Monday, December 28, 2009

Cheats vs. Advantage Players

Many authors of gambling books tell us that advantage players are not cheats. That they are not really cheating because they are not deliberately setting up situations and because they are only using information that is available to them without them interfering. I have to respectfully disagree with this philosophy.

First of all, let's not confuse a technical term that has been adopted by the casino industry with moral and ethical standards. And let's not give too much weight to the fact that there are no laws against advantage players. The only reason why this is not illegal is for the simple fact that it cannot be proved in court.

So, let's take advantage play out of the casinos, for a moment, and see how it would apply in other walks of life. How about shopping?

Imagine you are shopping at a grocery store. You come up to the cash register, dump all the items on the counter and let the clerk do the rest. The clerk adds up all the items, but at the end you notice that she forgot to charge you for the milk. You let her bag all the groceries, pay the clerk and leave the store. Did you steal that milk? You betcha!

If you use the "advantage player" philosophy we could argue that this is not exactly stealing, because you "didn't do anything deliberately." So, we will call this activity "advantage shopping."

Let me start by saying that you did do one thing deliberately. You deliberately decided not to alert the clerk that she forgot to charge for milk and you deliberately took the milk out of the store without paying for it. Call it "advantage shopping" if you will, but if we're quite frank, it's just a form of stealing.

Now let's take it a step further. On your way home you try to recreate the order of events in your mind, trying to figure out what lead to the clerk no noticing the milk container. You realize that the milk was accidentally hidden behind the box of cereals, from the clerk's perspective. So, from now on you decide that it is to your advantage to place small items behind the box of cereal, so that the clerk may miss them. You have become an "advantage shopper."

This second scenario is an analogy for what some advantage players are doing in casinos and private card games, to increase the odds of something happening to their favor. For example, if one of the dealers is likely to flash the hole card, in blackjack, to the third base player, the advantage player will always look for that dealer and sit on third base. That's the same as placing a small item behind the box of cereals, in a grocery store.

In my opening paragraph I said that advantage players "are not really cheating because they are not deliberately setting up situations and because they are only using information that is available to them without them interfering." This is more or less what the law says to protect advantage players. But it's not really true, is it? First of all, they are deliberately setting up situations by picking a strategic position and something doing even more than that. Also, they are not really using information that is available to them without them interfering. They are interfering in a way to set up their surroundings in such ways that will most likely result in them gaining that advantage.

It is easy to detach ourselves form true moral standards when we talk about casinos and grocery stores. After all, we know we are getting ripped off in both those places, so, serves them right. I will not argue with that, too much, because the philosophy and moral justifications stretch far beyond what I wish to discuss in this article. I am only arguing that advantage players are in fact cheats, whether or not cheats have moral justifications is not the point of this article. So, to make my point easier to understand, let me use another analogy; one that includes some personal moral standards.

Imagine that you are having a friend over for dinner. Your friend accidentally drops his wallet as he was going through his pockets to find his car keys. You notice this and say nothing. Your friend leaves, you pick up his wallet, count the cash and toss the wallet into the trash. You chuckle as you give that cash a new home in your own wallet. You realize how profitable this situation was for you, so you decide to have some more dinner parties and you set up situations that have a good chance of resulting in your friends losing cash, jewelry, iPods and whatnot. Now, your moral justification is that you never reached into your friends' pockets with your own hand. They were just clumsy. Serves them right! Survival of the fittest, baby. But the question is this, would that make you an "advantage player" or just a rotten thief? I'll let you answer this question by yourself.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Are Casinos Cheating?

It is not uncommon for people to wonder if casinos are ever cheating their customers, in any way. The answer to this question is neither yes or no. The issues are complex and it could be said that it all boils down to one's definition of cheating.


First, let's look at this issue historically.

Historically speaking, casinos have in fact been known to be involved in various forms of hard-hand cheating, in the past. History has left us with some hard evidence of this. For example, faro used to be the most popular banking game in the West, in the 19th century (and early 20th). Faro was a game with a very small, virtually insignificant, built-in house advantage. So, if the gambling halls wanted to make money with their faro games they had to resort to hard-hand cheating. This fact has been well documented in the book Sharps and Flats, chapter on The Game of Faro, as well as in many other publications and articles. In addition, gaffed faro boxes were commonly sold by all the crooked gambling distributors (these dealing boxes are still found in private collections).

A few other books have been written on the subject of casino cheating, such as The Stealing Machine, by Eugene Villiod. In more recent history, casino insider and gambling expert Bill Zender wrote a controversial book, entitled How to Detect Casino Cheating at Blackjack (a highly recommended read), in which he explains how some casinos were involved in various forms of cheating.

So, in the old days things may have been different, but what about today? To answer this question we first have to agree on a definition of cheating. Since it is impossible that all the people will ever agree on this issue, I will just explain what my definition is.

First of all, whether or not we agree on the definition, I think we can all agree on one thing. Casinos can only be engaged in one of two possible activities: gambling or cheating.

If we agree on that, I will argue that those who say that casinos aren't cheating, they must say that casinos therefore must be gambling. But are they really gambling? I don't think so.

If casinos were truly gambling they would be on an even plane with their customers. So, if this is so, how come casinos are always the ones to win? They must not be on an even plane. And if they are not on an even plane, what the hell is it that they are doing? I say they must be cheating.

Ironically, if casinos aren't truly involved in a form of gambling, it could be said that neither are their customers. The reason is simple. For one to be engaged in any form of gambling, one must gamble against an opponent that's also engaged in the act of gambling. But I just argued that casinos aren't gambling, therefore casino customers don't really have a gambling opponent. They do have an opponent -the casino- but that opponent is not really gambling. So, what are the customers doing, then? If you ask me, they are being robbed.

So far, I seem to have arrived at these conclusions purely philosophically. Could I provide a more straightforward argument?

Any gambling game can be compared to the most basic gambling game of them all, the coin toss. So, let's take this simple game as an example.

Let's imagine that you and I are tossing a coin. Let's also agree that the odds of a coin landing on any one of the two possible sides are 50%. Now let's agree that you can place a wager either on heads, or tails, to make it as fair as possible. To keep things simple, we will agree that you can only bet $1 at a time. And last but not least, let's agree on the payouts.

I propose that when you lose, I simply take your $1 bet. Fair enough? Now, I propose that when you win, I pay you .95c for your dollar. I will argue that the .05c is just a small commission that the "house" takes for providing this service. Nothing much, just a 5% commission.

Now let's imagine that you actually accept my proposal and start playing this simple game against me. Make a long story short, if your bankroll is $100, I will have all $100 of your money after you've "won" 2,000 bets. Of course, that doesn't mean that you will be broke after 2,000 coin tosses, but it still means that every time you win, I reach into your pocket and take .05c of your money form you. In short, I am cheating you out of your money. I'm definitely not gambling. The gambling is just an illusion.

Every bet that anyone can make in any casino, anywhere in the world, works on the same exact principle. If you agree that I am basically cheating you out of your money in the hypothetical coin-toss example above, then you must agree that casinos are not doing anything else. They don't offer the coin toss, but every game that they do offer has slightly lesser odds of winning than the payouts of those same bets. So, in any casino, every time you win they reach into your pocket and take some money out. And we all know that the average bet in a casino is much higher than $1 and that they have more than one customer playing at any given time. That's what that "mathematical advantage" is all about.

So, I just argued that casinos are de facto cheating their customers through a mathematical advantage. Some will argue that it "cheating" is not the proper word here. Is that so?

You must agree that there are many forms of cheating. In gambling there could be hard-hand cheating, such as switching cards or using loaded dice (and a million other things) but there's also "soft" cheating. Well, that's like saying that there's hard-core sex and a softer version. But in both cases the girl can end up pregnant and any one of the partners can contract any possible STD. So, what's the difference?

When it comes to cheating there is really no difference. You take a different ride, but you end up at the same destination. So, one might ask, if this is really so, why don't casinos just employ mechanics? After all, that's what history tells us casinos used to do in the old days.

There are many reasons, why not. For one, things are more regulated nowadays that they used to be in the Wild West, or in the old days. But ironically, these regulations actually help casinos. How come? Because if casinos were still employing mechanics to do the work, they would get robbed left and right by the same people. Now casinos just use a built-in mathematical advantage, equip themselves with state of the art technology to make sure they don't get robbed, and just wait for the suckers to blow their money at a doomed game. It's like putting a bucket under a leaky pipe. You just have to wait long enough and eventually the bucket will be full.

So, in conclusion, could casinos truly engage in the act of gambling, if they wanted to? Even with the built-in house advantage?

Yes. Theoretically this is possible.

