“Though I should have preferred to spare you the reading of this…we had better face the facts about playing Poker for money.
The best protection against Poker cheats is the knowledge of how they operate and some ability at recognizing their slick sleight of hand and other crooked ruses.”
~ John Scarne, Guide to Modern Poker
The HomePoker.com Poker Cheat section starts with the same quote by John Scarne.
While I’m not a huge fan of the Guide to Modern Poker, nor of Scarne’s attempts to position himself as the world’s foremost authority, I love the quote.
We are so used to playing poker at home with friends, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that there are real scumbags in the world who would infiltrate our games and cheat us unfairly out of our money.
Here, I want to provide some perspective on the poker cheat and how to avoid him or catch him.
For an extended review of all you need to know to catch a poker cheat, stroll into the HomePoker.com Poker Cheat section.
This section of HomePoker.com picked up some good acclaim as being the first of its kind on the Internet.
Casino card rooms will always have advanced security, but this section was the first meant to equip the home poker game host with the knowledge to catch poker cheats.
Poker Cheat Psychology
I’m no psychiatrist, so take this as a collection of personal observations and stories recounted to me.
The poker cheater will die before admitting he cheated.
In the movie Rounders when Worm makes a joke at the cops’ game about “aren’t you supposed to read us our rights, the first thing that came to mind is that a real cheater would never actually admit it.
A poker cheater caught red-handed will still come up with an elaborate story about why he has too many cards, why another player would believe he was bottom-dealing, how that card arrived underneath his foot, etc.
Remember that a poker cheater will be blue in the face before admitting to the cheating.
Catching him red-handed is one thing, but don’t expect him to ever admit it.
Prepare to be very sure of yourself when confronting him about it.
Don’t think low stakes deter cheaters.
Not all cheaters are motivated by profit.
Some are motivated by the thrill of winning or else the thrill of cheating and not getting caught.
A person that arrives at your home game with the intention of cheating has perhaps determined that there is a good balance between the stakes being played and the ability of the other players to catch the cheater.
So, even if the stakes are not huge, the cheat might still determine that he can have a good night because the other players won’t be looking for cheating, or else don’t know enough about cheating to notice it.
The cheater’s thrill isn’t always profit, so never think your home game is safe simply because the stakes are low.
Alcohol will encourage the cheater, but will also make him sloppy.
I believe cheating at cards is either a profession or a disease.
If you can make a living cheating at cards, then I say go for it.
You must be cheating some pretty big games, and you couldn’t make a living cheating the games I host at my house.
So when it’s a disease, alcohol has an ironic double-effect.
First, it encourages the cheater to cheat by reducing his inhibitions.
Second, it results in less-skilled cheating because his ability to cheat well is affected by the alcohol.
This accelerates how long it will take for you or other players to catch the cheater red-handed.
Even if caught, the poker cheater will try to play again.
Alongside the notion that a poker cheat never admits to the cheating, he will also not stop trying to get in on future games.
Because he never admitted to the cheating, he’s not going to stop trying to get in on the game.
This of course depends on the way in which the cheating was caught and addressed, but it’s an extension to never admitting that the poker cheat also never stop trying.
If you identify that you’re versed in card cheating and are looking out for it, you will only encourage the cheater.
A poker cheat will welcome the challenge.
I have played in some home games where the host tries to assure everybody and deter cheating by announcing that he knows how cheats cheat, so don’t try it.
I believe this is a mistake.
I believe this is a challenge that a poker cheat will take on.
Again, the thrill isn’t always profit; the thrill is sometimes getting away with it.
Catching the Cheat
Now that we’ve delved somewhat into the mind of the poker cheat, how do you even know what to look for?
The HomePoker.com Poker Cheat section is a collection of poker cheat methods as well as some idea on how to identify them.
This section does not contain enough detailed information to teach you how to cheat.
The section is instead intended for you to recognize poker cheating so you can at least suspect when it is going on around you.
It’s like reading an explanation of Evelyn Ng’s Butterfly Chip Trick and actually doing it…two different things, and we have no intention of teaching people how to cheat at poker.
We’re “Everything for your home poker game”, including protection against cheats.
Here is how this section of HomePoker.com is divided:
Sleight of Hand
There are many ways to cheat at poker, but the most common is some form of sleight of hand.
Not all people good at card tricks are cheaters, but understand that poker cheating is typically some kind of card trick.
For instance, both the card magician and the poker cheat are employing a different grip on the deck.
Most commonly, this is a Mechanic’s Grip, where more of the dealer’s hand is covering the deck from other players than with a normal dealing grip.
The Mechanic’s Grip then opens the door for the cheating dealer to use all kinds of sleight of hand.
We’ve outlined the more popular techniques in the Poker Cheat section.
If you want to be proactive about keeping cheating out of your home poker game, there are a number of opportunities.
The easiest (although not entirely failsafe) way is to only play with friends.
