Professional Card Cheats
The underworld has many names for various types of card cheats. In the western part of the United States, Nevada included a professional card cheat who travels all over the country seeking card games where he can play his trade is called a crossroader. A cheat who specializes in palming cards is referred to in the trade as a hand-mucker, or holdout man; one who deals from the bottom of the deck is a base, or subway, dealer.
The surreptitious manipulation of cards by card mechanics, hand muckers, holdout men, crossroaders, card sharks, base dealers, or other card cheats requires considerable skill and practice, plus the nerve of a thief. A top-notch card mechanic must be considerably more adept with a deck of cards than a first-rate magician. The magician is free to use a great deal of conversation and misdirection to fool his audience, but the card cheat is limited by the game’s regulations.
As a matter of fact, most present-day magicians, including most of those who advertise their acts as exposes of crooked gambling tricks, know little about the operation of the modern card sharper. They themselves are as easily fleeced by a good card mechanic as the average layman. Much of the sleight of hand and nearly all of the mechanical gadgets they expose were discarded by the cheats decades ago.
How Does It Work?
There is a popular delusion that card cheats and magicians can take a well-mixed deck of cards, riffle and shuffle the pack several times, and then deal each player in the game a good hand in Poker, for example, four jacks to one player, four kings to another, and four aces to himself. The truth of the matter is that no cardsharp or magician can take a deck honestly shuffled by someone else, shuffle it two or three times, and arrange more than a couple of cards in two different hands without previous sight of or prearrangement of the deck.
Whenever you see any sleight-of-hand expert claim to do this and deal out a perfect Bridge hand of 13 cards of one suit, or four or five pat Poker hands, you can be sure that the cards were previously stacked. Actually the cheat doesn’t need to do anything so spectacular. It doesn’t matter whether the game is Draw Poker or Gin Rummy in some gin mill or the most recondite Contract Bridge at a Park Avenue club a cheater can take all the chumps in the game simply by knowing the approximate location of very few cards. If he knows the exact position of only one of the 52 cards, he will eventually win all the money in sight.
Never overestimate a card cheat. Don’t expect him to work miracles. Just expect him to win the money. If luck favors him, he may not make a crooked move all night, or he may make only one crooked move in the whole card session. But that one move always comes at just the right time to get the money. In most games the move can even be executed clumsily and get by the average player almost never spots it because he seldom suspects the people with whom he plays and because, even if he did, he lacks the necessary knowledge to know what to look for and wouldn’t recognize it if he did happen to be looking in the right place at the right time.
How to Protect Yourself from Sharpers
Believe it or not, most sharpers are poor card players on the square (playing honestly). A good card mechanic spends so much of his time practicing cheating moves and concentrating, in play, on watching for the right opportunity to use his skill that he seldom develops a good sense of card strategy. During one of my gambling lectures at a Chicago club some years ago, a member of the audience asked me, “Isn’t the old rule, ‘Never play cards with strangers,’ about the best protection one can have against cheaters?”
“That rule,” I replied, “gives the average player about as much protection as a broken umbrella in a rainstorm.” The card cheat has had the answer to it for years. Suppose that Harry, the card mechanic, discovers there’s a big and neighborly Poker game every Friday night in the back room at Joe’s cigar store. He also learns, for instance, the name of a doctor who is one of the players.
Harry simply puts in a phone call and makes an appointment to have a physical checkup. During the examination, Harry steers the conversation around to Poker and manages to get an invitation to the game. It’s easy he’s done it a good many times before. And when Doc introduces him to the other players as one of his patients, no one thinks of him as a stranger; he’s already one of the boys.
I repeat: The best protection against card cheats is knowledge of how they operate and some ability at recognizing their slick sleight-of-hand and other crooked ruses. Most cheating moves, fortunately, have one or more giveaway signals, usually an unnatural action, either in preparation for the move or in executing it. If after learning how to spot these clues to trickery you still think you are being cheated at cards, your best bet is to take up some noncard game, preferably a game that can’t be cheated.
