Friday, December 30, 2011

Counterfeit 19th Century French Playing Cards

This will be my last blog post in the year 2011. So, I better end the year with something interesting, like, counterfeit playing cards. Spotting fakes is all about the details, so this post will be quite elaborate. Hopefully it will also make some collectors wiser and prevent them from being duped; unless you're like me and you actually want to have a fake in your collection, as long as you were never fooled into thinking it was genuine.

When I think of counterfeit playing cards the first thing that comes to mind are counterfeit Bee cards, made in China. But those aren't the only kind of counterfeit playing cards. I've come across some fake antique playing cards. While fake Bee cards are intended to be sold to the general public (and I've even seen some fake Bee decks at a Duane Reade store), fake antiques are made to dupe collectors. Here is a picture of a fake 19th century French deck that I own. What's wrong with this picture?

Fake antique French playing cards
One detail that any collector should be able to spot from across the room is the presence of corned indices on the aces. Why are the aces indexed? Corner indices are an American invention, from the 1870s. European makers started using corner indices in the 1890s. So, according to that historical fact, this deck would have to have been produced no earlier than during the 1890s. But the corner indices look odd. I've seen a lot of old French decks, some indexed and some not, but this is the only deck I've ever seen with this kind of corner indices (i.e. slanted suit symbols without the values). So, there are two possibilities. Either this is a very rare deck from the early 1890s, when French makers just started experimenting with corner indices. Or it's a fake. There are many other details that point to this deck being a fake. And there are for course some details that suggest this deck should be genuine. But isn't that the case with any fakes?

One detail that could be taken as a sure proof this is a genuine antique deck of cards is the presence of the watermark. All French decks from that era were printed on watermarked paper. That was a distinct characteristic of French decks. All the makers were required to print their playing cards on watermarked paper that they had to purchase from the French government. That's how the French government, at that time, made sure all the decks were taxed.

In countries where paper currency is printed on watermarked paper people usually look for the watermark to quickly check that the money is good. It is easy to understand why someone might believe this deck is genuine, due to the presence of the watermark. But the watermark on these cards is not quite right.

Fake antique playing cards
The watermark is very clearly visible on all the cards, especially on the red-suited aces. That might sound like good news, but the problem is that the watermark is too clear. Perhaps I should say, too good to be true. Usually the watermark is not nearly as clear on any of the old French decks that I know for a fact to be genuine.

When I compare the watermarks on these cards with the watermarks on genuine decks I can see, relatively easily, that the images are not identical designs. I can see the differences simply by placing two cards side by side. I believe that the watermarks should be identical on all the decks. After all, isn't that the whole purpose of a government watermark?
Another problem is the quality of the paper. Again, these cards were supposed to have been printed on government paper. So, if you found a watermark on a banknote but the paper didn't feel right, would you believe the money is real?

One reason why the paper doesn't feel right is because these cards were printed on a single-layer sheet of paper. So, if you look at the backs of the cards, and tilt the deck against light to produce a reflection, you will see the watermarks on the backs. That is never the case with genuine decks, because those were printed on double-layered paper; the layer of paper on the face of the cards is watermarked and the layer at the back is just high quality stiff paper. I tried to make a picture of the watermark showing at the back of the cards, as best as I could.

Counterfeit antique French playing cards
The deck is thinner than genuine period decks and the paper feels stiff and shiny, as if it had been sprayed with varnish (which I believe is actually the case). The cards don't fan at all and it is impossible to manipulate the cards in any way. It would be impossible to play a game of cards without constantly licking your fingers, in order to fan the cards in your hand; which brings me to the next point.

On a hunch I licked my thumb and tried to smear the ink, to see what would happen. The ink did smear. Luckily I had a feeling that it would, so I did it very lightly. I believe the paper was in fact prayed with varnish and the card designs were printed on top of it, which might be one of the reasons why the ink smears. The other reasons might be that the ink is not the right kind.

The edges of the cards are also not quite right. It looks to me as if the edges were colored with some kind of alcohol-based felt-tip pen, the produces a shiny finish. I am also not too sure that the corners are right.

Counterfeit playing cards
From the first moment I picked up this deck of cards I never thought they were genuine. My first impression was that the deck was a fake. That was before I even looked closely at the cards.

One other thing that doesn't feel right is the condition of the cards. The deck is in mint condition, and yet, the cards are completely warped and there is not wrapper. How did the cards survive in mint condition for over a century without their original wrapper? Why did someone remove the wrapper if the did not use the cards to play a game? If they did play a game, that ink would have smudged. Why are the cards warped if they haven't been used?

I bought the deck from a dealer in Paris, knowing it was a fake. I even explained to the dealer what didn't look right, but I still decided to purchase the deck because I liked the idea of having a counterfeit antique deck. That's something I would want to have in my collection, but if I wanted to look for one I wouldn't know where to start looking. So, when I was holding a fake in my hands I realized I wanted to have it. So, I paid for it and gave it a home.

When I brought the deck home I discovered some other details, upon closer examination. The most obvious detail is the back design, seen through a magnifying glass.

Fake antique French playing cards
Grimaud antique French playing cards
The Scottish-plaid pattern back design is just too perfect to have been produced with 19th century printing technology. The naked eye sees only lines crisscrossing, but the magnifying glass reveals that the lines are actually made of little dots. That's also the case with genuine decks, but with some very important differences.

The previous two images are photographs of two back designs. One shows the back of the fake deck, and the other one shows the back of a genuine 19th century Grimaud card. Guess which is which?

When you look at a genuine card you can easily conclude that those Scottish-plaid pattern back designs were printed with two separate rollers, crisscrossing, on two separate runs. The Grimaud deck is printed in blue and red and as you can see the dots from one roller never perfectly align with the dots from the other roller. In fact, it would be impossible (and totally unnecessary) to align the two rollers so that every single crossing dot from the left side falls perfectly on every single crossing dot from the right side. But if you look at the fake deck you will see that all the crossing dots align perfectly. That's something that was printed on a computer printer, and not with two 19th century rollers. Plus, there is no natural smudging of the ink, as seen on the Grimaud card, and the dots are so small they are only visible under a magnifying glass.

Hopefully this blog post will help some collectors identify fake antique French decks. I have many antique decks in my collection and this deck stands out like a black sheep, so there is no doubt in my mind that it's a fake. But I have to admit that the presence of the watermarks make this deck a good fake, one that's worth collecting. After all, one day this fake will also become a genuine antique fake, and possibly a rare one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Unused Antique French Playing Cards

Earlier this year I made a post about Early 20th Century French Playing Cards, in which I show an image of an original wrapper that was used to wrap the deck, as well as a facsimile deck with a reproduction of a wrapper. Here is a picture of two near mint condition early 20th century French decks, still sealed in their original wrappers, that have survived a century and ended up in my private collection.

antique French playing cards with wrappers
Both of these decks are by Grimaud, which I believe to be the oldest surviving maker of playing cards in the world; although Cartamundi claims this title, although that company is actually the product of a merger of three makers (Brepols, Van Genechten and Biermans) and the name Cartamundi never existed before 1970. Whatever the case might be, I have here two antique Grimaud decks in their original wrappers.

Due to the fact the wrappers were just cheap packaging, at the time these cards were made, most of the decks that reached the old age of 100 survived without their original wrappers. However, the maker's name never appeared on any of the cards from any of the Portrait Officiel decks, so the decks that survived without wrappers are sometimes difficult to identify. One clue that connoisseurs use to identify the makers is the color palette of the court cards. Each maker used a different palette at different times to hand color all the court cards. So, the best way to identify the maker of any particular deck is to reference it to some decks that were never separated from their wrappers.

