The most obvious way to plant a marked deck of cards into a game is to bring one along on your way to a card game. In most home poker games people just play with whatever someone happens to put in front of them and unless someone does something very obvious they will never suspect marked cards.

I remember one particular poker game in Queens, around the turn of the century (this century). I had been invited to a friend's party along with some other people. While I was there I began to realize that some people were hoping to get a poker game going. It was a sit-down dinner party, so the boys were planning to wait until after dessert, which naturally gave me plenty of time to prepare.

While going over possibilities in my head, I had decided that I wanted to be prepared to hit them with a "cooler". A cooler is a deck switch. I would switch the deck on someone else's deal when he offered the cards to me for a cut. However, I only had one deck on me (I never leave home without one), but a needed two matching decks to do the switch (actually, I can do the switch with un-matching decks but it wouldn't be as deceptive). So I decided to run to the store, between the main course and dessert, and buy a set of matching decks.

Unfortunately, the store only carried resealed casino cards so I did not have much of a choice. So, I bought two of those. After dessert and coffee people started moving about while the table was being cleared. I just placed one of my decks right on the table at an opportune moment. People continued to clear the table and wiping it clean, but they worked around the deck. There was no reason for anyone to put it away.

The boys started gathering around the table and one of them just took the deck and started shuffling the cards (strike one). It turns out that one of the boys actually went to his coat to fetch his own deck. When he returned to the table the noticed that there was a deck already out, so he just put his own deck aside.

Gold Strike casino cardsDuring the first few rounds people already started complaining about the cards because of their appearance. Those were cancelled-out casino blackjack cards and in addition to the cut corners they also had no-peek indices, which seemed to have been driving some people crazy. After a couple more rounds, and a few more complaints, the guy that had brought his own cards simply exchanged the decks and we all continued to play with his cards.

The point of my story is not about planting a marked deck in a game. My cards were not even marked (at least I don't think they were; I forgot to check). The point is that it is hardly a challenge to plant a marked deck because most people have a very casual approach towards any issues of gaming security. My cards were not marked, but they could have been, and I would have planted them in that game with ease using a very simple approach.

Did anyone even think to ask where the cards came from? How did they materialize on the table? Who put them there? Everyone was just assuming that they were brought in by an honest person and no one even questioned their presence. As soon as one of the guys took the deck out of the box and started shuffling everyone else just assumed the cards were his. He in turn probably assumed the cards belonged to the host; the host probably assumed they were his. In fact, had that been a marked deck and had that fact been discovered through the course of the game, he would have had a hard time proving the deck did not belong to him. He even left the box next to him throughout the game (as he had no reason to put it elsewhere) and when the other guy decided to exchange the decks everyone just tossed their cards towards the guy with the box. He then scooped them up and put them in the box, and kept the box beside him.

In most casual games one doesn't really have to go through any elaborate scenarios just to plant a marked deck. Just put the cards on the table when no one's looking and people will play with them. The thought that the cards could be marked will most likely never even cross anyone's mind. Should anyone decide to examine the cards after the deck has already been opened by someone else, it would be in itself a sign that they probably don't know what to look for, meaning that the odds are slim they would ever discover any marks, provided that the work is not Mickey Mouse stuff. It's been known to take casinos several hours, days, weeks, or even months to discover the work on cards they've already known were marked; I doubt that the average sucker could find the work in under 30 seconds when everyone is telling him to quit fiddling about and start shuffling the damn cards already.

Anyone that really wants to "practice safe poker" would have to know the source of the cards, and then examine the boxes, wrappers and seals before and after any box has been opened. In addition, one would have to make sure no one is daubing the cards during the game, and the only way to prevent that is to change the decks frequently. In a room full of people, all eager to start playing, there is simply not enough time to thoroughly examine the cards once they are already out. Anyone who is analyzing at the backs of the cards or taking the deck to the movies is probably just a sucker being a wise ass and wasting everybody's time. A half-minute glance at the backs will probably not do the trick; you are much better-off analyzing people's play. So, if you are looking for marked cards, don't look at the cards so much - look at the players.




The fact that the cards came in a sealed box does not provide any security. This is the equivalent of trusting a used car dealer because the ad in the paper says "Our Customers Come First". Anyone that goes through the trouble of putting real work on the cards should and will also take the extra step to put the cards back in the box, and reseal it.

