Dirty Book smells out cheaters

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The other day, a friend gave me a book I had never heard of. “Dirty Poker” is all about cheating at the poker table. It was written in 2006 by a man named Richard Marcus, who admits to having made cheating in poker and other games of chance, his life career.

Have you ever wondered if you were cheated during a poker game – especially when you lost a big pot with a monster hand? By far the most common form of cheating is collusion. (There are also several other forms.) Collusion is a bit of art. It takes two or more players at the table to collaborate to beat out an opponent.

What’s more, the dealer may be part of the scheme. Marcus describes a clever form of collusion that involves using the placement of one colluder’s chips so as to inform his “partner” as to the strength of his hand, especially a monster hand. The partner can then help to build the size of the pot by raising after a target calls a bet.

Reading this book got me to thinking back. Several years ago, I strongly suspected I had been cheated during the play of a limit hold’em game. And, the dealer may have been an ally to the two colluders.

Under the gun, I looked down at Q-J suited and called to see the flop. It was a great flop for me: Q-J-7 offsuit. I had top two-pair on the board. That’s a wonderful hand but it is vulnerable. In such a case, the best decision is to bet out (or raise if there is a bet before you), primarily to thin the field so your top two-pair has a much better chance of holding up to the showdown, and winning the pot.

As soon as the Blinds had checked, without undue hesitation, I proceeded to gather up my chips to bet out. I recall that my right hand holding the chips was moving toward the board when the player to my immediate left shouted aloud, “Check!” This was instantly followed by “Check!” by the very next player. “Hey,” I shouted out, “I was making my bet!” The dealer quickly informed me there had been two checks after me, so it was too late for me to make my bet. That was the rule.

I called for a floorman. The dealer explained the situation without acknowledging I was in the process of betting when the two players (“colluders?”) to my immediate left, each shouted out “Check” in rapid sequence. The floorman supported the dealer’s explanation and would not allow me to present my case. My opponents got a free card to see the turn.

Can you guess what happened next? As a I soon learned during the showdown, the player to my immediate left held pocket treys. The turn was a third trey, giving him a set of 3’s – and totally demolishing my big two-pair. I won’t accuse the dealer of collusion in delivering that third trey; but, I would remind you there were only two outs for that set to come about – huge odds against it! It was a costly experience for me – a Bad Beat.

But, that’s not all. Shortly after, I observed the dealer sneak (steal?) a chip from the pot and, while the players were examining their hands, calmly drop the chip into his rack. I reported this to the floorman, who responded I was probably mistaken. Yes, I could have been mistaken. But a few weeks later, that dealer was no longer working in that casino. Coincidence? And, he was a very good dealer in every other way. (Perhaps the ceiling cameras were at work.)

Getting back to the book, according to Marcus, cheating in poker is more common than people care to believe. Although most cheating occurs in private games that do not follow strict gaming procedures, it also occurs in regulated card rooms, casinos and even online.

P.S. I no longer play poker in that casino, and have told others about my experience.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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