Below is an image that shows exactly what I am talking about. Both cards came from decks that were produced around 1910. The jack of clubs on the left is from a Grimaud deck and the jack of clubs on the right is from a Dieudonné deck. The line art on both cards is identical, but the coloring is different, basically a choice made by the makers.

Antique French Jack of Clubs
Another identifier is of course the back design of the cards. Some patters were commonly used by many makers, but there were still some subtle variations that can now be used to identify the makers.

I am not really sure how much these decks could be worth. They are certainly worth as much as someone is willing to pay for them. What I do know is that the number of decks that survive is gradually decreasing, as time goes by, and the number of collectors is gradually increasing, as the population of humans continues to grow. I also know that any deck accompanied by its original wrapper carries a higher price tag, simply because most wrappers are long gone.

In closing, I might as well mention that there is a useful online resource for antique French playing cards on the Cary Collection of Playing Cards page.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

19th Century French Playing Cards

In my earlier post, Early 20th Century French Playing Cards, I spoke about some of the characteristics of French playing cards, from the early 20th century. In this post, I would like to describe some of the characteristics of 19th century French cards. The purpose of this post is to share some of the information that I know, to help collectors. Here are a couple of 19th century French decks, from my own collection.

19th century antique French playing cards
The basic designs of the cards are the same as the early 20th century decks, known as Portrait Officiel. The most noticeable difference between late 19th century and early 20th century French playing cards is the absence of corner indices, from the decks that were made before the 1890s. The corner indices were actually an American invention that first appeared in the 1870s, but European makers did not start copying the idea right away. So, if you ever see an antique French deck of cards that has corner indices, you can be pretty sure that it does not predate the last decade of the 19th century.

The other important detail is the tax stamp.

The two decks shown in the photograph both have a tax stamp on the ace of clubs. That indicates that these decks were produced in the late 19th century. Earlier French decks had no tax stamps because the cards were printed on watermark paper, which had to be purchased from the government. It should be noted that French decks continued to be printed on watermarked paper even after the introduction of the tax stamp on the ace of clubs.

During that era, French playing card makers didn't print their names on any of the cards. The names of the makers were only printed on the wrappers. Most wrappers got lost, so identifying the makers takes a bit more knowledge. I once stumbled across a French site that described the colors that various makers would use on the court cards, at certain times. The court cards were printed and then colored by hand. A good source of information would be any unused deck of cards that has survived to this day, with its wrapper intact. I happen to own two such decks and will be making a blog post about them at some later time.

In this post, I've described just some of the main characteristics of 19th century French playing cards. Of course, there are a lot more details that I did not mention and I wish to save them for another post. I also happen to own a counterfeit 19th century French deck, that I purchased knowing it was a fake. I will do a separate post about it and describe some additional characteristics of 19th century French cards.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Marked Cards: Research and Development

Marked cards have probably been around for as long as playing cards have been used for gambling. In fact, the first marked cards were likely to be unintentionally marked by their makers, as the first playing cards were hand made and thus subject to inconsistencies. But as playing cards evolved through history so did methods of marking them for the purposes of cheating. In our time there have been many ingenious ways of marking cards and as time goes on there will undoubtedly be more ways to do it.

Since there is no single source for information on marked cards and since there's always been a great deal of secrecy to protect the "recipes," as card cheats would say, it takes a little legwork to get the information. Also, since playing card manufacturers continue to change the methods of producing playing cards, continued research and development is needed for those of us that wish to stay up to date with all the latest information. Some of the old recipes might have worked great in the 1960s, but doe to some of the changes in playing cards there is no guarantee that the old recipes will still work. In fact, some old recipes are totally outdated and have become useless.

I have spent a great deal of time and money researching various ways of marking cards. Here is just a small portion of some of the substances I've experimented with, through the years. Most of the substances I've tested did not produce satisfactory results, but I still decided to keep it all stored away in boxes. After all, I've paid for all that stuff.

Marked Cards Inks and Dyes
The selection of vials you see on this photo just came from one box, from a specific time period. I have a lot more than that stashed away, but at this time I don't particularly feel like digging through my old stuff just to take a picture for a blog post. What's important is that every vial is labeled and there are written records kept of all the experiments.

The next photo shows a selection of test cards I've marked, labeled and stored away. Again, that's just a small sample that shows test cards I've actually placed into binders.

Marked Cards Research Development
The important thing about these archived samples is the labeling. I need to know when the sample was made, what substance was used and I also need to reference any additional written records I might have kept about any particular sample.

I wish to emphasize that the date is very important. What most people don't realize is that the work you put on the back of a playing card today might not look the same tomorrow, or in a week's time, or a month later. Some chemicals used in dyes and solvents will have a delayed reaction against the finish of the playing cards, when exposed to air or changes in temperature and humidity. So, some of the work that might look invisible today might look like a yellow trace after some time has passed. To avoid such undesirable results I always test my work over time, by keeping labeled samples and meticulous records.

Naturally, I've learned a lot from my own mistakes. I wasn't always quite as organized and I had my share of surprises, when I looked back at some of the test cards I had kept. At some point it became obvious that the only way to do it is to adopt the science lab approach and keep records of all the experiments.

Lastly, in addition to all the test cards I've kept I also have a binder with all the best work that I've produced and collected. The binder has samples of various types of marked cards, along with written descriptions. The descriptions do not have recipes, since this is more of a sample catalog that I often use to show around.

Marked Cards Catalog Collection
For further information on marked cards, please visit the marked cards chapter on my main site, as well as the marked cards tag on this blog.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ponzi Poker dot com

By now it shouldn't come as a total surprise that the poker site was recently busted for stealing money from their customers. FullTilt, as it turns out, was not even a poker site, per se, it was just a global Ponzi scheme. But unlike other historic Ponzi schemes that used the investment model, such as the fairly recent Madoff affair, FullTilt was using the online poker façade. Of course the poker was just smoke and mirrors. In reality FullTilt was just in the business of collecting money from thousands of unfortunate players around the world and simply transferring the funds to their own pockets. But like any "successful" Ponzi scheme, FullTilt also had to create the illusion that any customer could withdraw any amount of money at any time. And also, like any other Ponzi scheme victims, FullTilt customers saw no need to withdraw their money, once they've established that it could be done, since they needed money on their accounts to continue doing what they all did best: play poker for a living. But there was a catch, as it tuned out: FullTilt didn't actually have enough money to pay everyone. That's because most of the money was already gone. Right now everything is at a standstill. The domain name has been seized by the Feds, pending further investigation.

FullTilt Poker Cheating Ponzi scheme
By now it should also not come as a surprise that some "big names" in poker were implicated in the scam, namely, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Howard "The Professor" Lederer. Those were just two of the big names that somehow managed to convince the world (but not including me, actually) that they were somehow superior poker players and that they were able to somehow win in the long run by playing a good game. Give me a fucking break! Poker is not chess. Yes, you can win by playing a better game than the average schmo, but only as long as you play against peasants. And those pros don't seem to do that. They play in televised tournaments against players that are just as "skilled" as they are. And at those levels they really don't have much of a mathematical edge to guarantee they'll stay afloat for a long time.

There's a Darwinian law in poker: survival of the fittest. In nature, you don't see lions attacking tigers; in fact those two spiciest of cats live on two different continents, altogether. Lions go after four legged herbavors, often attacking the sick and old ones, because they are the easiest to catch and at the end all gazelle meet is the same. In poker, if you want to win on the square, you always have to be on the lookout for the clueless, because at the end, money is the same, no matter which sucker put in into the pot. So, in poker, there's absolutely no practical reason for some guy called "Jesus" to go after some guy called "The Professor," or the other way around; at least not if both of them want to fulfill the only objective of the game, which is to win. The only reason why the two of them would ever consider sitting at the same table is to put up a show for all the folks at home, watching TV. But let's face it, that's not really poker, that's just a TV show.