Some playing card manufacturers pack their cards in unsealed boxes without any security features whatsoever. Anyone wishing to mark a deck can simply open the box, mark the cards and put them back inside the box. Such decks are very common in Europe and they are usually the traditional cards used for regional games. Amongst other manufacturers, Piatnik, the biggest Austrian maker, packs all their regional cards in unsealed boxes. In addition, people usually have only one or two decks around the house, and the average European household does not think to replace their cards any more frequently than they think to replace their refrigerators.

The US Playing Card Company [USPCC], amongst others, uses a security seal and cellophane wrapping for all their brand-name cards. This security measure presents as much of an obstacle to a cheat as a fence does to a bird. Ironically, it is easier to open and reseal USPCC boxes nowadays than 20 years ago. Not because there has been a development in grifters' tools, but because the USPCC made some changes in their packing materials and technology and those "improvements" made the whole box-resealing business easier.

To secretly open a USPCC box one must first remove the cellophane wrapper without tearing it. This used to be challenging (before the change of packing technology) because the old cellophane wrappers were heat-sealed. Heat-sealing would actually melt the cellophane and technically-speaking two pieces of cellophane would end up being welded together. Some wrappers would be sealed so well that it would sometimes be impossible to separate the two ends of the wrapper without tearing the cellophane. Nowadays (I am writing this in 2004) this is no longer the case because the USPCC cellophane wrappers are no longer heat sealed. Instead, the new wrappers are now glued together and it is really easy to take the whole thing apart with a letter opener.

Once the cellophane wrapper has been removed one needs to get the cards out of the box without damaging the security seal.

The old trick is to open the box from the other end where no one thought of putting a security seal. Depending on the construction, any box could be opened either from the rear or from the side. This method will not leave any evidence of tempering with the security seal because the seal has never been tampered with at all. The box can be opened with relative ease either with a letter opener or a sharp blade.

Some boxes are even glued so poorly that the whole thing comes apart as soon as you try to pry it apart with a letter opener. However, sometimes the boxes are really glued together firmly, and the only way to dismantle it, is to cut through the glue with surgical precision. Cutting through the glue is not too difficult because the USPCC uses a type of glue (probably hot glue) that stays soft even when it is solidified.

Once the cards have been marked they have to go back into the same box and the box needs to be resealed. The biggest problem (the only problem) is finding the matching glue. Hot glue is probably the best option and it is probably what the USPCC uses. However, there are many kinds of hot glue, and they don't all look the same. But they will only look different if one actually looks at it.

Although this method of opening the box will leave the security seal intact, it will still leave evidence of tampering, if you take the effort to look, and if you know where to look. Well, look at the rear of the box (or the side). This is why you should always keep the box for later examination, if you play with other people's cards. If you bring your own cards you should also keep the box (or switch it); this time to prevent other people from examining it later on.

I have occasionally seen un-mounted card boxes being sold at various trade shows and conventions. As far as I could tell those were genuine Bicycle boxes taken off the assembly line, after they were die-cut, but before they were creased and glued together. We can only speculate if anyone has ever used such boxes to reseal marked cards.


Opening the box at the rear is relatively easy, but it is still tricky. The method has been developed in the past when it was impossible to peal-off the security seal. The old security seals would either rip or the print would crackle.

Nowadays opening a USPCC card box has never been easier. The change in packing technology has also been reflected in the methods to produce and mount the security seals. First of all the paper seems to be more durable, which makes it less likely to rip like the old seals used to. The ink on the old seals would crackle and flake-off when the security seal was bent in an attempt to peal it off. And finally the new glue is very rubbery and easy to dismount. The old glue would really bind the seal to the box, which made it impossible to take the seal off.

In light of all this, it currently may be a better idea to peal-off the security seal and not bother with rear of the box. However, the quality is very inconsistent, as much with the packing, as much as it is with the cards. What it boils down to is that some boxes are easier to open at the top and some at the rear.

Resealing a box is a separate issue. If the security seal has been pealed off it may be possible to just stick it back on. To make this possible care must be taken during the pealing process. First of all, the seal does not have to be pealed off entirely. I find it that it's easiest to start in the middle and work down the box. I do that with a sharp pointed blade (X-acto® knife) and I use it to pry the seal away from the box. As I dig deeper I peek into the gap and force the glue to stay on the seal. This is not always easy, but if done right there will not be any glue on the box. Once the seal has been pealed off I protect the sticky side with a piece of wax paper - same wax paper used for stickers.

The cellophane wrapper is also not very difficult to reseal. Epoxy glue works really well because it will solidify even when the glue is trapped under a non-porous piece of cellophane. Krazy Glue® is not recommended because it leaves a frosty residue.

