The politics of dealing with a cheater

Steppenwolf

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@Taghkanic I genuinely respect your approach to this. Within a longstanding group of friends, you have discovered that one is cheating at the regular poker game you host. I agree that this is not quite as simple as many here have made it out to be.

You are considering not only the impact that your actions will have on the poker game but also perhaps more importantly how that will affect the people involved on a human level.

In my opinion, everything you have said thus far reflects your desire to seek justice (which may be needed to preserve the integrity of your game) without causing unnecessary damage to valued friendships. That is no simple task, and I commend your efforts.

Some players/friends may not be satisfied unless an exacting consequence is suffered by the cheat. They demand justice. Others may not be satisfied unless mercy is granted. They favor forgiveness. This paradox has many other life applications.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, which I referenced above, there is a character named Jacopo. He is a member of a crew of thieves and he keeps some stolen treasure for himself---which is of course strictly forbidden, even among thieves. In the story, the head of the crew (Luigi Vampa) was going to bury Jacopo alive to punish him for stealing so as to maintain harmony within the crew and avoid mutiny. But Luigi knows, despite Jacopo's foul actions, that some members of the crew would favor mercy over justice, because they are Jacopo's friends. And so a "knife fight to the death" against Zatara becomes an opportunity for Jacopo's life to be spared... because he is a great knife fighter. When Zatara, rather than Jacopo, wins the knife fight, he asks to spare Jacopo's life and suggests a win-win proposition, leveraging his knowledge that some members of the crew wanted justice and others wanted mercy for their friend. It is an unusual movie reference, but I hope you get the point I'm trying to make here.

In your situation, it may be difficult to find a win-win scenario. Others in this thread have even referred to it as a lose-lose proposition. But I myself prefer to view every challenge as an opportunity in disguise. Maybe... just maybe... you can find a solution that brings about enough justice to satisfy those harmed by the cheat while simultaneously showing some level of mercy to their friend.

The justice-first approach would demand banishment of this player from the game and at the same time a loss of trust and friendship. A mercy-first approach might allow this guy to remain a friend and perhaps even a member of the poker crew.

If you only enforce justice or grant mercy, then somebody will not be happy about it. That is the lose-lose proposition.

But as a person who values friendship over poker and refuses to see this as a lose-lose scenario, my question would be... is there an alternative consequence (other than banishment and simultaneous loss of friendship) that could satisfy the need for justice but also satisfy the desire for mercy?

To me, whatever you do, the only way to get a win-win out of this will be to find a way satisfy both. What that way is, I leave to you.

But I again want to commend you @Taghkanic for what I perceive as your integrity, character and a genuine desire to do what is right. You have my respect and admiration.
 

WedgeRock

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Am I correct that a hard ban for not following shuffling procedures is out because you have other weak shufflers (weak as in not good, not weak as in cheating)? If yes, then I would change the shuffling procedures to disallow the overhand shuffle. Any players who can't riffle must wash the cards.

I still wouldn't let a known cheat sit, to protect the game. And I still would inform the other players to protect them at other games (with or without this particular cheat).

I would NOT lie to the group or soft peddle any details. They deserve better. I also would not make the ban about any BS reason -- he cheated. Buhbye.

Edit:. Also, for drama, consider grabbing his wrist next time he cheat-shuffles and announce to the group, "Caught a hanger, Sarge!"
 
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WedgeRock

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I stay all night to watch people sleeping on couches.

Creepy.

Also, to those that think OP waited too long, it's entirely reasonable/possible that the cheat was setting the deck subtlely every time, but that doesn't mean he could turn it into dragging a pot every time. He might only realize an advantage a couple of times a night. And if he's a good player, you can't assume that just because he won a pot, he cheated.

When you say he let a cheat sit at his game under suspicion for two months (5 or 6 games) I don't think it's fair. I would trust that OP took the minimum amount of time to verify the accusations (and as he explained, revise the allegations and verify the new technique).