Please don't get me wrong; I am actually very fond of Howard Lederer. "Jesus" is not quite my type, but I still have no harsh feelings for him. So, I definitely don't want to give the impression that I am trashing them. I actually love what they do. All I'm saying is that I never believed that any of the so-called "poker stars" were players on the square that earn their livings solely by playing a good game.

What I'm trying to say is, if you want to win at poker you have to find a way to play with an edge. You have a couple of options to accomplish that. Option 1, you can learn a few basic rules of good play and find inferior players that don't know the same rules. Option 2, you can increase your mathematical advantage by implementing techniques and strategies that you won't find in your Hoyle Rules of Card Games book. If you go with option 2, you can still play against those inferior players or you can expand your pull of opponents by playing against those that only rely on mathematical advantages described in all the poker books that have been published in the past decade.

Speaking of poker books, those are just there to divert everyone's attention to numerous details that might be interesting to read but have very little practical value in the real world of consistent poker winners. Our popular poker stars have to learn all those ludicrous rules just so they can keep up appearances and hold up through numerous interviews. But they can't possibly rely solely on those rules to always end up at the final tables in televised poker tournaments. When you have two random cards and push your entire bankroll into the pot, against a few other players that have also been dealt two random cards, and then wait for five more random cards to hit the board, to complete everyone's hands, and when all the other active players do the same, you can flush all that knowledge about odds and probabilities down the toilet. I don't care how convincing the math is that tells us that you should win in the long run. Most people have absolutely no clue what it really means, when the mathematicians tell us that something should work in our favor, in the long run. Most players will not have what it takes to put themselves through a disciplined long run. Not to mention that the long run in poker is not the same as the long run in blackjack, where the house never makes irrational and/or reckless decisions. In poker you play against unpredictable humans. It has been said that in blackjack it should take at least 10,000 hands of perfect play in order to scratch the surface of the "long run." Any results below the 10,000 rounds threshold are indistinguishable from luck. So, if 10,000 rounds of perfect play is what it takes to reach the long run in blackjack, how many rounds of "perfect play" should it take to achieve the same in poker? The answer is, I have no fucking clue.

I also don't care. To be perfectly honest, I never paid too much attention to all the poker bibles that have been published in the past decade. Since I don't play poker publicly on TV I don't have to convince the public that I'm a skilled poker player, as I'll never be scrutinized through televised interviews. If you only play in private games, you don't really have to justify your play to others. You can simply keep your mouth shot and let others concoct their own theories about why you made certain decisions. All you really have to worry about is to never make a bad call that takes a big pot, and you should not get married to the same group of players. Because if you want to win consistently, and if you don't have all the time in the word, and if you don't like to put your bankroll through a rollercoaster ride, you'll just have to do a little more than just play the odds.

This is not to say that legitimate skilled poker play does not exist. At least in theory it does. And as we all know, in theory there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is. And in practice poker players just want to take the money and hit the next game. Who's got the time to wait around for the long run? But for those that are still looking for legit winning strategies, they do exist. In fact, in some cases those strategies might be simpler than most people realize. But one has to understand which strategies work for which poker games. Because poker is not just one game, it is a family of games.

For example, the winning strategy for 5-card stud, the game that has been known as the granddaddy of all poker games, can be summarized in one short paragraph.

When dealt the first two cards, if you don't see a pair of 10's or better, fold. On any given round, when any one of your opponents' up cards beat your hand, fold. In any other situations you should either bet, call or raise. And most importantly, play this simple strategy only against gamblers that don't play this strategy, and don't stick to the same group of gamblers for too long.

That was the expanded version of the winning poker strategy, for 5-card stud. The short version is simply: play tight against bad players. If you do that, you will win in the (not so) long run. Before you jump out of your seat and call me a lunatic, please take into account that 5-card stud does not have the same betting structure as no limit tournament Texas Hold'em. In other words, it doesn't cost you a fortune to see two random cards, as the blinds escalate, before you even decide if you even want to play the round.

The obvious problem is, no one plays 5-cards stud, these days. The majority of poker "players" are just gambling at no limit tournament Texas Hold'em. And for that game, the winning rules are not as simple as for 5-card stud, which is a limit game. If you ask me, true winning hold'em strategies should (and in fact do) include some unorthodox strategies, for those that actually want to win, in the long run.

In the past, I've often been ridiculed for saying that poker sites are crooked gambling establishments. I was often called a conspiracy theorist. My answer was always the same: I'd rather be remembered as a paranoid skeptic than a naïve sucker. My reasons for stating that all poker sites were crooked were simple. For one, historically speaking, all illicit gambling establishments have always been crooked, in one way or another. There's really no reason to believe that poker sites, for whatever reason, should be any different. But many people did think that poker sites were on the square. The most common reasoning was that they have more to lose from any bad reputation than they stand to gain by cheating. Is that really so? I actually never subscribed to that philosophy. And again, my thinking was simple. Historically speaking, most people want more money, even if they already have more than they know what to do with. And now that money seems to be gone.

One may ask, where did all the money go? I really can't say that I have a definitive answer to that question, but I have a fairly good idea.

When a poker "champ" sits down at a poker table and makes a humongous raise on a couple of lousy cards, some people have been known to think, "Wow, this guy has some balls." Some have even been known to say, "Wow, this guy really knows what he's doing." And if the guy did end up winning the pot, that random event would commonly be accepted as sufficient proof that he must have known what he was doing.

Of course there are other possible explanation for poker "champs" pushing all that money into risky pots. For example, "That can't possibly be his money," could be a reasonable explanation.

In the case of Jesus and The Professor, we now know that was exactly the case. Money "donated" by thousands of online poker players from around the globe ended up in all those live games that the pros like to show off on TV. And it would be reasonable to say that all that money was just blown away, by those pros, in the exact same way as money has always been blown away by reckless gamblers. Again, I'm talking about what historically happens to money, when it ends up in the hands of gamblers. It would take a lot of convincing to make me believe that poker stars are any different.

When the Madoff affair broke I remember catching a New York Times article titled along the lines of, All Ponzi Schemes are Doomed, So What's Your Exit Strategy?

All Ponzi schemes are in fact doomed, but again, historically speaking, most of the schemers fooled themselves into thinking that there would be an end to it and that they could somehow turn the thing around, balance out the books and still end up with a nice chunk of change.

Since I don't have a crystal ball I have no idea what FullTilt schemers were thinking, but there's nothing to stop me from speculating.

I believe they fooled themselves into thinking that the poker "pros" would just "borrow" the money and turn it around at the live tables, then return the borrowed funds and no one would ever know the money took a walk around the block. Of course that thinking is quite naïve, to put it mildly. Things just never work out quite that way and to think that a bunch of gamblers might somehow be able to double, or triple, or quadruple some "borrowed" funds is just nonsense.

So, what's the conclusion of this rant?

Poker has always been a cheating game. Unlike true games of skill, consistent winners cannot solely rely on strategy to beat their opponents. If you want to be a consistent poker winner, you have to do more than play the odds, which is what everyone else seems to be doing. And if you want to be a consistent poker winner on TV, it is mathematically impossible to be seen at the final tables too often, without doing something other than what's described in poker strategy books, especially in reckless tournament play. Stories about poker champs always ending up on top, under televised tournament circumstances, are stories for little kids.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Smooth Finish Bee Cards

Last year I made a blog post, titled The Original Rough & Smooth Playing Cards, in which I described a smooth finish Bee deck that I happen to have laying around the house. At the time of that post I really wasn't sure when the US Playing Card Company made smooth finish Bee decks, or even if the smooth finish was intentional or if it was a mistake. The smooth finish Bee deck that I described in that blog post was factory packed in a box labeled, CAMBRIC FINISH.

