Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Caravaggio-Inspired Card Players from the Fogg Museum

Caravaggio can make the claim to have painted the most influential painting in the history of art, The Cardsharps, on display at the Kimbell Art Museum. I know of many copies as well as other paintings influenced by it but I recently discovered yet another work influenced by Caravaggio's Cardsharps, which is owned by the Fogg Museum of Art, in Cambridge, MA.

The Card Players at the Fogg Museum of Art
The Card Players, oil on canvas, 94.2 x 119.2 cm (37 1/16 x 46 15/16 in.)

The painting is titled The Card Players and is thought to be the work of an unknown 17th century French follower of Caravaggio. Unlike the original Cardsharps, this composition features only two figures, instead of three. The only other painting based on the composition of the Cardsharps, that features two players, that I know of, is The Game of Cards, painted by Count Balthus, between 1948 and 1950 (aside from a 1947 study that Balthus made prior to the finished painting).

In the Balthus painting the girl is the winner despite the fact that the boy is prepared to cheat. That's evident from the expressions and also due to the fact that Balthus always portrayed girls as winners. Following that logic there's actually no place for Caravaggio's third figure in Balthus' composition, which would have to be overpowering the girl while peeking at her hand. While it is utterly impossible that Balthus wouldn't have known about Caravaggio's Cardsharps it really makes me wonder if he had ever seen the Fogg painting and if it had in any way influenced his two-figure composition, or if the similarity is just a coincidence.

I actually discovered the Fogg painting through an eBay purchase of an old museum gift shop postcard, which I bought at a bargain price of .50 cents.

The postcard is a black and white print and I am unsure if it's an original or a photocopy. I actually wish the postcard was stamped and postmarked, to authenticate the date, but I guess I have to settle for a blank one. Anyway, even if it's a photocopy I can't really say I feel ripped off at that price. I was actually prepared to pay $150 because it was a postcard I've never seen before and assumed it was a rare find. Perhaps I'm even right about that, although I'm not sure it would have any resell value if I had paid more that 10 bucks for it.

When I first saw the eBay listing I had no idea this was a picture of a painting, but when I received it in the mail I saw the mention of the Fogg Museum of Art, on the back (although Caravaggio's dates are wrong and should be 1571-1610). A quick Google search helped me find an image of the original oil painting on the museum's web site.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Now You Can Send Money to Nigeria Fast

If you have some business in Nigeria, such as sending money to a princess who asked you to clear $20,000,000 through your bank account, there's some good news. Now there's a new service, Nigeria Direct, that you can use to send money directly to Nigeria. I almost couldn't believe my eyes, when I saw this poster in the window of a cash transfer place. I walked inside to ask questions and on the counter I found a pile of fliers, identical to the poster. I took a few for my collection of scams and I scanned one of them for your viewing pleasure.

Nigerian mail scam money transfter poster

Most readers of my blog should be familiar with the 419 Nigerian scam. But since the scam is still open for business, obviously, there are folks out there that know nothing about it. So, for those who don't know what the Nigerian scam is, here is yet another description for the Google bots to crawl.

The Nigerian scam, also known as the Nigerian mail scam, is a version of the old Spanish prisoner scam. In the old scam prospective dupes were contacted, through letters, by an individual allegedly trying to smuggle a wrongly convicted man out of a prison in Spain. In some versions of the scam the dupe was informed that the prisoner was actually a distant relative of the dupe, which helped explain why the dupe was being contacted, in the first place. The prisoner would be a wealthy man but due to his incarceration was unable to access his own funds, until he was out of prison. The dupe was told that the prisoner offered money to anyone helping in his escape, but some money was first needed to bribe prison guards. So, the dupe was asked to put up some money up front for the bribes. In exchange for assistance, the con artist promised to share the reward money with the dupe. After the dupe has turned over the initial funds, he was informed that further difficulties had arisen and more money was needed. With such explanations, the con artist continued to press for more money until the dupe couldn't or wouldn't put up more funds.