Also, it's easy to say, "Cut this cheater loose and never look back." But I'm thinking about life long friends I have, guys who we've stood up in each other's weddings. It would be harder to throw away a lifetime of friendship over a few actions at a poker table. A strong underlying friendship definitely makes it trickier (but under no circumstances would I allow a cheat to sit at my game).
 

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Dedicated dealer? Selling it as making the game go faster? Or pass the shuffle to all players and then hand it to a dedicated dealer. That way the dedicated dealer can give them an extra riffle or two without question. Less chance of breaking up your group and I think it solves your problem.

I apologize if this was mentioned before, long thread.
 

karsus

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I assume that Taghkanic is not running a high stakes game and that the players are playing with money they can afford to lose (if those assumptions are wrong, then please ignore this post). Assuming that is correct this is a behavior that is based on a need to win not a desire to win money. That distinction is important as if it was about money then logic might work, but my guess is that this is a behavioral issue which is unlikely to be solved discretely.

I had a few situations similar to this when we ran (non-poker) card tournaments out of my game store. We handled the situation the same every time (assuming they were a key member of the community.. if they weren't -- well lets just say the response was more draconian) with a pretty even split on the results.

Our approach was to talk to the assumed cheater privately and present them with our evidence, yes they will deny it.. but that is not the point. The point is that they know that they did wrong and were caught. We told them that they needed to donate the winnings (various ways of achieving that) assuming there was a cash payout, and that they would be watched and any further infractions would result in an immediate ban and public outing.

About half of those confronted changed their ways and never cheated again; the other half got caught quickly, we outed them presented the process to the group and we never heard from them again.

This is a little different as it wasn't always 'friends' that were caught, but as a business we were looking at a loss of revenue if we alienated the players. However; over a 10 year period that we ran the store our core customers appreciated that we kept things fair and honest. Which at the end of the day is the result you need to ensure is achieved
 
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Payback

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(b) if everyone know the games are being captured on “tape,” it serves as a deterrent to cheating.

If you'd like I can send another player to replace this cheater so you can continue your game without repercussion. I'll have him send you a message privately. Be on the lookout for his message. His name is Mike Postle aka. The GOD. If he spends most of the evening staring at his crotch don't worry he does it often in my game here in Sacramento.
 

Taghkanic

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So, the player has now been told — firmly, neutrally, and concisely—that he is out.

I took the advice of several in this thread, and others off-thread, to emphasize that the decision is final. The player of course denied it and wants to get into the weeds to debate our observations. I don’t see any upside to that, as it would only serve to help him better hide his mechanics from others in the future.

The most important learning experience was conferring privately (in advance of telling the offender) with three players in the game who have the most respect in the group. A fair number of suspicions were already out there; and I don’t believe our game will lose more than 1-2 regs with prior loyalties to the player. I have plenty of support in this.

Thanks to everyone who gave constructive advice. It was a real help.
 

Steppenwolf

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I'm glad you got the support of other trusted members of the group so that they could help you to share the burden of the decision. Too bad he didn't man up. I am still curious how this will go with respect to the wedding.
 

karsus

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So, the player has now been told — firmly, neutrally, and concisely—that he is out.

I took the advice of several in this thread, and others off-thread, to emphasize that the decision is final. The player of course denied it and wants to get into the weeds to debate our observations. I don’t see any upside to that, as it would only serve to help him better hide his mechanics from others in the future.

The most important learning experience was conferring privately (in advance of telling the offender) with three players in the game who have the most respect in the group. A fair number of suspicions were already out there; and I don’t believe our game will lose more than 1-2 regs with prior loyalties to the player. I have plenty of support in this.

Thanks to everyone who gave constructive advice. It was a real help.
This is never easy.. but props to you for taking it on. To be honest, there is no right answer; but I am sure that you took the approach that worked best for your group and the situation.

