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Home > Gambling Laws> Poker Cheats

Cheating in poker

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

[The following article was added to the site for your education as a player. Many new players have concerns about being cheated at poker online and offline. A few bad beats in a row and their convinced their beating cheated on.  Well, there is a reason those hands are called bad beats. They are exactly that, a bad beat. Bad beats happen to the best of us. Having said that, poker cheats do exist. The skilled ones are called mechanics. The following article is from Wikipedia, and it is a very informative article so if you have concerns about poker conduct/cheats and your own protection than read on...]

Cheating in poker is any behavior outside the rules intended to give an unfair advantage to one or more players. Many people make the distinction in poker between hard cheating (mechanics, collusion, and the like) and soft cheating (noting the bottom card that the dealer happened to expose without calling for a misdeal). While the rules are explicit on the subject of cheating in general, many otherwise fair players are tempted to "soft cheat". Miscalling your hand (calling four hearts a flush, for example--hence a "four-flusher: a pejorative term for a person who makes empty boasts or who continually lies verbally about specific cards he has.") is cheating, while offering alcoholic drinks is not, because each player can decline.


1 Introduction
2 Minimal-skill methods
Marked cards
3 Moderate-skill methods
4 Skilled methods
Dealing mechanics
    4.2 Switching decks
5 Collusion
6 List of Techniques defined
poker cheat trick   poker mechanic


Cheating is more common in poker than most people care to believe. Although most cheating occurs in private games that do not follow strict gaming procedures, it is also very common in regulated card rooms and casinos. Cheating can be done either by means of collusion, sleight-of-hand (such as bottom dealing, stacking the deck, switching cards etc), or the use of cheating gaffs (such as marked cards, holdout devices, glims etc).

Cheating is as common in friendly games as it is in high-stakes games. A card cheat may operate alone, but most of them operate in pairs or small groups. The groups are often composed of one card mechanic who is in charge of manipulating the cards, one or several shills who pose as regular players, and a muscle who acts as a bodyguard. Street gangs also often employ a wall man who acts as a lookout, however this approach is more common with three card monte mobs, and back-alley dice gangs.

Following is a list of terms used to categorize specific card cheats:

  • card mechanic -- A card cheat who specializes in sleight-of-hand manipulation of cards.
  • base dealer/second dealer -- Also called bottom dealer/second dealer is a cheat that specializes in bottom/second dealing.
  • paper player -- A card cheat that exploits the use of marked cards.
  • hand mucker -- A card cheat that specializes in switching cards.
  • machine player -- A card cheat that uses mechanical holdouts.
  • crossroader -- Originally, any kind of traveling hustler; but now the term is mainly use to describe cheats who specialize in hitting casinos.

Minimal-skill methods

The easiest method for a cheat, hard or soft, requires no ability of manipulation, but rather the profound nerve to blatantly cheat. Such methods include miscalling of hands, shorting the pot, and peeking at cards. Such cheating should not be tolerated. However, it is very difficult to prove because when confronted the cheat often calls the cheating an honest mistake.

A simple and fair way to go about preventing this kind of cheating is to simply follow the rules. For example, "Cards speak" is the common expression for the rule that no matter what the player says, it is the cards that determine who wins the pot. While it's barely legal to call a bad hand a full house in the hopes that people will give up, the players should want to see this hand: they paid to look at it. Should such honest "mistakes" occur, it is best to ask the player to leave for that evening. If it was an honest mistake, he is in no condition to play poker (put aside your greed on this one - he will come back). If he did mean to cheat, he can't do it from outside the game and is unlikely to come back.

The minimal skill methods of cheating occur far more often than one might suspect. It is common for a player who has folded to appoint himself tender of the pot, stacking chips, counting them, and delivering them to the winning player, just so he doesn't have to get up. Nobody seems to notice the chip palmed in the hand of this helpful player. This is called check-copping. This happens a lot. In fact, odorless adhesive can be used for this purpose. Once again, the answer is to follow the rules. Only at the showdown should a player touch the pot. In fact, it is a considerate player who obeys the rule concerning placing chips in the pot; the player does not throw the chips in the pot (splashing) but places them in an easily counted stack in the center of the table.

Cheating can happen even when the cheat does not have the deal. In draw poker, a player can discard two cards, throwing these two in the pile of discards so as to avoid counting (or if there is no pile, throw them on top of another player's discards), while calling for three. Not only does the cheat get the one card advantage in this hand, but before the showdown, he can ditch this extra card in his lap or vest, and thereby retain this one card advantage throughout the game. In this case, it is the dealer's job to regulate the discards, and to ensure the fairness of the process. In a way, this is the most fair. In exchange for the huge positional advantage the dealer has, he has responsibilities to occupy his time.

