Worst Ways to Get Cheated in Live Poker

3 years ago
Worst Ways to Get Cheated in Poker
03 Aug

If you prefer to play six hands an hour with bags of flesh because you are a social human or something equally unpleasant, then you are probably used the quiet efficiency and professionalism of casino dealers and the reassuring security of the blacked-out dome security cameras. There is an implicit trust in the greed of the people who own the establishments, because their business would suffer if anyone were to cheat within their brick and mortar walls.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but if you are going to get ripped off, it’s more likely to happen in a home game. Sure, there are the paranoiac ramblings of ex-cheater Richard Marcus whose book Dirty Poker pretty much accuses everyWSOP braceleted player of having a gang of Smurfs chip dumping to them.

He names no names, because wholly unsubstantiated claims are actionable, but he drops hints that a deal might have been struck with the other final tablists to allow a certain actor to win in one of the women’s only events. She gets the publicity, the rest get the payouts. And so on.

Occasionally a scandal breaks of players marking cards, or an advantage player get caught out the way Phil Ivey did after winning £7.7million pounds playing Punto Banco at a London private club by watching for irregularities in the way the pattern on the back of a card was printed – a technique known as edge-sorting. Advantage playing is not really cheating, but it’s also not really within the rules either. The court in the UK ruled that it was illegitimate and the casino was allowed to refuse the payout, returning only Ivey’s £1million pound original stake in that particular case.

While Richard Marcus is probably over-egging the sleaze-pudding to sell a few more of his books, there are definitely some dodgy doings around the table from time to time. Take the following examples.

5. Rigged Decks

For those used to the high-octane world of the movies, reading Moonraker can seem like an odd change of pace. In the first third of the novel, the greatest threat is to M’s wallet and reputation as Bond is brought in to out-cheat a cheat at the bridge table. He does so in typical Fleming style by rigging the deck against the industrialist and card sharp Sir Hugo Drax, using a Bridge hand lifted from some sort of almanack of famous games.

For the cheat, this is one of the easiest forms of cheating. The prep can be done in advance,as long as you have the right type of deck; the only difficulty is executing the switch. In Bond’s case, this is made more difficult by the carafe of vodka he shares with M and the two bottles of champagne drunk before and during the game.

The trick is to set up a cooler that the mark can’t get away from – and if done subtly – will never know what hit them.

As a bonus cheat: Drax’s method involves a highly polished cigarette case that allows him to see the cards as he deals them giving him a massive edge every fourth hand.

4. Shorting the Pot

When you play in a casino – or a well organised home game – you’ll have noticed that when betting, all the chips are placed in neat piles directly in front of the players and away from the jumbled mess of the main pot.

If you do find yourself in a home game where that rule is not maintained, you want to watch out for people shorting the pot. The trick here is simply not paying enough – calling that hundred dollar bet with seven or eight ten dollar chips tossed messily into the pot, or announcing a bet that is larger than the stack you toss into the middle. The insidiousness of the cheat is that it is difficult to prove who shorted what, and even if you do, the cheat can always claim it was just a mistake.

It lacks the flash of the big pot cheats, but if you are consistently paying ten or twenty percent less for the same amount of equity in a pot, that adds up. In the bad old days of poker on the road, there were very few pros who were above trying this on. Especially for those players who were more hustler than poker pro – the Puggy Pearson’s of this world. Back when cheating was practically part of the game as was being able to spot them, and avoid them.

3. Chip Palming

The scruffy younger sibling of shorting the pot, is palming chips. Some people go so far as to dab a little adhesive on their palm, but if you’ve ever seen Antonio Esfandiari killing time with the waitresses on High Stakes Poker, you’ve probably been given a couple of close up shots which demonstrate how easy it can be to keep a chip clamped against the underside of a slightly clawed palm. That is, assuming you are willing to put in the hours of practice required to make it look natural.

In a casino, or during a televised game, if you look closely at the hands of a dealer as they count out stacks of chips, you can see their index finger is always placed clearly on top of each stack. The reason for this is that it shows, in a camera clear way, that their palm is not in a position to purloin the odd chip during the count.

The chip palmer in a home game is more likely to do it under the guise of helpfully pushing the pot towards the winner at the end of the hand. Altruists are clearly not to be trusted. The upside is that you can catch the cheater pretty easily in the act if you’re sharp. It is much harder.

2. Collusion

Another one that has the insidious quality of being tough to prove is collusion where two players are working together, either to drive other players out of a pot or to trap others into staying in the hand.

If I bet and my colleague calls, then you are getting much better odds to call against my nut straight than if it was just me. If I want you out, I can give him the signal to reraise and suddenly calling with your top-pair top-kicker looks a whole lot less appealing.

This sort of manipulation is probably more common than mechanical cheating, and is the reason for rules like not being allowed to check the nuts. Another tournament specific variation is chip-dumping, where a group of players buy into a tournament and when the opportunity arises they wait till they are heads up together with a chosen player in the group and make sure to lose the hand to them, either by getting caught bluffing, or just raise-folding a lot against them.

1. Marked Cards

When I was at school, before the regular poker games were properly standardized, we ended up with grubby decks, and some of the cards nicked or torn. The result was that if you were dealt the queen of hearts, then all the regulars knew you had her. It just became part of the game, you either hid the nick before anyone saw it, or you were playing with half your hand face up.

Eventually we shelled out for some proper plastic cards which lasted without picking up marks for pretty much the rest of school. Similar, if rather more subtle, marks can be made on the cards deliberately. Sometimes this is as crude as poking a small hole using a needle point attached to a ring, and at other times it uses infra-red paint and contact lenses.

I imagine the latter is more likely to be a problem in higher stakes casino games. It seems like a lot of trouble for your local £10 buy-in pub league game.

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Jon is a freelance writer and novelist who learned to play poker after watching Rounders in year 9. He has been giving away his beer money at cards ever since. Currently he is based in Bristol where he makes sporadic donations to the occasional live tournament or drunken late night Zoom session. He ...Read more


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