I am not the only one that doesn't know the history of smooth finish Bee decks. If you call the USPCC directly, you will find out that they don't even know much about them. When I called them they informed me that they no longer have a historian on staff and that no one there knows much about the history of their own products. They offered to dig around a bit and after a few days someone from the USPCC sent me an email saying that smooth finish Bee decks were made about five years ago, which would mean 2006. Well, if such decks were made five years ago I missed them. All I know is that I've had my smooth finish Bee deck at least ten years.

Since the USPCC wasn't able to offer any useful information I decided to do some digging around, myself.

Bee decks were originally made by the NY Consolidated Card Company, in 1892. That's why the ace of spades has the number 92. At some point the NYCCC merged with the Dougherty Card Co, but I was unable to find out for sure what year that merger took place. From that point on the ace of spades bears the wording CONSOLIDATED-DOUGHERTY; the earlier decks, made by the NYCCC had the wording THE NY CONSOLIDATED CARD CO. I actually found two cartons of Bee decks, from that era, and to my surprise, I actually found them stashed in a forgotten box in my own basement. However, those were cambric finish decks. But, actually, that's not a bad thing. Because smooth finish decks are no good if one doesn't have matching cambric finish decks.

Bee Squeezers NY Consolidated Card Company
I was definitely fortunate to find those vintage cambric finish Bee decks, but I was even luckier to find some smooth finish Bee decks, from that same era, on eBay. The decks were a perfect match. But I only found two smooth decks, one blue one red, so I don't have enough to fill up a six-deck shoe.

Bee Smooth Finish Playing Cards
I was able to date the tax stamps that were used to seal those boxes and if my information is correct those decks must have been made between 1940 and 1965. That's a 25 year span, which is to say, a quarter of a century, but the decks can be dated more precisely from the code on the aces of spades. The ace of spades from the red deck has the code A 3333 and the ace from the blue deck has A 3332.

Vintage Bee Playing Cards
So far we can determine that the NY Consolidate Card Company definitely used to make smooth finish Bee decks between 1940 and 1965. We might be able to pinpoint the year when my smooth finish decks were made, but that doesn't mean those cards weren't made before 1940 or after 1965. In fact, I think the real question is, when did cambric finish playing cards become the standard? Cambric finish, which is also called linen finish or air cushion finish, is a more recent invention. Before there was such thing as cambric finish all playing cards used to have smooth finish. As far as I know the first cambric finish cards were made by De La Rue, and were called pneumatic playing cards. Other playing card manufacturers followed suit and came up with their own terminology. Since cambric finish playing cards were much easier to handle, most makers stopped making smooth finish playing cards. So, I guess the next question is, when did the makers of Bee cards stop making them in smooth finish?

As previously mentioned, Bee playing cards were first made by the NY Consolidated Card Company, in 1892. At some point the NYCCC merged with Dougherty and at some later point the US Playing Card Company acquired that brand. The smooth finish playing cards that I first blogged about were factory packed in a bar-coded box that was labeled CAMBRIC FINISH. However, at some point the USPCC did make smooth finish playing cards in boxes labeled SMOOTH FINISH. Those boxes were also bar-coded, although the bar code is not the same as the bar code on cambric finish Bee cards. I have no idea when bar-coded boxes were introduced by the USPCC (and, by the way, neither does the USPCC) but judging from this picture smooth finish Bee cards were obviously still around after the USPCC put bar codes on their boxes.

Bee US Playing Card Co, smooth finish
What I am about to say is totally unrelated to this blog post, but because it happened during the writing of this post, I feel I should still mention it. As I was writing the above sentence, on Tuesday August 23, at 1:55pm, my desk started trembling, and them my computer screen started shaking. It was the East Coast 5.8 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter near Richmond, VA. Anyway, back to my article...

The image of the smooth finish Bee deck, above, was sent to me by a gentleman that was asking me if I were interested in purchasing some smooth finish Bee decks. I was kind of interested, but he never told me the asking price. He did list one deck on eBay and the listing produced one bidder that apparently met the reserve price of $100. That was a good price for a deck of cards, but I never really believed it was a legitimate bid, as the guy never listed more deck at any time in the future. In any event, I personally don't believe this deck is worth $100.

At some time in the past, smooth finish Bee decks were used for cheating at blackjack. By sorting and mixing smooth finish cards with matching cambric finish cards, a bustout joint would mark all the 10-value cards in a 6-deck blackjack shoe. The dealer could identify if the top card of the shoe was a 10-value card and then deal a second, if a rough & smooth shoe was in use, or signal to the anchor (an accomplice on third base) whether or not to take a hit. If smooth finish Bee cards were still around one could continue to make rough & smooth marked decks, but at one point the USPCC stopped making smooth finish Bee cards. If one were to buy six smooth finish decks for $100 each, to make up a 6-deck shoe, one could not match those vintage cards to any Bee cards that are currently sold. So, one would also have to find matching cambric finish cards, from about the same era.

There are simpler solution for those who want to make up their own rough & smooth decks. The simplest solution is to order monogrammed playing cards from manufacturers that take small orders. There are several makers that will take minimum orders of 200 decks per back color. So, one can just order 200 decks in each available finish. That will cost a lot less than buying vintage decks on eBay and the cards will be monogrammed, which makes a lot more sense, even for a bustout joint.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Antique Baccarat Dealing Shoe from Casino Monte Carlo

In recent years I've acquired several dealing shoes for the purpose of studying their design features and measurements. I am most interested in contemporary casino shoes, since those are the type of shoes I make. However, while collecting these objects I often found it impossible to resist buying some antique dealing shoes I've come across. There is an unwritten rule that if you own at least three of one type of object you are officially a collector. I try to resist developing a passion for collecting, for a number of reasons, but at this point it would be really difficult for me to deny that I own a collection of antique dealing shoes. Perhaps one day a real collector will have an interest in acquiring my entire collection, but until then I can take pictures of my shoes and post them on my blog.

To the best of my knowledge this is the oldest dealing shoe that I own. It is over a hundred years old and was brought to the US around 1932 by the grandfather of the person that sold this shoe to the antique dealer that sold it to me. But before this shoe crossed the Atlantic it was used at the famous casino in Monte Carlo. At least that's the story that came with the shoe. I have no way of knowing how accurate the story is, but since the shoe was sold to me for a mere $40 I would have a hard time seeing a point why anyone would bother making up an elaborate story just to jack up the price a few bucks. If there are any inaccuracies in the provenance of this shoe they are probably just honest mistakes.

antique casino dealing shoe
The first thing I did when I purchased this shoe was to remove the metal ramp, to see if any clues were hiding on the inside. I didn't find the maker's name, or anything that would indicate a date, anywhere, but I did find a spot where a label had once been affixed. The glue is still there and parts of the torn-off label are still stuck to the dry glue. Why someone tore the label off is anyone's guess.

vintage baccarat dealing shoe
Some of the letters are still partially visible, but unfortunately not enough of them remain to allow me to reconstruct what had once been printed on the label. The only detail that I think I figured out was the first word in the last row. There is a capital letter R visible that is followed by that appears to be the remains of a capital "U" (missing the bottom and most of its right side, and possibly confused by a capital I). After the U there is a horizontal line that looks like it might be what remains of a capital E. So, the word might be RUE, which is French for street. Whatever might have been written in front of the R has been torn off, but if that word is in fact RUE there would have been a number in front of it, followed by a space.

It would make a lot of sense for that word in the particular spot to have read RUE, because that's where RUE would have been written if the last line on the label was an address in France. And that's one of the main things I was interested to know. If the shoe was made in France it would support the story that it came from Monte Carlo.

