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Protect Your Home Game from Cheaters: Part 2
The previous article took a look at a variety of cheats and scams used in live poker. This final article explores more live scams and how to protect yourself from being swindled.
A shiner is anything reflective a dealer can use to catch a glimpse of the face of the card as it's being dealt. The most common shiner is a ring, buffed to a high shine, with a nice flat spot to give the dealer a good reflection. Anything reflective can be used - lighters, jewelry, watches and even a cup of black coffee.
Even the slowest of dealers pitch cards pretty quickly. So take this into consideration:
• Each card is only reflected for a maximum of one second, as the previous card is being delivered.
• The dealer deals out 20 cards or more to a full table. You have to remember all cards and who they were delivered to.
• You have to appear as if you're not paying attention to the cards being dealt.
To do all this requires a significant amount of discipline and practice. Any cheat using a shiner is going to be a seasoned, hard-working pro.
A card mechanic spends countless hours working on perfecting card manipulation. A crooked shuffle is the keystone to a crooked deal. Your opponents need to see you shuffle, and it has to look real.
The amazing part is, done well, you cannot tell a true shuffle from a crooked one. See for yourself here: You Tube.
This is how a dealer can bring in a cold deck, and "shuffle it" all they want.
Resetting the Cut
One of the simplest things for a mechanic to do is to reset a cut, or make you cut the deck exactly where they want.
Try it yourself. Bend half of the deck, concaving the face of the card. Bend it just enough that it keeps a slight, but not obvious, indentation.
Put the second half of the deck on top and get someone unaware to cut the deck. They'll almost always grab the deck in that exact spot.
Or, sprinkle some salt from your pretzel onto the top card of where you want the cut. The slight separation means a cut will be made on that spot.
Even if you don't get someone to cut it where you'd like, no one ever puts the cut deck together flush. It's always obvious where the cut half starts and ends. Using this type of scenario, a mechanic can reset the cut without others noticing.
(You can see an expert cut reset at the end of the false shuffle video I mentioned above.)
Base Dealing/Dealing Seconds
If you've watched Rounders you'll be aware of the term base dealing, meaning dealing the cards from the bottom of the deck rather than the top.
In practice this is almost never done. It's too risky - it makes a noise as the card snaps from the base to your hand, and you can catch a hanger (a card sliding askew on the bottom of the deck). Not only that, but almost all games, including home games, use a cut card on the bottom of the deck.
In high-level cheating in the real world, a professional shark will deal seconds. That means they will put a stock card on the top of the deck, and deal the second card down, until they want to put the top card into play. This is a difficult thing to do well, requiring ample practice and skill.
This article only talks about a few of the various ways to cheat at poker. We haven't even looked at cameras, mirrors, spies in the ceiling, chip copping/forging, or the simplest cheat of all:
Many home games keep all the money from the game in a lock box, often in another room. It's been known for cheats to excuse themselves to go to the bathroom, only to steal the lockbox and take off. Why cheat some of the players out of some of the chips when you can take all of the cash?
In order not to raise suspicion, these cheats will go as far as leaving their shoes under their chair, or fake car keys or even sham wallets on the table. If a person can see your keys and wallet on the table, they'll never suspect you're about to run out with their money.
When you think about it, it's not a big jump from cheating to outright stealing. If you're planning on burning a game, meaning you don't plan on ever coming back, why settle for anything but the whole amount? At least that's the mentality of many professional cheats.
With all these scams being only a few of the ways to cheat in poker, the only way to protect yourself is constant vigilance. Knowing who you're playing with is always a good start. Here's a list of ways to help protect yourself:
- Use two decks of different colors.
- Employ a three-person shuffle. After the hand is finished, the person who dealt the hand is in charge of collecting and shuffling that deck while the player to their left deals from the second deck. When she finishes shuffling the deck, she passes it to her left (the current dealer), who cuts the deck and passes it to his left to be dealt.
- Don't cut your deck until it's time for the person to start dealing. This limits the amount of time they can spend handling the deck.
- Count the cards in the deck before you start play, and once or twice during play, to make sure the deck is not light.
- Draw for seats.
- Use high-quality cards such as KEM or Copag. These cards are harder to mark, and have a quality design on the back.
- If ordering custom cards, never ask for a directional design on the back (identifying the top and bottom of the card on its back ). This makes it easier to mark. Also, your cards should have a white border around the edges.
- Be aware that buying a high-end deck will make it difficult to part with the cards when they start to get marked. You can't get married to your cards. When they start showing marks, dings or scratches, it's time for a new deck. So don't shell out for a deck that you won't be able to afford to replace.
- Don't allow anything on your table - no ashtrays, no lighters, no mirrors, no drinks. Just cards and chips.
- Pay attention to who is handling the deck and how. Someone going out of their way to cut the deck when it's not their time to do so may be suspect.
- Never sit with your back to the door.
- If something doesn't seem right, politely get up and leave.
- If you do catch a cheat, it can be a mistake to lose your temper. It's no more illegal to cheat at an illegal poker game than to play it straight. If home games are against the law in your town, it will be in the cheat's best interest to have the police phoned if they think they're about to catch a beating.
A Word to the Wise
I'm going to be honest with you. Even with all this advice, chances are you will never catch a professional cheat. Not only will you never catch one, you'll never even suspect one. The most important talent a cheat possesses is how to gain your trust. No one ever wants to think that someone they trust as a friend is cheating them.
As long as people play games with cards, especially when there's money involved, there will be cheats. Do what you can to protect yourself, and pay attention to everything going on at your game. Even if you do all this, you're still going to have to accept that you're at risk to be cheated.
Heavyweight title fights, World Series of Baseball, Formula One, the Triple Crown, the PGA Championship ... any activity on which people have ever placed bets has some sort of history of cheating and fixes. It would be ignorant to assume poker is any different.
However, just because a fight has been fixed from time to time doesn't meant that the fight you watch tonight will be. In fact, you may never actually see a fixed fight. Poker is the same. Just because it can happen, doesn't mean it will happen to you.
More strategy articles from Sean Lind: