The politics of dealing with a cheater

Taghkanic

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I could use all of your advice about dealing with a cheater in a home game.

The question is not about whether the person is cheating. One of my most trusted regs agreed to help keep a close eye on his mechanics a couple months ago, after some concerns were raised privately. And the two of us agree that he is guilty as charged.

We also agree that there is really no way he can continue in the game, even if an abject and sincere apology is made.

The real decisions now are (a) how to break the news to the cheat, who is a longtime regular and good friend of most of our group — which includes about a dozen steady regs and another dozen occasional players; and, far more importantly (b) how to break the news to the group, to lessen the chances that the situation destroys the whole game.

It is tempting to try to find a way to make him fly straight. But we believe this has been going on a very long time, and is an almost incurable habit. The player is actually very smart—he shouldn’t need to cheat. But he can’t seem to help himself.

The big problem is, both of us and the group all consider him a great guy and a friend.

Firing him from the game is going to cause real turmoil. I am just trying to strategize how to minimize the fallout, which seems inevitable. (The next game is in 13 days.)

There are likely going to be important players who get angry and leave the game when we ban him, even though the observations of cheating come from other friends they trust. People should be furious, but human nature is weird. At best, I’m hoping to minimize the breakup to 2-3 regs, not 6-8.

Some more background:

The cheat is lifelong best friends with one valued reg. They are joined at the hip. I assume this person will quit the game no matter how we handle it, out of loyalty to his buddy. Nothing I can do about that.

More problematic ally, the cheat is also close friends with almost all the key regs. Folks have gone on vacations with him, shared “pieces” of each other with him in big casino tournaments, golf with him, etc. Much of the group will be attending his upcoming wedding to a woman our group knows and likes.

My initial plan was to keep it simple: tell the cheat that he is being suspended from the game, no details, goodbye. I know that even when confronted with the details, he will deny it to the end.

Meanwhile, I was going to approach key players individually to explain the situation.

Lastly, I have to explain to the full group at the next game what happened. I would enlist my fellow watcher in this.

But maybe there are other ways to handle it, or ways to manage things so we lose the fewest players.

If this were just some casual acquaintance, it would be simple: Just don’t invite him again.

But all of our personal relations and ties make this a threat not just to the integrity of the play, but to the future of the group.

How would you all handle it? Any specific procedures or language which might help us get through it more smoothly? It sucks in every way...
 

Taghkanic

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Note: One insidious aspect of his cheating is that he tends to target the less-frequent and less-popular members of the group. He is more careful not to screw over me as host, or his more valued friends, at least not very often. I think this has helped delay the inevitable discovery of his cheating, as his targets are more “expendable” members of the group.
 

Taghkanic

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How is he cheating? That is the most important detail. Others may have ideas about how to stop the cheating by looking at how the game is run.

It mainly has to do with how he shuffles. But again, I’m not reallly asking about game security issue—we have normal safeguards, but there are always opportunities in a self-dealt game to cheat.

This really a question about maintaining cohesion once he’s booted.
 

shorticus

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Exploiting less frequent and less popular members isn't necessarily cheating. Curious to know exactly what he is doing to cheat. That's the only way you can fairly determine his punishment, if any.
 

Highli99

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Being able to explain how he is cheating is critical because your group is going to have these questions too. Using factual, objective language is helpful. It’s also important to use the right phrases with respect to your certainty.
 

shorticus

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It mainly has to do with how he shuffles. But again, I’m not reallly asking about game security issue—we have normal safeguards, but there are always opportunities in a self-dealt game to cheat.

This really a question about maintaining cohesion once he’s booted.

I think to maintain cohesion, you will have to be transparent with your group about how he is/was cheating. Do you have cut cards, or can you implement a rule that has multiple decks shuffled by multiple players? I think more details may lead to a better resolution for you.
 

Polochris

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I wouldn't be passive aggressive. Be direct with him. Maybe try catching him in the act? Tricky situation, but I wouldn't be passive aggressive. I feel a possible public shame of calling him out during a shuffle might humiliate him enough to never do it again, but then again idk. Very tricky indeed. I assume he doesn't know people know?
 

Shaggy

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It mainly has to do with how he shuffles. But again, I’m not reallly asking about game security issue—we have normal safeguards, but there are always opportunities in a self-dealt game to cheat.

This really a question about maintaining cohesion once he’s booted.

Pretty standard safeguards include not dealing the deck you shuffled... use two decks... shuffle ahead or behind... always cut. If he is stacking the deck... that is mitigated. If he is peeking... then that is tougher to mitigate with process.
 

slisk250

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It mainly has to do with how he shuffles. But again, I’m not reallly asking about game security issue—we have normal safeguards, but there are always opportunities in a self-dealt game to cheat.

This really a question about maintaining cohesion once he’s booted.

So easy, he never touches the deck again. Change to a dedicated dealer at each table. Use 2 sitting across from one another. Other players shuffle, take turns dealing hands. End of problem. No drama about it, just say this is how the game will be run.
 

timinater

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Do you mind sharing how he was cheating? That context might help.

The below thoughts come with the disclaimer that I'm assuming this is a cut and dry, provable allegation of cheating.
  • This person has broken the trust of the group - probably irreparably. I'd start with a conversation with the cheater and explain the concerns, and that regardless of what he says you and another are convinced this is what's happening, and he's no longer welcome in the game.
  • Following that, I'd explain to the group what happened, how it was happening, and what you've done about it. How they take and react to that news is out of your control. I'm surprised you think that 86'ing the guy will result in damage to the game - I'd hope that would give your players confidence in the game but I understand there are friend group dynamics at play that I can't understand.
I'd also challenge you on how great a friend he really is if he's cheating his other friends (or friends' friends) in a relatively friendly game of poker.
 