Although I will probably never be able to trace this shoe back to its original source, there are still a few things that I can tell for certain about this shoe.

The wood is definitely about 100 years old. I have been collecting vintage guitars for many years and by now I've developed a very good sense of what old lacquered wood looks like. The patina is real and the crackles in the lacquer are genuine, and only a century passing by could have left that particular time stamp on this object.

Another detail that I can tell for sure is the interior width of the shoe. This says a lot, because playing cards did not have standardized measurements one hundred years ago. If you load a standard poker size deck inside this shoe there is too much space on the sides. That's because this shoe was made for slightly longer cards. The pack of cards that I used in this photo was a 19th century pack made by De La Rue & Co, of London. To be honest, this was a bit surprising because in France, during the 19th century, mostly French playing cards were used; and there was no shortage of makers of playing cards in France. 19th century French playing cards are smaller than the packs we use nowadays, so this shoe was definitely not made for them. Could this detail support the story, that the shoe was used in Monaco, and not in France?

The last detail that's worth noting is the absence of a plate that used to be attached to the right side of the shoe. All that remains are four small holes where the screws once were holding a plate attached to the shell. The missing plate is of course the plate with inscribed drawing rules. This means that the shoe was made for the game of baccarat. But baccarat is not just one game, it is actually a family of games, much like poker is. There are three baccarat variations (in French), baccara en banque, baccara chemin de fer, and baccara punto banco (which is the baccarat variation mostly played today and is now called simply baccarat).

We know that chemin de fer is played with a six-deck shoe. My shoe is a two deck shoe, which seems to eliminate the possibility that it was made for chemin de fer. I do not know if there might once have been an early variation of chemin de fer that used a two deck shoe. If there was I've never heard of it.

The game punto banco, or what we now call baccarat, is also played with six decks. Plus, that was not the most popular baccarat variation in Europe, a hundred years ago. What remains is to consider the possibility that the shoe was made for the game baccara en banque.

Baccara en banque is probably completely extinct today. However, detective Eugène Villiod describes the game in his famous book The Stealing Machine. In his book he says that the game was played with two decks and dealt from the marble block, instead of a shoe.

We must remember that dealing shoes were in their infancy at that time and that games were also still being developed. Plus, Eugène Villiod talks strictly about gambling establishments in Paris, so things were probably not the same in Monte Carlo. Is it possible that baccara en banque was dealt from a two deck shoe in the early years of the casino in Monte Carlo? I guess it's possible. I actually tried to find out, by contacting the casino, but my research produced no results. That casino is now managed by much younger people that don't necessarily care about what went on a hundred years ago.

Although I was unable to check the provenance of this shoe, nothing I found can completely discard the possibility that the shoe was once used in Monte Carlo. I will keep checking, whenever opportunities present themselves. But in the meantime the shoe sits on my shelf and continues to age.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vintage French Poker Dice

Here's a somewhat unusual set of vintage poker dice. What makes this set of dice unusual is the presence of the joker along with the four suits on the aces. Normally, poker dice come in a set of five, without a joker and all five aces bearing the same suit, usually spades or clubs. Naturally, the joker is used as a wild card and changes the odds, which in turn changes the rank structure. This probably makes the game more exciting for gamblers. I would imagine this set of dice was probably originally sold with an instruction leaflet, but unfortunately I was unable to confirm that.

Vintage French Poker Dice
These dice were made in France, but I am not sure what the name of the manufacturer was or when the dice were made. The cardboard box opens like a matchbox and bottom of the drawer has a hand written inscription that reads, "M. BelPière 12 Rue Tournefort Paris V", meaning, "Mr. BelPière, 12 Tournefort Street, Paris, 5th arrondissement (administrative district)." But, was Mr. BelPière the maker, or did this set of dice just belong to him? I do not know. I also do not know why the letter "p" in BelPière is capitalized.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Closer Look at a Casino-Grade Dealing Shoe

At this point in my life I can confidently say that I have more shoes than most women. I actually even have my own personal shoe closet. But my shoes aren't the kind you wear on your feet. I am talking about casino dealing shoes, mainly used for games such as blackjack and baccarat.

It would be hard to me to argue that I am not a collector of casino dealing shoes. But the truth is, I really am not a collector. I ended up with all these shoes simply because I've been researching various shoe designs, measurements and security features. And I keep all these shoes around just so I can always have them on hand, in case I need to look at something.

If I were a woman with an overflowing shoe closet I could show off some of my shoes simply by wearing them. But I can't do that with casino shoes. So, that's a good reason to get a new blog thread started and show some of the more interesting dealing shoes I've managed to acquire over time.

I don't really know how many dealing shoes I own, but let me put it this way: I hope I don't have to move any time soon. This said, let me at least take pictures of some of them and publish some blog posts, in case I ever need to reduce my collection in a rush.

Here is a photo of a blackjack dealing shoe with a sliding gate. This shoe came from a casino that is now out of biz.

blackjack casino dealing shoe
The first thing that you should notice is that the front of this shoe is completely closed off. That's the sliding gate, which is a security feature that protects the games against the use of marked cards and against possible (and unlikely) attempts at second dealing.

The fourth main objective of any casino is to protect their games (the first, second and third objectives are, of course, to make money). This said, I am always surprised when to see that most casinos still use dealing shoes that are lacking many of the security features that have already been invented decades ago. The main security feature that is lacking in most industry-standard casino shoes is a way to protect the top card of the shoe (the most important card of the shoe) against the use of marked cards (the most commonly used casino scam). In other words, most industry-standard casino shoes (and even the more expensive automatic card shufflers) are designed so that the back of the top card is always partially exposed. This shoe has a sliding gate that prevents top card exposure.

To deal the top card, the dealer must first lift the sliding gate, then strike the top card and dealt it to one of the suckers. The action of lifting the sliding gate really doesn't require any extra time or effort, since it is done as the hand reaches for the card. The following two photos show the dealing action.

casino dealer shoe
blackjack dealing shoe
At first glance one might think that the lifting of the sliding gate exposes a large portion of the top card. It most certainly does so, however, that's the card that's about to be dealt, anyway. The important thing is that none of the second card gets exposed as the top card is being dealt, as seen on the second photo.

In most cases the card is dealt face up, so the fact that it's back was exposed one split second before it was dealt, is irrelevant. In other words, what good would it do to identify the card through some kind of a marking system if the card will be dealt face up for anyone to see, anyway? The only exception is the hole card in American blackjack games. However, even in that case it is irrelevant that the card's back is exposed before the deal, since the card slides across the table, in plain view of the players, as it's being dealt, and before it's tucked under the dealer's up card.

One might argue that the a marked card is more difficult to read in motion, and that the brief exposure of the card's back, prior to the deal, might enable an expert cheat to quickly read its back and identify the value of the card. After all, professional casino cheats don't mark all the cards for all their values, instead they just mark all the ten-value cards (in blackjack) which is all they need to beat the game. So, all that a casino cheat needs to do is to know if the dealer's hole card is a ten or not.

Although that's all true, and although I would be wrong in saying that it would be impossible to quickly identify the top card during the split second while the sliding gate is open, some other facts also remain true. First, the hole card is still slid in plain view across the table (as just discussed), and second, when conventional dealing shoes are used the top card is partially exposed for a much longer period of time than is the case with this shoe. So, basically, it is still much easier to read any top card with conventional dealing shoes than it is with this one.

One reason why acquired this shoe was to study the mechanics of the sliding gate and figure out if it would be possible to design a two shoe with a sliding gate. I've come to the conclusion that it would be impossible.

