My First Time Catching a Cheat (Yes, Really)

Jimulacrum

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I caught a cheat last night at my weekly poker game.

For context, this is a self-dealt $0.25/0.50 NLHE game with a $20 max buy-in, rebuys allowed at $10 or less. That's right; I caught someone cheating at a short-stack micro-stakes home game, and it's a guy who does pretty well financially outside of poker too. Not only that, but he's a very likable guy who seems honest in general, and is legitimately good at poker. I don't doubt he'd be a net winner with or without cheating. I was really shocked when my suspicions first arose.

The group is made up of people who mostly work with each other, many of whom (including the cheat) have been playing together a very long time. The cheat himself has been part of the group for about 15 years, and he's friends outside of poker with many of the people in the game. He's also a very experienced player; I've played everything from NLHE to pot-limit Scarney and Route 66 with this guy, and he plays well and knows his stuff. I've been in the game for about 3 years, and I'm friends with the host and socialize with him and some of the other players outside of poker as well.

Let's call the cheat Chuck. Chuck is a fidgety type of guy. Very animated, talks a lot, gestures a lot with his hands, constantly moving. And he is the same way at the poker table. This is part of what allowed him to fly under the radar for a long time, in addition to the laid-back atmosphere of the game. Knowing what I know now, it makes me wonder if he's really that fidgety, or if it was all just subterfuge the whole time.

A few months ago, I was coming back from the bathroom during his deal, and I spotted him holding the stub under the table with both of his hands as I was walking behind him to get back to my seat. I could swear I saw him doing something with the cards too, not just holding them, but I'm talking a split-second, and I didn't see anything definitive. I think I blurted out something like "What the fuck?!" under my breath, and it seemed from his body language that he heard me. He brought the stub back out and continued dealing. Nothing remarkable about the hand; I don't even remember if he won it.

I started watching him a little more after that. I noticed that, in addition to occasionally taking the stub under the table, he'd riffle the top several cards of the stub with his thumb in between actions, e.g., when he was waiting for action to complete preflop or on the flop. He'd hold the stub with his left hand and bring his right hand over it, and then riffle with the thumb of his right hand. He'd do it in such a way that it looked like he was just absent-mindedly screwing around. It was only sometimes, and it didn't always correlate to him making any unusual actions or even winning the pot. But it was still unacceptable to me, so I showed up early one of the following weeks and mentioned it to the host, in an "I'm concerned but not sure what I'm seeing" tone.

The host told me that it had actually come up before, many years earlier. He also said that they'd made an effort to watch him after that, but after observing for a while, they didn't think he was actually cheating, and the issue was put to rest. He recommended that I keep an eye on him in future games, and I did.

The following 2 to 3 months yielded interesting results. During my first game of actively watching, I spotted Chuck riffling the stub and looking down at it while doing so. When his eyes came back up, he looked directly at me and made eye contact, clearly noticing that I had been watching him. He suddenly decided to fold his hand, and announced to the table that he was folding because he'd accidentally seen the top few cards. He showed his cards after the hand, revealing that he'd have flopped a full house. Well played, sir.

The remainder of the observation time, up until last night, revealed quite a few instances of riffling the stub and taking it under the table, but still nothing conclusive. He also seemed to hold onto the stub for an unnecessarily long time after completing the initial deal, and would sometimes pick it up at unusual times too. I reported back to the host on a few incidents that I found particularly sketchy, but nothing rose to the level of formally accusing him of cheating. Sometime in the middle, the host told me that another player who never speaks up about anything had come to him with the same concerns.

Chuck also seemed to catch me watching him a few times while he was handling the cards, and he seemed to cut back on the suspicious behaviors after a while. It made it really hard to watch him. Sometimes he'd win and sometimes he'd lose, even in hands where he'd engaged in the fishy behavior. After months of trying, I felt like I wasn't going to get anything conclusive short of running a surveillance camera on the guy.

Last night, I went to the game with the intention of not paying attention at all while he was dealing. No point if he was aware I was watching. Just try to play the game and see if maybe I can catch him unaware again at some point later.

And then it happened. In a big pot (relative to stakes), while waiting for the flop action, he picked up the stub in his left hand, and he brought his right hand over it. But this time, he didn't carelessly riffle the cards like I'd seen so many times before. He clearly and deliberately peeled up the corner of the top couple cards with his thumb, looking down at the stub the entire time. And then he peeled it up again as if to double-check, like people often do when they're peeping their hole cards. And then, as if that wasn't enough, he took the stub under the table with both hands. He completed his action and dealt himself a flush on the turn. One other player went all-in, he snap-called, and he took it down. (I believe the host was already all-in, but I wasn't paying as close attention to that.) Chuck at minimum knew the flush was coming. At worst, he switched the positions of the cards to give himself the flush. I suspect the latter, but either case is blatant cheating.

