Book explores the ‘dark side’ of poker

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Richard Marcus is no angel. He’s
been cheating in casinos and at poker tables for more than two decades. His
first book, American Roulette, published three years ago, outlined how he
scammed casinos at blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat and was never
detected. True, a book by an admitted cheat might have some credibility flaws in
it, but this guy knows his stuff — and it’s been verified by some of the
best cheat detectors in the business.

Now comes his latest, and clearly
one of the most controversial books to come along in years. It would behoove
casinos and gaming enforcement officials to get a copy before the industry gets
a big black eye.

Titled Dirty Poker (The Poker
World Exposed),
(267 pages, paperbound, $17.95), the book is hot off the
presses (March 2006). If the author’s name sounds familiar, you might have
seen him on the History Channel’s Breaking Vegas segment. Authoritative
and arrogant, Marcus likes to live on the edge — he’s not shy (his photo is
on the back cover).

What Marcus tells us should scare
the hell out of the poker room industry and those who regulate and guard its
integrity. It’s no secret that poker games have been rigged — teams have
ripped off innocents in private games for generations. You can go back to the
days of Wild Bill Hickok (1870s) and even before, to the riverboat heydays
(1850s) to find cross-roaders (another word for cheats) with extra cards,
holdout devices or slick-fingered dealers. The late great Johnny Moss once said
he learned to cheat before he learned how to play (at age 14). “Dealing’
from the bottom of the pack, dealin’ seconds, usin’ mirrors, markin’
cards…” are all part of the repertoire, according to the book.

Marcus is a new generation cheat,
among many others who are on the move in casinos, card rooms and private games,
in the U.S. and internationally.

His book is provocative and
should send up a red flag to new players, those young Turks who made their money
the easy way and think they’re good enough to play with the big boys in Las
Vegas, on the Internet or in cash games everywhere.

Marcus is able to capture the
mindset, the thought processes of those who cheat or fantasize about making a
living through that dangerous “edge.” He equates poker cheating to
steroid use in sports. He seems to understand how the revenge factor works when
applied to crooked dealers.

Yet what makes the book
fascinating is the re-creation of situations where collusion (signals to playing
partners) has taken place with specific examples of positioning chips on cards
or using verbal or non-verbal clues.

Now you may understand better why
card rooms demand only English be spoken at the tables. (The rule is less likely
to be effective in Europe or Asia.)

Aruba as a vacation spot might be
nice, but playing cards there was (and may still be) a dicey situation: Lots of
hanky-panky among thieving dealers there says Marcus.

Marcus details how
“muckers” (palming cards in and out of play) and “switchers”
work and how surveillance cameras and management are blocked out of view during
the moves.

He makes a good point — that
surveillance cameras in card rooms “only record the action” and pay
little or no attention to players’ hands. Marcus emphasizes correctly that
casinos pay less attention to poker action because the house isn’t being
ripped off by cheats — the players are! The cheating he details is happening
everywhere — Nevada, Atlantic City, California.

He admits to having played with
poker cheating teams, and spotlights a new twist being brought to the tables —
a marking daub sold for $5,000 for a small bottle, which comes with special
contact lenses. The angle is that the daub or marking chemicals disappear within
30 minutes, so all evidence, should the card be confiscated, is non-existent.

Certain games are better than
others to cheat at — Omaha or the split games are better than straight hold’em,
says Marcus, and he explains why. Ironically “bad beat jackpots” are
difficult to set up because a big hit gets lots of surveillance tape replay.

Because European casinos are less
severe when cheaters are detected and caught, the climate remains ripe for
future scamming adventures, Marcus says.

The book really rolls into high
gear when he begins to discuss what the poker industry must fear most —
tournament cheating syndicates. The question is: Does cheating take place at
world-class major tournaments? Marcus says yes, but without detailing people or
exact stages of tournaments. He outlines how syndicates, consortiums,
partnerships are formed and how “chip dumping” (deliberately losing to
a partner or pre-established team member) impacts the game and makes it so
difficult for “outsiders” and satellite winners to make it to the
final day’s action.

Proving “chip dumping”
exists is obviously hard, but rumors of the procedure have circulated for years.
Marcus offers no solution to this, perhaps the “Achilles’ heel” of
the entire poker industry.

Marcus outlines other areas of
tournament play which need more attention by those conducting or promoting the
action. This includes “chip doping” (which simply means during a break
or between tournaments, chips are added to their bankroll from their pockets or
handed off by a partner, in effect “re-arming their buddies.”

One of the most important
chapters in his book is sure to make waves. It’s the section on online poker.
The question is how secure the system is to ensure honesty. Here, too, Marcus
says collusion has taken place and still does. He talks about concepts called
the Scoop Monster; questions the RNG (random number generator) security
measures; explains how poker robots are dangerous and suggests codes can be
bypassed to display opponent hole cards.

Marcus’ book should be a loud
wake-up call to the poker industry, to online poker sites and to players who
wonder if they are getting a fair deal no matter where they play. It’s a
must-read for all who love the game or operate a card room anywhere on this
planet.

This book and others are
available at the Gambler’s Book Shop (Gambler’s Book Club) in Las Vegas. For
information, log on to the web site www.gamblersbook.com, or phone
1-800-522-1777.

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