Ironically, the fact that a marked deck came out of a sealed box does not particularly impress the Average Joe. That is because the Average Joe doesn't know what it takes to do the work right. He will just assume marked cards come in a sealed box, like any other product out there. A lot of people have asked me, "Where can I get marked cards?" This can only mean that most people assume marked cards come from a store (like milk does, if we ignore the fact that it really comes from the milk factory). So the reasoning in laymen's minds is that there is nothing unusual about any product, including marked cards, being factory sealed: marked cards must be made at the marked card factory, and distributed by marked cards distributors, and sold by marked cards dealers. So they come in a sealed box! So what? How else would they be packed if they're brand new? Again, the Average Joe will be more impressed with the fact that you know where to "get" marked cards than with the fact that they come in a sealed box.

Once the deck has been marked and resealed the deck still has to end up in a game. As discussed above, this can often be accomplished by simply placing the deck on the table, or through a similar approach. But sometimes it is necessary to make use of a different tactic.


Tax Stamps

The factory seal, such as the blue sticker used by the USPCC, is a relatively new invention. Until 1965, all playing cards sold in the US were sealed with an Internal Revenue Stamp. The manner in which the tax stamp was used varied. Some cards were just wrapped in cellophane, and sealed with the tax stamp at one end. Such decks were either sold without a box, or packed inside a box with a lid. The common Bicycle and Bee decks were usually packed inside a box, such as the box most commonly used today. The flap of the box was sealed with the tax stamp, in much the same way as cards are sealed nowadays with a factory seal, and the box was wrapped in cellophane.

vintage playing cards - tax stamps

The decks shown above bear the two tax stamps that were used in the US between 1940 and 1965. The deck on the left is an old Bicycle deck from the 1930s, next is an old Bee Pinochle deck, then a Bicycle Rider Back, a red Bicycle Fan Back, and on the far right is a 1950s deck from a bridge set made by the Arrco Playing Card Co. Note that the red Bicycle Fan Back deck is wrapped in cellophane and sealed with a round USPCC factory seal. This was an additional wrapper and seal; the deck was still packed inside a cardboard box and sealed with a tax stamp.




To "paper the town" is a grifters' jargon term referring for planting paper in neighborhood stores where a game is to take place. The advantages of planting marked decks in this manner are obvious. The host may go to the store with friends (witnesses) and buy the cards for the game. The decks will be brand new out of the box and purchased from a neutral source. What could be more convincing than that?

There are many ways to plant marked decks inside a shop and it all depends on the layout of the particular store. In most large stores playing cards are kept hanging off of a bracket in one of the isles. If that is the case a few decks may be planted right on top of the decks already there. The main issues with this scheme are the security sticker and/or the price tag from that particular store. In order to have the original sticker on the marked decks a few decks may be purchased in advance, then the cellophane wrappers from the original decks can be used to re-wrap the marked decks. If for any reason there happens to be too many decks in the store when new ones are being planted they can simply be purchased and used at some latter time. Sometimes big stores will sell playing cards over the counter as well as have them in the isles. If this is the case the cheats will plant them there as well. The strategy used is the same as in small stores where cards are only sold by the clerk over the counter.

In smaller stores playing cards are usually kept behind the counter and are sold by the clerk, like cigarettes. Although the cards are out of reach that's hardly a problem. A customer walks in to buy some groceries. He brings the goods to the counter and asks the clerk for ten decks, five in each color. The clerk puts the decks on the counter and the customer transfers them in his bag, as the clerk starts adding up the groceries. The customer pulls out his wallet and realizes that he doesn't have enough money for everything. So, he decides to pass on the decks and takes them out of his bag and puts them on the counter and the clerk puts them back on the rack and the customer pays for the groceries and later the sucker walks in and buys a few decks from the top of the rack and the clerk doesn't really care because he hates his job and there's a ball game tonight... and who cares about some decks, anyway? If the "customer" doesn't really feel like spending any money on unnecessary groceries he can always pretend he left his wallet at home and return the whole lot and walk out empty handed (except for the ten original decks in his bag).

Once the neighborhood stores have been "papered" the unsuspecting sucker is sent out to "buy some cards". It would be hard to convince the sucker that marked cards were used on him. Of course, when the sucker comes back the cheat(s) want to know that everything went according to plan and that the sucker in fact bought the correct decks. This ca be accomplished by simply marking the boxes. (How many times did you think to look if the box had been marked?) The box itself does not have to be altered in any way. The easiest way to mark a box is to place the price-tag on a very specific part of the box - and that can be identified from across the table. If you ever buy a deck of cards and you later notice it has been marked you can be sure someone put them in the store. It is hard to believe that something like that could happen in a fine and upstanding business such as card cheating.