Please let us know if there is anything we can do to support
 

MattyMatt

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Sure, we are all victims. But through close observation over the past couple of months, I notice that he is much less likely to push any advantage against players he is more close to. (He also shows a lot of disdain for certain players with whom he doesn’t socialize outside the game, and these are his main victims. I have had to ask him privately in the past to be less condescending and insulting to these players. He has admitted explicitly that he likes to antagonize them to get loose calls.)

Please tell me he doesn't live in NY City!.. sounds just like someone I've played with.
 

Steppenwolf

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There’ll be snickers if the topic of infidelity comes up, in any context, vows or otherwise.
I am just hopeful that the true friendships involved will not be driven apart, and that no unwanted strife will occur. Weddings can be a uniquely stressful occasion on their own, without adding in this type of situation.
 

Taghkanic

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For what it’s worth, and if it helps others to suss out such players, here are some aspects of the con which have less to do with the pure mechanics of it, and more to do with how the player managed his role and image in the game to avoid detection/deter accusations. My “read” is that the player deploys these strategies and tactics both to deflect suspicion and also to cow victims into silence.

I’d thought about this behavior in the past, in the normal process of trying to deeply assess his playing style like I do anyone whom I see regularly at a table. But I was not viewing them through the lens of cheating, and so did not fully grasp the purpose of his antics and tendencies—until the actual mechanics of his con came into focus.

So:

1) This player cultivates a combined image of the Luckiest Bastard on Earth and a near-genius Mind Reader — kind of an idiot savant of cards. When weaker players are victimized, they latch onto the lucky half of the image. (He sucked out on me again! I’m so unlucky / He’s so lucky! I’ll “get” him next time!) Meanwhile, stronger players attribute his success to his poker genius, e.g. by assuming he is a more canny and fearless manager of variance — then blame themselves for not playing better, rather than suspecting his con. (For a long time, I was trying to “learn” to be a better player by analyzing his play, rather than monitoring it for dishonesty.)

2) The player likewise balances a jokey, talkative, amusing table image with an intimidating, dismissive, and at times even humiliating attitude toward players he disrespects. Though he’s notorious for making outrageously loose plays which should fail a high percentage of the time — yet almost never do — he will berate other players he dislikes if they make the same type of “terrible” plays. He keeps a double standard: If I do it and win, I’m better at poker than you; if you do it and beat me, you’re a donkey. This type of thinking is common, I would say, to many poker players, but he takes it to another level.

3) Overall, the player prefers to target weaker, less observant players far more than stronger ones who think through the action carefully, review hands in their minds afterward, and understand probability and variance well. This helps minimize detection, as the weaker players are less likely to grasp how unlikely their results are, and have less sway with others if they make accusations. However, the player may target both types as the situation dictates.

4) The player uses speech play and selective personal antagonism to generate huge calls (and sometimes huge folds) from weaker players, when he’s trapped them in a hand where he has more information than they do. The calls come from those keen to finally “beat him”; the folds come when they are afraid to look stupid. Over time, these players become paradoxically more and more likely to dump chips to the cheater, rather than less, as they are both trying to get revenge and trying not to be a donkey... without understanding what is happening. Which is: That the player has gained unfair insight into when they have a marginal made hand which can be bluffed out, or a strong one which he can beat.

5) On rare occasions when he is challenged, he’ll trot out prepared deflections designed to belittle and silence the other player, like “I could explain it to you, but you wouldn’t understand.” So most everyone at the tables keeps their thoughts to themselves, for fear of looking stupid.

6) The player does not deploy his angles 100% of the time, but more when he feels it necessary — or when he himself is tilted. Once he’s well ahead, whether from cheating or running good, he’s more likely to revert to standard play (at which he is well above average, as far as understanding the game, ranges, odds, balance, stack management, etc.). However, he appears to have some temperamental or emotional issues with (a) losing/running bad and (b) getting easily annoyed by players who rub him the wrong way. He seems far more likely to start cheating when he is down in chips, or wants to “punish” a player he dislikes who won a hand against him, or needled him. (This actually was part of how I began to catch on -- noticing that a high percentage of these monster reversals in fortune came shortly after he’d lost a big pot or was exhibiting anger/frustration at someone.)