The Mechanic’s Grip
Most cardsharps announce the fact that they are mechanics long before they make a crooked move. They do it as soon as they begin to deal. The giveaway is the peculiar manner in which they hold the deck, known as the mechanic’s grip. This cheat holds the deck in either the right or left hand (we will assume from here on that it’s the right hand). Three fingers are on the edge of the long side of the deck and the index finger is at the outer right corner. Some mechanics keep two fingers on the side of the deck and two at the outer corner.
Many professional dealers in gambling houses also hold the deck in this manner but for a different reason: They do it to prevent players from glimpsing the bottom card. But when you spot a player using the mechanic’s grip in a private, friendly game, find yourself another game. The odds are that the player who holds the deck this way is doing so because peeking at the top card, second dealing, bottom dealing, and other cheating moves require this grip.
The index-finger position at the outer corner of the deck acts as a stop when the cheat is second dealing and peeking and also helps conceal a card when it comes from the bottom of the deck. It is possible that an honest, even innocent, player, might accidentally hold the deck this way, but it is highly unlikely because it takes practice to hold the cards in this manner while dealing. The only reason anyone would practice this grip is that he intends to cheat. There’s one exception: magicians also use the mechanic’s grip, but not many of them play poker cards for money, for the same reason Harry Houdini always gave: “If I win I am accused of cheating; if I lose they think I am a lousy magician.”
Palming cards, called by cheaters holding out, is in all probability the cheating method most commonly practiced and most commonly suspected and detected. It can be learned by almost anybody, but doing it well requires some native talent and assiduous practice.
Palming is risky in fast company, but among half the smart card players, it can be put to fairly profitable use in almost any kind of game. It is done as follows: When the cards are being thrown in for a new deal it works for any game involving a deal, Poker, Rummy, Black Jack, Euchre, cribbage, Pinochle the cheater secretes the cards he wants in the hollow formed by the palm of his hand.
He may hold the hand folded non-challantly over his arm, or he may conceal the cards under his knee or armpit. The move is normally screened by the cheater’s reaching into his shirt pocket for a match or hitching his chair closer to or farther from the table.
Having been dealt his new hand, the cheater substitutes his palmed or, to be precise about it, arm-pitted or kneed cards for an equal number out of hand, making use of the palm. Then, bidding his time, he gets rid of the cards he’s holding out by chucking them back at the end of the deal or palming them into the discards. Keep a respectful eye on the player who keeps his hand rigidly flat with the fingers close together.
The Pickup Stack
The pickup stack is the method cheats most often use for stacking cards. Its cleverness lies in its simplicity. It requires no special skill and it rarely fails. Suppose you are a cheater in a five-handed Stud Poker game. The next deal is yours, and two hands were exposed in the hand just completed. In each hand, you spot one card you’d like to get for yourself the next time around. Let’s say they are two aces.
You simply stack the deck in such a way that you deal with the two aces to yourself.
You do it in full view, and it’s ridiculously easy. As a dealer, you pick up the cards, taking them a hand at a time. You pick up the cards lying above the first ace, then use’ these cards to scoop up the remainder of the hand. Place these cards on top of the deck. This puts the ace fifth from the top. Repeat the action with the remaining hand. That’s all there is to it.
The deck is stacked, ready for the deal and you will get the fifth and tenth cards-the two aces back to back. If you have a fair memory and can remember the other cards and their order in the first hand you picked up, you will also know your opponent’s hole cards, which can be an equally lucrative advantage.
Yes, you must shuffle before the deal, but that’s not difficult either, you only need to riffle and let the top ten or so cards fall last, thus keeping them on top.
As for the cut, the cheat has many ways of taking care of that without even resorting to sleight of hand. He may simply deal without offering the cards to be cut, he may cut and then pick up the two packs incorrectly, or he may have a confederate on his right wh9 refuses the cut, saying “Run them.”
