Cheating Techniques

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BEST HAND PLAY

Best hand play is perhaps one of the more subtle methods of cheating in the poker world today and when performed well, it is very difficult to detect even for experienced players. It involves two or more players communicating their hand values to each other and the other weaker hands who would have otherwise played then drop out and just let the best hand play.

This has the effect of denying opponents pot odds for hands that they are playing and substantially reduces the size of the pots that your opponents win. It is very subtle in nature because rather than two or more players always being involved within the same round, only one team member is operating at any one time.

Say for instance that your team member has AQ under the gun in limit hold’em but you are sitting in the cut-off with AK. A player in middle position raises and you re-raise with the AK. Your team member has already folded his AQ because he has let your AK play. So now if the player who raised has a big premium pair for instance and it holds up against your AK, they are denied the extra money that the AQ would have put into the pot because they have folded.

This kind of play can have an almost “starvation” effect on other players because it reduces the average pot size that they win. The economics of poker state that in order to win, you must earn an amount of money that is above and beyond your cost of doing business ( Blinds/Antes/Rake etc ), the best hand play helps to prevent opponents from doing that.

How to spot it

Like I said, when done well, it is very difficult to spot. One of the things to look out for and keep a check of is who is on your table and how often. It is also worth noting which players never seem to play hands together. Apart from this, there is really nothing else that you can do to stop this kind of cheating.

SPOTTING

Spotting is the process of placing a passive player ( not necessarily a team member ) into a game so that if need be, you can change seats if you need to get position over a certain opponent or you want to stop them from getting position over you. In many card rooms, this may not be classed as cheating but more like angle shooting. In my opinion, it is cheating plain and simple because the other players would not allow it if they knew what was happening.

The “player” buys in for the absolute minimum with the other players money and merely occupies a seat so that at just the right time, a strategic seat change can be effected thus increasing the real players theoretical earn rate in this game.

The course of the game is being interrupted by this minimum buy-in non competing passive player. This practice would be far more effective in high stakes big bet poker especially in games where position is crucial like pot limit Omaha and no-limit hold’em for instance. Doyle Brunson once remarked that he could beat any no-limit poker game in the world without even looking at his cards if he could be guaranteed position all night long and I certainly think that it’s true not just with Brunson, but with any good no-limit player. This is why it is cheating and there are no two ways about it.

How to spot it

The answer to this is really in the above description. If you happen to notice someone playing really tight and then concede their seat to an opponent at some later stage then beware. This is especially the case if there is no time delay between the tight player getting up and the other player taking their seat.

CHIP DUMPING

Chip dumping is done primarily in tournament poker but can also be used in cash play as well in certain situations. This is one of the most common forms of cheating in tournament poker. It involves two or more players basically playing together and one player who has the larger stack “transferring” their chips to their associate during the course of a hand in order to be in a position to assist him later on in the tournament.

In tournaments, it is a huge edge especially on a final table if there is a player on that table who will not play hard against you and will refuse to knock you out. Imagine for just one minute how potentially destructive this tactic could be and how much of a disadvantage the other players would be at on this table. A weaker player could pass their chips to a much stronger team member giving them a greater probability of winning the tournament, this is also known as “feeding” where I come from.

The basic way to play this is for the two team members to get involved with each other in a raised pot and the “feeder” to drop out of the hand irrespective of it’s strength.

How to spot it

This can be very difficult to spot when it is done well. You really need to pick up a pattern here by observing the same two players doing it more than once. Observing something only once is hardly proof and as long as the players are not too blatant, all you are left with is the suspicion that something did not feel right.

MIDDLING

Once again this involves more than one player as many cheating techniques often do. This is the process of catching one or more players in the middle with hands that are inferior to a known team members hand. Lets say for instance that a team player has 8-4 in early position in limit hold’em, a hand they would normally pass. They limp in hoping to entice other players into the pot after them. They also know that the other team member has been dealt pocket aces in the cut-off. Two other middle position players also limp because they maybe anticipate a multi-way pot. The aces raise but now the 8-4 re-raises thus sweetening the pot for the premium pair. If the other two hands drop out then it has still earned money and even if they call, the aces have an awful lot of equity in this hand.

The aces end up being in the pot with three other players, one of which is a team member. If the 8-4 flops something wonderful then the aces can assist him instead. More often than not the aces will be the superior hand and this play does not have to work every time for it to be a winner. Aces against two other hands will win more often than one hand in three and this gives the hand a positive expectation.

How to spot it

Beware of the same players being in raised pots, they may be loose maniac types but then again they may not. When the same two players repeatedly show pre-flop strength only for one player to meekly fold at some later point in the hand, beware because this may indeed be happening.

CHANNELLING

Once again this is a technique that can be used in tournaments but the bigger the team, the more effective it is. Channelling is the process of getting as many team members through to the latter stages of a tournament so that many of the other cheating team play techniques can be utilised. For instance, let’s take a very large tournament with 75 tables and over 700 players. This ten man team play the tournament extremely tightly unless they have premium hands.