Taghkanic

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Might help to know exactly what he was doing. While a cheat is a cheat, could have some bearing on how I'd proceed.

I don’t think it has much bearing — whether it’s bottom-dealing or stacking decks or other angles, the problem is the same. But FWIW, what we have observed is him previewing cards while he shuffles (in an “overhand” way, not riffling) and moving cards to the bottom in such a way that he gains information about the hand.

He often tries to circumvent the shuffle-behind method I switched to when this first was detected (for years the dealer shuffled his own deck) by passing the deck directly to the next dealer rather than to the cutter. But even when it is cut, he still has the advantage of knowing what cards are more or less likely to come into play.

So it is not a “cold decking” situation, but gaining an edge through knowledge of card addition/subtraction from the deal. For a very smart player like him, this can be really huge. And, like Postle, his astonishingly good results reflect it.
 

Taghkanic

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You let your dealers make the deck they shuffle?

Fix that, and he shouldn't be able to cheat so easily.

No. See my other comments. We shuffle two behind the dealer and the person to the shuffler’s left cuts.

His angle comes from either manipulating the passing of the deck, so it doesn’t get cut; or, when it does get cut, he at least knows what cards were close to the bottom before they were cut. By watching the depth of the cut, he can range the other players much more accurately, especially after seeing his own cards.
 

Taghkanic

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P.S. He makes a point of trying to avoid cuts and says it is stupid, because it’s “all random” either way.
 

shorticus

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Either explain the point of cutting, move to a single dealer per table, or buy a card shuffler. I don't think this is something that he should be banned for. At most, he should be called out and moved down the invite list. I am not trying to sound like an ass here, but this is a simple game security issue that should be easily resolved.
 

Taghkanic

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You need to make a point of telling him cutting is not optional.

It’s been emphasized. But in a social home game, unless someone watches like a hawk every hand, it can get through.

And, as already stated, he gains and advantage whether the cut happens or not

Again: I’m not looking for advice about how to stop him cheating. He’s going to be expelled either way.

The question is about how to handle the group.
 

slisk250

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It’s been emphasized. But in a social home game, unless someone watches like a hawk every hand, it can get through.

And, as already stated, he gains and advantage whether the cut happens or not

Again: I’m not looking for advice about how to stop him cheating. He’s going to be expelled either way.

The question is about how to handle the group.
Bring in a new guy to be that hawk and call him out when he does it. then the new guy can go away. Let him expose himself.
 

timinater

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If it's him shifting cards to the bottom, and that's about it, given the friend dynamics at play you could consider asking the rest of the group if they are interested in giving him an opportunity for a full mea culpa. He can make things right, acknowledge what he did and agree to never shuffle or deal again* in this game and everyone moves on with full knowledge of what happened.

If you are concerned about the group, bring them in on the decision of how to handle him and reach a consensus or majority.

*pretty sick angle to get out of dealing :)
 

johnnycnote

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How is he cheating? If when he's dealing, that's pretty easy to mitigate as others have mentioned above. But in my book, if there's def proof, he's out regardless of how others feel. The integrity of the game should be the primary concern
 

Kidsthesedays

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If it's him shifting cards to the bottom, and that's about it, given the friend dynamics at play you could consider asking the rest of the group if that are interested in giving him an opportunity for a full mea culpa. He can make things right, acknowledge what he did and agree to never shuffle or deal again* in this game and everyone moves on with full knowledge of what happened.

If you are concerned about the group, bring them in on the decision of how to handle him and reach a consensus or majority.

*pretty sick angle to get out of dealing :)
I would really enjoy not shuffling or dealing ever again, but still be invited to the game.
 

grantc54

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What about talking to him and giving him the opportunity to back out of the game himself and save face.

The one downside is that you do a disservice to anyone else in that circle who may play with him at another game.

I would also be ready to tell the group in case he blows up, that way he doesnt have an opportunity to bad mouth you before you can explain to people yourself why he was booted
 

Taghkanic

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Either explain the point of cutting, move to a single dealer per table, or buy a card shuffler. I don't think this is something that he should be banned for. At most, he should be called out and moved down the invite list. I am not trying to sound like an ass here, but this is a simple game security issue that should be easily resolved.

Everyone understands the point of shuffling and cutting. His advantage is gained either way—it comes from how he shuffles and previews the bottom of the deck.

I don’t think he particularly cares what cards are at the bottom—just that he shuffles in such a way as to be able to add or subtract from the upcoming hand, depending on the cut.

The point is he abused our trust and I’m trying to decide how to not let that destroy the group.
 

Josh Kifer

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Go to a single dealer. No more rotation, use cut cards, and maybe give the dealer a discount on the tourney price as a thank you if no one steps up.

But, just removing him is the easy method. If it damages the game, just concider that keeping him would do more damage over the long haul. Pivot, and move on I say.... If you lose a few people, time to start finding a few more IMO.

But yeah, your kinda damned either way in this one.
 

shorticus

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Everyone understands the point of shuffling and cutting. His advantage is gained either way—it comes from how he shuffles and previews the bottom of the deck.

I don’t think he particularly cares what cards are at the bottom—just that he shuffles in such a way as to be able to add or subtract from the upcoming hand, depending on the cut.

The point is he abused our trust and I’m trying to decide how to not let that destroy the group.

Then I'd say you bring it to the group as a whole. Get everyone's opinions just as you have done with this thread. Make a decision based on that. Do not speak for your group, let them speak for themselves.
 

Taghkanic

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Will the group care?

See the OP. Yes. He is good friends with the other regs. People are looking forward to his upcoming wedding. Many of my regs socialize with him outside the game. His lifelong best friend plays in the game as well.
 
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