Monday, March 17, 2008

Cheats Cheating Home Poker Games


In the last six months, we’ve all had our fill of online poker cheating. First it was the blockbuster hole-card peeking scandal at Absolute Poker, which created the biggest scandal in online poker history, then the two account-selling mishaps at Poker Stars and Full Tilt. In past articles for Blush Magazine I have covered cheating in brick and mortar public cardrooms as well as high-tech cheating in a private suite at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. But, if you didn’t know, although cheating in online poker is rapidly on the rise and in public cardrooms is either slightly up or down, depending on who you want to believe, the venue with the most significant increase in cheating is neither online nor in your friendly or unfriendly neighborhood poker room, but rather at home—your home or somebody else’s home.

I’m talking about your beloved home games, which, you might not know, are the European venue where poker has seen its greatest increase of play over the last five years. I’d bet that the majority of you reading this article play poker at home more than you do in public cardrooms. If cheating is blowing up sky-high on the Internet, it’s gone nuclear in home games. How do I know? You’d only have to read my e-mails. Eighty-five percent of them querying me about cheating in poker ask about incidents occurring in the senders’ home games. Could my best friend Wally’s boss on Paternoster Square be moonlighting as a poker cheat? After all, I didn’t invite him to the game at my flat, Wally did! And what about Jenny from Fleet Street? Something about her hands at the poker table makes me awfully suspicious.

So what about it? Why am I getting so much e-mail from people all of a sudden suspicious of their poker buddies, who may be acquaintances or even friends? Is this because of the poker craze? And which forms of cheating at home happen most? Well, the poker craze certainly has got lots to do with it. Not only are more people playing poker across the UK and Europe, more people are playing for more money. The stakes have gotten higher everywhere from prep school cafeteria games to employee break rooms at Harrods Department Store (if you want to consider these as home games) to those in the chic homes of the rich and famous of Monte Carlo when they’re not playing among the pros in televised tournaments emanating from the gilded principality’s Le Grand Casino. Thus wherever you have more money involved in gambling, you will have more cheaters. I don’t care where the game is; Barons cheating Earls at royal gambling tables is part of European gambling lore. And in high stakes games at palatial homes, most of the players can afford to lose lots of money and few have much knowledge about even the basics of poker cheating, a combination making very ripe pickings for the home-game cheats.
Which cheating techniques are the most common at home? Unlike both in public cardrooms and online, the cheating method du jour is not collusion—although it almost always involves two players. Like you might suspect, it’s usually done with marked cards or a card-dealing mechanic using the old peek-and-second-deal to get the best hands in his cheating buddy’s hands, pardon the pun. I am not going to explain how to protect yourselves against these common forms of cheating. You can easily research the moves if you don’t already know them. But I am going to warn you of a rather clever home-game scam that is usually done by a single person, and I’ve been hearing about it in several European locations during the last year—twice in the UK, once in Sweden and once even in Finland!
A real laughable albeit serious example of this occurred in a small West Midlands town outside Birmingham. A home game hustler who’d already been caught marking cards several times in his game was nevertheless so well-liked that his fellow players allowed him to continue playing, but with two conditions: the games were never to be played in his house and he was forbidden to bring cards to the games at the other players’ houses. Although they still worried about the hustler’s uncanny ability to find ways of marking cards, they all agreed that with these special rules in place, the hustler would no longer be able to pull off his shams against them. But the hustler, after losing most of his bankroll during a nightmarish two-month span of twice-a-week legitimate games, figured out a surefire way to scam his never unsuspecting chums.
There was a food market in the neighborhood that stayed open till midnight. It was about the only place of commerce that didn’t close by nine o’clock. The hustler knew that playing cards were sold there. One afternoon at five o’clock he went directly to the shelf where the cards were displayed and bought half the supply of Fournier decks. He took the cards home, and using a knife with a very thin blade removed the cellophane wrapping on the boxes, paying special attention to leave the store’s price tags in place and undamaged. He then carefully slid the wrapping off the first box, leaving the cellophane intact. He used a razor blade to cut open the side of the box, leaving the blue sealing stamp in place on the box’s flap. He removed the cards and began skillfully marking their backs with tiny applications of a daub he’d bought online.
Finished marking, he placed the cards back in the box, reglued the open side and very carefully slid the cellophane wrapper over the freshly resealed box. After refolding the wrapper to the exact way it appeared before he’d slit it, he fetched a cloth and laid it over the cellophane. Then he pressed a hot iron lightly against the cloth, sealing the cellophane. Upon final examination of his work, the hustler was satisfied that the deck, still sealed in cellophane and protected by the blue stamp, appeared as though he’d never opened it.
He repeated this process for another nineteen decks. Then he immediately returned to the food market. When the employees weren’t looking, he scooped the remaining decks on the shelf and dropped them into his sack. Then he restocked the shelf with the twenty decks he’d marked at home. Now every deck of playing cards for sale was marked.
That night, the hustler went to one of the other players’ houses for the game. They played $40-$80 hold’em, a pretty steep game for the boonies in the West Midlands. After half an hour of play, he was stuck $600; after an hour $1,500. Growing angrier by the minute and adding a bit of theatrics to his outburst, he’d had enough. Then after a bad beat, he tore up his cards. Upon being scolded by the other players, he apologized and said he wouldn’t do it again. The host of the game fetched a new deck of cards and dealt out the next hand. This time the hustler lost on purpose. When the winner turned over his winning hole cards, the hustler ripped up his cards again, sporting another rehearsed apology.
After scolding the hustler for the second time, the host opened up the third deck of the night. When the hustler ripped those up as well, and got loudly cussed out by everyone, the host realized he didn’t have any decks of cards left. He asked if anyone happened to have brought a spare deck. They desperately searched one another’s eyes. A momentary panic ensued when they realized that no one had any decks on his person. The hustler even apologized, saying he would have brought a few had he not been forbidden by the others to do so. But finally, one of the players besides the hustler remembered that the food market stayed open until midnight. He quickly reminded the rest and they all breathed a sigh of relief.

Of course not trusting the hustler, the host asked the most trusted player of the game, who was also his best friend, to hurry to the market and buy two decks of blue-backed Fournier playing cards. The guy returned in ten minutes flat with the cards. The game continued, and as it was getting late, they decided to finish up with the stakes raised to $100-$200.

Before the clock struck midnight, the hustler had all their money.

The lesson to be learned here? It’s twofold: one, if you’re playing in high-stakes home games, be very vigilant about cheaters, who can be the people you’d least suspect and capable of coming up with ingenious ways to remove you from your money at the home-grown poker table; and two, if ever someone is caught cheating, do not let that person play again in your game. Ever. Remember, there’s no one working for the house to protect you from what goes on at home.