What tends to happen is that the wilder and reckless players start to bite the dust and the field begins to compress. This means that as players are eliminated and tables are removed, the likelihood of team members being located to the same table increases. If several of the team members have caught some big hands along the way, then it is quite possible for half the team to still be around with only two tables left.

One of the disadvantages with this method of cheating is that it essentially makes it more difficult for any team member to accumulate a very large stack early on. This is because of the strategy that they are working to. However, the goal is survival and when this “scam” is executed well, it can be very effective. On a very good day, half of the final table could be team members.

How to spot it

I think that it becomes very important to keep your “ear to the ground” with this one. One of the problems with this technique is that the larger the team, the more difficult it is to keep every member of that team happy and contented. This means that sometimes certain disgruntled team members can end up saying more than they should to someone. You must remember that many rumours are based on something that is tangible. Once you start to gather evidence of other forms of cheating, then further investigation could reveal a much larger and far more complex operation than was first envisaged.

SOFT PLAYING

Soft playing is perhaps one of the most common forms of cheating that there is. Of course depending on where you play poker and with whom, this may not even be considered cheating at all. Soft playing is the act of either checking or under betting the best or probable best hand with the sole intention of refusing to take money off someone. Quite often it is done relatively harmlessly like if you checked the nuts on the river because you thought that you were maybe in with a chance with the attractive new female player that just sat down opposite you.

On many occasions though it is done between unscrupulous individuals with ulterior motives. I once sat in a ten handed game where there was in fact three groups of friends who all refused to play hard against each other. It was rather amusing to watch and can be used to your advantage in certain circumstances if you are quick to figure out what is actually happening. In most games however, the players owe it to the others to play their own hands in as sporting and as ethical a way as possible.

How to spot it

Fortunately, this also happens to be one of the easiest to spot simply because of the fact that soft playing leads to more showdowns so you can figure out what has happened. You could try reporting this to the card room supervisor or online card room but beware if it is a private cash game. This is because in certain games, this practice will not be frowned upon and could be even encouraged.

SIGNALLING

Signalling can either be used as a cheating technique all by itself but more often than not, it is used in conjunction with some of the other methods that have been described. The ways in which cheats actually signal to each other can vary enormously. If it is blatantly obvious even to a blind man, then it is not much of a problem because these amateurs will soon get caught. Unfortunately, professional cheats take many more precautions and are far more subtle.

Cheats do not like to use methods that are easily detected by others. Using chips to signal hand strength is one way that can be used. The number of chips that is placed in a certain stack in a certain location can be an easy indicator of hand strength. How the cards are placed on the table is also another method amongst cheats. Signals don’t always have to be visual either, they can just as easily be audible in nature. Scraping a chair leg across the floor, restacking chips with more force, sniffing and so on. They have all been used by professional cheats and this will continue.

The number of ways that individuals can pass information to each other during a hand of poker is limited only by that persons imagination.

How to spot it

The bad news is that unless this is being done by complete morons, there really isn’t any real way to detect signalling if it is being done by individuals who are taking great care not to get caught. The key is in the preparation and if all parties are well drilled in the techniques then it can be impossible to spot in some cases. I have been in private cash games where I have been certain in my own mind that signals were being passed. It is just a feeling and very hard to explain but I always try and listen to that voice in my head whenever it is trying to tell me something…..because it has nearly always been right in the past.

MARKING CARDS

Card marking is one of the oldest and best known forms of cheating not just in poker but in numerous other card games as well. It dates back to the old riverboat gamblers and beyond. Once again, the number of ways that cards can be marked are numerous and this is one of the reasons why cards are changed periodically in many games.

Marking cards is still very much in use today but the only difference is that the methods are different because so much is known about the older techniques and this kind of makes many of them obsolete.
Modern cheats do this in such a way that makes it very difficult to prove anything if the marking is detected.

One technique involves scraping the table top with your fingernail and transferring the green dirty felt down the fingernail. This is then transferred to the cards on the outside edges where it will be the most visible in the hands of an house dealer. Another technique involves having tiny pieces of shiny tinsel down the fingernails and doing the same with this. The light would hit the tinsel and reveal the value of the card but obviously not the suit. If these are spotted, it could easily appear to be natural table residue to an house dealer.

How to spot it

You really need to be vigilant with the cards at all times. This means asking for frequent deck changes if that is not being done automatically. It is very important that the dealer also frequently inspects the cards and many house dealers simply do not do this. If you notice that the dealer is neglecting this duty then quietly remind them of that fact out of earshot of the other players so as not to cause offence.

