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How to Cheat At Texas Holdem

Intrigued? The average "layman" is usually shocked that cheating at Texas Hold'em is even possible. Here at, 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 writing, we are proud to offer you the most comprehensive project ever written on the subject, all for less than it costs to play one hand. To learn more, click here.

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 little risk.

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 night.

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 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...

'03 '04 '05 '06 '07 '08
Felony Theft 180 171 185 198 251 285
Fraudulent Acts 182 123 125 99 159 113
Cheating At Gambling 71 51 53 45 41 58

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 include:

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 tactics).

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 the game.

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