Even with the built-in house edge it would still be possible (hypothetically) for casinos to truly be engaged in the act of gambling. But for that to be the case, the situation would have to be pretty weird. Basically, hypothetically speaking, the casino would have to make itself available just for one single bet. The gamblers would have to consolidate all their bankrolls into one joint bankroll. The casino would have to accept that as a single wager and then the dice would have to be rolled one single time, or the coin flipped, or the wheel spun, or whatever. Then, the casino would either win or lose that single wager and regardless of what the result may be they would have to close the joint forever and never accept any more bets. But we know that kind of proposition would never be accepted by any casino. And we also know that there are not many gamblers in the world that would be wise enough to understand that this would be the "smartest" way to gamble in a casino, if possible, if one really had to gamble. The odds of winning would definitely be less than 50%, on any possible bet in a casino. But there are a few casino bets that are pretty darn close to 50% (except their payouts are not mathematically fair). But, by comparison, the odds at winning in any casino, in the long run, are exactly zero.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tutorials for Peeking Techniques

As we're rapidly approaching the new year I'm starting to realize that I'm running out of time to make good on my New Year's resolutions. I do mean, the resolutions for this current year.

One of my New Year's resolutions was to substantially update the Tutorials of Card Cheating Techniques chapter on my site and offer something substantial there for my readers. After all, that's always been a greatly underdeveloped chapter of CARDSHARK Online, the site that claims to be the world's leading web site on the subject of card cheating. Well, I still think this is the case, but I will also be the first to admit that the site isn't as developed as I'd want it to be. But I don't get paid for critiquing my own site, so enough with that.

I am not quite sure if I've completed my quota of new tutorials for this year, but I am pleased to say that I am happy with the quality of the tutorials that I did manage to produce. This year alone I've managed to put together ten training videos with drills and exercises for the serious student of card manipulations, then six riffle stacking tutorials, one bottom dealing tutorial and eleven articles. That all ads up to twenty-eight tutorials. And that's not all, actually. Today I uploaded 6 more tutorials on peeking techniques, which brings the total to thirty-four. Not bad for a year, for one guy working alone. So, what are those new peeking tutorials all about?

When I talk about peeking I am not talking about how to catch a glimpse through the key hole of a girls' locker-room. I'm talking about card cheating techniques, of course. Peeking is the term used for any of various techniques used to secretly catch a glimpse at some of the cards. Not as exciting as that girls' locker-room scenario, but for the serious practitioner of card manipulations it may be hard to choose between the two. Yeah, right! As if people don't know that peeking at playing cards is more exciting...


As any other tutorials on my site, these new ones also come fully illustrated. Even if you don't like to read, you can still just look at the pictures and figure out what you're supposed to do. One day I will edit all those tutorials into a book (a book I've been working on for quite some time) but for now they are accessible through my site, only (unless some Chinese site already copied them). Of course, the tutorial are not available for the general public; one needs to have an active membership account ($5.95 per year) to access that chapter.

I find it that peeking techniques are not discussed a lot; at least not as much as the more "fancy" stuff, such as stacking the deck, false deals, card switches and all that other stuff. I think that one reason is because peeking techniques are believed to be too simple to spend much time practicing. But that is of course not true. If you don't spend enough time practicing your peeks it will be pretty obvious what you are trying to do.

I only published six peeking techniques in this round. There are many more that I'd like to publish, as soon as I get around to it, but there are also some that I probably will not share with the world. Why give away all the best stuff, right?

In any event, if you don't have a membership account for my site, yet, just go to the Memberships page and get ready to blow $5.95 of your hard earned money for a year's worth. You will also have access to the bulletin board where I make myself available to answer question and where you can hook up with some other like-minded folks.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advanced Riffle Stacking Tutorial for Texas Hold'em

Those of you who are following the latest updates on the riffle stacking tutorials will be pleased to know that I've just added a tutorial with some advanced riffle stacking concepts, for Texas Hold'em.


Again, this tutorial is fully illustrated and the techniques are described in great details.

Basic riffle stacking techniques have one major flaw that can be a dead giveaway of riffle stacking. But every problem has a solution, so the latest tutorial explains what can be done to fix the problem.

Please visit the Tutorials of Card Cheating Techniques chapter on my site for details.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Virtual Casinos

When one thinks of a virtual casino, one is likely to think of an online casino. But online casinos are not the only conceivable form of virtual casinos. So, let's imagine a hypothetical example of another kind of a virtual casinos.

First of all, let's define what it is that makes a casino a virtual one.


For starters, I think we can all agree that one thing that is never virtual is the money that the players pour into the so-called "virtual" casino. The money is always as real as it gets. So, money cannot be the factor that determines whether or not a casino is virtual. So, what aspects of a casino has to be "virtual" to make it so?

The actual casino floor is definitely one of those aspects. In a virtual casino there doesn't have to be an actual room where people can physically walk in and take a seat at a gaming table. But that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. One could still have an actual establishment with virtual games, and that alone would make the casino a virtual one.

So, that's the other factor. The games themselves. In a virtual casino one doesn't see any actual playing cards, dice, roulette wheels, or any other actual gaming equipment. The traditional equipment has been substituted by virtual versions of the same. And virtual versions don't even come close to mimicking the traditional gaming equipment. Yes, the virtual roulette wheel looks like an electronic version of an actual roulette wheel, but in reality it doesn't even come close to being anything like it. I am talking about pure physics and more importantly common sense. So, now that we've come to the subject of common sense, let em describe a hypothetical example of a virtual casino. It is important to understand this hypothetical example, to paint a clear picture of how online casinos really operate.

In the following passage I will ask you to use your imagination. So, please go along with it.

Imagine that you walk down the block and see a big neon sign that reads VIRTUAL CASINO. You walk in and all you see are a bunch of tables with players betting, but there are no playing cards, no dice and no roulette wheels anywhere in sight. When you inquire about the procedures you are sent to a cage where you give them your money (not virtual money) and they give you a piece of paper with a bar code. You bring the coupon to a table and present it to the attendant. You also hand over your ID to the attendant (a complete stranger) and your information is entered in their system. The attendant gives you some plastic tokens and asks you to place a bet. The players around you are all eagerly betting, as you put $100 on red. The attendant calls out, "No more bets," then picks up a house phone. In a second or two the attendant announces that the winning number is 13 black. As he scoops up all the losing wagers the losers around you shake their heads in disbelief and comment something along the lines of, God dammit! I never had such bad luck. The attendant then invites the players to place down their next bets and the process is repeated.

As you keep playing the "virtual" game of roulette, you spot a guy that looks like he could be some kind of manager. You get his attention and he comes over to greet you. You ask him politely how come that this casino does not have any tables with actual gaming equipment. He explains that casino gambling is illegal in this town and that their lawyers have figured out a loophole that makes this business possible, although there is always a chance they'll get shut down without any warning. The solution they came up with was to place all the actual gaming equipment off shore, in a country that has absolutely no regulations for that sort of thing, so they can do the actual casino operation there, while the bets are being played here. Then, he explains, as you can see, the results are being communicated by phone and the attendant informs the players which bets won and which ones lost.

You say that it feels to you that it doesn't even take as long as it normally would to get the results. Normally there would be at least 30 seconds of wait time, after the dealer announces No more bets! and the moment when the ball actually lands in a number.

He says that that's the beauty of virtual gaming. All the spins have been played out well in advance and the results were just entered on a log sheet. So, when the attendant calls the off-shore operation the attendant at the other end doesn't actually spin a ball; instead he just reads out the result from a log sheet. This helps save time, so the players get more value, because they can squeeze-in more bets per hour and thus maximize their profit potential. After all, time is money.

Now you ask about security. How can the casino ensure that all is fair.

The manager explains that they have rigorous internal security in place, to ensure fairness. They control themselves, to make sure that they don't cheat their own customers. Plus, he says, common sense tells you that they couldn't possibly cheat, since they stand too much to lose, in the event they got caught cheating. After all, that could ruin their reputation and put them out of business.

The hypothetical example of the virtual casino, described above, is essentially no different from any online casino operation. Basically, there's absolutely no transparency. You just place your money on some bets, basically betting against the site, and the site informs you if you won or lost. you as a player have absolutely no control, or insight, into how exactly the winners are determined. And the site itself is also its own police, judge and jury. But unlike the hypothetical example, where you can still break someone's neck, if they piss you off, in the online world you have absolutely no chance to get anywhere near any of the actual people behind the site. After all, they don't have a casino license, so they have to run their operation form a small island in an unnamed location in a country that has no laws and regulations for that kind of business.

If you think it's ludicrous to even consider placing a bet in my hypothetical virtual casino, you have no business playing in an online casino, no matter how fancy the site looks.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

National Center for Irresponsible Gambling is Gaining Momentum

I recently published my new parody site, the National Center for Irresponsible Gambling. That was just a few weeks ago and now this new site is already gaining some momentum on the web.


The site is equipped with a traffic tracking script that enables me to see how many visitors I get and where they are coming from. To my big (and pleasant) surprise I've discovered that this new site is already ranked on the first page of Google for some pretty good search terms. This means that my new bogus site is already competing with some legitimate sites that have been up for much longer.

So far I've noticed search engine traffic for the following search terms:

"gambling theory" - first page of google.co.uk
"the secret of winning poker" - top of the first page of google.com
"craps theory" - top of the first page of google.com
"gaming theory roulette" - top of the first page of google.com
"roulette gamblers" - second page of yahoo.com

Those are just a few of the search terms that were logged by my traffic tracking script, of new visitors actually finding my parody site through the search engines. And those are pretty good and competitive search terms.