The Nigerian scam is almost the same. In this case SPAM bots are used to send out mass emails to millions of harvested email addresses. In many versions of the scam the email messages state that princess Bhurunda Mhurunda (or whatever her name) from Nigeria is trying to access $20,000,000 of her father's money that is locked up in some account in Nigeria. Her father, also a prince or something if that sort, is either recently deceased or wrongfully incarcerated and is unable to access these funds. So, the princess took her own initiative to find a trustworthy person who owns a bank account in a country outside of Nigeria, so that the funds could be cleared through that account. At that point all that the princess is asking from the prospective dupe is permission to clear $20,000,000 through his/her account. And who on earth would say no to that? For his/her troubles, the dupe is promised 10% of the $20 mil. Somewhere in the world there is always going to be a dupe that going to run to a 99 Cents store to buy a calculator and do the math and conclude that he/she is going to end up with $2,000,000 overnight. But hurry, the letter says, because the Nigerian account will be closed in a couple of days and the funds will be seized by the government. And there's a catch, like in the Spanish prisoner scam, the Nigerians also explain that some "small" amount of money is initially needed to cover some administrative fees or to bribe someone, so that the princess can access her father's 20 million dollar account.

The whole point of any confidence game, of course, is to get the money. "Traditionally," Nigerian con artists would instruct their marks to go to the nearest Western Union outlet, as soon as possible, and send the money. I've read some articles that said Western Union made quite a bit of dough through Nigerian scams, just through transaction fees. Well, that's like saying that a utility company had an increase in revenue that was caused by people opening their fridge door too often and thus causing the 5 Watt light bulb to significantly increase the electricity usage. So, if Western Union had an increase in revenue, caused by money transfers to Nigeria, then how much did the Nigerian con artists collect?

Apparently they've made enough money to grow their industry to the point that they now have their own "legitimate" service that offers money transfers to Nigeria, offering convenience to their customers.

So, why did the Nigerians go the extra step to open their own money transfer service? Might they have also read the reports that Western Union was making a ton of money? Why give away the commissions, right? Or perhaps they just studies advertising and realized that constant exposure to a service or product is one of the basic advertising strategies to gain public trust.

I did notice that the poster says, Send Money to ANY Bank Account in Nigeria. It is possible that Nigerians lost a few customers because some people might have been reluctant to send money to an individual, using Western Union. After all, one has to be careful when sending money to a complete stranger halfway across the world. Perhaps the option of sending money to a bank account increases the percentage of dupes that will follow through all the way.

One detail that I find particularly amusing is the way the map of Nigeria is rendered, on the poster. You really have to look at a larger image to see what I mean, but a close up of a section of the Nigerian map will also show what I mean. Take a look.

Nigerian scam

I mean, that looks like burnt money. The main graphic design element of the poster looks like two banknotes that are slowly burning around the edges and forming the map of Nigeria; as if to say, send your money to Nigeria and watch it burn. It is possible that this is just a "bad" design and that the resemblance to burnt money is just a coincidence. Yeah, I guess it's also possible that a monkey playing with a typewriter might end up producing Hamlet, by pure chance. But at this point it really wouldn't surprise me if that design was intentional, as if it's not enough to take the suckers to the cleaners, they also have to laugh at their faces. So, is it coincidence or arrogance? You decide.

When I saw the Nigerian poster I just had to go inside the shop and talk to the clerk. She explained that this was a new service. I asked if they had any Nigerian customers and if there was a Nigerian community around that neighborhood. Not her her knowledge, she said. Most of their customers, she said, were Latino folks, just like herself. And she also told me that there were quite a few people that have been sending money to Nigeria. Do many Latino folks have relatives in Nigeria? I don't think so and neither did the clerk. But apparently their customers have some business dealings with some people in Nigeria. Were these people perhaps dealing with a West African princess? The clerk didn't quite know what to make of this question, but with a puzzled expression and a smile said she didn't think so. A princess...?

So, why a princess or a prince? Why not just a businessman? And why don't Nigerians at least try to pretend the money is going to another country? After all, Nigeria now has the reputation of being the number one scam capital of the world.

If you're interested in more detailed descriptions of Nigerian scams I highly recommend that you read the article Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They are from Nigeria? The article was written by Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley, who says, "Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor."