7) In a private tournament, once he’s gotten down to the final 3-4 players, he is more eager to chop than most, at least with players he professes to like and respect more than others. (I think an ICM chop is pretty much always a good move, but many amateurs want to play it out.) One of my co-watchers believes this willingness is another way of deflecting suspicion, by appearing generous at the end. In general, he seems more likely to soft play or chop with those he socializes with outside the game and has some respect for. (I know: Anyone who cheats his friends even a little doesn’t have respect for them. But there is a degree of compartmentalizing going on in his mind, I believe.)

8) Notably, though he appears to be a modest winning player in casino cash games, and plays bigger tournaments, he has almost no Hendon Mob results. As with Postle, his win rate in private games beg the question: If he’s such a poker god, why isn’t he playing higher?

9) Like Mike tells Worm at several points in Rounders, sometimes a cheat needs to not get too greedy with his con, to avoid detection. This particular player is usually pretty good at dialing it down and not going overboard, to help extend the con. But per above, at times he seems to lose discipline, and of late he started to get way too obvious about it. (For all I know, the impending marriage contributed to an additional need for money, but that’s just speculating.) I’d say that seems to have been a feature of the Postle scandal as well — the player cultivated a Savant image, abetted by the hosts, but took it way too far and it aroused suspicions.

Now, these attributes and attitudes may be entirely specific to this player. They may not apply to another cheat at all. Or, I might be misinterpreting his metagame — I have no formal training in psychology besides one survey course in Junior year of college... and years of managing a very large membership organization, where I had to deal with literally thousands of anxiety-ridden personalities. I’m 99.9% certain about his mechanical manipulations of the deck, but less so about how the above items contribute to his getting away with it. Still, having thought a lot about it, I’m putting these thoughts out there for others to take under advisement. Your mileage may vary.
 
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saleen121212

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For what it’s worth, and if it helps others to suss out such players, here are some aspects of the con which have less to do with the pure mechanics of it, and more to do with how the player managed his role and image in the game to avoid detection/deter accusations. My “read” is that the player deploys these strategies and tactics both to deflect suspicion and also to cow victims into silence.

I’d thought about this behavior in the past, in the normal process of trying to deeply assess his playing style like I do anyone whom I see regularly at a table. But I was not viewing them through the lens of cheating, and so did not fully grasp the purpose of his antics and tendencies—until the actual mechanics of his con came into focus.

So:

1) This player cultivates a combined image of the Luckiest Bastard on Earth and a near-genius Mind Reader — kind of an idiot savant of cards. When weaker players are victimized, they latch onto the lucky half of the image. (He sucked out on me again! I’m so unlucky / He’s so lucky! I’ll “get” him next time!) Meanwhile, stronger players attribute his success to his poker genius, e.g. by assuming he is a more canny and fearless manager of variance — then blame themselves for not playing better, rather than suspecting his con. (For a long time, I was trying to “learn” to be a better player by analyzing his play, rather than monitoring it for dishonesty.)

2) The player likewise balances a jokey, talkative, amusing table image with an intimidating, dismissive, and at times even humiliating attitude toward players he disrespects. Though he’s notorious for making outrageously loose plays which should fail a high percentage of the time — yet almost never do — he will berate other players he dislikes if they make the same type of “terrible” plays. He keeps a double standard: If I do it and win, I’m better at poker than you; if you do it and beat me, you’re a donkey. This type of thinking is common, I would say, to many poker players, but he takes it to another level.

3) Overall, the player prefers to target weaker, less observant players far more than stronger ones who think through the action carefully, review hands in their minds afterward, and understand probability and variance well. This helps minimize detection, as the weaker players are less likely to grasp how unlikely their results are, and have less sway with others if they make accusations. However, the player may target both types as the situation dictates.