CHEATING ON THE INTERNET

Many people have asked me if it is possible for people to cheat online. Of course it is but the detection software that is used by the online card rooms makes this more difficult. However, team play can be very effective online especially when the team is large and geographically situated over many different countries. It would be very difficult for any online casino to spot large teams who were operating effectively because if the team were large enough, then no discernable pattern would emerge with players always being on the same table. The arrival of the internet has made the process of forming multi-player teams over distances of many thousands of miles to be much simpler. Some of the other techniques that were mentioned would be much more difficult to execute online because one of the criteria that they look out for is exaggerated earn rates.

Teams could actually target the smaller sites or the games that were the least popular because that way, it would not stand out as much to the operators if the same players were playing repeatedly together.

How to spot it

I play poker professionally and have done for nearly three years and about 80% of my playing time is online. The sites do an excellent job of policing themselves but this does not mean that you should let your guard down. Always be very vigilant about which players are on your table and when. Make it your goal to keep a record of the players, who they are, where they are from, what time they play, their location etc. Doing this can help to detect patterns that can then be reported to the operator in order for them to investigate

HIDING CHIPS

This is a tactic that is often used in cash games as well as tournaments. Obviously this cannot be done online as everything is visible and out of your control. This tactic tends to be done more in big bet poker than limit play. Hiding chips is a way of giving your opponent false information about your stack size and can lead them into making the wrong decision at the table.

The larger denomination chips are situated at the back of a stack out of sight of the other players or maybe just a certain section of the table. This can put opponents at a tremendous disadvantage if they fail to spot the larger value chips. Imagine for an instant in no-limit hold’em, it is folded around to the button who raises the blinds. He is new to this game and has just sat down, his stack is $5000 and he thinks that the small blind has only $900 and he knows that the big blind has less than a thousand also.

In his own mind, the worst case scenario is that he will lose about $900. However, the small blind has five one thousand dollar chips hidden from view. Imagine if the button player is a very inexperienced no-limit player and attempts to steal the blinds by going all-in only to then look on in horror as the small blind calls with pocket kings with not $900 but $5000.

In fact, this is not even considered cheating at all in many locations and is deemed more like angle shooting. I think that any tactic that gets a player an unfair advantage over their opponents is borderline at best.

How to spot it

The solution to this one is rather obvious, extreme caution and vigilance must be exercised at all times when playing big bet poker. Do not be afraid to ask a player to reveal what denomination chips he has behind his front stacks, it could save you thousands of dollars.

CHIP STEALING

Believe it or not this is far more widespread than many people think. The most vulnerable targets for these slight of hand merchants are the kinds of players who are untidy with their chips. These “pickpockets” also inhabit Blackjack and Roulette, anyplace where chips can be stolen. A player rakes in a massive pot in a no-limit poker tournament and he immediately enters the next pot. He is too concerned with his involvement in this pot to bother stacking his chips.

His neighbour manages to slip a solitary $500 chip away from the pile. If this player goes all in with this chip and gets two callers and wins, this has netted him an extra $1500 out of nowhere. Two more all ins with two callers turns this into $13,500. Not bad from a single chip that wasn’t even theirs to begin with. That one single chip could be enough to win him the entire tournament. It could also conceivably cost his careless opponent the entire tournament as well. I know several people who actually make a very good living doing nothing else but steal chips, the techniques that they use are really mind blowing.

How to spot it

You must take a great amount of care with your own chips and guard them at all times. You must remember that they represent money but in a different form. You would take great care to safeguard a wallet or a purse or maybe your cash cards so do the same with your chips.

ANGLE SHOOTING

People will always look for angles in life and the gambling world is certainly no different. Many of the “opportunistic” tactics fall into a grey area where some of them could just as easily be labelled as gamesmanship. Like the player who motions and calls all in without physically moving any of their chips forward. This takes advantage of the careless and unobservant player who maybe has been listening to his walkman or some other distraction. The guy raises from the small blind to take the big blind who had telegraphed a fold only to reel in horror when he realises that some one is all in in front of him.

Or how about the player who deliberately conceals his cards to deceive opponents that he is still in the hand. Many players do this in order to get the next player to act out of turn. A player checks believing that he is first to speak and the action is on him. The player who really was first to act has concealed his cards but he now has information that the player to his left is checking. This means that a bet by him is now much more likely to take the pot as he essentially only has one player to get through now and not two if this is a three way pot for instance.

This little angle leads to entire pots being won especially against careless or inexperienced opponents. It is also a reason why many players cannot win on the internet. They cannot transfer their live game antics to an online environment. Many poker players would have no earn rate at all if they attempted to play the game straight.

How to spot it

Extreme caution is advised at all times especially when playing live poker. Sad to say though that many inexperienced players will be meat and drink to some of these “anglers”. They prey on the weak and the unwary and one mistake is all that they need in certain games. Always expect someone to cheat you and be on the lookout. After all, poker is played for money and some people will do whatever is necessary in order to get their hands on it. If you do not believe that then you do not understand human nature very well.

This article was written for the official magazine of the televised World Poker Tour and has been reproduced here with their kind permission.

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About The Dean

A full-time professional poker player, coach and backer
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