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
"the secret of winning poker" - top of the first page of
"craps theory" - top of the first page of
"gaming theory roulette" - top of the first page of
"roulette gamblers" - second page of

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.