That’s darned near all there is to stacking as it is generally practiced by amateur or semiprofessional cheats. When the cut is omitted, insist that some other players or yourself be allowed to cut. The dealer may feel insulted but he can’t object to the rules that give you this right.
The Riffle Stack
The riffle stack is the most difficult card. I stacking methods, but the sharper one who has is capable of fleecing the most seasoned players. If, at Poker, bridge, black Jack, or one of the Rummies, you think you detect an opponent using this cheating” method, beware: You are up against a practiced, unscrupulous, and perhaps even dangerous card mechanic.
The sharper, let us say, has three kings on top of the imperfect deck poker. He cuts the deck into two blocks and shuffles them together. It looks like an ordinary standard shuffle, but during the action, he puts just the right number of cards between the kings so that in the deal which will be on the level, his opponents get cards at random and he gets the kings.
It may take him four or five riffles to arrange the kings as he wants them, but if the riffle is his specialty, he can and will do it in two or three riffles. He gets the same result as in the pickup stack, but this sleight-of-hand method will take the smart boys who would spot the pickup.
Cleverly executed, this stack is almost detection-proof, but there is one way of spotting it, and then, if you can’t correct the matter by forcing the cheat out of the game, the only safe thing to do is force yourself out. Most riffle-stack sharpers riffle the first cards fast and slow up perceptibly near the top where they must count the cards as they riffle.
They also watch the deck carefully as they count the cards into place. Riffling at this fast-slow tempo and watching the deck too intently during the shuffle are the danger signals. The player may not be a riffle-stack expert, but he’s acting like one. Look out.
The Crooked Overhand Shuffle Stack
This is the semiprofessional sharper’s best friend. It is used in clipping chumps from New York to California more extensively perhaps than any other stacking method. It involves less skill than the riffle stack and comes in more handy often than the pickup stack.
The sharper puts the cards to be stacked on the bottom of the deck. During his shuffle he milks the deck, pulling down one card from the bottom and one card from the top at the same time. On these two cards, he shuffles off two cards less than the number of players in the game. He repeats this maneuver once for each card he wants to stack.
He lets the next card project slightly from the deck and shuffles the remaining cards on top. He is now set for a deal. The wanted cards are spaced out so that they will fall to the dealer, or perhaps to a confederate, during the deal. The cut is then canceled or avoided as explained in the section on the pickup stack.
The giveaway signal here is the unusual sound of the shuffle caused by having to run off so many cards singly. A second clue is a fact that this shuffling sound is interrupted slightly at regular rhythmic intervals each time another bottom card is pulled down. The smart card knock rummy player keeps his ears open as well as his eyes.
The ability to appear to be shuffling a deck while keeping some or all of the cards in their original positions is an absolutely essential weapon in the arsenal of the accomplished card-sharp. The most popular and most deceptive of the false shuffles is the pull-through, a dazzling and completely crooked shuffle that doesn’t alter the position of a single card.
When a hand of cards has been completed the cheat scoops up the tabled cards, taking special care not to disturb certain melds or discards which he wants and which he places on either the top or bottom of the pack. This shuffle is also used when a cold (stacked) deck has been switched into the game which must be shuffled without disturbing its rearrangement.
The deck is cut into two blocks and their ends riffled together quite honestly. The move comes during the split second when the cards are pushed together and reassembled into a single pack. The cheat pushes the two blocks of interwoven cards into each other at an angle, an action that is covered by the manner in which he holds his hands.
Then, without any hesitation, he gives the cards a fast cut or that is what seems to happen. In fact, he takes a new grip on the cards, grabs the right-hand block with the left finger, and the left-hand block with the right finger, pulls the interwoven block through each other, slaps the block originally on the top back on top, and squares the deck fairly as he should have done but didn’t do immediately after the riffle. The pull-through action is done so smoothly and so fast that as far as the average chump is concerned it is quicker than the eye can follow.
Although the cards were fairly riffled and the action had the appearance and sound of a legitimate shuffle, not a single card changed position. You have only one small clue here that fast “cut” following so closely on the heels of the shuffle cards .