How to Cheat At Texas Holdem
Intrigued? The average "layman" is usually shocked that cheating at Texas Hold'em is even possible.
Here at www.CheatingAtTexasHoldem.com, we do not find that ignorance is bliss.
On this website you will find:
1) An overview of some of the poker cheating techniques and approaches one may run into in the private game, in the casino, and online.
2) Videos demonstrating various techniques and sleight-of-hand menthods used to cheat at cards.
3) Links to poker resources and articles regarding cheating at poker
4) Our feature book - Cheating at Texas Hold'em: A modern guide to the art of deception and
illicit play at the card table. Whether you are simply curious, a serious card player,
or someone interested in dabbling in the darker side of poker, we guarantee that you will be surprised
and enlightened by the pages in our latest project - 560 pages jam packed with cutting-edge cheating
approaches, sleight-of-hand techniques, and collusion strategies that are developed specifically for
Texas Hold'em. If you play for money, the only way to protect your game is to know exactly how cheating
at poker works, how to detect it, and how to prevent it from happening to you. After over 8 years in the
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Overview of Cheating at Texas Hold'em
You remember. Or... perhaps you don't. Before 2002, most people
had never even heard of Texas Hold'em, much less had any interest
in playing. Even though the World Series of Poker tournament had
been going on for over thirty years, it was not until the 2002
broadcast of the World Series of Poker (and the introduction of the
"hole cam" to American television) that the public took notice. Now,
only a few years later, Texas Hold'em has taken the world by storm
as one of the most popular forms of gambling with a deck of cards.
Convinced that they could learn to play like the pros on TV, players
have swarmed live and online poker rooms to take their shot at easy
money....and why shouldn't they? To the average person, Texas Hold'em
seems easy to play (fold, call, raise), easy to follow (clockwise action),
and, well, fair. No matter how tall, how athletic, how good looking,
or even how experienced the player is, he (or she) can sit down at the
table with the same odds of receiving the best hand as the next player.
After all, we all receive the same cards, right? How hard could it be...
I assume that if you are taking time to read this article, you have
earned some stripes playing the game. This also means that you know that
poker is not easy, and that it takes years of study, experience, and
development to understand your game. In recent years, countless
volumes of odds and strategies have been written to aid the honest
player. This, in some ways, has created a field of tougher competitors.
But as in any form of gambling that can be influenced by skill,
one encounters the gifted, the suckers, and everything in between.
Texas Hold'em is a game that draws huge pots, is widely played
by the public, and is founded upon strategic deception. Recognizing
this, it is not surprising that there are many players willing to
trade ethics for profits. Because Texas Hold'em is played in many
different types of venues (casinos, poker rooms, private homes, online),
the scope of opportunities for illicit play is very broad.
Texas Hold'em play can be divided into three main categories:
1) Casual Private Games: Games regulated by the players themselves.
If there is not a hired dealer, the shuffling and dealing is rotated amongst the players.
2) Organized Games: Games regulated by a hired dealer, such as those found in high end private games, poker rooms, and casinos.
3) Online Games: Games regulated by an online company, and played over the internet via computer.
Let's take a brief look at each...
Private Games: The casual private game is an interesting venue.
The regulations are often relatively lax, and the game is organized
around mutual trust of those present. In this environment, the
average person feels comfortable allowing his opponents to shuffle
and deal. However, Texas Hold'em is an ideal game for the cardsharp
(one who uses his sleight-of-hand abilities to know or influence the
outcome of the game). Not only is it a game built around multiple
phases of play (providing ample opportunities for cheating to occur),
but its players anticipate the possibility of unlikely outcomes,
and enjoy Texas Hold'em because of how exciting and unpredictable
the game can be. Combine this with the likelihood that the private
game is illegal in the first place, and you can understand how an
individual might start to see opportunities for profit that are worth a
The nature of using a deck of cards can be quite elusive in
itself. When gambling at billiards, people have a better chance
of telling when they are outmatched and should quit the game
(unless matched against a talented hustler). The same is not true
when a deck of cards is the source of the action. A mediocre poker
player relies on the fact that he has the same chance to receive
the best hand as anyone else at the table. Therefore, it is very
difficult for him to understand his disadvantage when against a
better player, as he tends to feel that Lady Luck is the deciding
factor. This is the major reason why billiards pros can have a hard
time finding action, while poker pros have lines of suckers
waiting to take a shot. Know that when a mechanic
(i.e., sleight-of-hand expert) sits down at your card table,
Lady Luck is his best friend. A player that does not know he
has been swindled will quickly hold onto the excuse of an unlucky
Organized Games: Players have fewer opportunities to use
sleight-of-hand in venues that employ a hired dealer. However,
just because a game is organized does not mean that it is legal.