Marked cards

The most known method of cheating is using marked cards. The cards are printed or altered such that the cheater can know their value while only looking at the back. The ways of marking are far too numerous to mention, but certain broad types can be mentioned. A common way of marking cards involves marks on a round design on the card so as to be read like a clock (an ace is marked at one o' clock and so on until the king which is not marked). Shading a card by putting it in the sun or scratching the surface with a razor are ways to mark an already printed deck.

Much talk and advertisement has been about concerning "colored readers", that is, marked cards that can only be read with the use of color filtered glasses or contact lenses. While such decks are available, they are painfully obvious to the observant poker player. Many cheating authorities mention the idea that while wearing contact lenses they always slip off-kilter to the pupil, therefore a red (the most common color) crescent will be visible on the sclera around the iris.

"Juice" is a substance used to mark cards in a subtle way so as to avoid detection. Apparently one has to be "taught" to read juice patterns, but once taught, one can read (hence the term for marked cards "readers") them from across the table. An easy way to protect yourself from marked decks is to as the cheats say "go to the movies". The idea is to flip through the cards rapidly, treating the deck much like a movie flip-book. If there is any difference in the cards, they should become rapidly apparent. Decks can also be marked while playing. A cheat can hold his hand in such a way that it will bend or bulge in a position that the cheat can read from across the table (called a crimp). In this case one should remember it is stipulated in the rules that any player may at any time request a new deck.

Moderate-skill methods

A cheat with moderate skill always has the option to hand-muck, that is, switch their hand with one they have secretly hidden on them somewhere. This may also be done with a confederate (see Collusion). Mechanical devices have been invented for the purpose of switching hands. Though such machines are outdated, the modern equivalents (clips that hold cards on the underside of the table) should not be overlooked. The "hands above the table" house rule is recommended to prevent this. If it is done above the table, then anyone at the table can see it. This type of cheat runs the risk that he plays the same card as someone else at the table; at which time there must be a cheat at the table. Most people, not wanting to point fingers, will just end the game for the evening.

Skilled methods

Never doubt that a skilled cheat may deal a card from any place in the deck. A skilled cheat can deal the second card, the bottom card, the second from bottom card, and the middle card. The idea is to "cull", or to find the cards one needs, place them at the bottom, top, or any other place the cheat wants, then false deal them to himself or his confederate. Suppose the cheat is next to deal. In the previous showdown, there are four sevens in different hands. The cheat pick up the cards so that all four sevens end up on the bottom of the deck. He then false shuffles the deck and deals himself the four sevens off the bottom of the deck.

There are many tells as to this kind of cheating:

  1. Beware of anyone gripping the deck with the index finger in front of it. This is referred to as the mechanics grip. It not only allows better control of the cards, but provides cover as, showing the back of the top card, and without moving the hand holding the deck.
  2. Beware any shuffle instantly followed by a cut. This is a well known way to undo a shuffle. The idea is that, as the halves of the deck are taken apart, the bottom half is shuffled so its top card is on top. Cutting the cards, and in doing so, unweaving the interlaced cards, places the bottom half right where it started. Completing the cut places the deck in its original order.

Dealing mechanics

Despite all this high power sleight of hand, the cheat still won't win money with four sevens if everyone else has a bust, so the cheat stacks two hands. Obviously the cheat will get the better one. Let's say he has two hands one on the bottom of each half of the deck, ready to shuffle (let's say four kings and four aces). All the cheat has to do is to shuffle the two halves PERFECTLY, that is, alternating from one half to the other. When done with the whole deck this is called a faro shuffle. This places in alternating order on the bottom of the deck the cards K,A,K,A,K,A,K,A. He can then false shuffle to his heart's content without disturbing those eight bottom cards, and begin dealing. When he gets to his mark, he deals that player the bottom card. He deals himself bottoms too. This places the big fish with four kings, a real betting hand, and the cheat with four aces, hence the cheat cleans up. This is called the double duke.

The best way to foil mechanics of this nature is to burn them, to watch their hands at all times and to always insist on a cut. This may not prevent them from cheating, but it forces them to undo the cut - a difficult and dangerous move. Only world class cheats will undo a cut while being burned. Note: no other shuffling or cutting is allowed after EVERY player is offered the option of cutting. A cheat may bend the entire deck so as to reveal where the cut was, so that his confederate sitting to his left may undo the cut or he may do so himself should the appropriate distraction present itself.