If you don't know much about the web you may not be aware of the significance of this.

First of all, the site is brand new. It usually takes several months for a new site to be competing with established sites. Also, gambling search terms are so competitive that it is almost impossible to bet ranked on the first page of Google with a new site. There are just so many damn gambling sites on the internet any new gambling site just gets lost in the crowd. But just in general, it is so difficult to get ranked on the first page of Google, on any competitive search terms, that webmasters usually hire SEO specialists (Search Engine Optimization) to compete for Google placement. Those SEO guys charge an arm and a leg and usually can't even get results. I assure I have never done any such silly thing in my life, with any of my sites. I'd rather take that money to a casino and put it on black. At least I'd have (close to) a 50% chance of hitting something; but paying for SEO definitely doesn't get you anywhere near 50% chance of success.

So, what cracks me up is that some people are actually looking to get genuine information on "gambling theory," "craps theory," "secret of winning poker" and such, but now they end up on my parody site, which is completely bogus as far as real information is concerned. Of course, any intelligent person should quickly realize that the site is a parody (I hope) so I'm not really spreading misinformation. In fact, the internet is full of misinformation, so even if I was, I wouldn't really be doing anything drastically different than most gambling "information" sites are doing. But it still cracks me up to think that someone looking for information on how to win in a casino is likely to end up getting advice from the National Center for Irresponsible Gambling. LOL

That's just too funny...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Counterfeit Casino Dice

Craps is the only casino game where the player has "complete control" of the outcome. Well, at least that's what a lot of craps players like to think. This is so because in craps the players are the ones that roll the dice. By comparison, casinos don't let the players shuffle the cards in blackjack or baccarat, or spin the roulette wheel. In chemin de fer (similar to baccarat) the shoe is passed around for the players to take the bank and deal by themselves, but the cards were still shuffled buy the casino. But in craps, the player picks up the dice and rolls them in any way he/she pleases, as long as the dice bounce off the side wall.

This direct contact with the dice appear to put the players in control of their own game. The casino is there just to settle the bets. This apparent control of the game leads some people top believe that they can somehow influence the outcome of their own rolls. After all, croupiers are also known to eventually develop a feel for the ball and are able to make the ball land in a section of the roulette wheel; and if they don't like you they can deliberately kill a section of the roulette wheel, so your numbers don't come up. Yeah, right!

So, by the same logic an experienced craps shooter should also eventually be able to develop a feel for the dice and eventually be able to control the rolls. All these crap theories (notice I didn't leave out that "s" by mistake) are something I can save for another post. But some of the craps shooters that are a bit less naïve have been known to have developed some strategies that make the dice favor certain numbers, or completely kill some. But those favorable rolls are not influenced by some skills that craps shooters are somehow able to develop over several years of shooting the dice; those "favorable" rolls are accomplished by switching the dice.

The whole point of switching dice is of course to switch crooked dice in and out of play. In fact, that's precisely the reason why casinos use monogrammed dice, with several other security features.

The dice seen on the image below are a pair of counterfeit casino dice, fabricated by one of the gentlemen that distributes crooked dice to hustlers and professional gambling cheats.


These dice bear the logo of Binion's Horseshoe casino in Downtown Las Vegas. I ordered these dice fairly recently, directly form the man that makes them, and I specifically requested that he stamps the Binion's logo on them. It is actually illegal to order counterfeit casino dice, so I specifically asked for the Binion's logo, because at the present time that casino is history. I just need these dice for demonstration purposes, so I really don't care if they are not made to match the dice of an existing casino.

These dice are called "weight," which means they are loaded. If you look closely you will see that the white spots are actually thicker than they should be. The maker didn't want to tell me what he uses to lead these dice, but in general dicemakers have been known to use heavy metals, such as tungsten, gold or platinum. Cheap candy store dice may be loaded with lead, but that is never the case with casino dice.

Due to the fact that casino dice are see-through the loads cannot be very large. Also, since casino dice don't have rounded corners, the small loads end up being insignificant, unless the dice also bear bevel work.

Bevel work basically means that the dice don't have perfectly flat sides. As the name would suggest, the sides are slightly rounded. Not all of the six sides, though. Typically, only three of the sides are beveled and the other three are flat. The idea is to make the dice roll off any of the beveled sides, while making the dice come to a stop when one of the flat edges hit the table. In fact, bevel work offers a much better percentage than any type of weight. But bevel work is usually done together with weight, just to give the dice an extra push.

The big question is, can these dice actually be used in a casino? Well, I don't recommend that you try, because any attempt to cheat in a casino, in the US, is a felony that carries a minimum of three years in prison. Actually, even possession of these dice on the casino floor will get one locked up behind bars, even if one had no intention of ever using them. But the fact is that I ordered these dice from a gentleman that is in the business of making these gaffs. And I could have ordered any dice with any casino logo. One may ask, if one is in the business of making these gaffs, what are people buying them for?

The obvious obstacle for anyone even thinking of switching dice in a casino are numerous surveillance cameras, in addition to the watchful eyes of the people running pit games. But the fact is that, historically speaking, any successful casino scams in the past always involved inside help. In the 1960s one may have gotten away with switching dice, without inside help. But nowadays it is more or less out of the question to even think of getting away with that. Of course, people have been caught cheating in various ways, without any inside help; but that's the whole point. Most casino cheats that don't have any inside help are likely to get pinched in a matter of minutes.

Dice switching in private games is an entirely different issue, and also a topic for a separate post.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Automatic Baccarat Card Shuffler, by BingoTimes

If you've ever had the opportunity to visit any casinos in Asia, you may have noticed that dealers no longer shuffle the cards in baccarat games. I speak of baccarat specifically because that is the only casino game that Asian gamblers are really interested in, but in some places sane goes for blackjack, or basically any game that would use a multiple deck shoe.

In Asian casinos it is common procedure to bring pre-shuffled deck to the table. This has been the standard casino procedure for several years and there are a few ways in which the pre-shuffling is handled.

One way is to get pre-shuffled decks straight form the manufacturer. I will talk about that in some other post. Another way is to shuffle the cards in house. This can be accomplished either by having a dealer shuffle manually, or by putting the cards into an automatic shuffler.

Here is a picture of an automatic shuffler, made by a company called BingoTimes, from Taiwan. This company manufactures many automated casino games, for the Asian market, including some of those games dealt by robots.


This machine is a monster. It is definitely the largest automatic shuffler I've ever seen. But this particular model is designed to be used in the back, away form the casino floor, so I guess size is not an issue. I guess, in this case, size may be a good thing because it makes the machine robust and easier to maintain.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

19th Century Painting of Card Cheats and a Dupe

Card cheating is such a fascinating subject that it has caught the interests of many artists, on many occasions, throughout centuries. The most influential painting featuring card cheats is Caravaggio's masterpiece, The Cardsharps, currently owned by the Kimbell Art Museum. I think it's pretty safe to say that I'll never own that painting, but fortunately there are others.

Caravaggio's Cardsharps influenced numerous other artists, each bending the same theme in their own way. I'll never have any of the other well-known masterpieces, either, so the only option for "art collectors" with my kind of budget is to keep an eye out for any unknown paintings that may show up here and there, every now and then.

I recently had the good fortune to spot a 19th century oil painting of card cheats, by artist unknown, on eBay. It didn't cost much (just $150) so I decided it couldn't possibly be a forgery, for that price. So, I bought it.

The painting arrived today and here it is.


I was told the origin is South America, but the dealer was in Switzerland. It was previously owned by a collector of playing cards. And that's all the provenance I've got.

The painting is oil on wood, small size (more or less like letter size paper).

The cheating is not very apparent, in this painting. It actually took me a few moments to realize exactly what I was looking at. My eye first went to the man's hand, being stashed under the table, doing God knows what. I was trying to figure out what the guy could possibly be doing. Switching cards? Reaching for money? And then I saw the cheating detail. Here's a close up.


Now that I've pointed it out, I'm sure you can clearly see how the woman is holding a mirror behind the guy's head. I thought that was a rather nice artistic interpretation of signaling cards. A 19th century peek joint, one may say.

The painting was definitely not the work of Caravaggio, or anyone other artist that changed the course of art history. But I like it for what it is. And for 150 buck I get more pleasure from owning this 19th century object that I would ever get from owning the latest iPod nano, or whatever other gadget that costs about the same and will end up in some landfill even before the battery runs out.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Luminous Readers: Research and Development

In the development of marked cards one must keep very detailed records. Most experiments will be failed ones and some experiments will appear successful, at first, but will turn out to be failures at some future time.

This post is about the development of luminous readers and in the photo below you can see one of the experimental lenses I keep in my archive. This is one of the two boxes that are filled with all the experimental products that were used in the development of some luminous systems, including the Black Predators.


The other box is also safely stored, but there is no reason to show it here, especially because it may contain some clues that I don't really feel like proliferating. So, let's go over some details.

First of all, none of these lenses are commercially available anywhere. In other words, those are not some lenses that were purchased and assembled for testing. All of the lenses in this box were custom coated for the specific reason of researching luminous systems.