Makes sense to me. A con artist has no use spending time with a mark who is likely to back out right before the money transfer. So, they look for people who will believe they've been contacted by a princess. If they believe that, they'll believe anything else, especially the part that requires them to send more money, over and over again, because of unforeseen complications. That's the key, you recruit a sucker once and the same sucker keeps coming back until he has no more money left to send. That has to be some pretty dumb sonofabitch. And how might one go about finding such person? Perhaps you could tell everyone you're a princess and see who believes it. That's the guy you'd want to talk to.

Cormac Herley makes some very good points about continuing to use Nigeria as the destination. When you type the word "Nigeria" into the Google search box, "Nigerian Scam" is one of the five auto-complete Google suggestions. All that one would have to do at that point is to click on that and read all about Nigerian scams. But the auto-complete suggestions are not the same on every computer (it depends what other Google searches have been conducted in the past, from any given computer) and Nigerian con artists just want to eliminate anyone who is likely to do a Google search for "Nigeria" or "Nigerian Scam." So, although Nigeria might at first appear to be a terrible choice of destination for a scam it actually turns out to be the best choice for eliminating those who are not the best candidates.

Cormac Herley explains that in the first part of the scam all the free work is done by SPAM bots that are sending millions of SPAM emails around the world. The part that involves real work is starting an email correspondence with those who respond. Con artists need to keep track of all the lies they've been telling to all their marks, and that's hard to do if one has too many marks to keep track of, especially when a high percentage of those will not follow through.

You really can't argue with the points that Cormac Herley makes. It also fits with the observations that I made, regarding the geographic location of the Nigeria Direct poster. I didn't find the poster in a neighborhood where you can buy the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker Magazine at a news stand. I found it in a pocket neighborhood where it wouldn't surprise me to find a typewrite repair shop. The money transfer shop was next door to another shop that still offers affordable international phone calls. Walking into the place next door feels like passing through a wormhole, to a time half a century ago; the place is fitted with a row of phone booths. Across the street there is yet another place offering cheap phone calls. Who still goes to a phone booth to make international phone calls, when you can just use Skype to call any phone in the world? But we live in a transitional time and there are still people out there who haven't caught up with all the new technological marvels that make our lives so different from the lives our parents (or even our older siblings) lived. There are millions of people who might have a computer and know how to use an email account but never used Google, or don't even know of the existence of a service called Skype (not to mention the string theory). Obviously the phone booth places would not stay in business if they didn't have customers, many of whom walk around the neighborhood while scratching lottery tickets.

Speaking of lottery tickets, what's the difference between a lottery ticket and a Nigerian scam letter? Both offer money you cannot get and both ask for a small sum up front. There really is no difference, so if one is going to spend money on lottery tickets one might as well send some money to Nigeria.

So, there you have it. If you've read all the way through my article you are probably not likely to send any money to a Nigerian princess, any time soon. And if you're still doubting my suspicions, go ahead and send some money and let me know when you get a cut of that $20 mil.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Prism Shoe vs. Rough & Smooth Shoe

When it comes to gaffed dealing shoes the two-shoe is definitely the most popular kind. For those who are not familiar with the term two-shoe, it is a gaffed dealing shoe capable of second dealing. But there are two kinds of two-shoes.

The most popular kind is the prism shoe and the lesser known is the rough & smooth shoe. What's the difference?

A prism shoe is fitted with a prism that serves a dual function. The primary function of the prism is to enable the dealer to peek at the top card. The second function is to get the top card out of the way, momentarily, which makes it possible to deal the second card.

A rough and smooth shoe can be made exactly the same way as a prism shoe, except that the gaffed part, i.e. the prism, is made of the same opaque material as the faceplate, instead of clear acrylic. This means that peeking is no possible so marked cards need to be used, instead.

When it comes to second dealing both shoes function exactly the same way, mechanically. However, there is a huge difference in the way the second dealing is handled. Let me start by saying that I can spot a prism shoe from across the room, simply because of the way the dealer is forced to handle the gaff. Here is photo that shows how a dealer must handle a prism shoe.

prism shoe
To an untrained eye this might look just fine. But the problem is that no casino dealer in the word ever deals from a shoe in this way. To make thing easier to understand here is a photo that shows how casino dealers really deal from a shoe.

second dealing shoe
Now the difference should be obvious. The dealer is not hugging the shoe, as in the previous photo. The hugging is necessary, when dealing from a prism shoe, so that the dealer can peek at the top card.