If there are no strangers in your game, you have less to worry about.
Also, it’s a good idea to have at least a few ‘clean’ decks on hand so that a new deck can be brought into play every couple of hours.
This will reduce incidents of marked cards and palming if the cheat has the card ready to load into his hand.
If you are very concerned about cheating, you can always deal from a shoe.
I’ve never personally seen it in a home game, but it would eliminate many of the options available to the poker cheat.
The biggest mistake is believing you know every way that a person could cheat.
None of us do.
Sure, you could master card magic since sleight of hand with cards is not evolving over time.
You could even introduce the shoe into your game.
Even this however would not combat collusion between two or more players who are working together, a cheat’s interaction with the pot, or attempts by the cheat to call a hand they do not actually have.
This latter method of cheating is more popular with other poker variations besides Texas Hold ‘Em, that have more wild cards and different twists.
In fact, our last update to Other Methods was the act of a cheat bringing phony chips into the home game.
I considered adding this when the section was first introduced by HomePoker.com’s Squeege way back when, but figured it was an unlikely scenario.
With the proliferation of poker chips everywhere however, many of us are hosting games with the same Diced or Suited 11.5-gram chips.
Further, phony black chips were found in the 2005 World Series of Poker, originally purchased from the Rio gift shop, but introduced into play without notice.
If it can happen at the WSOP, it can happen in your home game.
Dealing with the Cheat
And finally, one of the hardest topics to deal with. What to do when you suspect that cheating has occurred in your home game.
Before launching into it, let’s assume that your good friends don’t cheat at cards.
Let’s assume further that you wouldn’t be worried about cheating in your home game unless there were also strangers in the game that you don’t know as well.
That being the case, you might consider the proactive approach if asking your friends in the game to keep an eye open for anything suspicious.
Now, you have several pairs of eyes at the table and everybody is working towards making sure the game is fair and free of cheating.
Otherwise, you need to see it with your own eyes.
If you personally catch cheating taking place, are suspicious that it did but you’re not sure, or if a friend has discussed with you that he saw something fishy, you need to deal with it. Here are a couple solutions:
End the game.
This is the easiest one to execute, but it’s not the cleanest.
If cheating did take place, then at least one other player has been cheated out of their money.
It would require a confrontation to recoup that money (if even anybody knows how much it is), and as discussed, the cheat will never confess his sin.
This will be the most disputable thing I write, but I suggest ending the game over trying to get money out of the cheat.
I can’t imagine anything short of physical will result in the cheat giving up money.
If that’s how you would solve such a problem, then by all means gets physical with the suspected cheat.
Even this advice should be reserved to you having seen with your own eyes and without any doubt that the cheating did indeed take place.
If you’re the witness, then you have a right to handle this as aggressively as suits you. I won’t say anymore.
Remove the cheat.
I would not have reservations about saying in front of everybody that a suspected cheating took place and asking (telling) the cheat to leave the game.
If I saw it with my own eyes, I would let the cheat know and tell him to go.
If at least two other people that I know well have told me the same story of cheating, then I would tell the cheat that I have been given at least two independent accounts of the same story, and tell him to go.
A cheat shouldn’t result in the entire game being broken up, but in the case of a tournament over a cash game, I would have no problem telling the cheat that his remaining tournament chips are being taken from him and that he’s out of the game.
If there is a reasonable way to devote some of those chips to restitution of players who were known to have been cheated, I might do that as well.
Depending on the cheat, you may expect some kind of retaliation once he’s been kicked out of your house.
He might call the cops, for instance.
Once the cheat is removed from your home, I would make sure that you take down the obvious signs of anything you might be doing that isn’t allowed by your jurisdiction’s laws and statutes.
You as the host of a poker game have a responsibility to keep cheating out of the game.
It starts with your invitation list.
That’s followed by the requests that you’ll get from friends or friends of friends to bring others to the game (particularly if you’re trying to organize a large tournament) who are strangers to you.
If your game consists only of friends, you have little to worry about.
If your game consists of friends and close friends of friends, then you should still be at ease, provided your friends understand how you feel about poker cheating.
I always make a half-joke that if somebody is caught cheating in one of my games, it’s his thumbs and those of the person that brought him to my game that get broken.
When people laugh, I keep a straight face so even if they don’t believe I’m going to break their thumbs, they can appreciate that my position on poker cheating is very serious.
As a host dealing with poker cheating, there is an element of home poker that the poker cheat is exploiting.
You need to make sure you turn the tables on him using the same element.
In home poker, that element is a friendly game.
The poker cheat will use that lighter-hearted nature to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.
How to turn the tables?
Make sure the core group of friends in your game are on the lookout for the same signs as you.
Instead of having to worry about it as a host as well as a player, have several people worry about it.
If the poker cheat thinks your home game is an easy target because it’s a friendly game, show him what friends can do when they’re all looking out for the interests of the game.