped on, but a secret button, bearing a tint, sewn on the underside of a jacked could be more difficult to explain.
In January 2003 the Nevada Gaming Control Board caught a casino cheat daubing cards in one of the poker rooms on the Strip. He had been using green daub. The daub was hidden on the back side (the green side) of a one Dollar banknote. If I had understood correctly he had been caught because he kept playing with the cash that he had kept in front of him. Common sense would suggest that the scam had probably originated in private games where players use cash on the table.
There are many kinds of daub. A simple approach is to use red daub for red cards and blue daub for blue ones. Some use gold or silver daub that can work on either color backs. Even luminous daub exists.
This must be one of the oldest and simplest tricks in the book. The cards are bent during play so they can be identified or located, or to mark-off the position for the cut. The easiest way to spot crimps is by looking at the sides of the deck, which is exactly what a cheat may do in a poker game to estimate the positions of the crimped cards. The image shows one of many possible crimping maneuvers for any game that requires the players to hold several cards fanned out. The crimp on the non-index corner will be easily spotted when the deck is held in mechanics' grip in readiness for the deal, with the cards beveled in the upper left corner (if player is right-handed). Crimps may be placed on the corners or anywhere along the sides of the cards.
When crimps are used to temporarily mark the position for a cut they can be used in a number of different ways. If the cheat works alone a carefully placed crimp may force the cut onto a player who has no part in the scam. The deck will most likely cut itself at the point of lesser resistance which is above or below the crimp (depending on the direction and kind of the crimp). If the dupe misses the crimp the cheat can still secretly correct this mistake at some later time. Nine times out of ten the suckers will cut right at the crimp. That's why we call them suckers!
Casino cheats have been known to use crimps to mark high cards in single-deck or double-deck blackjack. The practice of crimping cards in blackjack is usually called waving, or simply bending the cards. "Playing the bend" will enable the cheat to identify the dealer's hole card whenever it is a high one (such as a 9 or 10, or just a 10). Knowing when the hole card is a 10 gives a player a tremendous edge because he knows when to take insurance, when the dealer is likely to bust, or when the dealer already has the player beat. It should be noted, however, that the bend is the first thing casinos will suspect in games where players are allowed to handle the cards.
All standard crimps have three major weaknesses. First of all, they can easily be discovered by anyone looking at the side of the deck, or even at the edges of individual cards. The second weakness is that they wear off due to the cards constantly being shuffled and handled by other players. And finally, they can sometimes be unreliable because some players may handle the cards so roughly that they end up bending other cards unintentionally and throw the system off balance.
The Breather Crimp
The breather crimp is totally different from any standard crimps, and it is all but widely known. There are several variations of breather crimps but they area all basically the same thing. The breather crimp got its name because the center of the crimped card seems to take a breath (to breathe) when the pack is cut above the crimp. When the pack is cut correctly the crimped card will be the top card of the pack that remains on the table. The breather crimp is more reliable on new packs of cards. Once the cards become to warn the crimp no longer works, but in essence it lasts a lifetime of the deck.
The breather crimp is essentially an embossed card. The surface of the middle area of a card is literally stretched. Several techniques can be used to accomplish that. Once the middle has been stretched it will automatically buckle upwards.
To make a breather crimp hold a card in a face-up position and pinch it with your right around the center. You will have to maintain this grip throughout the crimping process. Now grab the card with your left hand also at the center, with the thumb on top and the index and middle fingers at the bottom. Apply a decent amount of pressure and while maintaining the pressure pull your left hand towards the corner opposite from the corner you are holding. This procedure stretches the card slightly and it should be repeated several times without attempting to bend the card (which would be a common mistake). The procedure should stretch the actual card stock very slightly.
This stretching procedure is then repeated at the opposite corner and than twice more for the remaining two corners. The end result should be an embossed X shape across the back of the card. However, the X shape should not be pronounced.
Another technique would be to place the card face down on a hard surface right over a small or medium size coin and stretch the card over the volume of the coin. This technique is more coarse and if done poorly it will leave the obvious outline of the coin embosses in the center of the card.
To cut the deck to the breather crimp you must first square up the deck face down on the table. Then press onto the center of the deck with your index finger to pack all the cards tightly together. Next, grab the deck by the long sides with your thumb and middle finger, then simultaneously release the pressure and cut the deck with a very light touch. With some practice you should be able to reliably cut at the breather crimp.
To do the cutting correctly it helps to understand the principles that make the technique work. The embossed card acts like a weak spring. The downwards pressure of the index finger will cause most of the air from between the cards to be pushed out. When the pressure is released the first card that will separate will be the embossed one. During that brief time interval all the other cards will sill be sucked together due to the negative pressure between the cards. If the pack was successfully cut at the crimp, the embossed card will end up on top of the lower pack and a short moment later it will be seen to slightly rise-up, as if taking a quick breath.
This cutting technique can be used to locate and control a card during a riffle shuffle. If a wild card is used, such as a Joker, all that the mechanic has to accomplish is make this card fall into his hand. The presence of the Joker will give any player a strong advantage over anyone else, so the ability to control that Joker will give the mechanic a strong advantage over any other player.
As with any standard crimp, the breather crimp also increases the chances of an unsuspecting player cutting right to it. While it is another player's turn to shuffle and deal the cheat will look at the pack to see if a player happened to cut at the breather. Occasionally this will cause the breather card to fall right into the cheat's hand, but other times it may just enable the cheat to track the wild card. Once again, an advantage.
Pricking is essentially the same thing as pegging, except that I've decided to categorize pricking as the term for punching cards during the course of a game. For all we know "pricking" could just be the older term. The first known documented historic reference of pricking appears in Gilbert Walker's pamphlet A Manifest Detection of Diceplay, published in 1552: "...some play upon the prick, some pinch the cards privily with their nails, some turn up the corners, some mark them with fine spots of ink."