For those who are not familiar with these gaffs I should also include a photo that shows how the dealer peeks at the top card. The peeking is done by sliding the top card upwards, in the opposite direction from dealing, so that the card's index shows up inside the prism.

prism shoe close up
This picture clearly shows how the index of the top card shows up in the prism. This is seen only from a certain angle, from behind the shoe, which means that the dealer mush position the shoe in such way that he has a clear view of the rear edge of the faceplate.

So, the first problem with the prism shoe is the handling. The second problem is the gaff itself. The gaff is just too damn obvious. How long would it take for someone to figure out what this prism does? Not long, I would hope.

The prism shoe shown above is actually an advanced model with a self-locking mechanism. The dealer can lock up the gaff in a split second by moving the shoe in a certain way. That's why there is a black piece of acrylic at the center of the prism. Not all locking prism shoes have this opaque segment in the middle of the prism. This is just this particular model. But my point is that even with the shoe locked up the prism is still suspicious as hell. And although peeking and second dealing will not be possible, when the shoe locks up, the locking mechanism still doesn't completely solve all the problems. There are still some small clues that are highly suspicious to anyone examining a locked up prism shoe. However, I will not discuss the exact details.

By no, anyone reading this post should have reached the only logical conclusion anyone can make. The only type of two-shoe that is used by real gambling cheats is the rough & smooth shoe, and not the prism shoe. The prism shoe, however, is the type of two-shoe more sought after by collectors and gambling demonstrators. The reason, again, should be obvious. The prism shoe is simply more fun to use to demonstration purposes, because of the visual aspect.

Speaking of collectors, I still believe that good collectors will probably be more after the real thing, meaning, the rough & smooth shoe. Good collectors like things to be genuine and gambling collectors are mostly interested in stuff that was actually used in by gamblers. So, if you come across an old prism shoe you should take a bet that it had probably never been used in any real games. And if you are a collector and if you ever have a choice between a prism shoe and a rough & smooth shoe you should definitely grab the rough & smooth. Plus, you never know, since the rough & smooth shoe is the real thing, it might actually come in handy, one day, if thing are bad.

Now it's time to reveal the inspiration for this post.

Very recently I came across one disturbing piece of information. Well, it's disturbing to me, because I don't like fake stuff and I also don't like when honest people are taken for a ride and end up wasting money on fake stuff. Recently, a gambling auction took place and one particular item had been sold for a decent amount of money. That item was a holdout device that had been described more or less as genuine. The description didn't really say that the holdout had ever been used in real games or even that it had been owned by a real gambling cheat, but it left the impression that it was the real thing. The truth is that the holdout is actually an item that is currently being produced by a Chinese maker and sold on the internet for a very low price, which is really what the item is worth. I do not wish to point fingers or to reveal too much information, so I will only say that the item had been sold at the auction for more than 4 times the price listed on the Chinese site.

There are two things that bother me about this. First, I really don't like that an honest collector spend a decent amount of money for something that is practically worthless to any gambling collector. And second, I really hate the idea that this worthless item has been entered into the history of gambling. Now the item has a fake provenance and misinformation is likely to be spreading.

I also have to make it clear that I do not think the auctioneers had any idea that the holdout was a fake. I believe they were taken for a ride, too. It is also possible that the person who sold the holdout at the auction also had no idea it was fake. But that's not where I would put my money. I believe it is more likely that he knew what this holdout really was. Either he bought it from the Chinese site or he had been taken for a ride when he bought the holdout for himself, and then later realized his mistake and simply wanted to get rid of it. So, in my mind the more likely scenario is that the seller knew.

In any event, the holdout was sold and is likely to remain in circulation.

I know some collectors read my blog and some might even figure out which holdout I am talking about. It is up to them to do their own research as I have no desire revealing any further details, at this time. However, since the point of this post (or my blog in general) is to keep collectors informed I did take the time to share some important details about the two-shoe. And the point is really simple, if you are a collector and want to add a genuine two-shoe to your collection (i.e. one that was actually owned and used by a crooked gambler) you should be looking for a rough & smooth shoe and not for a prism shoe. This is not to say that a prism shoe has no value. On the contrary, unlike the mass-produced Chinese holdout, a prism shoe is a fine piece of equipment, if built right. But it I'm afraid I can't ever say that it's the real thing for cheating.