4) The player uses speech play and selective personal antagonism to generate huge calls (and sometimes huge folds) from weaker players, when he’s trapped them in a hand where he has more information than they do. The calls come from those keen to finally “beat him”; the folds come when they are afraid to look stupid. Over time, these players become paradoxically more and more likely to dump chips to the cheater, rather than less, as they are both trying to get revenge and trying not to be a donkey... without understanding what is happening. Which is: That the player has gained unfair insight into when they have a marginal made hand which can be bluffed out, or a strong one which he can beat.

5) On rare occasions when he is challenged, he’ll trot out prepared deflections designed to belittle and silence the other player, like “I could explain it to you, but you wouldn’t understand.” So most everyone at the tables keeps their thoughts to themselves, for fear of looking stupid.

6) The player does not deploy his angles 100% of the time, but more when he feels it necessary — or when he himself is tilted. Once he’s well ahead, whether from cheating or running good, he’s more likely to revert to standard play (at which he is well above average, as far as understanding the game, ranges, odds, balance, stack management, etc.). However, he appears to have some temperamental or emotional issues with (a) losing/running bad and (b) getting easily annoyed by players who rub him the wrong way. He seems far more likely to start cheating when he is down in chips, or wants to “punish” a player he dislikes who won a hand against him, or needled him. (This actually was part of how I began to catch on -- noticing that a high percentage of these monster reversals in fortune came shortly after he’d lost a big pot or was exhibiting anger/frustration at someone.)

7) In a private tournament, once he’s gotten down to the final 3-4 players, he is more eager to chop than most, at least with players he professes to like and respect more than others. (I think an ICM chop is pretty much always a good move, but many amateurs want to play it out.) One of my co-watchers believes this willingness is another way of deflecting suspicion, by appearing generous at the end. In general, he seems more likely to soft play or chop with those he socializes with outside the game and has some respect for. (I know: Anyone who cheats his friends even a little doesn’t have respect for them. But there is a degree of compartmentalizing going on in his mind, I believe.)

8) Notably, though he appears to be a modest winning player in casino cash games, and plays bigger tournaments, he has almost no Hendon Mob results. As with Postle, his win rate in private games beg the question: If he’s such a poker god, why isn’t he playing higher?

9) Like Mike tells Worm at several points in Rounders, sometimes a cheat needs to not get too greedy with his con, to avoid detection. This particular player is usually pretty good at dialing it down and not going overboard, to help extend the con. But per above, at times he seems to lose discipline, and of late he started to get way too obvious about it. (For all I know, the impending marriage contributed to an additional need for money, but that’s just speculating.) I’d say that seems to have been a feature of the Postle scandal as well — the player cultivated a Savant image, abetted by the hosts, but took it way too far and it aroused suspicions.

Now, these attributes and attitudes may be entirely specific to this player. They may not apply to another cheat at all. Or, I might be misinterpreting his metagame — I have no formal training in psychology besides one survey course in Junior year of college... and years of managing a very large membership organization, where I had to manage literally thousands of personalities. I’m 99.9% certain about his mechanical manipulations of the deck, but less so about how the above items contribute to his getting away with it. Still, having thought a lot about it, I’m putting these thoughts out there for others to take under advisement. Your mileage may vary.


Is the peaking at cards while shuffling the only way we suspect he was cheating?
 

shorticus

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I'm glad you were able to resolve your issue with minimal disruption to your game. Good for you bro!
 

Taghkanic

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@saleen121212 Here is a fuller review of the methods observed (which may not be his only method, but the ones which we were sure about, which precipitated taking action) ...

(1) Going through the muck. The player begins by trying to look through the muck as soon as it is passed to him to shuffle. Sometimes he gets just a quick peek, sometimes more, depending on timing, who’s paying attention, etc.

I and others have barked at him not to do that when it is observed. (He’ll say something bland like, oh, sorry, I was just trying to remember what I folded, or the like. One time recently when a member of my “team” told him to “knock that off,” he replied quietly, “Oh, you saw that?” Which is a pretty darn odd reply.)

