Stacking up poker’s taboo subject

March 1, 2009

I wrote another article recently about how people are now using the iPhone to download a program to help you cheat at Blackjack at the casino. Why an amateur shady gambler would want to risk as many as six years in prison, not to mention major fines, broken bones and lifetime bans, is beyond me. But apparently it’s happening, since California had to warn Nevada about it a few weeks ago just to get it on their radar.

I won’t get too deep into the details of how it works, but it basically acts like a mini card-counting computer that gives you a nice, soothing vibrate whenever the ratio of higher cards left in the deck climbs to a favorable number for the player. Favorable in the temporary sense for your wallet, but quite unfavorable for your pretty boy image after you get your face bashed in with a nice set of brass knuckles.

Anyhow, the story got me thinking about poker specifically. Have you ever cheated at poker on any level? Did you get away with it? Why’d you do it? Was it with people you knew or didn’t know?

I asked myself all those questions before I put them out here to the public, and my answer is simple. The last time I cheated at cards, the stakes were for nickels and I was in my early high school career. It was a few times, and it was with a mix of people I did and didn’t know. So in all honesty my experience with cheating is about as minimal as you can get without having crossed that path at least once in your life. I was soon able to mature and let better judgment, fair play and wisdom take hold to prevent me from walking that road any further. However, I have from time to time made aquaintence with some weathered souls who had their fair share of colorful cheating stories. And through them, I’ve learned the basic ins and outs of cheating in a non-casino poker setting.

These probably won’t be a surprise to any of you, but just for the sake of conversation:

1) Stacking the deck. This is typically the easiest form of cheating to pull off…but you have to be a real scumbag to go through with it, mostly because you have to be in such familiar company that either you can count on someone tapping the deck when it comes time to cut, or it’s understood there’s no cut to begin with. Basically, all you have to do is sweep discards and work the order so you find yourself magically sitting on three aces after the first deal. Or learn how to bottom deal and “cut” the cards the way Worm did in Rounders. “I’ve been working on my chops!”

2) Buddy system. The take is half as much, but the odds of success are higher since you’re working with a friend. You can even be the one taking the fall to benefit the other guy. Think Rounders and Shade. If you’re in a house game and playing under a solid table, you can even do some careful swapping beyond where the curious eye can see.

That’s actually all I’ve got. Some more seasoned in the dark arts of deception might have more intricate explanations of ways to come out ahead in a dishonest manner.

But let me clarify. I don’t condone cheating, I don’t cheat. It’s not cool. I’m just writing about it here. The whole fun of playing poker, since you’re only really going to win or lose a minimal amount in a house game, is honing your skill and having a good time. Neither of which you’re going to accomplish if you rely on an unfair advantage to accomplish victory.

You know, some of the people who told me their stories of witnessed mischief actually said they or someone they knew were so good at cheating, such an expert and so flawless in their techinque, they could do it right in front of you in plain view and you wouldn’t even know it.

Yet another reason to only play house games with people you know. Who knows, they might try to cheat, but at least you know they’ll probably suck at it and fail. Then you can beat their ass and make them promise to hook you up with their sister as punishment.

For the cheater, not his sister, of course.