Marked cards have been part of blackjack and poker since the games began. Learn how cheats mark cards, how to detect marked cards, and how marked cards scams work in blackjack and poker today.
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Cheating at Blackjack and Poker:
Marked Cards

Marked cards and card marking in casinos and poker rooms and how to mark cards
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The Gambler's Crimp, Shading Decks, and Other Methods for Marking Cards

By Howard Collier, with photos by Christi Collier
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XIII #4, December 1993)
© 1993 Blackjack Forum

In 1902, S. W. Erdnase wrote, "A perfect understanding of the risks that are taken may aid greatly in lessening the casualties." This is extremely profound. Blackjack table or no blackjack table, Erdnase laid out the truth about cheating and marked cards in his turn of the century publication, Artifice, Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table.

My life as an amateur magician changed forever late one summer evening when my mentor gave me a copy of the Erdnase book re-titled, The Expert At the Card Table . It was my fourteenth birthday and it broke me out of my Houdini phase forever, much to the relief of my mother.

The Expert at the Card Table is every good sleight of hand artist's primer. If you gamble for money, it should be your primer too, particularly now with casinos popping up all over the place. North American natives, privileged with "nation within a nation" status, can now open casinos. Revenue-poor cities and states are also turning to casino gambling in an effort to refill their treasury coffers. Up and down the Mississippi, 24-hour, permanently moored riverboats have recently opened, much to the delight of everyone.

So, now that we can gamble in bars, tents and riverboats, everything is great. Right? No, not really. If you open a bunch of casinos, you're going to need a bunch of dealers. Experienced ones would be nice, but truth is you've got five riverboats with 40 blackjack tables each. Assuming your 40 tables are always busy, you need 200 dealers for just the first 8 hour shift and there are three shifts a day. Suddenly, anyone who can count to 21 and shuffle a deck of cards is looking good to you.

Now think about this. If you were a grifter hustling blackjack, would you rather work in Nevada where the patrons are guarded and house security knows the tricks of your trade, or would you rather grift someplace where no one has ever grift before?

My point here, folks, is that it's good to know thy game. Educate yourself. There are vultures. Vultures are everywhere. The majority of cheating in private games is accomplished with marked cards. Some methods are very sophisticated and some are very simple. There are lots of different ways cards can be marked. Some of these methods might work in a casino staffed by amateur pit and security personnel.

Easy Methods for Marking Cards or Exploiting Existing Marks

You can buy a factory marked, factory sealed deck of Bicycle brand readers from most magic shops. Factory marked Bicycles are examples of shade work. To shade a deck, an artist will sit with a paint brush and trim the thickness of some part or other of the design work on the back of the card. Note the flower petals in the upper right hand corners of this rider back. (See the illustraton above.)

If you have talent with a paint brush, you can find the proper shades of red and blue inks (also at the magic stores), and create customized decks for your own specific needs. The ever-popular "Bee" back design (the standard deck in many casinos) lends itself beautifully to shade work. (See the illustration below.)

Could a cheat get his own deck(s) into a casino? It depends on how amateur the operation is... (See Steve Forte's article, "Don't Be a Mark for Marked Cards," for more information on cardroom controls.)

No artistic talent? Got an iron? Heat it up and press the backs of all the 10 count cards, deadening the shine. This ploy makes ready identification possible if you know what to look for.

Don't own an iron? Put a single drop of water on the back of a card. Wipe it off in a few minutes and it will leave a small dull spot. You can see it if you hold the deck at the proper angle to reflect light. (These marking techniques are too subtle to illustrate with photos.)

Go back to the magic shop and ask the kid behind the counter for a magician's "card marker." (See the illustration directly above.) A card marker is a handy little device to own. The card is inserted between the jaws of the marker and pressure is applied. The resulting mark can be felt, which means an accomplished second dealer could know without peeking whether the top card should be dealt or not.

Batch variations in the printing run can also be taken advantage of by cheats. You will find that you can buy two identical decks of cards (with borderless backs, such as Bee decks) and the ink on the edges will create a specific edge shading for each deck. This shading varies from deck to deck because of the cutting and printing process. Remove the tens from one deck and replace them with the tens from the other. The variance in the two decks' edge shading makes "reading" the edges of the tens possible.

Daub, a sticky substance smeared onto the backs of cards, is undoubtedly the most worked subterfuge in private games. This is because you don't have to bring in your own cards, but simply do your work on the spot. You can actually buy daub, but nobody does. Most folks make their own. Green or blue eye shadow works well on blue back decks, as does pencil graphite, ash from the ever present cigarette ashtray or dirt from the sole of the shoe.

Classically, daub is placed into the recessed head of a button sewn under the edge of the cheat's jacket or vest. To mark a card with daub, he simply touches the back of any card with daub on his finger. The mark is faint but good enough to be seen later if you know what to look for.

With the exception of daub, the work discussed here has been of a mechanical nature (i.e., there is a physical, permanent mark on the card). This is why daub is good (for the cheat). Along comes the last few rounds of the game and the daub artist begins wiping the backs of the cards along the table to remove the daub as he folds. This would be impossible in a normal casino environment, and would probably be difficult for a blackjack dealer to accomplish anywhere. Every cheat worries about covering his tracks except for the sleight of hand artist.

The Gambler's Crimp for No Permanent Mark

A sleight of hand artist uses the gambler's crimp a method that will leave no permanent mark on the cards. If you're a cheat, this is a very good thing. If there are no marks on the cards, cheating is virtually impossible to prove. There are about a million different ways to do the gambler's crimp. Some ways are better than others.

The natural act of picking up a playing card from the surface of the table lends itself to the gaff. Simply pick up a card (see the illustration directly above.) between your index finger which is on the back of the card and the thumb and middle which are on the face. By pressing the index finger down onto the back of the card, you create a little "V" shaped crimp in one corner of the card. There are dozens of crimping methods a dealer might employ in the "natural" handling of the deck.

Education doesn't have to be costly. Learn the tricks of the trade to protect yourself from marked cards and other forms of cheating. I recommend Erdnase's The Expert at the Card Table, especially if you play much blackjack in boats that go nowhere, roadhouse bars, decorated warehouses, and converted fire stations.

[Editor's Note: Howard Collier is a 5th generation Texan and a sleight of hand expert. He resides in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles County. He wrote and produced the video, The Business of Blackjack.] ♠


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  Marked Cards
Marked cards have been part of blackjack and poker since the beginning of the games. Crimping is one of the oldest ways of marking cards. To avoid being ripped off in a marked card scam in a casino or poker game, read this article to learn how card cheats mark cards, how to detect marked cards, and how marked cards scams work in blackjack and poker games today.