I left the table immediately and went to the porch upstairs. I had to call my wife for something, so I did that, and as I was wrapping up, the host came up the stairs with some dishes, on his way to the sink. I called him over and told him this time I was sure. I had watched him very deliberately peep the stub, and I couldn't know what he did under the table, but the stub peeping was totally unambiguous this time, and this guy needed to be out of the game.

We weren't sure what to do in the moment. It was an especially delicate social situation because on top of most of them working together, one of the regular players had just died the previous week, and his wife was there with us. We really did not want a blowout in front of everyone. I discussed how to handle it with the host, and he didn't want to do anything that night because of the situation. I wasn't even sure how to respond. And just that moment, Chuck came upstairs, opened the porch door, and said, "What's up, guys?"

I believe my response started with "You know what's up. I saw what you did," after which I laid out the story, more or less as I've told it here. The resulting drama went on far too long, TBH. No punches were thrown, or anything of the sort, and no one downstairs seemed to realize anything more than that we were upstairs talking a lot and arguing about something. He started off somewhat angry and offended, and it proceeded to begging for ways to regain my trust, letting me deal for him, one of us leaving, and so on, ad nauseam. In short, it was pretty much what you expect of a cheat who's been caught. He was clearly never going to admit it. What really sealed it for me was that he outright lied about things I know I saw. For example, he claimed he had his eyes on the other players in the hand while he was peeling the stub, which I knew to be false. I don't recall the exact other lie, but it was just as egregious. I remained firm in my accusation. I know what I saw.

Anyway, that went on a while, and then I went downstairs to play some more while Chuck talked to the host. I was expecting to hear him leave the house. Instead, he came back to the table and sat down like he was going to go right back to playing. My eyes must have said "What the hell do you think you're doing?" because he immediately asked me to come talk to him upstairs. Commence another 10 minutes of him begging and pleading, making ridiculous proposals like having someone else deal for him.

I eventually put it to this: he can leave, or I would leave, and they could have fun trying to explain why (I almost never leave before midnight, and it was like 9:30). I sure as shit wasn't going to keep playing with him. I could tell the host was struggling with it because he's generally not a confrontational guy, and he has to work with Chuck every day, so I took him aside without Chuck and talked a little more. Seemed like he needed some time away from him. He came to the conclusion that he would ask Chuck to leave that night, but he didn't want to blow up the whole issue in front of everyone. I shook his hand and thanked him for getting there; I know it wasn't easy. And then I went back downstairs and played while he talked to Chuck.

They came back 10 or 15 minutes later, and both sat, but Chuck immediately said he was planning to leave soon because he was tired from being up with his kid all night. He didn't play any hands, just folded without looking. Clearly he and the host had arranged this. After a few hands, he cashed out and left. (The host took a particular interest in how much he cashed out. I suspect he's going to make him give it back, but I haven't spoken to the host about it yet.) I don't know if the host will ever tell people; I hope he does, but I'm respecting his prerogative to handle his game as he sees fit, as long as the cheat is gone.

Chuck was all red-eyed from crying or something. He made it a point to go around the room shaking hands with everyone before he left. People noticed that he seemed in poor spirits, but he played it off. I did shake his hand, and I made firm eye contact with him while doing so. As a final garnish, someone randomly made a comment about him hosting a poker game at his place sometime, and he shrugged back with some noncommittal answer on his way out. I swear, you can't write this shit.

Truthfully, I don't hate the guy. This has been a really difficult thing for me. I still don't think he's a terrible person or anything, but then again, it's hard to say when the thing standing in the way is dishonesty. I can't empahsize enough that I really liked this guy before all this stuff happened. I just hope he learns a big lesson from this. He managed to destroy multiple friendships, including some over a decade long, not to mention his work relationships, and of course his access to a regular, fun poker game with good people (and actually multiple other games where some of us play).

And for what? A small advantage in a micro-stakes home game. Net gain over his non-cheating results couldn't have been more than a couple dollars here and there.

