A New Method of Cheating
Thursday, 7 March 2013
By Johnny Hughes
In Austin, Texas, a cheater took many thousands of dollars from several of the underground games with a new way to cheat.
He sat across from the dealer and he had a cell phone-looking device sitting on the poker table in front of him. It was really a scanner reader to read the bar codes in the cards. He wore a tiny ear phone under his large ear phones. The dealers were confederates and were allowed to bring their own cards. The cheater was a well-known personal injury lawyer.
Historically, cheating is way rarer than anyone thinks, especially historians, and cheaters often give themselves away. This guy would wait hours for the five-seat, across from the dealer, and would sit in for $30,000 cash. His actions and suck outs and weird plays gave him away. The games have now been cleaned up in Austin and no cell phones are allowed on the tables. A dealer is certainly not allowed to bring the cards!
I’ve seen cell phones used in two other ways to cheat. One had mirrored edges at a 45 degree angle so that the guy laying the cell phone on the table could see the bottoms of cards as they were dealt.
I’ve seen a guy walking around knocking off hands and texting to a guy in the game. When someone gets behind you and signals anyway, it is called “sending them over”.
In the Old West, the first telegraphs were used to send messages to the poker table, and send them over. Later Big Friar’s cheating scandal with the show business elite in Los Angeles involved a man in the ceiling sending messages to a radio device worn at the waste in gin rummy games. That is called a “peep joint”.
Nick the Greek was cheated out of $550,000 in late 1949 by Ray Ryan when they played gin and poker outdoors by the swimming pool in Las Vegas. A man with binoculars was sending the Greek over to a radio device worn on Ryan's waist.
Cards can be seen on the top by marking, daub, paint, nicks, crimps and finger waves. The newer plastic cards prevent most of that. Titanic Thompson was the greatest cheater, based on his special vision. He could mark the cards with slight waves that only he could see. Plastic cards ended that.
When I ran poker games many years, I’d teach the players these two methods of checking for marks. Hold a card up to the ceiling light and move it until the pattern vanishes in all glare – a mark will stick out. Hold the deck down with your left hand. With your right thumb on the corner of the deck, lift it up and let it flop back down. It will be like the frames of an old movie, and a mark of different card will stick out.
There should be no shiny or mirror-like things on a card table. This is a most common cheating method – keys, rings, cell phones, fountain pens, music listening devices. If someone needs something mirror-like in front of them, they can cheat.
Playing “the light” means the cheat has a mirror in his hand or taped to his fingers. Thieves take a light bulb, spray it with a mirror substance and break it. They put on a band aid with a small hole and the mirror under it. The deck should never be rolled over, ever, ever. That’s a good way to peek, using your thumb to roll down the corner to the top card and peek at it. A blackjack dealer can get a five to the bottom and roll that deck over to catch that five.
The most common home game cheating is “the slug”. A new dealer memorises a group of cards, maybe the last flop in hold’em, the hardest game to cheat at. Then he puts them on the bottom or top and does not disturb them in shuffles and cuts. The cut lets him know they are in hands or maybe coming on the board. Watch for this.
An old rule in Texas was the bigger the game the less chance of cheating. The talent knows what to look for. No one is good enough to do it with manipulation of cards.
I caught Titanic Thompson’s son Tommy Thomas cheating and he was fabulous. He could cold deck – very rare – hold out, and more. But he gave himself away coming in with an ace as he was studying a hard call. Then he had the nuts.
Partners are common but less of a danger at No Limit Hold’em. They'd be putting up twice your money if they both come into a pot, so they stay out of each other's way.
In Texas, every one has guns in their cars, but do not take them into another person’s gambling joint. Cheaters are tough guys or can have guns. If you detect cheating, do not confront those you suspect. Quit or break up the game. If you go behind the house man or a friend’s chair and run your thumb across their back, it means cheating or danger. You give ’em the “thumb sign” and leave.
Professional gamblers and the house hate cheating. You must be known as a “square gambler” or “square joint” to stay in business. My cousin, Bill Stapp, worked in Las Vegas 40 years, first for the Mob, then Howard Hughes and then the corporations. He rarely saw cheating from the house or players because the house could lose their reputation and gambling license. The eye-in-the-sky, the cameras in the ceiling, can send folks to prison.
Benny Binion was known for “backrooming”. They would take cheaters away and beat the hell out of them. You must watch drunks very carefully because the firewater gives them the courage to cheat. Bill Smith, main event champ of 1985, got drunk and went south with a card. His own backer stabbed him in the hand with an ice pick.
When professional poker players are sitting together, they know what to look out for, and they are watching like paranoid hawks.
Johnny Hughes is the author of Famous Gamblers, Poker History, and Texas Stories.