All the red lenses you see are variations of the red-lens system, which is (as I'm sure you are aware of) the most common luminous system for marked cards. I want to emphasize that most of these are failed experiments, but nevertheless, these are part of the original archive of all the experimental pieces produced during the research and development.

You will notice some blue lenses, too. Well, there are several kinds, and only one of the blue lenses in this box work for the blue lens system that I've described in the Luminous Readers: Not for The General Public post.

In the upper right corner you will see a pair of lenses that appear black. Those are both finished lenses for the Black Predators. They just need to be cut for whatever frames and they are ready to go.

On the left side of the cover you will see a mirror. This is a luminous filter with one-way mirror coating. This particular piece is flat, but the same can be done on a curved lens.

And finally, you will notice a pair of clear lenses. No, those are not what I would assume most people may think of, in the context of this post, but they are part of an ongoing experiment that I am pretty certain no one can even think of in their wildest of dreams. There is nothing I can say about this ongoing experiment, at this time, except that the system borders with science fiction. If I even explained how this system works most intelligent readers would think I'm some kind of a snake oil salesman. But one day (don't ask when) this system will be known to some people; and I guess in future times the information will spread, just like any other information out there (with all the misinformation and false speculations).

At the beginning of this post I said that some experiments will appear successful, at first, but will turn out to be failures at some future time. What does that mean?

Well, some chemicals are kind of unstable. So, when one is developing solutions for marked cards one must keep in mind that what appears to be good today may look very different tomorrow, or in a few days, or in a few week, or in a few months. And sometimes, like the old nitrate dice, the stuff just "spontaneously" deteriorates after a few years, or decades. Of course, there is no such thing as true spontaneous deterioration; if something deteriorates over time it is due to reactions to oxygen or temperature, or both. So, when experimenting it is very important to keep an archive and look back at the experiments after some time has passed.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Riffle Stacking Tutorial for Texas Hold'em

A few days ago, I published two basic tutorials for riffle stacking. Those were based on 5-card draw poker, a game that anyone hardly even cared about, nowadays, but since it is the most basic poker game I had to get those tutorials out of the way first.

Today I published a fully-illustrated tutorial on riffle stacking for Texas Hold'em (a game many poker players do care about, nowadays). Furthermore, the riffle stacking procedure in this tutorial follows the standard RRSR casino cardroom procedure.

Did I mention the fact that this tutorial is fully illustrated? I think I did. I can't remember for sure because I am going dizzy after doing a total of 31 illustrations.


I can hardly believe it myself that I put myself through this hard labor, producing 31 detailed line drawings, just to explain how riffle stacking works. But one thing lead to another that before I knew it I was married to the idea of illustrating 31 steps of the procedure. So, now it's done and I think it looks OK.

In closing I might as well take a moment to explain what RRSR stands for.

RRSR is the casino industry standard shuffle: Riffle, Riffle, Strip, Riffle. This is considered to be the most efficient and safe shuffling procedure and has been the industry standard for years, in most casinos around the world. Casinos are now switching to automatic shuffling machines, but this is still the industry standard for most casinos that still do manual shuffles. So, as you will see in my tutorial, the shuffle may be efficient but is far from being safe, or foolproof, at least not the way it is allowed to be done in most casinos.

You will need a membership account, on my site, to access this tutorial, but memberships are only $5.95 per year. What else can you buy for $5.95 these days?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Inside View of a Roulette Wheel

Roulette was one of the most popular casino games in Europe, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, to this day there are always herds of roulette system players, still trying to figure out how to beat this game. Of course, the only true winning roulette "strategy" is to own a roulette game and let the gamblers do what they do best, which is to gamble until all the money is gone. But this time-proven fact, backed with sound mathematics, doesn't stop thousands of people still try to beat this game with various systems and pseudo theories, such as the Martingale System described on my parody site, National Center for Irresponsible Gambling. Just search the online forums for "winning roulette systems" and you'll see how many people are still trying to figure out how to win at roulette. Some ever swear by their systems. Of course, those are not the same people that have been trying to beat this game in past centuries. As the old saying goes, A sucker is born every minute.

This post is definitely not about how to beat the game of roulette. It is simply a post to show you the inside mechanics of a roulette wheel. Here's a picture.


This is a photo of a display model of a standard casino roulette wheel, with a wedge sliced out, so people (i.e. potential customers) can see a cross-section of the inside. Every part is fabricated to a very tight tolerance, to ensure proper balance. Furthermore, when the wheel is being installed the technicians must use a special level, especially made for roulette wheels. That is the most important part of the installation, because if the wheel is not leveled, it will have a bias. That bias may not help you predict what numbers the ball is likely to land in, but it will cause the ball to start its descent always at the same spot.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Riffle Stacking Tutorials

My members have been patiently asking me, for quite a long time, to put up some tutorials on riffle stacking, on my site. I've been really busy with all sorts of things and somehow never had time to do this. But now, I am pleased to say, I've finally managed to put some of these tutorials up on my site, in the Tutorials of Card Cheating Moves chapter.

The tutorials are fully illustrated and (I like to think) also very informative. Here is just one sample of the illustrations you will find in these tutorials. I'm sure these are the only fully illustrated card-cheating tutorials on the internet.


The bad news is that you need to have a membership account to read through them. But the good bad news is that the membership fee is only $5.95 per year. This is a symbolic fee that basically pays for my hosting, so that I can supply my members with these materials. I think a cup of hot tap water that had been poured over a spoonful of ground-up coffee grains (a short-lasting item that we've all come to know as "a cup of coffee") at Starbucks, costs more or less the same as my yearly membership fee. What I'm trying to say is that $5.95 per year is a bargain for what you will find on CARDSHARK Online.

The riffle stacking tutorials that I published on this day of November 22nd, 2009, are just the basic riffle stacking techniques. However, that's just the beginning. In the near future you will be seeing some riffle stacking tutorials that are more elaborate and explain some lesser known techniques of running up a deck.

So, that was enough typing for me, for one day. I'm gonna watch a Netflix movie and spend the rest of the night in bed, for change.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The National Center for Irresponsible Gambling

There is definitely not a shortage of gambling sites, but in my opinion the internet could use a few more sites with gambling humor. So, I came up with a new site.

The National Center for Irresponsible Gambling [NCIG.org] is a parody web site that bears a striking resemblance to the official web site of the National Center for Responsible Gaming [NCRG.org]. The NCIG is a fictitious organization and the sole purpose of the site is to amuse (all that is clearly explained on the disclaimer page). It should also be noted that the NCIG web site is not in any way trying to make fun of the NCRG.


It took me about three full days to build this site and it was a spur of the moment. One day I was just browsing through the NCRG site and thought to myself, wouldn't it be kind of funny if the word "responsible" would somehow change to "irresponsible?" Also, the word "gaming" would have to change to "gambling." I kept looking at that web site and just felt inspired to do a parody. So, I checked to see if the domain name NCIG.org was still available and when I saw that it was, I just couldn't resists. I bought the domain name and got to work right away.

I built the site too resemble the NCRG site as much as possible, without lifting any actual images or copying any of the content. I was also careful not to come across as if I had anything against that organization.

Since I am a chronic insomniac I did most of the work at night. I was having fun, so my fingers just kind of knew what to do as I placed my hands on the keyboard. So, now the NCIG web site is a result of a maniac playing with a computer keyboard for about three days. And it's not as if I actually had any free time, since I was also working in my workshop building gaffed blackjack shoes (you can follow the progress in a separate thread).

So, it's not exactly as if I ever have a shortage of projects, but I always seem to add an extra one on top of my pile. I am glad this site is done and I don't have to think about it any more. If you find any typos, I wouldn't be surprised, since I didn't even bother proofreading, for most part. I just kind of wanted to preserve the fresh feel of my initial inspiration, which is also a reason why I had to do it right away. So, log on to the new site and enjoy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Marked Cards: Classic Daub

Daub is the hustlers' jargon for any of numerous substances that may be used to mark playing cards, on the fly, during the course of a card game. Usually the backs of playing cards are marked with daub, but in some cases they can be the edges, too.

Several kinds of daub have typically been used by paper players, including ready-made (repackaged) compounds as well as various improvised substances, such as cigar ashes or the black tint from newsprint. The infamous crooked gambling distributors, throughout the 1900s, used to make their own daub from raw ingredients.


The image above shows a container of N-daub made from an old recipe that has been handed down through a few generations of professional card cheats. The basis of this daub, as you can see, is some kind of black pigment. N-daub is one of the few daubs that can be classified as "classic." Some other worth mentioning are golden glow and silver sheen.

Various types of colored daubs have also been used by professional card cheats. The two most usual ones are red and blue, which are sometimes used respectively on red-backed or blue-backed cards; although some paper players actually do it the other way around and use red daub on blue-backed cards and blue daub on red ones.

There are other colors, but perhaps the most usual one, after red and blue, is green. Some green daubs are luminous (i.e. to be used with various kinds of luminous glasses or contact lenses) but some are not. One of the best luminous daubs is called rag-daub and is actually dark brick red in color, not green. Also, please note that there are other types of luminous daubs that are not green.

