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Those highly skilled lowlifes and how to spot 'em

1 September 2006

Dear Mark,
Regarding cheating, what is a mechanic? Anonymous

Dear Anonymous;

Regarding the postcard you sent incognito with personal and confidential penned on the bottom, I'm kinda hoping that this isn't a career move on your part.

And yet, since inquiring minds besides yourself probably want to know, cheating at cards can be done a whole host of ways, such as collusion, sleight-of-hand movements like bottom stacking the deck, or the use of physical objects such as marked cards, cold decks, or holdout devices. A card mechanic, or card sharp — not to be confused with card shark — is a card cheat who specializes in sleight-of-hand card manipulation. You'll find this handiwork employed by most magicians who, like a card sharp, try to keep track of, sometimes, just one specific card, and other times, the order of a complete deck.

No need or space here for wholesale writings on different forms of sleight-of-hand cheating techniques like false shuffles, false cuts, hand mucking, etc., but I will mention one that anyone with just a little practice might be using against you at a not-so-friendly kitchen table poker game, and that one is "dealing seconds".

Dealing seconds is manipulating either the second card from the top, or the bottom card, instead of the customary top one. This stunt is also called "second deal" or "bottom deal" respectively. Any deuce dealer with a little practice can deal the second card, the bottom card, the second-from-bottom card, even the middle card without an untrained eye spotting what's going on. Someone of masterful hand dexterity could even "cull," meaning finding the cards he needs, placing them at the bottom, top or any other place the cheat fancies, then falsely dealing them to himself or to a confederate player on the game.

You can identify a seconds-dealing pagan in your home-game village by looking at how the deck is gripped. A card manipulator will use what is known as the "mechanic's grip," a handclasp of the cards that makes it easier to deal not only seconds, but from the bottom, or even from the middle of the deck. A right-handed dealer holds the deck in his left hand, three fingers on the edge of the long side of the deck, and the index finger on the outer right corner.

Certainly a mechanic's grip alone is not enough proof to accuse anyone of being a double-dealing sharper, and you never want to get involved in a cockeyed game where cheating is going on, unless, of course, you are of the mindset of legendary gambler Canada Bill. Bill was losing his entire bankroll at Faro when a friend approached and said, "Bill, don't you know this game is crooked?" "Yes," answered Canada Bill, "but it's the only game in town."

Dear Mark,
Is it possible to draw the same card that is discarded on a standard video poker machine? I have had it happen to me before. Jack H.

Although I am not familiar with any gaming companies using continuous shuffle technology on their garden-variety video poker machines while a hand is in progress, if the video poker machine is dealing a fair game, the answer to your question would be, no, it is not possible to get the same card back. Once you discard a card it shouldn't be returning to the same hand.

Video poker, Jack, can be played at chop chop speed, and after a while you can start seeing all kinds of streaks and patterns, so some same-card placement sorta seems possible. In actuality though, once the hand is completed, cards are reshuffled and that seven of diamonds you discarded the last hand can easily appear as the first card dealt on the next.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "It's hard work. Gambling. Playing poker. Don't let anyone tell you different. Think about what it's like sitting at a poker table with people whose only goal is to cut your throat, take your money, and leave you out back talking to yourself about what went wrong inside." --Stu Unger, three-time WSOP Champion

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.