Peeking is the art of secretly glimpsing the top card of the deck. This is one of the most useful and valuable dodges in the cheat’s repertoire. When the peek is used in conjunction with the second deal, a good peeker is poison in any card game. It is especially useful in Black Jack and Stuad Poker.
The move, a simple one, consists of exerting pressure on the top card with the thumb and pushing it against the fingers on the opposite outer corner of the deck. This causes the card to buckle or bend upward near the index corner just enough so that the cheat can look into the opening thus formed and glimpse the index. He gives it a careless glance at the right moment, releases the pressure of his thumb, and the top card flattens out again.
Some cheats peek while dealing one-handed. Others pretend to look at the face-down card in their Black Jack or Stud Poker hand and peek at the top card at the same time. Eye with suspicion the player who uses the mechanic’s grip and looks too often at his face-down card.
Peeking on the Draw
Both the bungler and the expert cheat use this one, particularly in Gin and other Rummy games, and in other card games when drawing from the stock. The cheat reaches out to take the top card of the stock and his thumb lifts up two cards at the inner edge. He spots the second card, lets it down again onto the deck, and takes off the top one. The giveaway is that he isn’t casual enough he hesitates briefly as he makes the peek.
The Bottom Deal
The bottom dealer: the boys in the know refer to him as a base dealer or subway dealer, as the second dealer uses the mechanic’s grip. His left thumb pushes the top card over as the right hand comes up to take it, but the right hand has other instructions. Instead, its forefinger moves under the deck at the outer right corner and pulls out the bottom card while the left thumb is engaged in pulling back the top card.
The index finger of the left hand in the mechanic’s grip position covers much of the front edge of the deck, making it difficult for an observer to see whether the card comes from the top or bottom. The movement, naturally, must be fast and smooth and must follow the same rhythm as when the top card is taken legitimately.
The subway dealer saves time because he doesn’t have to fuss around stacking cards. He or his confederate usually picks up the cards after the previous hand and places the previous deal’s winning poker hand or some useful discards on the bottom as needed. This is easier said than done, much easier.
It takes years of practice to become a good bottom dealer, and the chances that you will find yourself in a game with a cheater who can bottom-deal cards from a full deck noiselessly and without detection are roughly about 100,000 to 1. There is another character, however, whom you might meet more often. Since it is easier to deal a respectable bottom from half a deck of cards, there are mechanics who have the nerve to pick up the bottom half of the deck after the cut, skip putting them on the top half, and begin dealing.
When this happens, ask that the cut be completed in the usual manner; then keep your ears open. If he attempts a bottom deal with a full deck you may hear it when badly executed, it is noisy. There’s a foolproof defense against the bottom deler, the Scrane cut. This is guaranteed to lose the cheat’s carefully iced cards in the deck and make him an honest man.
The Scarne Cut
It will protect you against all the moves above except the peek and second deal combination and a cold deck which is switched in after the cut.
1. Pull a block of cards from the center of the pack.
2. Place them on top of the pack and square them up.
3. Pull a block of cards from the bottom of the pack and place them on top.
4. Repeat steps 1,2 and 3 again, several times if you like.
5. Finally, square up the pack and cut it in a regular manner.
Use it and you won’t need to worry about nearly all bottom deals, stacked decks, crimps, false shuffles, and false cuts. At the very least, it will give any cheat enough headaches to reduce his cheating card games down close to the vanishing point. It may frighten him out of the game entirely or even into playing honestly.
The Famous Scarne Cut
Pull a block of cards (top) from the center of the pack. Place them on top of the pack (center) and square it up. Then pull a block of cards from the bottom of the pack (bottom), and place them on top. Repeat these three steps several times if you like. Finally, square up the pack and cut it in a regular manner.
Decks in which the cards have been trimmed so that they are not quite rectangular are known as strippers because the wider cards can be stripped out. The most highly prized form of strippers, those that get the money fast for the semi-professional cheat, are known as high and low-belly strippers (also called humps). A deck of this type is so gaffed that the cheat can cut to a high or low card at will.