N-daub can be called classic because of several reasons. First of all, it is made from an old recipe, the old fashioned way. It is also used in the classic way and contains one ingredient that is the base for (as far as I know) all classic daubs. I don't think I'll be divulging a great secret if I tell you what this ingredient is; and I won't be the first one to publish this information, either. The ingredient in question is soapstone, which is the basis of what makes any daub a daub, in much the same way that flour is the basis of any dough.

Soapstone is a soft stone that has been used for centuries to make powder. The powder is basically talk powder, except that commercially available talk powder has other additives. But in its purest form talk powder is just powdered up soapstone. It is actually not easy to find pure talk powder nowadays, but the best source is from a workshop that cuts soapstone for various purposes. They have that stuff lying around like sawdust. That's where I got my soapstone powder from and have enough of it to last me a lifetime. I should also mention that soapstone is also the base ingredient for 90% of makeup. So, it is not surprising that paper players have found that some kinds of makeup work just as well as daub that has been fabricated by the crooked gambling distributors.

Of course, soapstone alone is not enough to make any kind of daub. There are a few other ingredients that are mixed together into the paste. The proportions have to be just right, too. The most common utensil used to mix the ingredients is mortar and pestle.

Some daub recipes have appeared in an old book entitled How it's Done, by Edward A. Litzau, but I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the original handwritten notes that were stored in the safe of one of the biggest crooked gambling suppliers of the 20th century. All of their daub and ink recipes are there.

The book, How it's Done, still occasionally pops up on eBay, but nowadays it's almost impossible to follow the recipes within because they all list brand names and sources that have long been out of biz. There was a supplement, later published with the book, but these supplements are really rare. I guess most people didn't realize the value of some piece of paper that came with some of the late editions of this book, so that may be the reason why most of these got lost. But the supplement contains some updated information (although "updated" is a relative term, due to the age of this supplement).

I should give a word of caution for all those that may want to experiment with some of the recipes from that book. Some of the ingredients listed in that book are actually very toxic, such as phenol. That particular chemical (we now know) should not be handled outside of laboratory conditions. In fact, you can't even get that stuff these days, anyway, but I mention it just in case.

So, N-daub is one of several professional grade daubs that have stood the test of time. It can be used on any cards, plastic or paper, of any color. But just because it's the professional stuff that still doesn't mean that it's easy to use.

Like any other trick from the arsenal of the professional card cheat, using this daub (or any other) requires practice and experience. A novice is likely to make a big mess of his fingers and the cards; not to mention that a novice most likely doesn't even have a clue how to use the work in a live card game. It is not the intention of this post to go into that, anyway, but I should at least mention that playing paper is an art.

Paper players are often teamed up, just like any other professional hustlers and card cheats. For example, if a team wants to hit a poker game, they will send the painter(s) first, to put the work on the cards. After the painter(s) leave the second part of the team (or an individual) comes in to take care of business. This is a very safe approach. If marked cards are discovered, at this time, the real culprit appears to have nothing to do with it. There is absolutely not physical evidence and the real culprit was never seen handling the cards excessively or doing any of the moves that would telegraph the work (although it should be noted that only a trained eye could spot a good painter at work, anyway).

In closing I should probably mention what that liquid is, on the photo next to the daub. That is called daub rejuvenator. As the name would suggest it is used to rejuvenate the daub. Basically, this daub will eventually dry out if it is not occasionally rejuvenated. This liquid is actually one of the base ingredients of this daub and as any liquid it can dry out, even when trapped inside of a paste in a closed container. So, basically, every now and then one small drop of this liquid needs to be added to the daub. This needs to be done way ahead of time (i.e. before the next intended use) to allow the liquid to spread throughout the thick paste.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Clueless are Casino Executives... in Korean Casinos

Due to all the moral issues with gambling, in many countries casino business is a government operation. In those countries casinos are usually treated the same as the national lottery. And, as we all know, when a government is doing business, one has to deal with a lot of regulations and bureaucracy; not to mention ludicrous decisions, incompetence and total lack of logic. Welcome to Korea.

In Korea, gambling is prohibited by law. This doesn't mean that gambling is non-existent, in Korean. It only means that there are basically two gambling scenes: the illegal underground gambling scene and the government operated casinos. And because gambling is illegal in Korea, the casinos are for foreigners only. That doesn't mean that you will not find Korean people gambling at the tables. It only means that if you do see Koreans you know right away that they have foreign passports.

Compared to any serious casinos in the world, the Korean ones can best be described as rinky-dink. Also, there aren't many of them.

In Seoul, there are only three casinos. Two of them are Seven Luck and one of them is the Walker Hill Casino. The there is only one more Seven Luck Casino in Busan. Of course, when I say Korea, I talk about South Korea. There are also some casinos in North Korea, but since I have not been there (yet) I can't really share any information.

Let's have a look at some photos I took, of casinos in Seoul.


This is a photo of the Seven Luck Casino in Gangnam (located just south of the Han river in an expensive district of Seoul).

The next photo is of the Walker Hill Casino, on the East side of Seoul. This casino is at the Sheraton Hotel, a very expensive sterile environment for the tourist looking to visit Seoul and avoid any contact with the genuine Korean lifestyle.


And the next image is a picture I took on the inside of the Walker Hill Casino. I'm sure they wouldn't be happy about it, if they knew (or once they find out), but my feelings about it could be described with a popular expression that would produce the following abbreviation: IDGAF. In fact, speaking of taking photos inside casinos, to this day I've never been able to figure out why casinos object to people taking photos. What could someone possibly do with a photo?


So, I'm here to tell you about the incompetence of casino executives in Korea. Shall we?

So, casinos a government operated. This means that decisions at the very top are made by democratically elected government officials, as opposed to people that actually know something about casino business. At some point in the past those lawmakers have passed laws that dictate how government operations have to be conducted; not specifically casinos, but any government enterprise in general, such as a hospital, a school or even a kindergarten. So, there are some general rules that all these "businesses" have to conform to. And then at some point after these laws have been passed someone decided to throw a couple of casinos into the mix. The problem with that "business model" is that a casino is not exactly the same kind of enterprise as a kindergarten. But the same general rules that were once made for any generic government business apply to casinos. Why? Because in a bureaucrat's mind all government businesses are basically the same thing: i.e. a government operation.

Are you with me so far? It gets better.

It gets better when I tell you what some of these rules are. There are some rules that dictate how high-ranking executives are picked to top positions in government enterprises. The rules that define the criteria have absolutely nothing do with the person's qualifications regarding the particular business that person is thrown into. The rules have to do with the person's current rank, age, social standing and such (and I'm sure also a "tiny bit" of good old corruption). Social standing and age both play a big role in Korean society (as in many other Asian countries). Respect for people of higher social standing is so deeply engrained in Korean culture that it was even the reason for a couple of plane crashes, as the copilot was "unable" to "tell" the pilot what to do (so it was easier to let the plane crash than to embarrass the family by showing "bad manners" and/or "signs of bad upbringing").

So, how exactly are casino executives elected?

The short answer is that some high-ranking public servant is promoted from a lower-ranking post in a previous government enterprise and sent to serve his term in the casino. In other words, a social worker may be promoted to casino manager, an assistant manager of a kindergarten could be promoted to surveillance director. With executive positions previous experience with the specific business plays absolutely no role. In other words, a casino manager doesn't have to know how to play blackjack - the (lower ranking) dealers are trained to run these games. The manager or director is a high-ranking executive and that's all there is to it. So, to put it simply, what the average Korean casino surveillance director knows about casino business is approximately nothing. It gets better.

The new casino executive receives absolutely no training. Why? Well, here's the Korean hierarchy at work. How can anyone give lessons to a casino director? Kids go to school; not casino executives. And it gets even better than that.

By law, any such executive positions can only be held by an individual for a period of three years. So, in three years all casino executives will be sent to other posts and be replaced by fresh executives that have come form various other enterprises.

Now, as most of the readers of my blog (and site) know, as a general rule, most casinos are vulnerable when they first open for business or when they introduce new games. The first three month of any new casino are typically penciled-in in any professional casino cheat's calendar. So, Korea seems to be a pretty good scene for casinos cheats as they can just come back every three years and take advantage of familiar territory with fresh talent.

If I wanted to, I could continue trashing Korean casino executives, but I think I've made my point. Plus, I don't want to shoe bad manners by trashing people that are of much higher social standing than myself. After all, the people I am talking about are casino managers and surveillance directors. And who am I? Just some blogger on the internet.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Casino Equipment: RFID Playing Cards

When it comes to high-tech casino equipment there are just a handful of inventions that rank at the top of the list. One of these inventions is a product that is still under development: RFID playing cards.

These playing cards are being developed by GPI, one of the leading manufacturers of casino equipment in the world. They first showcased this product in early 2009, but were not really making it too public at that time. In other words, at the time the company is still very selective about whom they show this product to and if you ask one of their representatives about these playing cards, they may even deny their existence, if they don't know who you are. But they do exist. And here are a couple of pictures.