First of all, the sliding gate makes it impossible to identify the top card in advance. In the case of a two shoe the identification of the top card is either done by peeking (in the case of a prism shoe) or by marked cards (in the case of a rough-and-smooth shoe). Neither one of those options are possible if the shoe is fitted with a sliding gate. The other problem is that second dealing is not really possible, due to the fact that the top card is almost fully exposed as the dealer lifts the sliding gate. So, if you see that the casino is using this kind of shoe, you can rest assured that the dealer is not dealing seconds on you.

This is not to say that this kind of dealing shoe can't be gaffed. I can actually think of several ways to gaff this shoe, but in all honesty this shoe design would not be my first choice to make a gaffed shoe. The only exception would be to make a camera-ready gaffed shoe with a sliding gate, which is a shoe that enables the operator to see through the front and read the top card that's been marked with camera-ready ink. So, if you're a casino operator and if you ever come across these kinds of shoes, make sure the front is truly opaque, before you put these shoes on the floor.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cézanne's Card Players at the Met

Last time I was in Paris I was really in the mood to see Cézanne's Card Players at the Musée d'Orsay. But the famous painting was out, on loan to some other museum, and I didn't get to see it. I did, however, get to see the other painting I was in the mood to see, which was The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds, at the Louvre, virtually across the street.

I haven't been to Paris since then, but seeing the Card Players stayed on my list of things to do on my next visit. But since I live in New York things turned out the other way around; the Card Players came to me. In fact, I got more than I could ever have hoped. The Metropolitan Museum of Art put together an entire show of Cézanne's Card Players, all in one room.

Cezanne at The Met
Cézanne painted many renditions of the Card Players, but it's not often that one has the chance to see several of them in one room at the same time. In fact, there are only two Card Player paintings that weren't included in this show; the Card Players from the Barnes Foundation (a painting that never travels) and another rendition that is in a private collection. However, full size black & white reproductions were included in this show, so that was as close as it gets to having all of them in the same room. One thing that's nice about the Met show is that you get to see Cézanne's original sketches and studies right next to the canvases. I don't see how any Cézanne fan could pass up such a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Met already owns one of the Card Players and since it's close to home it's a painting I've seen numerous times, but it was nice seeing it in context, this time. The Barnes Foundation owns the rendition that is very similar to this one, and quite larger in size.

Cezanne Card Players at the Met
The painting I missed when I visited the Musée d'Orsay is hanging at the opposite side of the room. This is a relatively small canvas that features only two card players, but is by many considered to be the best of the Card Players series. Cézanne painted two other similar canvases, one of which is owned by the Courtauld Gallery in London and is exhibited right next to the canvas from the Musée d'Orsay. The other rendition is in a private collection and was shown only as a print.

Cezanne Card Players
The Courtauld and the Musée d'Orsay can normally be seen in London and in Paris. So normally one could never hope to compare the two paintings side by side. The Met show offers this unique opportunity, which is why I intend to go back there before May 8th, when the show closes. The best I can do on my blog is to display two low resolution images of the two canvases, side by side.

Cezanne Card Players
The painting on the left is the one from the Musée d'Orsay and the one on the right is from the Courtauld Gallery. Of course this side by side display can only offer a very superficial comparison; at the Met show you get to see the subtle differences in brush strokes and other details that simply don't reproduce in these images.

I believe no one interested in card games should miss the opportunity to see this show. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to travel to New York, just for a museum show, but if you do happen to be in New York and don't take the time to see this show you'll miss something really great. And there's more to the show than Cézanne's famous Card Players canvases. As you enter the main exhibit you walk through a mini exhibit of various other works of art featuring gamblers and card players, that sets the tone for the man show. That alone is worth the price of the admission, which is actually pay as much or as little as you wish. So, if you're in New York and if you have a penny to spare, you can see this amazing show for as little as one penny. So, there's really no excuse to miss this one in a lifetime opportunity.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

US Cracks Down on Online Gambling

If I hadn't caught the New York Times article, US Cracks Down on Online Gambling, this morning, I would have had no idea that the world's three main poker sites have been shut down by the US government. In fact, I don't think I've ever even visited the home page of any poker site. But millions of online poker players must have been shocked when they logged onto their favorite poker site, starting yesterday, and saw this.

This is the page that one currently sees when trying to log onto Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars or Absolute Poker. Online poker sites have been a big pain in the neck for federal prosecutors, for the past several years. It's been a big cat and mouse game, but by seizing the domain name prosecutors have been able to put these sites out of commission, at least temporarily.

The crackdown on online poker sites is controversial. Proponents of online gambling argue that the federal law prohibiting sports betting does not clearly prohibit online gambling, such as online poker. There are many other issues that we can expect to be argued in federal courts for the next few years.

What is the future of online poker?

History shows that just because an activity is prohibited by law it doesn't mean people won't do it. My guess is online poker will continue, as long as there are enough people willing to put down a wager. Operators will just adjust to the new climate, and if it won't be the old operators new one will show up soon. That's just human nature.

I've often been ridiculed for saying that online poker is a big scam. The usual argument against my point of view is that online sites have nothing to gain by cheating their customers. I say that the only thing they stand to gain is money. But I guess money has never really been a good incentive to cheat, historically speaking. Anyway, I could argue that issue until I'm blue in the face, and since this is not really what this blog post is about I'll leave it at that. But if you are an online poker player you might want to seize this as an opportunity to focus on other things in life.

One thing I can't quite understand is why poker sites became such an issue, legally speaking. All that the lawmakers really need to do is to find a way to tax and regulate the sites. After all, licensed gambling is not illegal in the US. So, why can't they just figure out how to legally extend the existing gaming licenses to the internet, in the era of the internet? After all, if it's legal to gamble, what difference does it make if you wager your money at an actual casino table or through a licensed gambling site? Lawmakers could just impose a few simple requirements, such as, the online poker room must be based in the US, must have a gaming license, must keep records in order, must pay taxes, etc. I understand that some people would still try to set up off shore poker rooms, to evade US taxes, or whatnot, but I don't think that would be too much of a problem. First of all, lawmakers could pass a law that prohibits US residents from playing poker on any online poker sites other than the licensed ones, or they face criminal charges. But if you wanted to play online poker and you had a choice between a fully licensed and regulated US based poker site, or an unregulated off shore site, which one would you pick? To make it easier to make up your mind, there is a chance you might end up in jail of you play in the off shore joint.

Perhaps one day online poker rooms will be regulated and all this will be over. That's all it really takes to end this cat and mouse game.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

2 in 1 Automatic Card Shuffler & Shoe

If you're a card player looking to complicate your life by equipping your home games with some useless gadgets, I have some good news. First of all, you definitely live in the right century. Recreational card players can already "simplify" their home games by dealing the cards out of a Wheel-R-Dealer machine, instead of going through the trouble of removing the cards from the top of the deck by hand. There are also various kinds of card shufflers available and now we have the 2 in 1 Automatic Card Shuffler & Shoe that's basically a dealing shoe that can also shuffle up to two decks, or so they say. I'm sure the inventors of this gadget were inspired by the one2six casino shuffler.

dealing shoe and card shuffler
At the time of this writing online vendors seem to be flooded with these gadgets, so you should not have any trouble finding one. But if you're really interested in buying one you might as well get it from the cheapest source, which is

Since I don't really have anything good to say about this piece of equipment I'll just tell you what's wrong with it.

The main flaw is that this is not really a shuffler. A true shuffler is supposed to randomize the deck so that the new sequence of cards bears no resemblance to the initial sequence, But this shuffler basically performs the equivalent of a single riffle shuffle, and a very poor one, with large clumps of cards being carried from the previous arrangement. No self respecting card player should ever agree to play a single round, if a shuffle is so poorly executed.

