Cutting the Deck: There is no harm in establishing a house rule that all decks must be cut before the deal. In some circles, it is the player to the dealer’s right that cuts the deck.
Doing so eliminates some of the sleight of hand tricks used by the poker cheat. Had the dealer stacked the deck, peeked at the top card, or intended to second deal or bottom deal, those plans are countered by the cut.
Knowing the Signs: It should also be noted that awareness of the cheating techniques may not be enough to avoid being cheated. Sleight of hand experts can perform tricks that you know before you without you noticing. Also, if you do not spot any of the ‘popular’ maneuvers, you may feel that they were not used when you were, in fact, cheated.
Aside from awareness of the techniques, other signs that may suggest suspicious behavior are:
- An exchange of signals between two players, or any other suspicious activity (ex. passing glances, consistent spoken expressions used, etc.) that may suggest collusion.
- Losing with very strong hands on more than one occasion.
- The sight of somebody’s dealing. Inexperience in sleight of hand will produce very clumsy and awkward hand gestures, or cards being held in unnatural ways. Palming, for example, requires a stiff hand to appear natural, which is difficult if the cheat is an amateur.
- The sound of somebody’s dealing. To the very trained ear, the sound of cards being dealt can also reveal when such sleight of hand as second dealing or bottom dealing are being used. When a card is dealt, it is dealt off of the deck; the deck is beneath that card, but no card is on top of it. When a cheat is second dealing or bottom dealing a card, that card is being dealt from underneath another card. Hence, the sound is made of a card being pulled from between two other cards. One observer called this sound a “swish-click”, the swish being the regular sound of a card moving off of the deck, the click being the sound of the card above it hitting the deck.
- Cards found underneath the table.
- Stubbed Counts: When enough of the deck is being dealt that the remainder of the cards (the stub) can be verified to ensure that a full deck is being used, this is also useful (ex. seven card stud with seven players leaves only three cards in the deck; if there are any less, a full deck is not being used). This is time-consuming, and not common in home games, so it would need to be used sparingly.
Not Holding the Deck: In games where cards are being dealt face-up, such as any Stud games, In-Between, or Blackjack, there is no reason for the dealer to be holding the deck.
Holding the deck is used to deal cards face-down. It is not necessary for the deck to be held when cards are being dealt face-up. It may be wise, if tactfully done, to question why a dealer would hold the deck when dealing cards face-up, or even establishing a house rule that the deck not be held.
Strangers: It has been said that the best defense against poker cheating is to never play with strangers. The flaws in this logic however are:
1. Should the friend of a friend be considered a stranger and not allowed at the table?
2. What is to say that an acquaintance/buddy is not a poker cheat?
3. What about the honest poker player who doesn’t cheat and just wants in on a game?
It is at the discretion of the House as to whether or not strangers are invited to games. To deny entry to strangers still allows friends of friends at the table, still allows acquaintances/buddies to cheat, and denies honest players from entering in on a game. Therefore, awareness of the fundamentals of poker cheating is still important. Excluding strangers, however, provides many honest players with a greater sense of ease.
Verification: It is the responsibility of each player at the table to keep each other player at the table “honest”. By “honest”, it is meant that each player indeed has in their hand what they say they have at showdown, that each player’s dealing be normal, and that each player’s interaction with the pot be accurate.
Verifying each player’s hand at showdown is simple work and obligatory. Catching sleight of hand is trickier, especially for a card player not sure what to look for out of inexperience. It should also be stressed as a house rule that any player’s interaction with the pot be slow and obvious; no player needs to be making quick action towards or from the pot.
Alcohol: Alcohol has a double-effect where it pertains to poker-cheating. On one hand, alcohol can encourage cheating (even from a repressed cheater) through lapse in judgment. On the other hand, alcohol can target cheating by making sloppy the techniques and maneuvers of the cheat. Again on the negative side however is that alcohol can impair the perception of the honest players, and allow them to be cheated.
The best advice is to drink responsibly while playing poker at any time, but to allow suspected cheats to drink as much as they please. The skilled poker cheat, however, will not drink to intoxication unless he or she did not originally intend to cheat.
Splitting Up Anglers: A home game where gameplay is happening at more than one table has the advantage of being able to split up suspected anglers. Anglers can typically (but not exclusively) only work together at the same table, and to deal with suspected anglers, the House can casually suggest a mix-up of players at different tables, splitting up the suspected anglers. Tact is required to do so politely.
Swapping Decks: As protection against marked cards, it is always safe to suggest swapping decks every couple of hours. Established as a house rule, it can be subtly suggested that natural wear of the cards requires deck swapping to be on the safe side.
Marked Card Protocol: Also as protection against marked cards, another subtle aid is the regular check of the deck to ensure there are no marked cards.
This can be accomplished throughout regular deal, by keeping an eye on one’s own cards and deadwood (which shouldn’t arouse too much suspicion). A card marked well enough will be difficult to spot, but crimps and major shading should be noticeable.
One trick is to check the entire deck at one’s deal. By picking up the cards, and flipping through the corners like an old picture book, one should be able to spot crimps and markings. Done on all four corners and done perceptively enough will indicate that there are no noticeable markings on any of the four corners.
Noticing players overly concerned with looking at the backs of other players’ cards is another obvious protection.
Ending/Leaving the Game: The surest way to put an end to suspected cheating is also the most extreme: to put an end to the game altogether, or to leave a suspicious one in progress. A great deal of the time, there will be no way to prove with absolute certainty that the cheater has been caught. The seasoned cheat knows to never, ever admit to having cheated. To never admit to cheating, under any circumstances, is to create the lasting impression of doubt, even the smallest doubt.
Ending the home game is sometimes the most sound way to end a dispute between accusers and the irritated accused. Not inviting the accused back to the next game alleviates some of the worry at the next game, albeit at the expense of a potentially honest, falsely-accused player.
Dealing From a Shoe: The shoe is a plastic container that holds one or more decks of cards in a way where they can be dispensed out of a crack. Cards are slid out of the shoe onto the table to be dealt. They are compulsory in casino card games.
A shoe is one protection against sleight of hand dealing, but is extremely cumbersome and unorthodox in home games. Most observers had never seen a shoe used in a home game, which certainly offers protection, but immediately suggests lack of trust in a “friendly” game. Further disadvantage is that it requires that the shoe be passed around the table along with the deck for every deal, and contravenes with tables that always have two decks ready for quicker deals.