The crooked gambling-supply-house dealer makes such a deck by removing the 28 high cards, eights and above. Using special card shears, he trims about 1/32 inches off both long sides of each high card, then round the corners again. The long sides of the low cards, seven and below, are trimmed in a curve so that they are slightly wider than the high cards at the center and slightly wider than the high cards at the center, and slightly narrower at the ends.
After the deck is shuffled, the cheat merely has to grasp the cards at the center when he cuts and the bottom card of the cutoff portion will always be a high card. If he grips the deck near the ends he always cuts to a high-low card. What could be simpler?
In any game that involves cutting to a high or low card, such as Banker and Broker, belly strippers are lethal. They are also useful in Pinochle or Gin Rummy; the sucker is cheated on by his own deal and it is all done with a simple cut. In Gin Rummy, the deck is usually trimmed to favor a four- or three-card meld (let’s say four kings and three queens). These seven cards are shaved like the high cards above; the remaining 45 are shaved like the low cards.
When the cheat cuts the shuffled deck for his opponent’s deal he simply grips the deck at the end with his left hand and holds it at the center with his right. With two hands pull in opposite directions, the four kings and three queens are stripped neatly out of the deck and slapped on top. Done quickly, this appears to be nothing more than an ordinary cut. When the chump deals, the cheat gets four of these cards, the victim gets the other three, and, since the cheat knows what they are the mark’s chance of winning poker is zero. Strippers are also gaffed on the short sides of the deck and are called end strippers.
The catalogs list these decks at a low $5 a piece or a dozen for $33.50. “We furnish,” they say, “ special strippers made to strip any card or combination of cards you desire. When ordering state what cards you want to strip.” At $5.50 per deck, they will also make up a deck of combination strippers which will strip one combination from the side and a different one from the end.
To detect strippers, simply grasp the deck at the center with your left hand and at the end with your right hand. then pull in opposite directions. If the deck is stripped, the cards will strip out from various sections. Try the same test on the short end.
About one out of every hundred decks of playing cards sold in this country are doctored at some time or other so that some or all of the 52 cards may be read from the back. Gamblers call marked cards readers, cheats refer to them as paper, and to the average player’s bankroll, they are poison. They are the most widely used mechanical cheating device and are used by amateurs, semiprofessionals, and top-notch pros because they require no manipulative skill, are sure-fire money winners, and are almost never detected by the average easygoing, unsuspicious card player.
My survey results show that not more than two average card players out of a hundred know how or where to look for the markings. Some years ago, I invited six card-playing couples to my home and tried an experiment. I gave them a dozen decks of cards still sealed in their original wrappers. “You have all been playing cards for the past twenty years,” I said, “Some of you have lost considerable sums of money on cards on your winter vacations in Florida. These packs four bridges, four online Poker, and four Pinochle – were made by twelve different manufacturers, and each has a different back design. One deck is marked and can be read from the back. I’ll bet that in an hour’s examination none of you can find it.”
This was a challenge they couldn’t resist and they went to work to prove that they could spot marked cards when they saw them. They even examined the card cases before opening the decks, looking for signs of tampering with the government seal. (Card decks no longer have such seals.) After taking the decks from the cases they did the same with the glassine paper in which the decks were wrapped. They found nothing. Then they began examining the backs of the cards. it was an arduous task but they stuck to it for the full hour; none of them wanted to admit that he couldn’t spot a marked deck, even having been told the marks were there.
“Okay,” one of them said finally. “We give up. Which one is it?” “I have a confession to make,” I said then. “I lied when I told you that one deck is marked.” One man, deck in hand, nearly threw it at me. “That,” he growled, “Is a dirty trick if I ever saw one. We spent an hour looking for something that isn’t there. Is this supposed to be funny or something?” “Well,” I said, “it proves something. As a matter of fact, all twelve decks are marked.”