I went through the trouble of doing a few test shuffles and the results were always more or less the same. Below is a photograph of a spread that came out of the shuffler. The cards were initially in numerical order, then the deck was split in two and one of the halves was reversed, so that I can illustrate the point, clearly. It is quite obvious that the two visible suits are still in numerical order, except that there are clumps of cards from the other pile in between. If casinos did their shuffle that what they'd long be out of biz. And of one doesn't want to get screwed playing cards, one thing to do is to copy what casinos do.

card shuffler
Below is a video recording of the test shuffle, using a single deck. The shuffler is supposed to be able to handle up to two decks, but to be perfectly honest I didn't feel like going through the trouble of mixing two deck of cards together, just to see what results I'd get. The shuffler performs a clumpy single riffle shuffle and I know what the results of that are, without even doing any testing. But I still recorded the video just to show the handling of the machine.

There are some other flaws, but I really don't see any point going into details. My review of this equipment is that it's totally useless. It's a toy, and not even a very good one.

Stephen Hawking once said that we [i.e. us humans] should be a two planet species; "mankind should colonize other planets to survive," says he. If one looks at how humans are raping this planet and depleting all available natural resources, to make stupid stuff no one really needs, one can see his point. We live in the era of hyper-consumerism and at the rate we're going this planet will become one large junkyard for 2 in 1 Automatic Card Shufflers and similar useless gadgets.

So, is this thing good for anything? In my case, yes. I purchased this gadget for one specific purpose, to take a picture and make a blog post. And since that's exactly what I did, it served its purpose. Now it's back in its box and I'm trying to figure out where it will take up the least amount of space.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Behind the Scenes View of a Casino Blackjack Cheating Move

Here is a short video clip showing a behind-the-scenes view of an old cheating move, done in an actual casino during a live blackjack game. I recorded this video with a hidden miniature camera during a test that I was doing for one of my casino clients. This video was recorded with full approval of the surveillance director and casino manager. A few other key people were aware of my presence but the surveillance staff and the pit personnel had no idea who I was or that I there to test their abilities to catch players that might be cheating. I had permission to wear a hidden camera to record some of my cheating attempts. And amazingly, I was given permission to cheat to my heart's content. But that was all for a test, so, unfortunately, I was not allowed to keep any winnings...

I had also been given permission to post any parts of my recordings online as long as I agreed not to reveal the name and location of the casino, and took some measures to hide people's faces and other details that might reveal the identity of the casino. It took me a couple of days to edit this video, so that the upper part of the image is blurred out, while retaining all the important elements that show the action. In fact, I edited this video about three years ago and wanted to post it on my site, but then I changed my mind. All of the sudden I realized that this video would be seen by anyone with internet access, meaning the entire world. From such a vast pull of people there are bound to be a few idiots that will just watch the video without bothering to read through the text, then jump to a conclusion that this is an instruction video on casino cheating, and next thing you know they're doing it in their local casino. Of course, should anyone attempt to do this move in an actual casino it's just a matter of time when they'll get caught and arrested. So, let me be clear, I did this move in a casino, as a test, with full approval from the bosses, i.e. my clients. Furthermore, this particular cheating maneuver is an outdated move that might have worked in the 1960s, but nowadays CCTV surveillance got so sophisticated that many of the old moves became obsolete.

The move is very simple. A palmed chip is added on top of the existing bet once part of the outcome is already known. This cheating strategy is known as pastposting, and the move specifically is called pressing a bet.

In this particular example the press was done while the dealer was occupied with one of the players in late position, while I was seated on first base. I pressed my bet on a total of 20, which is why I say that the outcome is partially known; meaning that the dealer still has the chance to beat me, if she catches 21, or I might win nothing, if she catches a 20. Also, The move was done when the dealer had a bad up card, such as a 5 or a 6, which means that she was more likely to bust, thus increasing my chances of winning.

As you can see in the video, the dealer did notice that I touched my cards and told me to keep my hands away. However, as you can also see from the video, she did pay my bet, which means that she had no idea I sweetened my bet after she dealt me a 20.

To be perfectly honest, the circumstances for cheating were not ideal for me at that time. I only had a limited amount of time to do my testing and I didn't get to pick my own dealer. This particular dealer was actually quite experienced and alert and would have never been my choice of a dealer I'd want to exploit, it I wanted to cheat for real. But I had to work with what they gave me and be happy that they had even agreed to my very unusual request to test their pit personnel by actually cheating in their own casino.

Several years ago I posted some demo videos, of casino cheating moves, on YouTube. Some of those videos received some criticism, mainly that those moves could not be done in casinos. Most of those comments came from viewers that didn't take the time to read my description, which clearly said that those were demo videos of some old cheating moves. So, before anyone says the same thing about this video let me be perfectly clear by saying that I am fully aware of the fact that this is an old an pretty much obsolete cheating move. Definitely not a move that can break the bank at Monte Carlo. But it's still a demonstration of a cheating technique that has been attempted many times in casinos, and some unsophisticated cheats have even gotten away with it. What makes this video special, compared to my earlier YouTube demo videos (or any other demo videos on the internet), is that this demo video was recorded covertly in an actual casino, during a live game. And this time it actually worked.

As I've already explained, I am not at liberty to reveal any details about the casino where this recording was made. Sorry, but that was part of the deal. I will say, however, that the casino was not in the US. I also recorded some other cheating moves that evening, but this clip is the only one I will ever show on the internet. The other clips were quickly edited on my laptop and screened during my training seminar the following day, in front of the very surveillance staff that should have caught me cheating when I was on the floor. I was happy to know that no one got into any trouble, for not catching me cheating. The casino actually paid for furthering the education of their staff.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

French Postcard with Card Cheats

The moment I laid eyed on the eBay listing for this postcard I knew I had to have it. It was listed on eBay by an international seller, from France, and it cost me €9.99, plus shipping. A bargain for such a great looking image that I might never see again, if I hadn't bought it.

postcard card cheatsThe caption says, "Le gain sera commun - Et l'enjeu partagé," translated, "The gain will be common - And the stakes shared." I'm not sure if I can read the handwritten message correctly, but it says something about "His fortune..." then possibly "...departed," followed by what appears to be an illegible signature.

card players
For whatever reason, this postcard has been postmarked on the front. The date is not visible, but I did a quick search for French stamps and I was able to determine that this 5¢ stamp was used in the years 1900 and 1901.

This is not a photographic postcard, like most postcards from that era. This one is a print. I'm not sure how they printed in color in those days, but when I look under a magnifying glass the image looks like a colorized black & white print.

I have no idea in what quantities these post cards were printed or haw many have survived, but this one will definitely end up on my wall.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

19th Century Pack of Playing Cards, by De La Rue

Here is a historic 32-card deck of cards, made by De La Rue & Co, of London. For those that are not familiar with the history of playing cards, I should at least mention that De La Rue was an important maker from the 19th century, not so much because they were one of the biggest makers of playing cards, but because they were the first to introduce Pneumatic Playing Cards, an invention that has been adopted by all other makers of playing cards and is not better known under the terms air cushion finish, or cambric finish, or linen finish, depending on how each brand decides to call it. In a nutshell, smooth finish playing cards tend to stick together, which makes it difficult to shuffle the deck. But this post is not about De La Rue's Pneumatic Playing Cards, it's about this deck, that's around 140 years old and appears to be in mint condition. A rare find. How these cards have remained in such stunning condition, with no box or wrapper of any kind, is a mystery.

This pack was made between 1870 and 1877; we can tell this because the pips on the numerical cards are all pointing one way and the suit symbols on six of the court cards are still on the right side. The ace of spades says, "Duty Three Pence - when used in Great Britain and Ireland." The backs are an intricate basket weave pattern.

One detail that's interesting about this deck is that, for whatever reason, all the court cards are slightly longer than the rest of the deck. In the image below all the cards are in numerical order and squared up against the table.

