One of the reasons that we willingly pay the rake in casino poker is for game protection. The casino executes this in many ways — automatic shufflers, standard dealing procedures, surveillance, and of course, by providing professional dealers.
Above all else, a professional dealer’s number one priority is to maintain the integrity of the game and ensure protection for all of the players. If you’re playing in a home game, you probably won’t be provided with the luxury of a professional dealer.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t educate yourself about the various cheating methods commonly used in home games. Don’t go into a game blind — protect yourself.
There are many different types of cheating methods, both old and new. The most recent cheating method to hit the market involved an intricate electronic system that used an infrared camera and infrared ink. The system originated from China and involved a certain level of know-how that was required to obtain and use the system. The camera was disguised as a cell phone, car key fob, shirt button, etc. It was almost impossible to detect unless you were knowledgeable in electronics since the camera would transmit the data to the receiver over a normal, unencrypted radio channel. This system, which cost anywhere from around $2,000 – $10,000 was revealed at DEFCON a few years ago.
How DEFCON reveals cheating systems
For those who don’t know, DEFCON (Defense Convention) is a conference where the top DEFCON cybersecurity professionals meet and share their findings for the year. One team, in particular, explored this modern infrared cheating system and came to the conclusion that it was being professionally manufactured and could have only been produced by at least a few different experts in their respective fields ranging from software development, digital image analysis, hardware, and microchip development, etc. The bottom line was that the team at DEFCON reasonably presumed there to be a rather lucrative market for this system.
It stands to reason that if there’s enough money involved, given the opportunity, cheating will always have the potential to take place. You should always remember that, as it’s a universal truth of crime and deception.
Now, it’s very unlikely that your home game will employ a cheating system to such a high degree. But remember, it’s always a possibility. The one giveaway that could reveal that this high-end system was being used, is that it required the dealer to cut the deck on the table, and leave the long edge of the cards untouched for about 2 seconds. This was so that the camera could scan the deck (marked with infrared ink) and determine the winner, given that the right data was input into the software. Normally, the dealer will cut and then instantaneously pick up the deck and deal.
You can do some more research on your own if you’re interested in this system and how it was potentially used in one of the card rooms on the strip, in Las Vegas. There was a bit of a scandal stemming back a few years ago.
Now that you have an idea of the lengths that people will go to in order to cheat, let’s talk about some of the cheating methods you’re more likely to encounter at your local home game. Ironically, these methods are mostly sleight of hand techniques that are hundreds of years old. Magic and poker cheating go hand in hand.
Things you should know before joining any poker game
I’ll start off by saying that unless you are playing with a group of guys who you trust and know very well, I would advise you to never play in a self-dealt game. There are just too many opportunities and variables to deduce who the cheater is.
Self-dealt games aside, there are a few things that should always be present to help ensure game protection. There should always be a cut card to conceal the bottom card on the deck, and you should always take note of the types of cards being used.
If you’re playing for any stakes that are $1/$2 or bigger, then the game should be using either KEM, Copag, or Modiano cards. The most popular Bicycle Rider Back cards were a common choice for magic shops to offer as a marked deck for sale. Luckily, the USPCC (the producer of Bicycle cards) no longer allows third-party companies to produce marked decks. I personally have a few in my collection, and while the marking system isn’t the most complex, it’s easy to miss unless you know what to look for.
If your home game has a set dealer, be sure to watch the way they handle the cards. They should be employing the standard shuffling procedures that all casino card rooms use — riffle, riffle, strip-cut, riffle, and cut. Unless the dealer is a skilled card mechanic, it would be very difficult to beat this standard shuffling procedure.
You should never allow an overhand shuffle, as it’s very easy to cull cards and false shuffle this way. Culling cards is sleight of hand jargon for obtaining particular cards from the deck to be later put into a certain position. A false shuffle is exactly what it sounds like — a shuffle that looks real but doesn’t change the order of the deck. There are many types of false shuffles. Some of them retain the order of the entire deck, others retain the top half, some the bottom half, and so on. The bottom line is that an overhand shuffle is a red flag.
The most important thing that you must make sure happens, and I can’t stress this enough, is that the deck is cut before the deal. While there are ways to nullify a legitimate cut, and even execute a false cut that looks incredibly genuine, you should be alright as long as you closely watch the deck get cut. If you see any noticeable gaps within the deck, which would allow someone to easily cut to a specific card, then you should be on the lookout for what’s called a “gambler’s crimp”. This technique puts a special bend (crimp) in a card, allowing the thumb to catch it and cut to it.
You should also make sure that the dealer isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary like burning a card before the action is complete or rolling the deck. Rolling the deck simply means not holding the deck level. Most amateur dealers will roll the deck at some point, usually while pulling in bets, however, it’s also one way to peek at the next card.
Chips & Bets – How to be Sure that Everything is OK
Now that we’ve discussed cards to a sufficient extent, let’s talk about chips and bets. No one should ever splash the pot, this is to ensure the proper amount of money was put in. In addition, all bets should be pulled in after the betting round is complete unless you are heads up in a split-pot game. An unethical player might pull back a chip or two if given the opportunity.
Finally, and this is paramount, make sure that you watch the rake! This is absolutely the most common way that you will be cheated. Dealers are sometimes instructed by the host of the game to over-rake in big pots when it is less noticeable. Always ask what the rake and structure of the rake so that you know how much should be coming out of the pot.
If you encounter a dealer taking too much rake, be aware that sometimes it is simply a mistake. I would advise you to not hastily accuse a dealer of raking too much. Instead, discreetly approach the host of the game, away from the table. If you see overraking occur more than once, then you either have an incompetent dealer, or you’re being cheated.
Always make sure you are paying attention to the handling of the cards and to the chips being put into and pulled out of the pot. This is one of the best defenses against being cheated — it’s much less likely to happen when the cheater is aware that they are being closely watched.
One method I haven’t mentioned yet is something called signaling. This is simply a form of collusion. Players will covertly signal to each other in various ways. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how they are doing it until you discover some type of pattern. If you find you are consistently being “sandwiched” out of a pot by the same two guys, yet the hand never goes to showdown, then this should be another red flag. Signaling is one of the more obvious cheating methods, and as such isn’t used as often as the others. Any decent poker player would be able to figure out that the action makes no sense, as it pertains to the hand.
In conclusion, I would advise that you only play in games that have a good reputation ((both online and in real life). The more players who you are personally acquainted with, the better. The biggest advantage you can have is personally knowing the host of the game (Or in Coach Brad’s case regarding playing online at PKC, ) personally knowing the heads of the security team and VP of worldwide operations. If you trust them, then it eliminates a majority of the various cheating methods that could be used. That doesn’t mean a particular player won’t try and mark cards or short the pot, however, it does mean that the more costly ways of being cheated won’t be possible. Getting cold decked requires more than just the dealer being involved.
Always remember that you never have to play in any game
You have nothing to gain and only something to lose if you continue to play in a game that doesn’t seem honest. Make sure that you always pay attention, and keep in mind that you are putting your own money at risk. That alone should be enough to keep you cognizant of what is going on.