Since I had lied once, they wanted proof of this statement. I spent the next half hour reading the backs of cards from all twelve decks before my friends were completely convinced. They all agreed then that they would be smart to stay out of any big-money card games until they had learned how to spot-marked cards. like millions and millions of players who play regularly and who often lose more than they can afford, all my friends had heard of marked cards but hadn’t the slightest notion of what to look for or how to examine a deck properly.
Marked cards are commonplace because they are easy to obtain. Anyone can visit one of the gambling supply houses, which are located in most big cities, and purchase many varieties of marked cards at $4 to $5 per deck. Marked decks can also be obtained cheaper (about $3 per deck) at many tricks and novelty stores whose proprietors sell them “for magic purposes only.”
It’s even possible that you might buy a marked deck without knowing it from a retailer whom you know and trust because some cheat has slipped him a few bucks. On one occasion, some years ago, during the racing season at Saratoga, it wasn’t easy to buy anything else. A card mob had jimmied its way into a warehouse and substituted a whole case of marked cards for a case that had been shipped in by a legitimate distributor. As soon as the cards were jobbed and retailed the mob went to work. Nearly every game in town had a marked deck in it, and the chumps were cheated with cards they had purchased themselves. The mob, naturally, made a tidy profit on this wholesale switching operation.
The average player has several misconceptions about marked cards. He believes, for instance, that the markings show both rank and suit. This is true only of Bridge and Pinochle poker decks, where the suit is important. Usually, only the numerical value is indicated; but that is all the cheat needs. If he can identify the value of each card as it comes off the top of the deck or always knows what the value of his opponents ’ hole cards are in Stud Poker, the chumps might just as well be playing with their cards face up. That isn’t a card game it’s swindle.
The ordinary player also thinks the cards are marked when they are printed. They aren’t; reputable card manufacturers are not on the side of the cheats. But their cards do get marked later. A gambling-supply house or a cheat himself buys honest decks of standard brands. They heat and soften the adhesive and remove the glassine wrapping. Then the cards are marked by hand with special matching inks. Finally, the glassine wrapper is replaced and neatly repasted, the deck reinserted in its case, and then the seal glued on again.
Markings may be light work or strong work, that is, marked with fine lines or with easier-to-see heavier lines. Professional cheats use light work against smart or alert opponents; against the chumps, the strong work goes in because it is easier to read from across the table, five or six feet away. The cards are marked near both ends so that they can be read no matter which end is exposed in the hand. Although individual systems vary, all card markings fall into eight kinds of work:
- Edge Work. On cards with white margins on the backs, the line between the margin and back design is thickened slightly at certain points. A mark high up indicates an ace, a little lower down a king, etc.
- Line Work. Additional small spots, curlicues, or lines are added to the back design.
- Cutoit. A chemical preparation bleaches out or a sharp knife scrapes off a minute area of ink from the design, thus adding white areas that weren’t there originally.
- Blockout. Parts of the design are blocked out with white ink, or some configuration in the design is exaggerated slightly. This is especially useful on cards whose back designs are claimed to be mark proof those with the overall design and no white border. An example is the bee card, whose back design is a simple pattern of diamond shapes. certain diamonds are made smaller or larger by blocking them out.
- Shading. White areas of the card are delicately shaded with a diluted solution of the marking ink. A good marked-card man can read it from across the table.
- Trims. A marking method used on cards whose back designs have white margins. The Shark removes the cards he wants to be able to recognize (say the high cards ) and trims a think 1/32–inch slice off one side edge of the card games so that the white margin is narrower than on the opposite edge. So that the remaining cards in the deck will be the same size and the margins will remain equal, he then trims 1/64-inch off both side edges. The net effect is that the back design on some cards seems to have been misprinted slightly off-center. This can also be done on some cards which have overall back designs. Again the pattern is off-center and does not run off the edge of the card in the same way on n\both sides. The simplest detection method is to place a suspected card on an honest card from another deck. The trimmed card will be smaller.