Ironically, it is quite possible that many wannabe cheats have spent money on prism shoes until they've realized that this gaff cannot really be used as they were hoping. So, in that case, who was the sucker? And having said that, if a prism shoe had in fact been owned by someone that initially had the intention of using it in a real game, that alone might be enough to make the item a genuine gambling collectable. However, I don't think it is very likely that anyone will ever put any serious effort into trying to prove that kind of provenance.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Antique Caro Dealing Shoes, the Real Deal

If you happen to be a collector of casino dealing shoes you should definitely have at least one antique Caro shoe in your collection. I happen to be fortunate enough to have two of them. Both are six-deck chemin de fer shoes, both are made from mahogany, but they are not identical.

The first shoe has green hardware and a handle at the rear. I bought it in a small antique store in France, in a small town, and was told that it came from Monte Carlo. I have no way of knowing if that's actually the case, but if true it would be one of three shoes that I own, that were supposedly used at the Casino Monte Carlo. I actually sent a few emails to the Casino, along with pictures, but have never received any replies. I guess the people that work there now were not even born at the time those shoes were supposedly used there so I guess they don't really care and probably couldn't tell me much, anyway. I was just hoping they might have archival photos that might show various shoes that were used at their casino throughout the years. I guess I'll never be able to verify the provenance of those shoes without going there in person. Even then I wouldn't count too much on their cooperation. So, without a proper way to check the provenance I cannot really take those claims for granted, for the time being, but nevertheless, I still like owning all those shoe because they are definitely genuine antiques and when I touch them I really feel like I have a piece of gambling history in my hands.

I'm not sure how rare these Caro shoes are, but I've only come across two of them, and I bought both. I just couldn't resist, especially because the first shoe came with the original six decks of cards. I bought the whole thing for 28 Euros, which was a bargain. The cards alone are worth more than what I paid for the whole thing.

Antique Caro French Dealing Shoe
The other shoe is almost identical to the one above, except that it doesn't have a handle and the hardware is black. The beauty is in the details and I'll use the second shoe to show you what I mean.

These shoes are not some rinky dink products made by the lowest bidder in China. They're the real deal. As with any antiques, the only way to really experience the full appreciation for the quality and the craftsmanship that went into making these objects, is to spend some time handling them. Since I don't have a showroom where I could invite people to see these objects I'll try to do my best with pictures and descriptions. Let's have a look at the second shoe, shall we?

Caro Baccarat Casino Dealing Shoe
The body of the shoe is made from mahogany and the hardware is mostly bass. I tested the metal parts with a magnet and discovered that the faceplate is made from a piece of ferrous sheet metal. I imagine they decided not to use brass for the faceplate because it is thin.

The next detail is the maker's name, which is marked as G. Caro, from Paris, 252 Boulevard Voltaire. The word JEUX is French for "games" and I don't know if it is part of the maker's name. There is a French company called Caro Developpement, bu t I believe it is a different company that has nothing to do with the old Caro company, except that they are also in the business of making gaming equipment. I tried to find out for sure, so I went to their web site and send them an email (written in French, to make it easier for them) but I guess the person in charge of answering their emails must be a close relative of the person in charge of email correspondence at Casino Monte Carlo. Up to this day I have not heard back as much as a whisper, so I can't tell you anything for sure, but I do believe that the old Caro company has been out of biz for a very long time. But all that's history and I'm not a historian, so I shouldn't speculate too much. What interests me are details about these shoes.

Jeux G. Caro Paris
One detail that makes these shoes look and feel like high-end products is the ratchet mechanism for the braked roller. Some shoes are still made this way, but they are not common. The ratchet mechanism really makes this shoe feel special.