High-end private games and underground poker operations will
often supply a dealer. Unless the dealer is in on the scam,
you will run into little more than cheaters marking cards during
play, or partners sitting next to each other switching hole cards.
However, it is erroneous to dismiss the possibility of cheating
in these venues, because it happens all the time. The most common
form of cheating in casinos, poker rooms, and on the internet is
not sleight-of-hand...it is collusion. Collusion is the collaboration
of several partners working together with a system of codes to
strategically team up against the other players. This is a major
threat, and a player's best defense is to know why it is used,
how it works, and how to detect it.
Online Games: As you will find, many of the techniques used
to cheat in the live game have little or no application in the
online environment. This medium, however, has introduced innovative
opportunities for sophisticated advantage play utilizing technology
and collusion, as well as account hacking strategems that every
player should be aware of.
The Poker Cheat
Poker is a game of deception. If you play enough, you will
quickly realize that there are many opportunities for a player
to gain information while playing at the card table. Glancing
at the cards while an opponent is shuffling, attempting to track
known cards in an opponent's shuffle, influencing players to
fold out of turn, and recognizing a bend in a specific card
are all tools of the advantage player. An advantage player is
anyone who exploits opportunities to gain an edge over his
opponents. Though he is not directly cheating, advantage
playing (also called angle-shooting) is often considered
"walking the fine line" of foul play.
A cheater is an entirely different animal. He actively
develops and utilizes principles and techniques that allow
him to know or control the outcome of the game. Throughout my
research, I have recognized only one common thread that can be
found in every cheater...he/she is human. My point is that the
characteristics of a cheater are extremely diverse; they
derive from every culture, religion, background - every conceivable
walk of life. Their motivation, however, seems to be driven by
three incentives: greed, ego, and the desire to test their skill.
Greed: Many people assume that the day of the cardsharp is
long gone. This is far from true, as greed drives humanity
now as it did in the past. The probability of finding a player
who wants to cheat at Texas Hold'em is no less than that of
finding a person trying to cheat on his taxes or in his business
practices. I can't even open my email without someone trying to
scam me. It is not hard to imagine a player with hundreds or
thousands of dollars on the table wishing that he knew what was
coming on the river and then inventing a way to make that happen.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to provide accurate statistics
on how many people cheat. With a simple understanding of human
tendencies, it is not absurd to believe that if a person feels
that he can get away with it, he is likely to try (or is at least
tempted to try). If that weren't the case, the rules of Texas
Hold'em would not have been designed with "burn cards" or the
customary final cut before the deal. Curious about statistics,
I corresponded with a special agent from the enforcement division
at the Nevada Gaming Control Board for information regarding
casino gaming arrests in Nevada. He sent me these figures...
|Cheating At Gambling
In this chart, "Cheating At Gambling" refers to altering the
elements of chance or method of selection, such as marking
cards or card mucking (i.e., switching). "Fraudulent Acts"
refers to dumping a game, pressing or pinching bets, or claiming
more than one is entitled to collect (which often occurs in
collusion with the dealer). "Felony Theft" refers to players
who acquired chips (also referred to as cheques) or stole money
in the gaming environment. As you can see, in 2008 there were
456 gaming arrests in Nevada (well over one for every day of
the year). These were people who felt like they could elude
the sophisticated layers of casino security. Unfortunately,
there is no way to know how many were successful.