The new RFID playing cards are made form plastic and feel just like any other plastic cards. They are no thicker than conventional playing cards and at first sight there are no clues that would give away the fact that these playing cards are embedded with RFID tags. However, a closer look at the surface of the cards (as seen in the second photo) may reveal a few imperfections, such as the small rectangular impression that seems to be visible on the surface (covered up by the printed clubs suit). This small impression seems to indicate that the RFID tag lies beneath that spot.

But what the heck are RFID tags, anyway?

Sorry, I am writing this blog assuming that all the readers know what RFID tags are. So, for those of you that may not be familiar, let me explain.

RFID tags are Radio Frequency Identification tags. In other words, microchips that are typically capable of carrying 2,000 bytes of data or less. This data is basically a unique ID assigned to that particular RFID tag; in other words, each tag carries a unique electronic fingerprint.

RFID tags are used in some casino chips, to track bets, payouts, etc. These tags are always attached to some kind of antenna and both are embedded inside the object that is tagged.

Outside of casinos, RFID tags are used in employee ID cards, to name one example. Those are the plastic ID cards that employees can scan at the entrance of the place of employment, to clock in, open doors, etc.

One of the most important things to understand about RFID tags is that each single tag has a unique ID assigned to it. So, the software running the identification system can differentiate between each and every separate tagged object. In the case of casino chips, it doesn't only know that this is a $100 chip (for example) but know that this is the $100 chip that is used in such and such place at this moment in time (as long as the chip is near a scanner. It also knows the entire history of that particular $100 chip. In the case of playing cards, RFID tags would be able to differentiate between each and every playing card used.

As I mentioned above, the RFID technology for playing cards is still under development. There are a few problems.

Unlike casino chips, playing cards are pliable. Each time a playing card is used, whether it's being shuffled or dealt, or picked up for identification, the card is momentarily bent. That presents a problem with RFID technology.

The problem lays in the fact that the RFID microchip needs to be attached to an antenna. Considering the size of this microchip, this electrical connection is so small that it can easily break under any kind of stress. And it really doesn't require much to break that kind of microscopic connection.

Let's consider some possibilities, how these playing cards could be fabricated.

Well, we know that the entire RFID tag (the chip and the antenna) is inside the playing card. This means that the playing card must be made by fusing two separate sheets of plastic. The antenna itself is probably just printed. This is just a logical assumption, as I don't really have any insider information. But I know that there are plenty of conductive inks that are used to print electronic circuits and such. So I am assuming that this kind if conductive ink is used to "print" the antenna. The printing is the easiest part, but how does one attach that microchip to the antenna?

Well, connecting the microchip to the antenna is actually still not the problem. These types of micro connections are today's industry standard in the electronic industry. The problem lies in the fact that playing cards must endure a lot of physical abuse, through normal use. So, that is the last little bug that the company is trying to resolve, before these playing cards hit the market. And I'm sure it's just a matter of time when this bug will be resolved.

So, assuming that this technical challenge is completely resolved, we are still left with some questions about the use and practicality of RFID playing cards. What practical use would casinos have form this technology? Would these playing cards be too expensive? Does this technology present any security risks?

Those are all valid questions. I guess time will prove if this technology has much of a practical application in the casino industry. But we can still speculate...

First of all, if an 8-deck baccarat shoe is loaded with these playing cards, the RFID reader would know immediately if all the cards are there. It would also know if the 8 of clubs (for example) from this deck has been switched for the 8 of clubs form another deck. I am not quite sure what the benefit of this would be, but the system would definitely be able to "know" this.

Furthermore, the baccarat table (to continue using baccarat as an example) would be fitted with RFID readers. So, when the dealer deals out the cards the system would know what cards were dealt out to which position. Of course, this is an issue that has already been resolved by the introduction of the Angel Eye baccarat shoe but I guess the RFID technology would just offer a different approach to resolve the same problem. Kind of like replacing a Braun electric razor by a Philips, that uses rotary blades, although both basically do the same thing. The question is, of course, is the new solution more practical than the existing one?

RFID playing cards could also be used in blackjack to analyze players and flag card counters. But the question is, does the casino industry still need to worry about card counters, now that continuous shufflers, such as the ShuffleMaster one2six, are becoming industry standard? It would be safe to assume that any casino that is equipped with RFID playing cards would also be equipped with automatic shufflers. But still, I can think of a few ways that RFID playing cards could be used to flag suspect advantage players and cheats. And this is where we mention cheats... Hm...

The biggest question is: can these playing cards be used for cheating? Well, let's see... One thing for sure, these playing cards are essentially a new type of marked cards. This is undeniable. The short answer to this last question is, yes. If you want a slightly longer answer, I could say, absolutely. But if you want me to elaborate on the possibilities, I would say this post is already getting too long, so I will have to save the juicy stuff for another post, at some future time.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Luminous Readers: A Glimpse Into the Past

Marked cards are probably as old as the earliest playing cards ever made. After all, cheating is just human nature and there is nothing that would lead us to believe that the moral an ethical standards of the earliest users of playing cards were any different from the ethics of today's Texas Hold'em players. Of course, there isn't exactly a shortage of people that will tell us that most poker players are honest; but of course, that's just nonsense. Honesty and gambling are two words that mix like oil and water. And while I mention the word gambling when I talk about poker there are plenty of those that will tell us the poker is a game of skill and therefore not gambling. But that's just an oversimplification of an issue that is actually much more complex than to be summarized in one sentence.

Those are all interesting issues that I'll be talking about in other blog posts. This time I want to talk about the evolution of luminous readers.

There's some early mention of luminous readers in an old book, entitled, Protection. I am not sure if the description in that book is based on facts, or just on theory, as I was never actually able to see a pair of luminous glasses that date back to that era. But luminous readers are also mentioned in the crooked gambling catalogs (i.e. the infamous Blue Books) of the 20th century. And those gaffs did in fact exist, otherwise they would never have been listed in catalogs. But one would have a really hard time finding a pair of those glasses, today.

The reason most of those luminous glasses seem to have disappeared is because the frames were made from a very unstable material. I am not sure exactly what the material was but I think it was cellulose nitrate, which is the same material that casino dice were made out of, form about 1920s to 1950s. In the 50s dicemakers started using cellulose acetate, which is more stable. Anyway, the frames for the luminous readers sold by crooked gambling distributors were made from one of these materials that completely deteriorates with time. The material seems to deteriorate spontaneously, first by forming hairline cracks in the corners and then spreading throughout. There are ways of preserving the material, but no one really thought to do it. So, make a long story short, I would be really surprised if any of these glasses still exist in their original (and whole) form.

But how do I know all that?

Well, I did come across a pair and I saw the effect of time. The entire frame crumbled into a pile of "crystals" and all that was left were the lenses. And the lenses are actually the only part of the spectacles that we're interested in. In the image below you can see a pair of original luminous lenses that were sold by one of the infamous crooked gambling distributors of the 20th century.


The lenses are round and flat, which leads me to believe that there's a good chance they were actually made for something other than reading luminous marks on the back of playing cards. Sometimes cheating gaffs are just repackaged products that are really made for something entirely different. But I guess we'll never know.

At one point I even had the actual luminous ink and pencil that were sold along with the luminous glasses. Needless to say that the pencil was in fact a repackaged product, but I am not sure about the ink. In either case, the gaff didn't really work too well, when I tested it.

If you've ever looked through any of the old crooked gambling catalogs you may have noticed that the luminous glasses rarely appeared illustrated. Most of the time they were just listed, along with a brief description. Well, I guess that's because those glasses really looked ridiculous. The Hunt catalog did have an image (as you can see in the photo) but as you can see the frames resemble those glasses that usually come with a plastic nose attached.

So, those were the early years of luminous readers. Those were the good old days.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Casino Innovations by the Clueless: Blackjack Layouts

Here's a picture showing three blackjack tables, designed and fabricated by TCS JohnHuxley, one of the leading casino equipment manufacturers in the world. What's wrong with this picture?


Well, to anyone that's ever dealt blackjack these tables should appear, to put it mildly, less than ideal. The problem is in the layout design.

Blackjack games can be divided into two categories (for the purpose of this post): pitch games and shoe games. Pitch games are single-deck and double-deck games in which the dealer holds the deck(s) in his/her hand and pitches the cards towards the players. The cards are pitched face down and the players take them in their hands. Most people have never seen pitch games. That's because they are no longer common, but that's the original blackjack, actually. Dealing shoes were introduced at some later time and have then taken over the pitch games, for a number of reasons.

So, shoe games are exactly what the name suggests: games in which the dealer deals the cards form a dealing shoe. Unlike pitch games, in shoe games the players are not allowed to touch the cards (one of the reasons why they are preferred by casinos) and the cards are dealt face up.

So, what's the problem with those blackjack tables?

Well, since there are two kinds of blackjack games, there are also two kinds of blackjack layouts.