- Pictures. A good rule to paste in your hat is never to play for money with one-way cards, that is, cards whose backs bear pictures or designs that are not symmetrical from top to bottom. During play, a cheat can arrange such a deck so that high cards are right side up, and low cards upside down. Card cheats know from experience that the obvious device is sometimes the least likely to be suspected. Most players dismiss this idea, if it does occur to them, as too obvious and primitive a device to be used. Therefore the cheat, well aware of this, sometimes uses it; and a quick shuffle, after turning half the pack end for end, will destroy the arrangement and the evidence if anyone shows any sign of suspicion.
How to Detect Marked Cards
There is one detection method that can be used on all marked cards-the Scarne riffle test. Remember the animated cartoon books you used as a kid in which the pictures moved as the pages were riffled? Hold the deck face down, riffle the cards and watch the backs. Do it several times while watching different parts of the back. An honest design will stand will, but with marked cards, the back pattern will move in the area where the marking has been done.
Marking Cards During Play
When a skilled cheat has no good opportunity for a type of mark which can be applied during the game. The markings are more easily detected by a smart player and the cheat takes more risk, but it is a mighty common practice in a high-stakes game where knowing the value of one or two cards is highly important.
- Nailing. The cheat digs his thumbnail into the side edge of the car and leaves a small identifying indentation which, like all expert markings, can be seen at some distance when you know what to look for. The mark is placed on both side edges so that it can be spotted no matter which way the card is held, and turning the card end for end does not change the mark’s location in relation to the end of the card. In Stud Poker, for example, only high cards are marked, the others being less important. A nail mark near the upper end of the card indicates an ace, a quarter of the way down it signals a king, halfway down it means queen, and so on. In Black Jack the cheat marks the low cards, since they are more important.
- Waving. Essentially the same gaff, except that the cheat places one finger on one side of the card at the edge, two underneath, and applies pressure. This puts a bend or wave in the card’s edge, and the location (top, middle, or bottom) supplies the needed information. Detection: Square the pack and examine edges. Nail marks and waving will stand out like a well-stacked blonde.
- Daubing. A gaff similar to shading, except that the mark can be applied during play. The cheat carries a small flat container of waxy paste called daub. Pressing the tip of a finger on this and then on the card leaves a light smudge, usually a yellowish brown, which can be mistaken for a nicotine stain. Its location on the card back supplies the information.
- Pegging. A very old marking method that is sometimes still used. Here the cheater uses Braille’s principle and can feel rather than see the marks. The sharper who pegs shows up at the game with a Band-aid on his thumb or finger. This hides a sharpened thumbtack whose point penetrates the bandage and with which the cheat pricks the cards, usually only aces and kings in the right places. A prick applied to the face of a card raises a small bump on the card’s back. When the cheat deals, the thumb of the hand holding the deck feels the bump, and he seconds deals, retaining the high playing card for himself or a confederate. Your tactile sense is just as sensitive; run a finger over the card backs now and then to satisfy yourself that the cards aren’t pegged; when any player has a bandaged finger be sure to do it.
- Sanding. Another method of edge marking, also requires a bandage. There is a slip in the bandage and beneath it a piece of fine sandpaper. The cheat pulls the card’s edge along the slit. The card edges become grayed with use and the sandpaper cleans the dirt off, supplying a white edge that stands out clearly.
How to Spot Marked-Card Cheat
Suspect the player who concentrates too much on the backs of the cards in your hand, the back of the hole card in stud, the top card of the stock in Gin, or the important card in any game. There’s nothing wrong with a natural, healthy interest in the cards, but an undue interest in their back designs may be your tip to take a scholarly interest in the deck yourself. As a general rule be leery of the player who wins continuously against all the probabilities. Any player who wins and wins and keeps on winning has something more than luck working for him.
After you have convinced yourself that you have been victimized by marked cards – then what? That’s hard to answer. It depends on whether or not you outweigh and can out-punch the cheat. If you believe you can handle him you can try asking for your money back but be careful. Any cheat caught red-handed is dangerous. Move with caution. I have described the most used card-cheating devices, but be careful.