It is important to recognize that those suspected of cheating
or collusion in the poker room are rarely arrested (in smaller
stakes play). Rather, they are simply asked never to return. A
casino is quick to sweep such occurrences under the rug, as
rumors of cheating at their establishment can spread quickly and
have a negative impact on attendance. I have witnessed several
occurrences in the casino poker room where either the dealer or
a player recognized a "nicked" card. In every case, the dealer
either quickly took the nick out of the card or got a new deck,
then moved on. Their fundamental concern is to keep people
playing and to continue collecting the rake. More often than
not, a collusion team in this environment will not be turned
away. Rather, consistent patronage is encouraged with free meals
and other credit-based gifts. A casino spends little money on
security in the poker room compared to other areas because it is
not the house's money being wagered - it is the players' money.
The dealer is also not always dependable. Some are more
interested in watching a local group of guys scalp unknowing
victims, and happily accept kickbacks (in the form of constant
tips at the table or an under-the-table payment of cash) to
provide a little cover if there are any suspicions or
accusations. Other times the dealer is even running his own
scam, clipping extra chips from the pot while collecting the
rake. In most cases, he is simply too busy running the game,
and a smart team of colluders would not create situations that
he would have to acknowledge. Consequently, your best defense
is awareness and knowledge of what is possible.
Ego: People go to great lengths to build a reputation, and
feeling power over an opponent is a strong driving force.
Everyone wants to be a winner, but some will go further than
others to make sure that happens. People try to rationalize
their cheating with excuses such as:
1) They must cheat to keep it an even game, because most people cheat.
2) They need to make up for losses, and feel like they have paid their dues in the fair game.
3) They only steal from the rich, because the rich can afford it.
4) They want to take a stab against opponents they don't like.
I don't think any of these would go over very well when caught "with an ace up the sleeve."
Test of Skill: Imagine, if you will, that you decided to read
a book on the manipulation of a deck of cards. You enjoyed the book
so much that you dedicated an entire week to the strict study
and practice of those techniques. By the end of the week, you
are bound to know a thing or two. Imagine that week extending
to a month, then several months, then a year. One year doubles,
two becomes four, etc. Imagine what you would know after a
decade. There are thousands of people who have gone down this
road and become passionate students of card manipulation.
Dedicating one's life to the study and development of
sleight-of-hand with a deck of cards opens up only a few
career options (outside of putting it aside for a "normal"
career): (1) become a poker cheat; or (2) play it straight and
start performing magic. Although some would argue to the
contrary, the fundamental concepts behind the manipulation
of cards for magic and for cheating are strikingly similar
(with respect to blocking, mastering technique, strategically
setting up those present for the desired outcome, and taking
advantage of opportunities on the fly). Though few moves in magic
are appropriate for the card table, nearly all the moves developed
for the card table have been adopted by the magic community -
keeping in mind that an entertainer will often display overt skill,
while a cheater will strive to mask the fact that he has developed
any skill with a deck of cards. Not only do magicians and cheats
share extremely deceptive techniques and approaches, but they
both require a bold ability to execute these techniques with a
straight face in the most stringent of conditions. The primary
difference (aside from the risk of getting roughed up) is that
in magic the audience pays the entertainer, knowing that he is
pulling a fast one. At the table, an opponent pays for a show
that he didn't even know took place.
After enough practice, it is natural for a student of
sleight-of-hand to wonder if his skills would hold up under
fire at the card table. Some go for it, get a taste, and never
look back. Many sleight-of-hand artistes actually envy those who
have experienced the thrill of putting their abilities to the
ultimate test. However, by nature, humanity has a tendency to
push the limits. In most cases, greed leads these brave souls
down a dangerous path with an unpleasant end.
Card players are often warned to be on the lookout for
cheaters, but what exactly does that mean? The average player
knows little more about cheating than what he has seen in Hollywood
films. On top of this, the trend for most of the poker community
is to turn a cold shoulder to discussions about cheating in
the modern game. Even if the serious professional does his
homework, the majority of the poker playing population is left
knowing little more than elementary card marking systems and
basic sleight-of-hand concepts (such as dealing from the bottom
of the deck). Without proper education, the average card player
is a sitting duck - a mark. A mark is a player that has little
or no knowledge of how a cheater can know or influence the
outcome of a hand played. The best way to detect cheating is not
only having knowledge of a technique, but also having an
understanding of the specific moves in your own hands.
