Friday, September 24, 2010

Repair of Two Gaffed Peek Shoes

In the recent blog post The "Talking" Blackjack Shoe I mentioned that the talking shoe is a more elaborate version of a camera shoe. One thing that I didn't mention is that both of these high-tech electronic shoes have a purely mechanical cousin. In other words, there is also another type of gaffed shoe that also enables the player to peek at the top card without the help of the dealer, but doesn't have any electronics at all. The solution is purely mechanical. The gaff is called a peek shoe and actually comes in a few different variations. I have been working on my own model of this peek shoe for the past three or four years and have already come up with a couple of fully functional prototypes, but due to lack of time I've never actually made a completed product.

A few days ago I received two of these shoes in the mail. Both need some repair work, which is why they were sent to me in the first place.

Both shoes seem to have been made at the same time, by the same person, but both shoes are not identical. There are actually some significant differences in measurements and I believe the maker may have been testing with different measurements. But so far I have not been able to notice any significant differences in the performance of either shoes. Both do the job just fine.

My repair job is not too difficult, but I still have to know what I'm doing otherwise I might cause significant damage to the gaffed parts. Basically, some parts are missing (there is only one roller and only one lid), I have to fabricate and install the decorative trims, possibly install the handles, and I also have to reinstall both faceplates, which have been removed for some reason. Since it is virtually impossible to separate two pieces of acrylic once they've been glued together I am assuming that the faceplates were removed because they had not been glued in properly.

Since this kid of shoe is used to peek at the top card it should be logical that the secret gaff is in the front part of the shoe. That's why I blurred out the parts of the photograph that might reveal too much. To the best of my knowledge these kinds of peek shoes have not been revealed to the public, so at this time I am not sure how much information I am willing to share on my blog.

The purpose of the peek shoe is exactly the same as the purpose of the camera shoe, or the talking shoe. The advantage of the peek shoe is that it doesn't have any electronics, so there are no batteries to be charged. Also, due to the absence of electronics, it is less likely that anyone would discover that the shoe is gaffed.

The dream of a hustler would be to somehow plant one of these shoes in a casino. If a hustler could accomplish that the casino could literally be used as a personal ATM. The hustler would just have to occupy the proper seating position at the blackjack table and from a certain angle he would always be able to see the index of the top card, every time, before it is dealt.

I just gave you some hints about what some of the disadvantages of this shoe might be.

First of all, the hustler can't just take any seat at the blackjack table. The peeking can only be done from one angle. Also, the peeking will only work if the dealer places the shoe on the table "properly." The dealer is totally unaware of the fact that the shoe is gaffed, but if the dealer happens to orient the shoe in the "wrong" way, peeking is not possible.

So how exactly does this shoe work?

If you take a glass of water and hold it in front of your face, what do you see? Most people see a glass of water, naturally, because that's what it is and that's also what the mind expects to see. But in reality you can see the entire room inside of the glass of water. The water inside the glass acts as a lens and if you focus on the image inside the glass you can see every detail in the room, greatly reduced in size.

The peek shoe works on a similar principle. Some of the parts of the shoe are deliberately fabricated in such way that the image of the top card's index is carried through the clear acrylic body and seen from a certain angle, if one knows exactly what to look for. But, because most people are not expecting to see anything, most people will not see that the index of a card is partially visible from one angle. The human mind simply edits out visual information which it is not aware of being relevant. That's like looking at a glass of water and not realizing that you can see its surroundings in it.

The shoes will stay in my shop for at least three or four weeks. The client is not in any particular hurry to get his shoes back, so I'll take my time doing the job. In fact, he only wants to keep one of the shoes and is still trying to decide what to do with the other one. This is a very rare cheating gaff so whoever ends up with the other shoe will be a lucky guy.

Monday, September 06, 2010

First Edition of Mr. Rakeoff in The Provinces

When I first decided to build a gambling library I already knew it would consist of books about cheating. Cheating and scams were actually my first interests and those were the interests that brought me into gambling, not the other way around. So, it would stand to reason that my gambling library would somehow reflect that.

