Dangerous Shoes: Casino Cheating at Blackjack
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. XI #1, March 1991)
By Steve Forte
© 1991 Blackjack Forum
[Steve Forte is the author of Casino Game Protection: A Comprehensive Guide and Poker Protection - Cheating . . . And the World of Poker.]
Over the years, between letters, phone calls and personal meetings, I've talked with hundreds of concerned players who suspect they were cheated in card, dice and gambling games of all kinds. When the game is blackjack, one of the most commonly asked questions is: "Can I be cheated when the cards are dealt from a shoe?" As you may suspect, the answer is a definite yes. What you may not suspect is that you can be cheated easier and more deceptively in shoe games than in games where cards are dealt from the hand.
One reason shoe games can be so dangerous is that everyone knows you can be cheated in hand held games, and bad luck naturally invites suspicion. You also have many players who believe you can't be cheated in shoe games. With such a false sense of security, these players could lose entire bankrolls against some of the following techniques, and never suspect foul play.
Most of what you are about to read has never been "tipped" in print. There are many ways to cheat players in shoe games, many more than most players would ever imagine. They range from rank moves like the "Selective Upcard," a technique discussed in the December 1988 issue of Blackjack Forum (p. 8) to the sophisticated "Set Up Games" where the dealer, boss and players all work together to "take off" (cheat) one or more players.
This article addresses three of the most common methods of cheating players with a shoe. They are the "Short Shoe," "The Anchor," and "Crooked Dealing Shoes." Although these techniques are somewhat known, I think you'll see that a little knowledge can sometimes be a liability!
Cheating at Blackjack: Short Shoes
Removing high cards from the shoe is the easiest way to cheat players at a multi-deck blackjack game and requires no skill or brains. Removing 8-10 ten-valued cards and 2-4 aces from a four-deck shoe before the game starts will effectively increase an operator's advantage. If you are consistently left hanging with a positive count at the cut card, you may be bucking a short shoe.
The following story shows one way to "short" shoes after the game starts out on the square.
I know a winning player who frequented this private game. The operator dealt three out of four decks with Vegas rules. The player was hip to the short shoe so he insisted that whenever he played, four new decks were opened and spread face up for inspection.
The player always played two hands and generally played alone. The game was dealt under the guise of a challenge proposition. The operators boasted that no one could beat the 4-deck shoe with a card counting strategy. They actually knew better, but this was all part of the hustle.
The ploy was simple. The dealer simply waited until a rich round showed up (i.e. two twenties and a blackjack). The complete round would be picked up, apparently placed into the discard rack, but actually "held out" (palmed). The dealer would reach under the table for a tissue, and during this action would drop the cards into the waste basket. The dealer would then wipe his glasses and throw the tissue away, conveniently on top of the trashed cards.
The move would be repeated once again, and in no time at all the deck would be significantly short. Since the player was put to sleep with the initial inspection of the cards, he never caught on. If the player woke up and demanded a count down, you can bet that all four decks would have accidentally been spilled all over the table and the floor, and, of course, some cards would have ended up in the trash can.
There are also ways to short shoes without actually removing cards. There have been some sophisticated shuffling procedures designed to "slug" or keep groups of high cards together. These slugs are then cut out of play by an accomplice posing as a player, or the dealer just gambles with a legitimate player cut. This turns out to be no gamble at all as some rules allow no less than one deck to be cut from either top or bottom. [Note from Arnold Snyder: For an example of this kind of cheating, see Stickin' It to the Safari Club.]
Even without this rule, influencing the cut is not a problem. Some players always cut deep, some thin, some always cut center. The dealer just picks his spots. A hustler once told me, "When I need a center cut to hit a brief (crimp) or cut a slug out of play, I give the deck to the player paying the least attention to the game. When I catch them off guard they cut center about 8 or 9 times out of 10."
[Note from Arnold Snyder: Since the writing of this article, I have encountered short shoes in two Las Vegas casinos. If you see high counts shoe after shoe but the high cards never come out, don't imagine that a short shoe is impossible, even in a casino on the Las Vegas Strip.]
The Anchor--Another Method of Cheating at Blackjack
The "anchor" was a ploy developed quite some time ago. It was used in single-deck games as a subtle substitute for the second deal.
The "anchor man" would sit on third base. He would receive signals from the dealer to hit or stand depending on the top card and the dealer's total. This information was obtained through the use of marked cards or various peeking techniques.
If the top card would bust the dealer, the anchor would be signaled to hit; if the top card would help the dealer, he would be signaled to stand. Sometimes the anchor would even hit a three or four card standing hand. When the hand eventually busted, the cards would be picked up quickly, making it difficult for anyone to spot the unusual play.
Anchors allow all cards to be dealt slowly and cleanly, which naturally puts all players at ease. A "double anchor" is also sometimes employed, using two players to help take off cards for the dealer. Needless to say, either way the frequency of dealer busts decreases dramatically.