No matter what level you play at, there is always a chance
of running into a cheater. The novice cheat will usually use
some sort of basic concept or hidden principle, and will settle
for angles such as utilizing a deck of pre-marked cards.
Intermediate cheats will be more apt to use basic forms of
sleight-of-hand, like attempting to peek the river card,
nail nicking a card, or signaling across the table. However,
both the novice cheat and the intermediate cheat are not always
threats in the long run. A person at this level is sometimes
cheating to make up for his lack of skill in the game, and
cheating will only give him a fleeting edge on perhaps a few
hands. Lack of skill in playing the game will often lead to his
demise. A cheater at this level may also become so involved
with the actual techniques and opportunities to cheat that he
loses perspective of the overall game.
The professional cheat, however, is most often a solid card
player (contrary to many old books on cheating). The better
player he is, the more he will understand:
1) How to stay under the radar while employing his techniques
(by staying consistent with solid play), and
2) How to properly bet to create the most profit from these techniques.
A professional will also fully understand what needs to be
done to leave no evidence that cheating has occurred when he is
through. Some players have been tempted to cheat ever since they
started playing cards, quickly taking advantage of any angle
they could. You will find others, however, that played straight
for many years before turning to dishonest angles. This type of
player usually converts to cheating due to hitting some bad
beats along the way, or simply gets sick of the grind and wants
a more dependable edge.
There are different types of professional cheaters. The first
is a great card player who has learned one or two intermediate
techniques that provide the player with extra information for
an advantage (such as peeking upcoming community cards, killing cards,
waving cards), and grinds this in combination with solid play
for consistent profit. The second is the mechanic. The mechanic
is a master of sleight-of-hand techniques designed to know or
influence the outcome of a hand played. There are many players
that have studied these techniques and can execute them at a very
high level of proficiency. However, the true artiste takes this
to the next level, designing movements, character, and techniques
that completely hide the fact that he has developed these skills.
A mechanic that understands the psychology of a scam has the
ability to devastate a group of players. Still, most students
of card manipulation envision the mechanic as an expert in all
forms of cheating with sleight-of-hand. This is rather rare for
a professional. When taking techniques to the table, most often
you will encounter a specialist. A specialist is one who has
mastered specific techniques that give him a strong edge. Whether
it is marking cards during play, bottom dealing, stacking the
deck, or switching in a cold deck, he depends on a specialized
approach to ensure his advantage.
The third type of professional works as part of a team, often
referred to as a collusion team, a pack, or a mob. This refers
to two or more people who work together to either garner an
advantage at the table, or to execute a full blown scam. This
partnership is usually hand-picked and organized, yet can
sometimes naturally develop in the casino as a result of realized
opportunities (as described below).
Natural development of a collusion team in the casino:
Imagine two strong players that play consistently at the same
casino, day in and day out. At first it is often a clash at the
table, one trying to best the other. Over time they get to know
each other, and maybe even grab a lunch break at the casino, etc.
It doesn't take long for them to realize that they are each
other's best competition, and that playing soft against each
other can raise profitability. Though these arrangements usually
stay at playing soft against each other and the occasional
signal of "get out of the way, I have the nuts," some decide
that there are opportunities for more sophisticated strategies.
As these types of players get used to the idea of working together,
the approach can easily develop into signaling and strategic
plays to save money by putting the best hand forward or sometimes
building the pot when one has the nuts (fully explained in the
chapter "Using a Partner)." This will naturally lead to the
realization that to successfully split profits, they need to
play from the same bankroll - hence, the founding of a collusion
team. Seeking maximum profitability often leads to recruitment,
forming a small team that not only keeps the tables full and
the casinos happy, but allows their bankroll to play around the
clock. I have met several people that choose to play in the same
casino every day strictly to build these types of relationships,
both with players and casino staff.
Collusion team in the private game: There are many more
opportunities for a collusion team to not only create an edge,
but directly control the outcome of a game in the private venue.