This still feels kinda surreal. I'm not sure if I'm happy with how I handled it. I almost wish that I'd recorded him or something, so I'd have definitive proof. But once I saw unmistakable cheating, I just could not play with him anymore, and I couldn't let him continue playing with my friends. Waiting for an opportunity to record him would mean letting him cheat people indefinitely until I could produce evidence. I can see a case for taking that approach, but I wouldn't feel right about it myself.

My whole life, I've thought that if I caught a cheat, I'd beat his ass, take all his money, and divvy it up among his victims. If only it were that simple.
 
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Venturalvn

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That is totally wild for such a small stakes and social home game.

We self deal (although I full-time deal our tournies so far), and have had different batches of players unknown to me come and play. Since I've started my game I've made sure everyone knows the procedures - we use cut cards, I try to enforce casino rules, etc. I try to find a good balance of casino/home environment.

To some people coming from other home games, a cut card is a foreign concept. But I explain what it's for and so far haven't as much as sniffed someone trying to pull a fast one. I Ieep a close eye on new players handling the decks when it's their turn to deal.

This story just goes to show that no matter the vigilence and procedures in place, I guess some people just always feel the need to get that edge.
 

Forty4

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Probably more rationalization of small dollar amounts by Chuck than trying to gain an edge. But if he wins $100-$150 then takes his wife out for dinner everyone wins. I got to have a good night out with my friends and then my wife gets a date night. Something like that. Probably had nothing to do with the actual dollar amount that he won but more justification. OP alluded to it not being big wins and being a decent player. So he just wanted to avoid the double gut punch of a losing session and a dinner tab.

Not validating his actions just trying to put some context into his possible perspective.
 

ekricket

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I know it’s not your responsibility, but I may have started earlier, and pulled the suspect player aside and talked to him about his actions that look suspicious. He might have cleaned his act up then and a troublesome situation might have been avoided, maybe not. At least the guy would know people are watching and it wouldn’t be so emotional when he got caught.
I bet it was more about being a “winner” than the money amounts. Lots of good endorphins released when we are victorious over an opponent, and some people just look for that rush.
 

Coyote

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Congrats for handling well an embarassing and painful situation.
It's those cases where you feel shame for others' deeds.
Clearly a pscychic bug, like kleptomania. Affluent people stealing cheap pens or underwear from stores.
 

tabletalker7

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Does "holding the stub under the table" mean holding the deck under the table? If so, why is that being allowed in the first place?
I know it might not be normal, but when I finish dealing and have to wait on action, I like using the dealer button itself as kind of a card guard for the deck - I put the deck down and put the dealer button on top of it before I do anything.
 

Jimulacrum

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Does "holding the stub under the table" mean holding the deck under the table? If so, why is that being allowed in the first place?

Yes. Stub = the deck while it's being dealt from. And of course it's not allowed.

If it hadn't been so suspicious the first time I'd noticed it, I'd have said something then, but it looked like potential cheating. Cluing the guy in would prevent us from determining if it was deliberate cheating or just him acting stupid.

If he's just acting stupid, it's harmless anyway, so no big deal to let it continue temporarily.

If he's cheating, we could lose our opportunity to find out forever, and in the meantime he'd likely devise new and less ham-handed ways to cheat.

That was my logic anyway. As it played out, I'm glad we took this approach because it allowed us get to the point where we know to kick him out, rather than merely suspecting it forever.
 

Jimulacrum

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I know it might not be normal, but when I finish dealing and have to wait on action, I like using the dealer button itself as kind of a card guard for the deck - I put the deck down and put the dealer button on top of it before I do anything.

We don't use a button, but same idea. I set the stub down. Almost everyone does, at least to look at their cards. His holding the stub for an abnormally long time was a point of suspicion in itself.
 

tabletalker7

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It was just something I came up with on the fly the first time I played in a home game with a bunch of people I had not played with before - thought it showed I was not trying to do anything but play my hand.
 

Jimulacrum

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That is totally wild for such a small stakes and social home game.

We self deal (although I full-time deal our tournies so far), and have had different batches of players unknown to me come and play. Since I've started my game I've made sure everyone knows the procedures - we use cut cards, I try to enforce casino rules, etc. I try to find a good balance of casino/home environment.

To some people coming from other home games, a cut card is a foreign concept. But I explain what it's for and so far haven't as much as sniffed someone trying to pull a fast one. I Ieep a close eye on new players handling the decks when it's their turn to deal.

This story just goes to show that no matter the vigilence and procedures in place, I guess some people just always feel the need to get that edge.

I'll admit, this game is a little loose as far as the procedures go. I personally think a cut should be mandatory, at minimum, but people who've been playing a particular way a long time often get stuck in their ways.

