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.