By Christopher Cosenza
No, this isn’t a book to teach you how to cheat when playing poker, though in theory you could take what you learn here and use it for evil. Allan Zola Kronzek’s 52 Ways to Cheat at Poker is, in fact, a how-to book, only it shows you how to catch people cheating while playing cards. Remember the scene in Rounders when the state cop grabs Worm’s arm and says “Caught a hanger, Sarge!” and the bar explodes in a huge brawl? After reading this book that could be you!
Other titles have taken this approach, most recently Penn Jillette’s How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard, but that book obviously used funny anecdotes to get its point across to the reader. Kronzek, a professional magician and bestselling writer, uses a more serious and studious approach to teach you the intricate and dark world of card cheating. Collusion, false shuffles, culling, top- and bottom-card peeking, marking cards in play, shade and flash, blockout and cutout work, skinning the deck … all of it, and more, is in this book.
At the end of each chapter, or “Way” to cheat, is a short graph, usually titled “Detection and Prevention” that helps you recognize the method of crooked behavior and how to combat it. In some instances it’s simple: Shouting “Hey, no looking through the discards!” Seems like everyone should know this, but in some casual or social games players often ignore the strict rules of an above-board poker game. At the very least it will give you peace of mind.
In other instances, trying to catch a cheater (or cheaters) is much more difficult. In the chapter “Cheating at Draw: The One-Card Transfer,” Kronzek writes of palming cards and working with a partner (a common theme throughout the book): “Over time you may notice that when a certain player deals draw, the guy to his left usually wins. But proving that it’s collusion is very difficult, unless you catch the dealer red-handed. And the only way to do that is to grab the wrist en route to the deck and demand to see the palm. If the movies are any indication, this often leads to gunplay. Proceed at your own risk.”
When one thinks of cheating at cards, it’s inevitable marked decks jump to mind. It’s no wonder seven chapters are dedicated to this premise, and the level of sophistication for marking cards is mind-blowing. The subtlety with which cheats mark cards is remarkable and carefully dissected throughout these chapters.
One of the most fascinating chapters dealt with “blockout and cutout” work. This is when a cheat acquires the same colored ink as the backs of the cards and “blocks out” some of the white designs to indicate what type of card it is. The system he uses for identifying cards is completely up to him and therefore virtually foolproof. Also, a cheat may take a scalpel or X-acto knife and cut out markings that blend with the other white markings. In the diagrams in the book you can see differences because they are pointed out, but to the untrained or unsuspecting eye, this type of marking can go undetected forever and will pocket mounds of cash into the cheat’s pockets.
And in some cases, cheats don’t even have to mark cards to know what’s in your hand. How’s that possible? Manufacturers of cards can’t account for the differences of decks printed at one time of the year vs. the cards printed, say, six months later. It’s the same as when you go to the hardware store and the guy tells you to buy all of your ceramic tiles with the same lot number to ensure the color of the tiles will match. A cheat will buy decks from different time periods, remove the high cards, such as aces and kings, from one deck and swap them out with the other deck. The ink on the backs of these cards may be a shade or two lighter (or darker) making it easy for the cheat to spot the high cards. Other methods include luminous readers, marking cards in play, playing paint (the act of having ink on your person and marking the cards as you get them) and more.
52 Ways makes for captivating (and eye-opening) reading. Most of the situations deal with cheats using partners at home games (though cheats obviously often work alone, too), but Kronzek makes sure to cover collusion at card rooms as well. Some of his descriptions of how plays are worked can get convoluted and downright confusing. It’s a lot to digest, but he offers some simple defensive moves that can be used to indiscreetly thwart actions you may deem shady.
If you intend to catch cheaters at your home game or elsewhere, you better be sure you understand this text front and back, otherwise you might suffer more than just a losing session. You’d be better off surrounding yourself with trustworthy friends and reading this book for entertainment value only.