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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Tops, bottoms and middles

19 December 2005

Dear Mark,
As a former dealer, were you ever instructed to deal "seconds" to winning players at a blackjack table? Charles L.

It's crucial, Charles, that I address the issue of cheating first, then your question regarding seconds.

In my 17 years working the Green Felt Jungle, I have never been asked to do the slightest thing that borders on deception. Pit bulls have gotten in my ear to tell me to speed up my hands per hour, but that's to get the math to work in the casino's favor, never to use a sleight of hand technique to swindle the general public.

There is another reason why casinos don't play the flimflam game. Most casinos today are publicly traded companies on the NYSE. They have zero interest in exposing their gaming license to loss with even an inkling of hanky-panky.

A more significant reason why casinos have no interest in defrauding the public is the way casinos reap their profits. They pay players less than the true odds. Point being, every game offered, including blackjack, is mathematically in the casino's favor. Paying patrons less than even money on every bet made is a virtual license to print money, so why would they even consider chiseling Charley out of his money by dealing seconds?

Now to seconds: what it is, how it's done, and how to identify a "home-game" dealer doing it.

In seconds dealing, done by a "mechanic" (card manipulator — aka "deuce dealer," "number two man"), the dealer does not deal the card from top of the deck, but the card just beneath it. A mechanic will hold back that top card because he knows its value and wants an accomplice to have it for winning purposes, or another to have it for losing.

If a charlatan dealer sees the top card is something he or an accomplice on the game can use, the dealer will pitch second cards until he gets to the person where he wants to plant that top card. So how does he know what it is? Could be marked cards, proficiency at card-peeking, or even a shiny ring may aid the deuce dealer in identifying that top card.

Because I had many years experience dealing blackjack, I have decent hand dexterity, so for card trick proficiency ONLY, I became skilled at dealing seconds. Yet, I never became good at identifying that top card to send a recipient their desired card.

Dealers who deal seconds use what is known as a "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.

But because many non-cheating dealers also grasp a deck this way, the mechanic's grip alone is not enough proof to accuse them, especially the heavyweights, of dealing seconds.

Dear Mark,
Can a poker room ever run out of money and not be able to pay the players? Kenny V.

Your brief question, Kenny, didn't distinguish between land-based and online casinos, so the answer could be yes, or no.

With land-based casinos, it is highly unlikely that a poker room can "run out of money" since the money the players are winning is not the casino's, but that of losing players. Even if you are Doyle Brunson holding a straight flush—king high, you can't break the bank, just your opponent's bankroll, and probably his will to live.

As for Internet casinos, since it is a buyer-beware environment, there is a possibility of an online casino being poorly capitalized and running out of money.

Legal issues aside, those that prefer playing from the comfort of their La-Z- Boys should stick to the more established operations. Unfortunately, Kenny, all my gaming credentials are land-based, and, since I don't play online poker, my recommendation of where to play wouldn't be worth much.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "This book is purely informational. It is not intended to incite gambling or rioting. It is not to be used against a husband or wife in a court of law." --Tony Korfman, "Slots Playing To Win"

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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.