Sharps and Flats: The Secrets of Cheating
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foreword to the online edition


I. introductory

II. common sharpers and their tricks

III. marked cards and the manner of their employment

IV. reflectors

V. holdouts

VI. manipulation

VII. collusion and conspiracy

VIII. the game of faro

IX. prepared cards

X. dice

XI. high ball poker

XII. roulette and allied games

XIII. sporting houses

XIV. sharps and flats










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Crooked Deals

Anyone aspiring to become a card mechanic has an overabundance of crooked dealing techniques available, to choose from. However, Maskelyne only reveals the two of the most basic crooked dealing techniques: the bottom deal and the second deal.

The Bottom Deal

To begin, then, with the oldest and most simple manipulations, our first topic is that of the 'Bottom Deal.' This trick, simple as it is, is the very stronghold of the common English sharp. In whatever game he is playing, he seizes the opportunity afforded by picking up the cards preparatory to dealing to place certain cards which would form a good hand at the bottom of the pack, and in shuffling he takes good care not to disturb them. But there is still the 'cut' to be thought about. Well, we shall see later on how the effects of the cut are to be obviated. In the meantime, however, it is evident that if the cards were cut and piled in the ordinary manner, those cards which the sharp had so carefully preserved at the bottom would be brought to the centre. That would never answer his purpose; so, when the cut has been made, if the game is one which does not necessitate the dealing out of the entire pack, he simply takes up the bottom half of the pack, leaving the other on the table. Then, holding the cards as in fig. 35, he proceeds to deal. From this point the trick, as its name suggests, consists of dealing the bottom cards, either to himself or, preferably, to a confederate, in place of the upper cards which should justly fall to that hand.

Bottom Deal: card cheating

FIG. 35 -- Bottom Deal

From the position in which the cards are held it will be seen that, as each card is dealt, the finger and thumb of the dealer's right hand fall respectively below and above the pack. It is, therefore, entirely optional whether he shall take the top card with his thumb, or the bottom one with his finger. When a card has to be dealt, then, to himself or to his confederate, as the case may be, it is the bottom one which is taken; to the other players the top ones are dealt out. When quickly done, it is impossible to see whether the card comes from the top or the bottom, although the manner of holding and dealing the cards would imply that the bottom deal was being resorted to: the cards which come from the bottom, being pulled upwards, appear to come from the top. It can always be detected, nevertheless, by the different sound made by a card when brought from the bottom. There is just a slight click, which is distinctly audible, and easily recognized. The reader should try it for himself, and note the effect referred to. After a few minutes' experience he would never afterwards be mistaken in deciding as to whether a card was dealt from the top or bottom of the pack. A sharp who uses the bottom deal rarely employs any other form of manipulation whatever.

The standard countermeasure against the bottom deal is the use of a cut card. A cut card is a plastic card that is kept at the bottom of the deck, during the distribution of the cards, to prevent dealing from bottom. Although this is a good way to protect a poker game against bottom dealing, it should be noted that a cut card does not provide absolute protection. There is a method of dealing cards from the bottom of the deck, even when a cut card is in use. That type of crooked deal is called the Greek deal, and is essentially a technique of dealing the second card from the bottom of the deck.

The Second Deal

The second deal is considered to be a cheating technique used by highly skilled professional card cheats. Interestingly enough, a basic second dealing technique is easier to learn than a basic bottom deal. But learning the mechanics of a move does not make a person capable of cheating in a live card game. For a second deal to be used effectively, the mechanic needs to master several other skills.

We now pass on to the trick known as 'Dealing Seconds.' The trick is so named because it consists' of dealing out the second card from the top instead of the top one. It is particularly useful in connection with marked cards, where of course the top card can be read, and very often the second one also.1 The effect in this case is that the sharp can always retain the better of the two top cards for himself. Suppose, then, there are four players. The sharp, commencing to deal, notices that the top card is a knave, whilst the second is a three. He therefore deals the second card to the player immediately to his left. It may then appear that the second card now is a king; and, consequently, the sharp deals the top card to the second hand, leaving the king on top. If the card which is now second in the pack is lower than the king, the third player receives that card; but if the second should prove to be an ace, the king goes to the third player, and the ace to the sharp himself. It may happen, however, that the sharp, having dealt round to the three players in this manner, finds that the second of the remaining cards is of more value to him than the first. In that case, of course, he would deal himself the second. Thus it is seen that the sharp has really had a choice of five cards on one round of the deal; and the larger the number of players, the greater his choice, although he may at times have to choose between two cards which would answer his purpose equally well. If he is thus compelled to give away a good card he should dispose of it where it is likely to do him least harm, if he can contrive to do so. Besides marked cards, there are other methods of discovering the value of the top card and, consequently, the advisability of dealing seconds, as we shall see presently.