My first gambling book was Sharps & Flats, which I bought at a gaming supply store on West 27th Street in New York City. Upon examination I discovered that the book was published by GBC Press, aka the Gamblers Book Club, in Las Vegas, Nevada. At that time no one had even heard of the internet, so I did what had to be done the old fashioned way an ordered the GBC Press mail-order catalog.

When the catalog arrived I saw that titles were listed in alphabetical order and organized into logical categories, such as Casino Gambling, Poker, Blackjack, Craps, Horse Racing, Sports Betting, and so on... To my amazement, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was an entire category on cheating. All of the sudden, starting a gambling library to my taste seamed easier than I had anticipated. So, I picked up my phone receiver, dialed the toll-free number (on my rotary phone) and ordered every title listed in that category. The next few days were spent in restless anticipation, waiting for my package. Building a new bookshelf seemed like a reasonable pastime. The package finally arrived, in two separate boxes, and that's how my gambling library was born. I spent the next week or so locked up in my apartment, lounging on the couch, eating nothing but ice cream, while devouring my newly acquired gambling books.

One of the books that was part of my new collection was How They Cheat You at Cards: Mr. Rakeoff in The Provinces, by Eugène Villiod. This book is actually a turn of the century French classic, originally titled Comment on nous Vole au Jeu with a subtitle M. Laratisse en Province. The text was translated into English by Russel T. Barnhart, in 1979, and the English edition was published by GBC Press. The book only cost $6.95, and couldn't be considered a rare book by any stretch of the imagination, but it was always one of my favorites. That's why it was always in the back of my mind that one day I should make some effort to acquire the original French edition. And finally, thanks to the internet, I did manage to find an original edition, which is now part of my ever growing gambling library.

Although the original French edition is a rare book, it is still relatively easy to find. If one is willing to pay the price one can own it with very little effort. I just logged onto and did a quick search, which returned several sources for this book listed at 50€, 75€, 100€ and 150€. I didn't see any differences in the condition of the books so I just bought the one listed at 50€. The book arrived and I am happy.

I am not going to go into any details of this book, but in a nutshell, the book is written as a work of fiction dealing with a real subject, which is card cheating. The author tells us entertaining stories about a fictional Mr. Rakeoff cheating suckers at various card games, which traveling through the provinces of France. The stories are written in an amusing and informative style and some descriptions are complemented with photographs. To find out what this book is all about, the best recommendation I can give you is to read the book.

Anglophone readers who can only benefit from reading the English edition may want to know more about the title and the name of the fictional character, the infamous Mr, Rakeoff.

A more literal translation of the original title, Comment on nous Vole au Jeu, would be How They Rob us at Gambling, but I think Mr. Barnhart's translation makes for a much better sounding title. Also, the name of the main character, M. Laratisse, which Mr. Barnhart translated into Mr. Rakeoff is definitely the best possible translation anyone could come up with.

The name Laratisse is basically a play on words. In French râteau (from Latin rastellus; rastrum) means "a rake" and ratisser is the action of "raking." Since this book is not about gardening it doesn't take a genius to conclude that "raking" is used figuratively. So, in colloquial French ratisser is used in the same sense as the expression "cleaning up" is often used in English. The expression se faire ratisser would be translated into "getting raked off," basically meaning "getting ripped off." So, the imaginary character Monseur Laratisse (which can figuratively be understood as "one that rips people off as if using a rake") can definitely be translated into Mr. Rakeoff.

My copy of Comment on nous Vole au Jeu came from an antiquarian bookstore, in Marseille, France. It is a 1909 first edition in fair condition.

The author Eugène Villiod actually wrote several books on cheating and scams. The book Comment on nous Vole au Jeu is actually a sequel to the 1906 book The Stealing Machine (original French title La Machine à Voler). Both books are highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of crooked gambling.