That said, none of that would've prevented this anyway. Nothing stopping him from peeping the stub if no one's paying enough attention to ever call him out.

Probably more rationalization of small dollar amounts by Chuck than trying to gain an edge. But if he wins $100-$150 then takes his wife out for dinner everyone wins. I got to have a good night out with my friends and then my wife gets a date night. Something like that. Probably had nothing to do with the actual dollar amount that he won but more justification. OP alluded to it not being big wins and being a decent player. So he just wanted to avoid the double gut punch of a losing session and a dinner tab.

Not validating his actions just trying to put some context into his possible perspective.

Something like that, I'm sure. He probably started off doing it by accident, realized he could get away with it, and then gradually got less and less guilty about it.

He actually made a killing last year. Pretty sure we paid for him to go on vacation. But I suspect only a small percent of it was due to cheating.

I know it’s not your responsibility, but I may have started earlier, and pulled the suspect player aside and talked to him about his actions that look suspicious. He might have cleaned his act up then and a troublesome situation might have been avoided, maybe not. At least the guy would know people are watching and it wouldn’t be so emotional when he got caught.
I bet it was more about being a “winner” than the money amounts. Lots of good endorphins released when we are victorious over an opponent, and some people just look for that rush.

See my other comment, about determining whether it was cheating or just acting stupid. As soon as we alert him, we can never really find out if it was cheating or not. If he is cheating, we open the door to him trying to cheat in other ways. We needed to know whether to eject him from the game.

Again, we're talking about behavior that apparently went on for many years. Allowing some more sessions for observation seemed like the right play. We needed to know if he was cheating, not just get him to stop fooling around with the stub.

I think for Chuck it is the thrill he gets from cheating, not the meaningless extra $20 he makes. Clearly the guy can't quit. Anyway your post was riveting, thanks!

That's probably part of it too, like an added challenge.
 

Jimulacrum

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Been playing poker all my life and this is the first time I hear the term "stub"! That's prob the name he should have left the game with after being caught cheating

It's a more common term among professional dealers. Not that I am one, but I know a fair number and have discussed these kinds of issues at length in other forums.
 

Taghkanic

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This is analogous in many ways to the cheating situation I posted about a few months ago. In my case, it was similarly a bright and trusted player, who should not need to cheat to win. But he did, and I think it was just that he just couldn’t help himself. It became second nature.

Also, sort of like your guy, my chest tended to be very chatty/demonstrative at the table, I believe as a tactic to distract from the cheating.
 

shorticus

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Does "holding the stub under the table" mean holding the deck under the table? If so, why is that being allowed in the first place?

This exactly. There’s no way it should be allowable to place the deck under the table. If you point that out, you almost immediately resolve the issue.

My grandfather used to always tell me, deal the cards and put the deck down. Don’t play with the deck after you’re done shuffling so I’m always watching out for stuff like this.
 

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Does "holding the stub under the table" mean holding the deck under the table? If so, why is that being allowed in the first place?

The cards should always be above the table at all times. That goes for the stub, your hole cards, all of them.

How has no other player, or above all else the host themselves, never commented about the cards going under the table even once?

This game frankly got what they deserved by being this blatantly non-observant. The behaviour may have been going on for years and would have continued if you didn't sniff it out @Jimulacrum Who knows how much ill-gotten money the supposed "winning" player has fleeced out of the game!

Just like in Better Call Saul, fuck Chuck.
 

Jimulacrum

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This exactly. There’s no way it should be allowable to place the deck under the table. If you point that out, you almost immediately resolve the issue.

My grandfather used to always tell me, deal the cards and put the deck down. Don’t play with the deck after you’re done shuffling so I’m always watching out for stuff like this.

Again, if it had only seemed innocent the first time, I'd have said something then. But it seemed much more suspicious than someone absent-mindedly handling the stub badly. Discovering whether we had a cheat in the game was far more important than correcting some bad but otherwise innocent behavior.
 

ekricket

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This exactly. There’s no way it should be allowable to place the deck under the table. If you point that out, you almost immediately resolve the issue.

My grandfather used to always tell me, deal the cards and put the deck down. Don’t play with the deck after you’re done shuffling so I’m always watching out for stuff like this.

I like grandfathers advice. I typically place the button on the deck after I’ve dealt and only hold the deck in my hand if I’ve already folded.
 