*1 -- See fig. 7.

The trick of dealing the second card is very easily learned. Take a pack of cards in your left hand, in the manner usually adopted in dealing, with the thumb lying across the middle of the pack. Then with the thumb advance the two top cards slightly to the right. This being done, it will be found that these two cards can be taken between the thumb and middle finger. With the second held by the tip of the middle finger, advance the top card a little further to the right. The cards will now be in a position frequently adopted in dealing, the top card being sufficiently forward to be grasped by the right finger and thumb. So far, there is nothing unusual in the operations; but this is where the trick comes in. If the middle finger of the hand holding the cards is advanced, the second card, resting upon its tip, will be advanced also; and if at the same time the thumb is drawn back, the top card is withdrawn with it. It is now the second card which is the more advanced of the two, and consequently the card which would be taken by the right hand in dealing. In fact, the two cards can be rubbed together by the finger and thumb, alternately advancing and receding. If the second card is to be dealt, then it is pushed forward and the top one is drawn back, the movement being masked by a slight dropping of the arm towards the operator. Of course the change in the position of the cards is -not made until the instant the right hand reaches the pack to take the card. Thus the entire operation appears to consist of one movement only. An expert 'second dealer' will place a known card on top of the pack and deal the whole of the other cards from beneath it, leaving that card in his hands at the finish; and this without any manipulation being visible to any but the sharpest vision.

The utility of the second-dealing method of procedure, it is evident, depends greatly upon the fact of having a knowledge of the top card. With marked cards the acquiring of this knowledge can present no difficulty, and even with genuine ones the difficulty is by no means insuperable. All that is necessary is to reach over to the left, keeping the cards in front of one, with the top card drawn off a little to one side, so as to have the index in the corner visible from below, and a sly peep will do the trick. There are innumerable excuses available to account for the reaching over, as we have already seen in the case of the cuff holdout. Given the fact that there is something to the left of the operator which must be reached with the right hand, the rest is easy. The act of leaning to one side effectually covers the slight tilting of the left hand which enables the under side of the cards to be seen. There used to be an old American colonel (the numerical strength of officers in the American army must have been extraordinary at some time or another) at one of the best London clubs who was very partial to the use of this trick. He would lay his cigar upon the table, well over to his left, and then, bending down to get it, he would note both top and bottom cards, in the manner described. Simple as this dodge may be, it is unquestionably of great service at times. Take, for instance, the case of the dealer at Poker. After he has dealt the cards, but before giving off the draft, he leans over to pick up his hand, and in so doing sees the 'size' of the top card of the 'deck.' Upon inspecting his hand, he can tell whether the top card will be of use to him or not. If it is, he can easily hold it back until he can take it for himself; if not, he very generously lets someone else have it.

For the benefit of those who may not know the game of Poker, and in England there are many who do not, I may illustrate the great utility of knowing the top and bottom cards by a reference to the results attainable by such means in the familiar game of Nap. Suppose that you are playing a single-handed game, and it is your turn to deal. You note the top and bottom cards. If they happen to be decent ones, both of the same suit, you hold back the top card, and give your opponent the second. The top one then comes to you. You now give your opponent the card next in order, and deal the bottom one to yourself. The rest of the cards may be left to chance, until the five are dealt out to each hand. The consequence of this manúuvre is as follows. You are sure of having two good cards of one suit, and it is about an even chance that among the other three will be another of the same kind. Therefore, you are pretty certain of a long suit to lead from. Your chances, therefore, are a long way better than your opponent's. If, however, on the other hand, you find that the top and bottom cards are small ones, and of different suits, you may make your opponent a present of them. They may of course prove useful to him; but the chances are that they do not. But, whatever happens, you know the value of two cards out of his five; a fact which may have considerable influence upon the result of the hand, as all 'Nappists' will admit. Necessarily there is nothing of real certainty about this achievement; but, still, the player who knows the top and bottom cards, even though he is not skilful enough to dispose of them to the best advantage, gathers in a goodly proportion of the chances of the game which do not belong to him by right.

The idea of employing the second deal as well as the bottom deal on the same round (as described above) is, to put it mildly, far fetched. The idea becomes even more far fetched if one consider the fact that most card mechanics employ a totally different grip for the bottom deal, than for second dealing. But we can never completely dismiss the idea that anything is possible (and weirder things have been known to happen around card tables). If we also take into account the fact that Maskelyne regarded manipulators as the low-level cardsharps, then we can see why he may have reached that opinion, if the only manipulators Maskelyne encountered were of the kind that would employ such strategies.

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