Switching decks

This pales in comparison to the granddaddy of all cheating - the "cold deck". After all the shuffling and cutting has been done (everyone nicely pacified) the cheat can switch the deck for one he has stacked beforehand so that everyone has a real betting hand, but, of course, the cheat has the best one. Other versions of the "cold deck switch" utilize the cutting sequence to perform the "work." Any deck switch is difficult, and may require distraction, but once done, no other sleights are necessary to win. The only defense is to simply always watch the deck. Many players believe that it is bad luck to look at your cards before the dealer is finished as you might miss your opponents' reactions to their cards, and might miss burning the dealer.


One of the easiest ways to cheat at poker is with a partner or many partners, called collusion. This is basically playing differently against one or more players than you do against others at the table (in contrast to mechanics, which is directly manipulating cards or chips in violation of the rules). The gravity of such cheating ranges from the subconscious to the conspiratorial. Some common forms of collusion are soft play, that is, failing to bet or raise in a situation that would normally merit it because of your opponent; whipsawing, where partners at opposite ends of the table raise and reraise each other to trap players in between; and dumping, or deliberately losing to a partner (perhaps someone you are backing financially or with whom you have traded a percentage stake). Signalling (that is, trading information between partners) is probably the most egregious example of such cheating, but all of these are considered bad play and should not be tolerated at any poker game.

In friendly games it is common to be playing against someone you know well. Perhaps your spouse may be playing at the game with the rest of your friends. Suddenly your luck turns for the worse. Subconsciously, you are less willing to take the money of the people you know or love. Perhaps one fellow has been getting bad hands all evening, and you know he has car payments to make, and this changes the game being played. The best advice is to leave friendship outside the poker game. Especially in tournament poker, soft-playing a friend is cheating all of the other players out of their chance to see you bust your friend, getting them closer to the prize money.

For this reason, there are laws in some U.S. states saying that a husband and wife cannot play poker at the same table. Perhaps the easiest way to exploit such a situation is to agree to split the profits (after all, couples often have shared bank accounts). Even without any explicit collusion during the game, this reduces the variance of the team as a whole.

It should come as no surprise that two people sharing information about their hands enjoy a great advantage over the other players. If you do not believe this, deal out a few poker hands, but deal yourself two. The idea is that these players signal one another and only play the better of the two hands. Signals can take many forms, from the placement of the chips on the cards to morse code tappings on the table. The key ingredient in all signaling systems is the ability to be repeated unobtrusively. In order for this advantage to make money it has to be done many times without someone realizing it. In a game where people (hopefully) are always watching each other, this can prove problematic. When a cheat is signaling the value of his hand to his partner, he is also signaling the value of his hand to everyone at the table. The result of a system of signals being figured out is nothing short of financial disaster. Some games are more susceptible to this kind of cheating than others: in Five-card stud and Lowball, for example, signalling the rank of just one card can give another player sufficient information to make many otherwise difficult decisions.

Collusion in online poker is relatively easy and much more difficult to spot if executed well. The main reason is that the cheaters can engage in instant messaging discussing their cards with no one looking at them. Sometimes the same person can be using two or more computers and playing under different aliases. This gives him an advantage that's difficult to work against. However many poker rooms have imposed a maximum of one account per household, though a determined cheater can still bypass this by using multiple connections thus having different IP addresses. However, online poker sites keep records of every hand played, and collusion can often be detected by finding the appropriate pattern. Many sites also offer head-to-head (heads-up) games, where collusion is not useful.

Another concern in online poker is the use of software called "bots" (short for computer robots). These are programs that make decisions on behalf of the player based on odds etc. and also play on their behalf. Though their accuracy and ability has been questioned, it has nevertheless been seen as unfair practices by the poker room and has sought to ban them. With improvements in software and hardware it is expected that in the near future a bot that can beat a human consistently is a near certainty.

Should two people wanting to cheat be in close proximity, they might decide to hand-muck. That is, to switch hands or alter them in some way (though this particular form of cheating might be considered mechanics rather than collusion). A simple idea of this is to have two people sitting next to each other in a game of draw poker. While they receive two mediocre hands, they could switch certain cards between themselves in order to form a worthless hand and a winner. There are many sleight of hand methods to this. Hand-mucking is also a problem in blackjack.

Perhaps the most odious way of cheating with a partner is to have a weekly game at your house, agreeing with all your regular players that you split the profit from cheating a single player. This hot-seat game invites a new player every week, only to play against six players all working together. The mechanics are the same, players signal their hands, then play proceeds as to drive the hot-seat out, or to put all his money in the pot.

If you are at a poker game and you detect that your opponents are cheating, but are not very good at it, you can use this information to your advantage. You may be better off exploiting their inept cheating than leaving or turning them in. Dr. Frank R. Wallace wrote a book on this, in which he coined the term neocheating (He later developed a philosophy called Neo-Tech. The book consists of 2 parts easy to spot cheating techniques (marking the deck, crimping cards, false cuts, etc) and 5 parts philosophical content and stories.