Pricking can be accomplished in two ways: either with the use of a gimmick, or with a sharpened fingernail. The advantage of using a fingernail is the absence of an incriminating gimmick. If the marks are discovered and there is any heat during the game the cheat may simply bite off the sharp nail and get rid off the evidence.
One gimmick for pricking cards is called the nail prick. This is a short needle mounted on a holder resembling the shape and size of a nail clipping. The nail prick is kept under one of the thumb nails. It has the same function as a pegger except that it is designed to be used during a game. The nail prick is relatively easy to use. All the skill that is required is to press the thumb tip onto the face of a card, usually near a corner, while looking at the hand. The real skill is to be able to use the punched cards in real time, during an active game.
I have have not been able to find any elaborate descriptions of how the poker ring is supposed to be used. To quote John Nevil Maskelyne, from his book Sharps and Flats (1894): "As the cards are held in the hand, the corner of any one which it is desired to mark is simply pressed against the point with the thumb of either hand." This description would suggest that the bump is put on the face of the card. Such blister could only be felt with the fingertips (as opposed to the thumb) once the card is either pushed to the side in preparation for dealing, or after it has already cleared the deck. This is in fact a totally different technique than the usual technique of reading the blister with the thumb, on the back of the deck.
Perhaps the best gimmick for punching cards during play is a hand punch, which is often called just a punch. This is a simple small device that looks almost like a miniature thumb tack, except that it is much smaller and has a very short and sharp needle. The punch is glued on the thumb at or near the first joint. A good mechanic can punch most of the important cards during the first few rounds and then continue playing the blister for the rest of the evening.
Nailing is yet another old technique. Tiny dents are put right on the edges of the cards by pressing the thumbnail into the side of the cards. Those nail marks can either be seen (even deeper into the deck, which would qualify the marks as edge work) or they can be felt as tiny bumps on the edge of the deck, similar to blisters described above. Once again putting nail marks is hardly a challenge, the real art is knowing how to use them once they are there.
Worn out cards may bear distinctive marks on the backs or on the sides. Anyone can take advantage of this fact without actually putting any work on. It would be impossible to remember all the cards but it may be the case that a few important cards bear some kind of distinctive mark due to natural wear-and-tear. Even if the most distinctive imperfection is not upon an important card, the card wearing it may become important in a given situation during a game.
The usual marks of this kind are dirt specks that are easiest to spot on the white borders. If you own a worn out deck you may want to go through the cards slowly and look at the white borders. Depending on the condition of the decks you may need a good eye to spot these specks of dirt.
The photo shows a detail from a card that has been marked due to wear and tear. The blue circle highlights an edge mark. This mark is nothing but paper being split. Playing cards are made out of layers. After awhile these layers may start to separate around the edges especially if players shuffle cards by pushing packets of cards together. This type of mark is distinct and easy to spot.
The green circle shows a piece of dirt stuck on the white border. Sometimes there are two of them together which makes the card even easier to recognize.
In a critical situation these marks may play a big role. Sometimes players may spot imperfections on the backs of the cards without even intending to. However, it would be hard to force yourself to forget what you happened to notice and make a critical decision based on anything else but perfect information, if you happen to know what the darn card happens to be.
There's never a bad time for a good anecdote. I was once on a train somewhere in Europe. As always I travel with at least one deck of cards and if I am not reading a book you can see me practice sleight of hand moves. This habit of mine has been known to draw attention.
On that particular trip I was approached by a man who introduced himself to me as a three card monte hustler. At first he wanted to see if I could deal seconds and bottoms. After my demonstration he offered to show me his skill at tossing. He pulled out a deck of cards (he also happened to have one on him - surprised?) took three cards out of the deck and got down to business.
After his first round I had no idea where the "money" card landed nor was I even trying to follow it. I just wanted to see the show. However, I did happen to notice an imperfection on the back of his "money" card. (Technically it should not be called the "money" card because there was no money involved, but you know what I mean. Let's not be too technical). He continued to toss for my own pleasure, but then I started to "guess" the winning card, time after time. After trying every trick he knew (and remember, this guy was a pro) he finally gave up. He had no reason to suspect marked cards since they were his own and I never even touched them.
Just a few years later I bumped into a three card monte mob on the streets of New York City (this is the beginning of a follow-up anecdote). I decided to be a wise guy by trying to beat the tosser at his own game (no comment). I must have looked like a sucker (which can actually be a good trait) and the crowd let me have a front-row seat (there actually weren't any actual seats there; it's just a manner of speaking).
I actually never put any money down (which didn't make the tosser happy), I just tried to guess his money card on every toss (which didn't make the tosser any happier). I managed to spot one of those imperfections right away and actually did "guess" on two consecutive tosses (I was hardly able to contain my amusement, but the tosser didn't seem to get the joke). And I had done all that while he had been tossing for an actual sucker that had been there ahead of me (which really didn't make the tosser want to marry me).
The tosser gave me a dirty look and then another look past the direction of my face into what I knew was not empty space. Next, a few bullies pushed their way forward and I found myself out of my front row seat. Real gentlemen don't behave like that, but I didn't tell them that. One of the bullies placed a bet, won 20 bucks (amazing), and I turned around and continued to walk (which is what I should have done in the first place). I don't know what happened with their sucker, but next ting I know, someone was calling me and running towards me with the money I had legitimately won (yeah, right).
Back to the subject of wear-and-tear marks on the cards. Some people may tell you that some little dirt specs are of no significance. Don't worry about that. This business would not survive without the suckers.
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