Antique Wooden Casino Dealing Shoe
If you ever get the chance to spend some time around a Rolls Royce, take a moment of that time to open and close the hood. Don't look at the engine, just listen to the sound of the hood closing. How should I best put it? The hood of a VW doesn't produce the same sound. It is the sound of the hood closing, amongst other things, that makes a Rolls Royce feel like a tank. And you get the same kind of feeling when you put six decks of cards into one of those shoe and put the roller behind the cards and listen to the ratchet mechanism produce a sound that's unlike anything you've ever heard any other dealing shoe do. This shoe sounds like a musical instrument and feels like it's made for people who drive up to a casino in a Rolls Royce. And once the cards and the roller are in, you place the cover on top of the shoe and lock it in place, which is yet another handling procedure that makes a serious sound that makes this shoe feel like a tank. If there is such thing as a Rolls Royce of dealing shoes, perhaps this one is it.

There is another uncommon feature. This roller doesn't simply roll down the slanted ramp. There are two metal rails running down the ramp and the roller has four miniature brass wheels, an uncommon feature that makes the roller look like a miniature vehicle running down a track. The roller is also weighted with led inserts at both sides. The wheels don't really spin as well as they should, but I'm sure they worked fine at the time.

Dealing Shoe Roller
The detail that distinguishes this shoe as a chemin de fer shoe is the plaque at the side. The plaque also bears the name G. Caro.

Baccarat Chemin de Fer Rules
One bad thing about this shoe is that it might be totally useless nowadays. The reason is the interior width of the shell, which is narrower than any of the dealing shoes made today. In other words, you cannot put standard poker-size cards inside this shoe. All the cards shown in my photos are old French cards that were noticeably smaller than standard playing cards produced today.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Antique JAJ Chemin de Fer Dealing Shoe

JAJ from Paris was a leading European maker of gaming equipment, back in the early 1900s. To this day I do not know what JAJ stands for, but I'm pretty sure that one of the letters J must stand for "jeux," which is the French word for games. The last letter J is usually flipped, so that the abbreviation JAJ becomes symmetrical. This often confuses people into thinking that the last letter is an L. I have often seen JAJ equipment listed as JAL, in several auction catalogs. But since I've seen one of their products labeled "JAJ Paris" where the last J was not flipped, I think it's pretty safe to assume that the last letter was in fact a flipped J, and not a stylized L.

The company made various kinds of gaming equipment, such as dealing shoes, roulette wheels and wheels for the gambling game la boule, one of the lesser known versions of roulette. It also made chess and backgammon sets, lottery equipment and various dice games, as well as some odd games played with figurines of horses and rabbits.

I have several JAJ dealing shoes in my collection. Here is a picture of one shoe that was probably a lower-end model.

Antique JAJ Chemin de Fer Casino Dealing Shoe
This dealing shoe has a wooden shell, a wooden ramp, a wooden faceplate and a bakelite lid. Unfortunately, the shoe is missing the weighted roller, but the shoe is otherwise in great condition. I bought this shoe from an antique dealer in France, who believes the shoe is from the 1930s. I don't know how he knows that, but it sounds about right to me, so I believe it's been, more or less, correctly dated. Since the shoe doesn't really have obvious signs of use, I don't believe it was ever used in a casino.

I don't know what else to say about this shoe, except perhaps that this shoe is made for the game chemin de fer, which is a version of baccarat. Chemin shoes usually have a small plaque, at the side, which displays rules for drawing or standing. Most chemin shoes also have a handle and a lid.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Antique Card Game Counters

It would be an understatement to say, they just don't make them like that any more, cause the fact is, they just don't make them any more, period. And, nowadays, most people wouldn't even know what they are.

The object in question is an antique device that used to be used for keeping scores during a card game. The version made of wood and ivory has no insignia that might give anyone any clues as to what the device should be used for. The metal version has numbers, so at least that's one detail that might lead someone to think that the device is some kind of score keeper. I own a total of three antique scorekeepers, one ebony version with ivory pegs and two sheet metal types, which are mounted on wood.

Card Game Counter

Antique Card Game Counters
I found two web sites that offer some information on these unfamiliar objects: Whist Counters and Makers Collection, by Charles Mathes, who seems to be one of the leading collectors of whist counters and similar devices, and Whist Makers, by his friend Laurent, who is also a collector. Both sites are more about counters for the game of whist, although there is some information about the counters that I am discussing in this article. According to the information on the first site, my counters were used for the French game of piquet. I have no time, and feel no particular urge, to do my own independent research that might confirm or discredit that claim. And since I also have no reason to doubt the information on that site, I will assume it is correct.