In pitch games the cards are being pitched all the way across the table. So, the cards are sailing in the air, over the entire layout (and over the live bets) and then land in front of each player. In these games the layout needs to be designed in such way that there is plenty of room between the betting areas and the outside armrest, so that there's enough room for the dealer to pitch the cards form a distance and so that there's still room for the players to keep their chip stacks (which they're going to lose, anyway, sooner or later).

In shoe games, there doesn't have to be as much space between the armrest and the betting spots, because the dealer is not going to throw anything there. There just has to be enough room for players to keep their chip stacks in front of them and so that their chip stacks are not too close to the live betting areas.

However, since the dealer deals the cards face down, in shoe games, all the cards will be dealt in diagonal rows between the betting areas the dealer's chip rack (basically starting over the insurance line and building up towards the dealer). That's also where the dealer deals out the hit cards in pitch games, but the difference is that in shoe games there are always two cards more being dealt out in that area; i.e. the initial two cards that each player gets. For this reason blackjack layouts that are intended for shoe games have to be designed in such way that the betting areas and the insurance line are all closer to the players, thus making enough space for the cards to be dealt out. Because let's not forget, the dealer also deals the cards for the house, right in front of the chip rack.

So, basically, these layout pictured above are more suitable for pitch games than for shoe games. In fact, a dealer will struggle with this layout because the cards will become cluttered, especially if a lot of low value cards happen to be dealt and if a few players happen to split pairs. To be honest, the layout in the middle is actually perfectly fine, but the top and bottom ones are not - especially the top one.

I don't want to sound to critical, but this company should know better, as they've been in this business for years and they are considered to be one of the leading companies that make casino equipment. But the truth be told a lot of their casino equipment has major flaws. What I've just described here is just a bad layout design that makes it hard on the dealer. But what I am alluding to is that this company has designed some casino equipment with major flaws that can be exploited by both, casino cheats and advantage players. Their equipment can be found in major casinos around the world. So, what are those flaws? Well, how much is that information worth to you?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Casino Equipment: ShuffleMaster one2six Automatic Shuffler

ShuffleMaster is the world's leading manufacturer of casino shuffling machines. These have already become industry standard in most well-equipped casinos.

One of the most popular ShuffleMaster machines is the one2six continuous shuffler. This machine has pretty much replaced the standard dealing shoes.

There are two variations of the one2six machine. The difference is in the feeder - i.e. the part into which the dealer places the cards, after every round. In the earlier version of this machine the feeder was equipped with a mechanism that would cover the cards and pull them in one by one, starting from the top. A few years later ShuffleMaster came up with an improvement, so the newer machines are equipped with (what the company calls) a gravity feeder. The cards rest on a couple of rollers and the individual cards are pulled into the machine form the bottom up. The machine pictured here is the later model.


The one2six ShuffleMaster also has two different front-end attachment options. The one pictured here has a blackjack option installed (this is also the option used in mini baccarat games). The other option is the single-deck tray, used in games such as Caribbean Stud, Three-Card Poker, Let It Ride, and so on. Of course, the machine also has to be reprogrammed for a different game if it is switched around.

So, how does this machine work?

The machine is capable of handling up to six decks of cards. The idea is to keep the cards in circulation, continuously. Well, "continuously" is really a misnomer, here, because that's really not how the machine works.

Let's imagine the machine is being used in a blackjack game. The minimum number of cards that will be used up in a 7-player blackjack game is 16 cards. So, in this case, the dealer starts with the machine full. The dealer then deals out the cards and at the end of the round a minimum of 16 cards have been removed from the machine. At the conclusion of the round the dealer scoops up the cards and puts them back into the feeder and the machine starts pulling them into its "gut." While the machine is doing it's thing the dealer invites the players to place their bets and soon begins to deal a new round. And here comes what I'm getting to...

The cards that the dealer deals on each consecutive round cannot possibly be the actual same cards that have just been played on the previous round. That's because the cards have to go through three stages, inside of the machine.

The first stage is the placement of the cards into the feeder, at the back of the machine. The second stage is the "random" distribution of the cards throughout the carousel (which you see on the picture). And the third stage is the front compartment; and that's where the machine has one minor flaw, which makes the word "continuous" a misnomer, technically speaking.

The entire front of the machine is a compartment into which the machine spits out "randomly selected" cards form the carousel. So, at the moment when the dealer places the cards that have just been played out, into the machine, the cards for the next round are already inside of the front chamber; no longer inside of the carousel. So, if one would have a way of knowing which cards are there, this machine would become worthless. But at this point in time, this possibility is purely theoretical.

This is one of the ways in which advantage players are trying to beat this machine. What it means is that if the cards that have just been played out cannot possibly be dealt out in the next round, the players have one piece of information to work with, because the machine is not really a continuous shuffler, in the true sense of the word. But how much of an edge can one get form this?

Well, certainly not as much as a deep penetration of a conventional 6-deck shoe. But if the players notice a round where not a single ace or 10-value card has been dealt out, then the remainder of the cards are a bit more rich in 1os and aces. Also, if no 10s were dealt out there is a good chance that more hit cards were dealt (depending on what up card the dealer was showing) which means that the penetration was a bit deeper than in the 16-card minimalist scenario I described above. Certainly not much of an edge by any stretch of the imagination.

In any event, the one2six machine is generally a very good piece of casino equipment. The machine has one bad security flaw that is only relevant if it is being used in blackjack games that utilize dealers' hole cards. But let's talk about that some other time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Casino Equipment: Angel Eye Baccarat Dealing Shoe

Casino equipment, and gambling accessories in general, have come a long way since the first knuckle-bones were rolled a few thousand years ago. With all the electronic gadgets at our disposal it was only a matter of time for some of these gadgets to find their way into casinos. Well, actually, the first high-tech gadgets that found their way into casinos were most likely brought in by casino cheats, with the intention to be used to defraud the casinos. But if casinos want to compete with the cheats, they too have to use high-tech solutions to combat their enemies. And the cat and mouse game continues.

The casino gadget that I want to describe in this thread was not invented to combat any of the numerous gadgets that the cheats have been known to bring into casinos. This gadget was invented to put an end to one of the oldest baccarat scams: switching cards.

Let me introduce you to the Angel Eye electronic baccarat shoe.

If you've ever been in a casino in Macau you've already seen these shoes in action. These electronic baccarat shoes have already been accepted as the industry standard throughout Asia. Keep in mind that gambling is actually illegal in many Asian countries, so we are strictly talking places where casino gambling is regulated.

Switching cards in baccarat was always very common in Asia. So common, in fact, that casinos were eager for someone to come up with a solution. And baccarat is by far the most popular casino game throughout Asia, so the Asian market was ready for an invention that would make it impossible to get away with switching cards, in baccarat.



Angel, a Japanese manufacturer of playing card and other casino accessories, was the company that first came up with the idea of an electronic baccarat shoe. Not only was Angel the first company to come up with this idea, they also hit the nail right in the head. Other companies followed suit, but in my opinion Angel still makes the best product; partly because they understand the Asian market better than many of their competitors that later came up with their own variations of electronic baccarat shoes.

So, how does this thing work? And what exactly does it do?

In a nutshell, the cards are bar-coded with invisible ink, on the faces. The shoe is fitted with a scanner (similar to the scanner used to read bar codes in a supermarket) that is able to read these invisible bar codes, as the cards are being dealt. This is why this shoe has a longer lip (the front where the cards come out) than conventional dealing shoes.

The shoe is connected to a central computer system. Whenever the dealer deals a card, the scanner reads the value of that card and the shoe sends the information to the computer. In baccarat, unlike blackjack, the players cannot make hit or stand decisions. So, the dealer deals up to one hit card to each one of the two hands, if the rules require that hit cards be dealt. In short, for every round of baccarat, the dealer may deal out 4 to 6 cards. As soon as these cards are dealt out the game is basically over. All the remains to be done is to turn these cards face up and determine which side won (or if it was a tie). However, although there's nothing that can be done, once the cards are dealt, the players still take their time to turn the cards over. That's when hearts are beating, blood pressure is rising, and adrenaline is pumping. In Macau, the usual limits for baccarat games (on the floor, not in the VIP rooms) ranges form HK$300,000 to HK$500,000; or, at today's currency conversion rate, roughly US$39,000 to US$64,500). This is per hand, yes, just to see two damn cards (and maybe be dealt a third one). So, for that amount of money, the player feels entitled to take a couple of seconds before turning the cards over for the world to see.

That is how baccarat is traditionally played in Asia. The expression that comes to mind is "slow-play."

So, this slow-playing also requires the players to rub the cards (for good luck) ad do all sorts of acrobatics, before the cards are finally revealed. And, of course, when the cards are handled in such way there is plenty of opportunity to do a switch. But if you switch the cards when the Angel Eye shoe is in use, you're in trouble.

The Angel Eye shoe (well actually the system that uses this shoe) knows what cards have been dealt out of the shoe. After the player(s) show-down their cards the dealer presses a button on the shoe and the result is displayed, electronically, in a number of possible ways (depending on what options the casino purchased form the manufacturer).

The simplest option is a display on the shoe itself, where one of the three lights may light up: either "player," "banker," or "tie." So, if the outcome of the live game is a win for the "banker" side and the shoe says that "player" won, the game is immediately halted and surveillance recordings are reviewed.

