Going over the cheats

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Recently, I wrote about a rather unique book, “Dirty Poker,” that is all about cheating at the poker table. The author, Richard Marcus, admits to having made cheating in poker and other games of chance, his life career. Marcus described various forms of cheating, the most notorious of which is collusion between players.

In my column, I wrote about an occasion when I strongly believed I had been cheated by collusion between two opponents seated to my immediate left. Thinking about it, I have been wondering whether deception at the poker table might be considered a form of cheating. Some people may think so.

First, let’s define “cheating.” According to Wikipedia: “Cheating is… generally used for the breaking of rules to gain unfair advantage in a competitive situation.” This includes “acts of bribery, cronyism, nepotism and any situation where individuals are given preference using inappropriate criteria. The rules infringed may be explicit, or they may be from an unwritten code of conduct based on morality, ethics or custom.”

On this basis, comparing acts of deception in poker with the likes of collusion and card-marking, it seems apparent the various forms of deception are not cheating. Bluffing, including using the semi-bluff and the Esther Bluff tactic; slow-playing, trapping and check-raising to build the pot are perfectly legal and acceptable at the poker table. And indeed, that’s part of the skills that make for a winner.

But what about angle shooting, which is using various underhanded, unfair methods to take advantage of (especially inexperienced) opponents. The difference between an “angle shooter” and a “cheater” is a matter of degree. What a cheat does is easily against the rules; the angle shooter’s action may be marginally legal, but usually it’s neither ethical nor polite, nor is it in the spirit of the game.

Against a single opponent, on the showdown, an angle-shooter may declare his hand aloud, stating it is higher than it actually is. He then waits before turning it up, hoping his opponent will muck his hole cards – making them dead. Hence, the angle-shooter takes the pot by default, since his is the only hand left standing.

Another gimmick an angle-shooter may use is to pick up a bunch of chips while waiting for an opponent to make his play. It’s intended to be quite obvious to the other players. Seeing this, an opponent may check rather than bet out – or even fold his hand. That’s all to the advantage of the angle-shooter.

And, what about peeking at your neighbor’s hole cards? Years ago, when an opponent carelessly picked up his hole cards so they were readily visible to me, I would promptly turn my head away. After thinking about this for a while, I decided it was his problem; and I no longer turn away. My peripheral vision may give me valuable information – especially when my neighbor has powerful hole cards

I’ve seen dealers warn players who are so careless while looking at their hole cards. And, I always teach my poker students how best to shield their hole cards as they peek at them. Once you look at your hole cards, try to remember them so you don’t have to risk exposing them again. If you are not sure about them, by all means look again – carefully, so no opponent can see them.

When I discussed these items with my friend, Lucy, she responded by telling me deception is practiced in many other activities besides playing poker. In basketball the player makes a motion in one direction as he switches direction and shoots at the basket. That same maneuver is used by a football player as he prepares to catch a pass from the quarterback.

“Politicians,” she reminded me, “often make promises during the campaign, but forget them after being elected.”

That’s not exactly cheating, but it’s close to it.

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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