The next photo is even more interesting. If you shuffle the pack overhand style and if you hold the cards softly, you will notice that the longer cards can easily be stripped out of the deck. In the photo the cards are still in numerical order, so the stripped cards appear in four groups of three.

I can't really say that the discrepancy in the length of the cards is deliberate. It's probably just the way the cards were cut, because the court cards were probably produced separately. It's also possible that the numerical cards were trimmed by some cheat, or would be cheat, a century ago. This might help explain why the cards are in mint condition. If the trimming was done as an attempt to make a stripper deck (which obviously worked) and if the person that trimmed the cards never actually used this particular deck it could have ended up in the back of a drawer, only to be discovered a few decades later, when those kinds of cards were no longer commonly used. But that's all speculation.

I am not really sure what game this deck was made for. Bezique was a popular game at that time, played with two 32-card packs shuffle together, thus making a pack of 64 cards. So, this is quite possibly a bezique pack.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gaffed Camera-Ready Dominoes

Dominoes are closely related to playing cards. In fact, some historians think that the first playing cards might have been paper dominoes. So, anyone interested in playing cards should also have an interest in tile games.

About a year ago I published a blog post about a Chinese crooked mahjong set. Those mahjong tiles were marked and came with a set of contact lenses. Here is similar set of domino tiles, but the dominoes are not marked, not exactly. This gaffed domino set is now available through the CARDSHARK Online Sporting Emporium.

The tiles are made from a special material that becomes see-through with certain cameras. So, the tiles are made from two layers. The top layer is the face of the tile and is made from regular white acrylic. The spots are drilled through and filled with black plugs. So, the spots go completely through the top layer. The gaffed part of the tiles is actually the back layer, which is a solid black piece of acrylic. But that black acrylic is a special camera filter material that becomes 100% see through with certain video cameras. The next image is a still capture from a video recording that was made with two cameras. The image on the left was produced by a regular camera, and shows how we see the back of the tiles, and the image on the right was produced by the gaffed camera.

The beauty of this gaff is that, unlike the gaffed mahjong set, the tiles are not actually marked. If the back layer was made from a regular piece of black acrylic, the tiles would not be gaffed at all. So, for argument's sake, if the gaff were ever discovered it might be hard to prove that the dominoes were deliberately gaffed, as no one can exclude the possibility that the maker had no idea the black acrylic would show up clear under certain cameras.

Following is a short video demo from which the still image was captured.

This gaffed domino set should be of interest to collectors, because there are only six sets in the world. Two of them are in private collections and the remaining four sets are for sale. This is truly a limited edition and as far as I know, a one of a kind gaff.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Postcard with Gambling Still Life Motif

This postcard was listed on eBay fro $12, plus $4 for S&H from Latvia. The postcard is postmarked November 3rd, 1912, from Riga, Latvia.

I don't know what the message on the back of the card says, but I really doubt the card was used as a "Hallmark moment" for an announcement of death. I think it's pretty clear the morbid motif is a memento mori, a Latin phrase translated as "Remember your mortality," "Remember you must die" or "Remember you will die" - literally "[at some time in the future] remember to die."

What attracted me to this postcard was the presence of cards and dice. It's hard to know for sure what the artist meant, exactly, when making this picture, but I don't think I'm far off if I say that the artist didn't think gambling leads to a bright future. In any event, I think the postcard is rather unique and as soon as I have some free time I'll pick a frame for it and place it on my bedside table.

Monday, February 28, 2011


In recent years luminous readers have become so popular, it almost feels the world no longer pays any attention to other kinds of marked cards. I guess it's because we've become so accustomed to accomplishing everything through technology, most people aren't even interested in simple solutions. Never mind if luminous contacts are hard to use (not to even mention the cost). As long as it promises to accomplish something short of a miracle, that's all that seems to count.

I already wrote about N-daub in an old post, titled Marked Cards: Classic Daub, but I didn't include any images of daubed cards. Also, I am making this post because I recently made it available through my online store. At this time I only have a small limited supply available, for $75.00 per can, and the best part is that it comes packed in original vintage tin cans that were acquired from the old KC Card Company.

The vial next to the can of daub contains a liquid that I'll call daub rejuvenator. Basically, it is used to rejuvenate the daub, so that it doesn't completely dry out. The rejuvenator should be used very, very sparingly. Basically, every once in a while a small drop of rejuvenator should be added to the daub, then the daub should not be used for a couple of days, to make sure that the liquid spread throughout. The best way to ensure that the drop of liquid is small enough is to use a plastic toothpick, or some similar object.

Storage is also important. If the daub is kept at a constant temperature and relative humidity at around 55%, the rejuvenator might not even have to be used for years. So, the best place to keep it stored is in the fridge, zipped up in an airtight plastic bag.

The daub should never feel wet to the touch and it should not crackle. One of the most common mistakes people make is to put the work on the cards too strong and if the daub is too moist it will definitely produce work that's too strong.

I don't really want to provide detailed instructions about how to use this daub (or any other), but here are a few details that I am willing to share.

The can may easily be kept open in the coat pocket (a small magnet on the inside of the coat will keep the daub secure inside the coat pocket). When reaching inside the pocket to retrieve an object the painter can simply press the tip of a finger on the surface of the daub. Please note, it would be a mistake to rub the finger into the daub; pressing is the correct technique when using an open container. The amount of daub transferred to the fingertip should be minute. The image below should make that clear.

The amount of daub transferred to the fingertip in one dipping should be enough to put the work on several cards. How many cards exactly is anyone's guess, because it will greatly depend on the size of the smudges. But the fingertip should never be darker than seen on this image.

Every paper player will have his/her own techniques and code, so I'm not going to get into this here, but let's look at a sample card.

The image below shows a card that's been daubed light to medium strength. I'm not sure how well daub reproduces in photographs but I can see the work just fine, from the picture. Of course, there's a technique to reading the work.

This work was put onto a Diamond Back Bee card and the work can be read like juice (by the way, the letter "N" in the word N-daub, is the first letter of the main ingredient for one of the two juice recipes I use; the main ingredient is the main active ingredient of this daub). So, by blurring your vision you should be able to see the work better. Also, the work is easier to read at a distance. And finally, to help you read the work I made this into a rollover image. I actually took two pictures from the same distance, one picture is in focus and the other one is out of focus. So, by passing the mouse over the image, you will see the blurred version.

daubed card
Some people might still have trouble seeing the work, even when looking at the blurred image. That's understandable, especially when one doesn't know what to look for. So, to make this easier I will explain what the work looks like. If you prefer to look for the work without knowing, just don't read the next paragraph, yet.

The card is marked in the upper left and lower right corners, next to the long edges. The smudges are fat and short, running horizontally.

There's one more detail that I need to explain, or better say, emphasize, about daub in general. Let's look up some dictionary definitions of daub:

1 - n. A crude patch, splash or smear of a semiliquid substance or something.

2 - v. To put or spread a semiliquid substance, for example, mud, paint, or cream, on a surface, in a crude, irregular, or hurried way; to paint or apply paint crudely and inexpertly.

That should say it all. Daub work should not look neat and deliberate. The whole point is to make it appear as of the cards have just been smudged through regular use, should anyone discover the work. In other words, technically speaking, one could mark the cards as neatly as I did in the example, above, but that's not really how it's done.

In closing, I will just mention that professionals almost always work teamed up. One or two painters will sit early in the game and put the work on the cards. They will leave the game early and walk away with the only piece of incriminating evidence; i.e. the actual can of daub. One or two players will join the game at a later time and exploit the work. Two players is always, especially on kidney shaped poker tables, better because each can read one half of the table and signal to the other.