So, how seriously should we be taking the "paper the town" scenario? Would anyone really be bothered to go through so much trouble just to plant some marked cards in a game? I mean, seriously, does that really happen? Perhaps the following two anecdotes will do.


A friend of mine from Arizona had been experimenting with juice recipes and had once decided to send a few of his own juice cards to me. Upon receiving his package I took my time to examine all of the cards he'd sent. Some of the cards had stripes and some had dots, some of the work was strong and some not, and some cards were PGCs and some were Bees. He even drew a diagram on the face of each card just to let me know which particular pattern to be looking for on each one of the cards.

To be thorough I also decided to examine his cards under a black lamp and see if his juice can be detected under black light. I performed this test in complete darkness and only had the black lamp on. Some of the cards did not fluoresce and some did. This was not unusual because he was using a few different recipes. One card in particular looked different, so I put it aside. It showed very faint traces of juice work - four dots on all four corners, barely visible. When I turned the room light back on I was surprised to discover that the odd card was marked with two vertical stripes. The diagram on the front of the card also indicated that the card had been marked with two stripes.

My friend had marked that card with two stripes, yet the lack lamp revealed four dots. I was hardly able to contain my shock and disbelief. There was only one possible explanation for this. The deck that my friend had been using for his test had already been juiced by someone else at some earlier time. But where had that deck come from?

juice card juice card: black light test
The image on the left is a computer simulation of the juice marks that my friend had put on the card. Of course, the actual work on the actual card was not nearly as strong as on the image - this is just a computer simulation to illustrate the point. When I defocused my vision I was able to see his stripes clearly. In fact, his juice was strong and the stripes were relatively easy for me to see. The stripes did not show up under the black light because he had obviously used a solution that did not fluoresce. However, the older work had been put on by a cheat that had obviously used a different recipe and his work did show up under the black bulb in much the same way that is seen on the image on the right, which is also a computer simulation.

When viewed under the black light my friend's work (the stripes) was not visible in any way. There was simply not any white light in the room while the black lamp was on and juice is simply not visible under such lighting conditions, not even if the proper viewing technique is used. However, I decided to leave the dark stripes on the computer simulation just to show the positioning of the stripes relative to the dots. Since my friend's stripes were partially covering the dots, and since the stripes were also stronger, it was not possible to see the earlier work under normal lighting conditions. Metaphorically speaking, it is like trying to hear your neighbors through the walls when your radio is on.

I naturally informed my friend of this unusual discovery and asked him where he had gotten the Bee deck that he had been using for his experiments. It turns out that he had used a deck that had been sitting at his home for at least fifteen years. He knows for a fact that that particular deck had been provided to him sealed by a man whom my friend had always known to be an advantage player. My friend's assumption was that those cards had been marked and sealed in hopes of using them against him. We can not dismiss another possibility, that the man had bought the cards at a store and that the juice had been originally planted on him.

When my friend decided to do his juice tests it had not crossed his mind to check if the cards had already been marked. Who would ever think of that? Incidentally, the card that I discovered was the Ten of Hearts, and my friend happens to be a blackjack player. It makes a lot of sense that a ten had been marked for blackjack.


The other anecdote is just as amusing, however, it does not involve my own experience. I had been discussing marked cards with a Russian card cheat from Brooklyn and he was the one that told me the story, which is not really a story, as you will see, it is more like a general statement of facts.

His friend had been running an illegal card club in Brooklyn for several years. That place attracts mostly Russians from the neighborhood and they play mostly games that are popular amongst the Russian community. The owner of the joint does not get involved in the games. He only charges an hourly fee, and sells Vodka, I guess.

According to the owner everybody cheats. That is like saying that penguins eat fish. Since the owner does not participate in the actual games in any way the players have to bring their own cards. The particular brand that is most often used are Aviators, because this happens to be the brand that is available at the neighborhood grocery store. As you may have guessed by now the regulars plant paper in that store all the time. Then they bring some fresh sucker (and one is still born every minute, last time I checked) and they send him downstairs to buy some cards.

Ironically, planting paper is so popular in that particular joint that some regulars have complained to the owner that they had bought cards at the store with the intention to mark them, only to discover that the boxes had already been tampered with. Not surprisingly the cards had also already been marked.


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