In a more elaborate set up there is an LCD screen at the side of the dealer, where the same results are displayed, along with images of actual cards that have been dealt. So, whatever is seen on the screen must match what had just been observed in the live game.

And that's how the Angel Eye shoe works.

As I've already mentioned, other companies have come up with their own versions of electronic baccarat shoes. Some of these are pure copycats, but some companies have actually come up with some of their own innovations, so they basically just built on the Angel Eye idea. I will talk about that in a follow up post.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Luminous Readers: Eye Measurements for Luminous Contact Lenses

The thread on Luminous Readers is supposed to answer all the questions about this type of marked cards. In this post I will discuss part of the process of ordering luminous contact lenses form a crooked gambling distributor. Please keep in mind that crooked gambling is not exactly a government regulated industry, so there are really no standards. All crooked gambling manufacturers are different, so what I am about to explain here does not apply to all of them. However, what I am about to explain is the only correct way to go about it.

Since contact lenses go straight into the eyes, they are not like glasses. A number of things can go wrong when contact lenses are fabricated outside of regulated environments. IN fact, this is the main difference between contact lenses made in Europe or the USA and contacts made in Asia, especially China.

I know of two makers of these gaffs in Asia and so far I've had the opportunity to visit one of them. When I saw how these contact lenses were stored I was appalled. They were all stored in one container, inside of a liquid that had become completely fogged up. I swear I could almost see little creatures swimming around, inside the liquid. OK, I don't know about actual creatures with fins and tentacles, but I swear that there were small pieces of white stuff floating around when I moved the container. When a customer orders a pair of these contacts, the guy just dips his fingers into the container, pulls out a couple of contact lenses and puts them in separate vials with fresh contact lens solution. When a customer receives the goods, the contacts look brand new. Of course, in reality, these contacts are totally contaminated with whatever germs were nesting inside that communal container. But the customer doesn't know that. However, he is likely to find out once he gets a nasty eye infection that may even end up costing him his vision.

I hate to say this, but Asian companies, especially Chinese companies, don't really have the best of reputations for ethical business practices. We are talking about the same companies that manufacture counterfeit prescription drugs and put led into paint that is used for toys. It's perfectly fine to buy a deck of marked cards, form China, and see that what it's like, but if you want my opinion about contact lenses: don't play with your eyes. These guys don't give a rat's ass about your well being. They only care about the payment. And when you end up with an eye infection you can file a complaint with the Chinese Department of Consumer Affairs for Crooked Gambling Distributors. Good luck with that.

But sure there must be some reputable sources for these kinds of contact lenses. Sure there are, but you'll have to look in Europe and the US. And right away I give you a word of warning. I know of at least one US distributor that is just repackaging the Chinese stuff. Of course, I can't tell you his name, but you can use your own judgment. And the guy is a big liar, so he'll probably tell you that he has them fabricated in the US. Don't believe it.

There are, however, luminous contact lenses that are fabricated in the US. Those are made in two separate licensed and regulated labs. Why two labs? Well, because the making of these contact lenses is done in more than one step. So, in the interest of keeping the secret, these contacts are made by two separate labs, in two steps. So, the first lab has no idea that there will be a second lab involved and the second lab doesn't know what the first lab was doing. They just have to fulfill and order.

Both of these US based labs are fully licensed and regulated. All they do is contact lenses. So, because they are licensed they will actually not agree to do anything you ask them to. For example, they will not make prescription lenses that are tinted beyond a certain level, because regulations forbid them to do so. They may end up in trouble if they did. But the most important thing is that these contacts are done in a regulated and sterile environment.

So, what does one need to do before ordering luminous contacts?

Let's say that you wanted to order a pair. Since those will go into your eyes you have to make sure they are made specifically for your eyes. The actual contacts are actually not made 100% from scratch. The lab will just take a pair of blanks and paint them. But the blanks will have the correct base curve for your eyes. This is very important, because your eyes need a certain amount of tear fluid, constantly, and you don't want the contacts to fall out of your eyes.

To ensure a perfect fit, you will first need to obtain exact measurements of your eyes, obtained from your local eye doctor. The important parameters are: K-readings (base curve), visible iris diameter, pupil size in dim light, and spectacle prescription. Following are detailed descriptions of these parameters, just to give you an understanding of what these readings are.


K-readings and Base Curve:

K-readings, short for Keratometry Readings, determine the exact curvature (steepness) of your eyes. Those readings are used to produce (or select) the precise base curve for the contact lens, to ensure a perfect fit on your eyes. Each one of your eyes may have different readings. K-readings are used to determine the Base Curve Radius for the contact lenses.

Base Curve Radius [BCR] is a parameter of a contact lens. Typical values range anywhere from 8.00 to 10.00 mm. The base curve is the radius of the sphere that the back of the contact lens describes. Contact lenses must fit well to the wearer's cornea in order to be comfortable and to facilitate tear exchange and oxygen transmission.

In everyday practice, if contact lenses feel "loose" and slide easily, a smaller base curve may work better. A large base curve may be needed if they feel tight. Lenses with smaller base curves are referred to as "steep". Following are illustrations to help you understand how the contacts fit over your eyes and why it is important to obtain exact readings.

perfect fit


loose base curvesteep base curve

If the lens' base curve matches the K-readings of your eye perfectly, the lens will fit perfectly over your eye, as seen in the first image. However, if this reading is incorrect, the lens will either be loose or steep. If the base curve it loose the lens will contact your eye in the center but not around the edges of the lens. In this case a soft lens would wrinkle around the edges; whenever you blink, the lens will shift around the eye. In the opposite example, if the base curve is steep, the lens will only fit around the edges but not in the center. In this case a soft lens could wrinkle in the center of the eye and since the lens is too tight around the edges your eyes would dry up.



Iris and Pupil Diameters:

The iris is the colored part of your eye, which connects to a muscle that contracts or expands the pupil. The iris has a fixed diameter, typically around 11mm. The pupil is the black circle at the center of the eye; which is basically a round hole through which light is allowed to pass. The diameter of the pupil changes based on lighting conditions.

irispupil

When you order your contact lenses you will have to supply measurements for the iris size and pupil size in dim lighting. Your pupil size is not fixed. Furthermore, once you place colored contacts over your eyes the pupil will expand even more, because the amount of light that enters the eye will be reduced, so your eyes will automatically adjust.

Here is a problem.

Each person is different. Some people's pupils expand so much that the iris becomes a very thin ring around the pupil. Let's say that in this example the pupil expands to a 9.50mm to 10.00mm diameter. For a number of reasons, the dark filter in the middle of the contact lens actually has to be a bit larger than the pupil size. So, if the pupil is already 9.50mm to 10.00mm, the filter will end up being more or less as large as the entire iris. The end result is unacceptable, because the person wearing these contacts will appear as if his/her eyes are large black circles. So, if you look in the mirror, in dim lighting, and see that your pupils get really large, you cannot have these contact lenses fabricated for you.

But even if your pupils expand below 9.50mm to 10.00mm you may still not be able to get satisfactory results.

As you know, pupils expand when there is less light hitting the eye. So, when you place a dark filter right over your pupil, the pupil will expand even more, in order to let more light in. This is one reason why the filters have to be larger than the diameter of the pupil in dim lighting. So, now, the problem occurs with people whose pupil expands beyond the diameter of the filter.

Let's imaging your pupil expands to 5mm, in dim lighting. Now, let's imagine the contacts are made with filters in 6mm diameter. This looks OK, so far, but when you put the contacts into your eyes, your pupils expand to 6.5mm size. This would actually be OK, if the pupils stayed at this size, but unfortunately that's not how eyes work.

When your pupils expand beyond the diameter of the filters, there will be a bright ring of light shining around the filters, and pouring into your eyes. At that moment, the eye registers that there's more light coming in, so the pupil contracts. But when the pupil gets smaller the amount of light is insufficient (due to the darkness of the filters) so the pupil expands again. And so it goes back and forth, and the eye can never adjust, because there is a damn dark filter in front of it.

So, with people whose irises expand to a small size it is usually not a problem, because the filters are just made bigger, a bit beyond the maximum size of that person's iris diameter. But with some people it is a problem.


Spectacle Prescription:

If you have any prescription at all you may not be able to get these contact lenses made, at least not in the US where licensed labs are doing the actual fabrication.

When it comes to prescription lenses labs need to follow government guidelines and regulations. These contacts are so dark that they fall outside of the approved specs and because of this reason, a licensed lab will not agree to make this type of lens because they risk losing their license.

The other reason why some people with eye prescriptions cannot have these contacts made form them is purely technical in nature. If you have a prescription the colored part of the lens will throw the prescription off and the lens, once painted, will no longer have the correct prescription. The solution for this problem is to fit you with a pair of non-corrective contacts, first. Then you will need to go to your eye doctor, and obtain new spectacle prescription readings, while wearing the contacts in your eyes. Based on these new readings, you will need to order a brand new pair of prescription glasses that you would wear only while wearing these contacts.