The "anchor" and "double anchor" can and have been used in shoe games. Typically sand, trims, blockout or any type of marked cards that can easily be read across the table are used. The shoe is legitimate, and although the cards are marked, these games are always dealt face up making it impossible for anyone to "burn" (watch closely) the back of any card for any length of time. With the cards dealt face up, some discretion must be used by the anchors in their playing decisions.
One variation, known as the "early anchor," is subtle, and designed to take dead aim at an individual player. Instead of playing third base, the anchor sits immediately before the targeted player. His goal is to take off good double down cards and put the targeted player on as many stiffs as possible.
For example, the dealer shows a ten, the anchor has 13 and the targeted player has a total of nine. If the top card is read (remember the cards are marked) to be a 4, 5 or 6, the anchor stands. The player, after hitting once, will be stiff against a dealer ten, not a lucrative situation.
Or, the player may have nine, ten or eleven vs. a dealer low card, and is obviously going to double down. If the top card is read to be ten valued, the early anchor will hit almost any hand, taking off at least one winning card from the player. This can be very frustrating. The early anchor often plays two hands, allowing the greatest chance to alter the hit card distribution favorably for the dealer, or unfavorably, if you happen to be the targeted player.
Crooked Dealing Shoes at Blackjack
There are a number of crooked dealing shoes in existence today. The most common is the "Prism and Second Dealing Shoe." The prism is the peeking gaff that allows the dealer to see an image of the top card. It is a semi-transparent solid piece of plastic that works a bit like a periscope. It hides behind the upper part of the face plate (front of the shoe) and to the uninformed simply appears to be part of the plastic casing. When the top card is pushed back slightly, it gets wedged between the prism and face plate. In this position not only can the top card be peeked but the second card can be dealt.
It's ironic, but when dealing shoes first became popular many players thought that blackjack's two most dangerous cheaters' moves, the peek and the second deal, would finally be eliminated. What really happened is that the second deal, a prized gambler's move taking hundreds of hours of practice to master, became easier to deal and more deceptive to boot. And the peek became automatic and almost foolproof without any of the unnatural moves that tip off handheld peeks.
In many ways, crooked dealing shoes became more dangerous to players' bankrolls than skilled card mechanics. Gaffed shoes are sold in various parts of the country, usually costing from $1200-$1500. They are frequently sold with a "front" (legitimate dealing shoe that perfectly matches the gaffed shoe) for an additional $100. Most of these shoes come with various locking mechanisms. With the shoe "locked up," second dealing and peeking become impossible and the shoe could be safely passed out for inspection.
An inferior variation of this shoe has the prism replaced by a "shiner" (mirror). Each time the top card is pushed back into the second dealing position a small mirror mechanically pops out from behind the face plate to peek the top card.
The most sophisticated "Peek" and "Two Shoe" I ever saw was made of a black shiny plastic. There were no extra or moving parts, just a front, back, two sides and the bottom. The optics necessary to peek the top card were molded right into the face plate. In peek position only 1/8 of the card's index was readable. This means you could be standing on top of the dealer and probably never suspect the peek.
The decks had to be aggressively shuffled, putting a natural wave in all cards. This allowed each top card to hug the plastic and contact the optical part of the face plate. To deal this shoe expertly required tremendous practice, and you couldn't buy the shoe for less than $10,000. I mention this particular shoe only to show how much thought and energy can go into perfecting these gaffs.
When you remove the prism or peeking mechanism from one of these gaffed shoes, you end up with a plastic box that really looks like a legitimate, ungaffed shoe from all angles. The only visible discrepancy is the slightly longer face plate which goes unnoticed by all except those in the know. This extra room allows the top card to be pushed back for the second deal. Since a second dealing shoe is of no value unless the top card is known, other means must be used to get this information.
I know of spots where they deal "rough and smooth" from these shoes. Rough and smooth are marked cards that can be distinguished by feel alone. Some card manufacturers use more than one finish on the same back design. The high cards (9-A's) are taken from decks with a rough and grainy finish, while the low cards (2-8's) are taken from the smooth finished backs, and both are sorted together to make complete four-deck shoes.
With the dealer's left hand resting naturally on the shoe and top card, the different back finishes are easily discernible. The dealer can now read every card without any unnatural moves, and use the second deal when needed to go for the money. If you happen to be in this game looking for the prism or watching the dealer's eyes, trying to detect him glancing in the shoe's direction for the peek, you would have to wait a long time.
In closing, let me point out that some of the techniques discussed can also be found in multi-deck games where the shoe is not used. Dealing the cards from a spread on the table is a very common practice in private games.
Secondly, if you do happen to run into one of these techniques, use your head, dummy up, and find another game. In some spots, if you let your suspicions be heard, you can expect to be escorted to the street. Hopefully, there will be no traffic at the time.
Finally, we've only touched a few bases. There are a number of other ways you can be cheated in shoe games. There are also other variations on the short shoe and the anchor. I've simply described the most common techniques. Hopefully this information will be worth something to you in dollars and cents, somewhere down the road. ♠
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