This has led to the development of sophisticated scams designed
to take anywhere from one to a table full of unsuspecting marks.
These strategies and techniques are covered in great detail in
Cheating at Texas Hold'em.
On page 243 of Scarne's Guide to Modern Poker (1980), John Scarne writes...
"A knowledge of cheating methods and the ability to detect them is your best protection against dishonest players in private games."
I agree. Now that we have taken a few moments to set the stage, let's cover a few of the general threats one may encounter at the modern card table.
Cheating at Poker (in the private game)
Cheating at cards has existed ever since the invention of
playing cards. Wikipedia defines cheating at poker as "Any behavior
outside the rules that is intended to give an unfair advantage to
one or more players." Traditional forms of cheating at poker are
known for taking place in the private game, because when the players
are allowed to shuffle and deal the game is more susceptible to
the skills of a mechanic (a cheater skilled in sleight-of-hand
and the manipulation of playing cards). This is often confused
with the term cardshark, which refers to a very good poker player
that plays fairly. Some of the general tools of the mechanic
Marked Cards - Perhaps the most well-known technique for
cheating at poker is using a deck of marked cards. However,
most players know little more than the general fact that marked
cards exist, and very few would have any chance at all to detect
a professionally marked deck sitting in front of them. There are
many variations in how a deck can be marked, but in the end the
cards are either marked to be recognized visually or by touch
with the fingertips during the deal. Some methods used to mark
cards for visual recognition are only designed for the dealer
to read, while others are designed to be read across the table.
Some require the cheat to mark the cards before play, while others
allow a cardsharp to mark his opponent's deck during play
(clearly a very strong way to cheat at poker). The most common
marking techniques that take place during a game is the nail
nick (using the fingernail to "nick" the edge of a desired
card) or waving (bending the card for visual recognition).
Using a needle, one can also pre-mark a deck of cards by scratching
the color off of the card's back design. Far more sophisticated
methods for pre-marking a deck have been developed with the use
of chemicals. Some chemical markings are designed to be seen with
the naked eye by throwing your eyes out of focus, some require
sunglasses or contacts with special filter, and some can't be
seen by any of the players at the table, and are read through a
special hidden camera that reads the marks and sends the
information to partners in another room. However, please keep in
mind that what I am mentioning here does not even cover the basics.
For an incredible collection of marked card concepts and methods,
refer to Cheating at Texas Hold'em.
Stacking the Deck - For every true cut and shuffle in
existence, there is a crooked shuffle or cut that looks the
same but can be used to cheat at poker. A myriad of methods
have been developed to locate cards, control them, and stack
them during the shuffle so that the cheater or his partner can
receive the desired hand.
Nullifying the Final Cut - In private game, the deck is
usually offered to the opponent sitting to the dealer's right
for one last cut before the hands are dealt. This customary
procedure was developed to help deter players who would try to
run up a good hand during the shuffle. Therefore, many methods
have been developed by card mechanics to undo, or "nullify"
this final cut.
Crooked Dealing - The ability to create the illusion of
dealing the top card while in reality putting another card
into play opens up many opportunities for a card cheat. Though
there are many applications for a bottom deal, second deal,
or center deal, the point of this overview is that they exit
and are extremely effective in putting peeked cards into play
during the flop, fourth street, or river.
Cold Deck - Another one of the premier ways for someone to
cheat at poker it to switch in a pre-arranged deck, also known
as a cold deck or a cooler (named as such because the cards being
switched in are supposedy cooler than the cards that have been
in play). A cold deck is developed to give many of the players
at the table a good hand, while giving the cardsharp the best
hand and likely the healthiest pot of the night. A cold deck
is also a useful tool to switch a marked deck into the game.
Cheating at Poker (in the Casino)
Cheating at poker in the casino takes place, however the
approaches are more limited than what may be found in the private
game environment. In the casino, there are far less opportunities
for a mechanic to use sleight-of-hand to cheat for an advantage.