Rhodeman77

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This is why rules are important even in a low stakes casual game. Locks keep men honest. And rules and procedures being followed would have stopped this before it got this bad.

If he was called out and forced to fold his hand if he was seen ruffling the stub or taking it below the table he would stop! What good is trying to cheat if he can’t play the hand.

When they condoned and allowed him to continue his antics years ago they opened the door to having this happen.
 

Jimulacrum

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The cards should always be above the table at all times. That goes for the stub, your hole cards, all of them.

How has no other player, or above all else the host themselves, never commented about the cards going under the table even once?

This game frankly got what they deserved by being this blatantly non-observant. The behaviour may have been going on for years and would have continued if you didn't sniff it out @Jimulacrum Who knows how much ill-gotten money the supposed "winning" player has fleeced out of the game!

Just like in Better Call Saul, fuck Chuck.

I get what you mean about the group deserving it, but I'll ask you to take a step back and consider the totality of the situation.

He's been playing with this group forever. He also works with most of the players on a daily basis, including the host, and some are pretty close friends with him. He was one of the most likable guys in the game, and sometimes he'd even point out things like that he'd seen a flashed card or whatever. He did a good job of seeming honest and staying under the radar.

Basically no one in the game is even a semi-serious player aside from myself and the occasional visitor. Half the players drink or smoke weed at the game, and others are elderly and/or don't have great vision. Even I, as eagle-eyed as I usually am, only noticed some of his weird behavior by accident in an odd situation, and even after that, it took me a long time to see anything conclusive. He's been good at concealing the behavior and making sure the stuff we can see is plausibly deniable as him just being fidgety.

Our fault? I mean, sure, in a sense, but it's not like we let some new guy in and he fleeced us all of a sudden while we sat there with our mouths open. He was a well-trusted player whose cheating likely started very small and escalated over time.
 

Coyote

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Again, if it had only seemed innocent the first time, I'd have said something then. But it seemed much more suspicious than someone absent-mindedly handling the stub badly. Discovering whether we had a cheat in the game was far more important than correcting some bad but otherwise innocent behavior.
I would look at it the other way round.
Enforcing the rules is a lot easier than the complicated, embarassing and painful confrontation with a cheat who is everybody's friend.
It's killing the cheating while it's "young" and it doesn't take any dimensions.
With all rules truly enforced, there is very little margin for cheating (I 'd say just no margin, in such a home game).

Locks keep men honest. And rules and procedures being followed would have stopped this before it got this bad.
This^^.
 

Jimulacrum

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This is why rules are important even in a low stakes casual game. Locks keep men honest. And rules and procedures being followed would have stopped this before it got this bad.

If he was called out and forced to fold his hand if he was seen ruffling the stub or taking it below the table he would stop! What good is trying to cheat if he can’t play the hand.

When they condoned and allowed him to continue his antics years ago they opened the door to having this happen.

Sure, if someone had said "Hey, don't do that!" he'd have stopped doing that specific behavior.

But a cheat is a cheat is a cheat. I don't care if he stops riffling the stub if it means he's just going to concoct new ways to gain an unfair advantage. I can't speak for how it was handled years before my arrival, but as far as how it went this time, we needed to know for sure if he was cheating so that we could decide whether to kick him out. Failing to do that would leave us in limbo indefinitely.
 

Jimulacrum

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And by the way, I agree with everyone who says that rules are important and so on. That's very much my attitude, and I've tried to impart it on the host over time. But in this case, it's not my game, and the way the lack of rules has developed is understandable.

I hope the host will ultimately let everyone know about the cheat and why he left last night, despite the consequences it could have at work and in social settings. And I hope he decides to make some rules changes, including mandating a cut. But it's not my place to force any of it. All I can do is influence. I hope he takes the experience of last night as a sign that something ought to change.
 

shorticus

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Again, if it had only seemed innocent the first time, I'd have said something then. But it seemed much more suspicious than someone absent-mindedly handling the stub badly. Discovering whether we had a cheat in the game was far more important than correcting some bad but otherwise innocent behavior.
Completely understand your perspective, but even if it was innocent, a light hearted comment in a non-combative manner could have resolved the issue before it started. Simply identify that you see what he’s doing. If he doesn’t know, your tone should control the situation and it becomes a teaching moment. If he knows, you have now made it known that you are seeing what he’s doing and have made the table aware. Making the comment also opens up the chance for the host to reiterate house rules (assuming you all have any).

I don’t think anyone deserves to be cheated, but I’d say allowing such things to happen certainly make you all more vulnerable.
 
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