My counters came from France, which would further confirm the claim that they are piquet counters. According to the information on those web sites, the wood/ivory counter must be from the late 1800s. The sheet metal counters are probably from the same era, or from the early 1900s, at most. The metal counters bear the insignia, BREVETÉ S.G.D.G., which are French patent marks, according to Charles Mathes. The peg that bears the number 50 is stamped with a miniature version of what could be the maker’s logo. Also, the metal counters are obviously a pair, one counter for each player, color-coded with gold and silver pegs. The pegs are spring-loaded and snap into position when flipped. The pegs on the orphaned wood/ebony counter are also spring-loaded and produce a distinct click sound, when flipped.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

ShuffleMaster 8-deck Shuffler

If I don't publish a blog post tonight, the whole moth of January will go by without a single blog post. So, I better do it before the clock strikes midnight.

I've been meaning to blog about a casino scam that involved beating an automatic ShuffleMaster card shuffler. The scam is already old news, but since I'm not in the breaking news business I guess there's no harm blogging about it.

Automatic card shufflers are designed to accomplish two things, for the casino: make the games more secure and increase efficiency. The security is increased by eliminating the human element, i.e. the dealer who can make mistakes and/or cheat, while performing a manual shuffle. And the efficiency is increased by substantially cutting down on any down time. At least that's the idea.

Below is a picture of the ShuffleMaster 8-deck baccarat shuffler. The machine is easy to operate. You place an 8-deck pack of cards into one tray, press the button and the machine does the rest. When you want to retrieve the shuffled pack you press another button and the shuffled cards come out of the other tray. The dealer doesn't wait for the machine to perform the shuffle, which takes quite a while from start to finish. Instead, the dealer works with two 8-deck packs; while one deck is in use, the other deck is being shuffled. So, by the time the players go through an 8-deck shoe the other pack is already shuffled and ready to be retrieved by the dealer. All that the dealer needs to do is to exchange the packs and continue dealing from the fresh pack. That all sounds nice in theory. I'm not going to say that this is not a good idea. Perhaps communism is also a good idea, the only issue is the implementation.

ShuffleMaster 8-deck Casino Shuffler
In recent years casinos have been flooded with all kinds of electronic gadgets that are supposed to perform the jobs that were once assigned to skilled croupiers. In fact, some casinos are starting to resemble the Toyota assembly line, with robotic arms doing all the work and no humans in sight behind the pit. My point is, gadgets don't only bring solutions (often solutions to problems that never existed in the first place) they also bring a false sense of security and, of course, new problems that never existed before these solutions were implemented.

Many casinos that started using gadgets also started using less skilled, and cheaper, labor. Casinos basically started hiring cheap labor with minimal training. I think that's more or less the recommendation of many gadget makers. You'll save money cause you'll no longer have to spend a fortune paying skilled staff. Yes, our machines are expensive, but you'll make that money back in no time cause now you'll be able to hire minimal skill labor and you'll also increase efficiency.

That's the attitude that currently prevails amongst many corporate casinos. And some of them have already paid for their own ignorance and stupidity.

The ShuffleMaster 8-deck shuffler that you see here has already been compromised in at least one casino that we know of. From what I understand, the scam was so simple there's hardly anything to tell. The dealer simply didn't exchange the two packs of cards. Instead of placing the used pack into the machine and then taking the newly shuffled pack out, he simply placed the used pack next to the machine and then put it back in the shoe. I guess he also pressed a button on the machine to make it less obvious that he just recycled the same pack of cards, but that's not the point. The point is that if the casino had proper procedures, a scam as obvious as that one could never have happened. The casino simply put too much faith in the technology, forgetting that the people handling the machines needed to be watched as closely as if they were performing manual shuffles.

What is there to be learned from this scam? The scam is basically a variation of the good old baccarat slug scam. For those not familiar with the scam, the idea is to have one of the players log a sequence of cards, then having the dealer avoid shuffling that slug and then having a group of players bet the maximum on known outcomes.