Perhaps the most well-known techniques for cheating at poker in
the casino are:
Marking Cards During Play - This already been briefly
discussed in the previous section. I mention this again because
it is quite common to find cards that have been nail nicked or
bent for visual recognition (amongst an array of more devious
Collusion - Collusion is the most common as well as one of
the most deceptive forms of cheating. Collusion is the
collaboration of two or more poker players to gain an unfair
advantage at the card table. Utilizing signals, betting strategies,
and sometimes sleight-of-hand, this is a very hard poker scam
to catch when done properly. Sometimes players will choose to sit
next to each other, which will allow them to cheat by switching one
of their hole cards under the table. This allows the cheaters to
land more pocket pairs, as well as complete more flushes and straights.
Other collusion tactics include putting the best hand forward,
so that only the best hand out of the colluding players will be
played in any given hand. Using signals, they communicate to make
the best decision. Clearly this is a very subtle way to cheat at
cards. Other ways that collusion can be used to cheat at cards is
playing soft. Cheaters that go up against each other will not raise
each other hard, and may even check through the rest of the hand to
avoid taking money from each other. During tournaments, a card cheater
may dump his chips to another partner that is low to keep him in
Betting Tactics - There are many different tactics that can
be used to create a deceitful edge, from string bets variations
(designed to garner a read on an opposing player) to using
approaches such as saying "I'm callin':" in a way that sounds
like "I'm all-in."
Cheating at Online Poker (Online)
There are several ways to cheat at poker in the online environment to gain an unfair advantage:
Collusion - When playing online poker, players at the same
table can communicate through an instant messaging system or
over the phone to share hole card information. In doing this,
they can play best hand forward, whipsaw (a way to cheat at poker
in which to players use betting to trap opponents), as well as
push players out. Obviously, sleight-of-hand cannot be used to
cheat at cards as done in the casino and private game environments.
As previously mentioned, other ways that collusion can be used to
cheat at cards is playing soft or dumping chips to keep a partner
alive in tournament play.
Bots and Database Applications: Another way that a player
can cheat at online poker is using software that gives the play
statistics of those that are playing against him. By typing
one's opponents into a purchased database, past histories are
provided to give the card cheater an edge on strategy. Another
way a player may cheat at poker in the online environment is
pulling the plug. By disconnecting the internet, he can take
advantage of situations to save himself from having to call the
bet (but still taking his hand to showdown). On top of this, some
players employ computer players (also known as bots) to take
over their account and play for them.
Account Hacking: Yet another threat in the online poker
environment is account hacking. This is a major problem because
your account is no different than a bank account. All a thief
needs is your account name and password and he can access the
money, dump it is a game, etc., and you will not be able to recover
the losses. Because your account is connected to an email address,
there are crafty ways for this to take place, and anyone having a
considerable amount of money in an online account should be aware
of these threats and how to prevent them.
Cheating at Poker (Prevention)
The first step in being able to detect and prevent cheating
at cards is for you to know everything you can about this topic.
After all, how can you detect something that you don't even know
exists? The truth is that every player that wants to take his
game seriously must be in the know to protect their game. This
includes understanding the ins and outs of modern cheating
techniques, how and when they would be used, how to detect them,
and implementing the gaming procedures that will help prevent
these techniques from taking place. Doing so allows a player to
focus on what he should be focusing on - enjoying the game and
playing to the best of his ability.
Thank you for taking the time to read this overview of
cheating at Texas Hold'em. Please check back soon for more
free information and videos regarding the techniques used to
cheat at cards, as well as the best ways to detect and prevent
them from happening to you. For a comprehensive guide regarding
the techniques behind marked cards, crooked shuffles and cuts,
switching cards in play, memorized slugs, nullifying the final
cut, cold decking, bots, database applications, distraction at
the card table, peeking/flashing community cards, choreographed
cheating sequences, killing cards, crooked dealing, shiners and
playing the light, stacking the deck, pulling the plug, account
hacking, collusion strategies, psychological ploys, shuffle tracking,
substituting cards, cheating with chips, betting strategies,
signaling systems, and the proper procedures that one should
follow to help prevent cheating, refer to Cheating at Texas Hold'em:
A modern guide to the art of deception and illicit play at
the card table. In the meantime... All in? Think again.
- John B. Born