(2) The “overhand” shuffle. This is followed by an “overhand” shuffle, with the deck’s long side parallel to the table, with the faces toward him enough so that he can view the positions of cards. He does not except very rarely use the more standard and correct “riffle” method of shuffling.

Here is a simple video I found of a normal overhand shuffle, performed by someone not trying to cheat:


Here is the same guy showing a method for keeping a card on the bottom:


The way our expelled player did it, at first the deck gets tilted away from him so he can see the bottom of each clump he’s picked up, rather than the backs of the cards as in the video above. Once some cards are in place that he wants to know about, it is then possible to do a “false” overhand shuffle to keep those in place, based on various videos I’ve now watched online. If you search YouTube for “overhand shuffle card cheat,” you’ll get a ton of results.

(3) Previewing and/or arranging cards. Cards sometimes get moved to the top, but sometimes to the bottom. He’s grabbing bunches of cards from within the deck, so he can see the bottom of each bunch, and choose to move those specific cards toward the front or back of the deck. He does it quickly and casually, reflecting years of practice, it looks like.

The longer the player has to shuffle this way, the more precision alignment is possible, and the more information gets gleaned. So the deck may be pretty well stacked in some cases when there is more time. In other situations, he must may “only” have knowledge of maybe a half-dozen card positions.

(4) Avoiding cuts. In addition, the player consistently tries to avoid having his shuffles cut when delivering a deck he’s handled this way. For example, he will hand the deck straight to the next dealer, rather than the player to his left (dealer’s right), with the cut card underneath, instead of on top. Putting the cut card on top signals, “remember to cut.” When it’s on the bottom, it’s easier for the cutter to say “who cares” and not cut; and easier for the dealer to assume it already was cut, if he was not looking.

Repeated warnings to the whole group that the deck must be cut have not been very effective, since a lot of them are more casual players who are focused on the action and socializing.

Anyway, even when his previewed and/or arranged deck does get cut, by observing the depth of the cut the player at minimum can know what cards are likely to be close to the top, or close to the bottom. This makes a smart, attentive player much more able to effectively range opponents... especially after seeing his own hole cards, and the flop.

(5) Discussion / errata. For a smart and experienced player who understands poker theory and math well, even a little extra information is very powerful. I can think of other players who would either learn very little via this method, or misapply what they saw. At mininum, I’d liken the size of the edge that this confers to, say, always getting dealt suited connectors in late position. (Not saying that’s what he does — just trying to quantify the relative value of this angle.)

I’ve seen decks he handled result in some pretty outrageous hands which look like set-ups. Of course, such hands do occur naturally in poker... but with a much higher frequency with this guy.

Overall, his method seems more weighted toward “merely” gleaning information to give him an advantage, rather than true cold-deck type set-ups... unless maybe when he has an especially juicy opportunity. (Say, a hand which takes a ton of time while he is “shuffling” the next deck, or someone to his left who regularly neglects to cut.)

There could in theory be other, more classic methods of cheating also going on. But I have not spotted anything like bottom-dealing, or signaling, or marking cards, or the like. (His lifelong friend plays in the game, but for now no one on our team suspects he is involved, though we do wonder how he could possibly not have noticed something fishy, having played with him much longer than the rest of us. He is an average player, more thoughtful than some, but seldom a big winner in either the tourney or cash. He does seem to kind of idolize his pal.)

Lastly, I check all decks carefully before each session, replacing any card with even a slight dimple, scuff, or other imperfection. Generally 2-4 cards get discarded each time due to this spot check.I’ve saved these for a year, and see no pattern of marking.

Bottom line: In a game like Hold ’Em where even small edges can make a massive difference in outcomes, my “team” thinks what we’ve observed fully accounts for his amazingly good results.
 
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Lemonzest

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For what it’s worth, and if it helps others to suss out such players, here are some aspects of the con which have less to do with the pure mechanics of it, and more to do with how the player managed his role and image in the game to avoid detection/deter accusations. My “read” is that the player deploys these strategies and tactics both to deflect suspicion and also to cow victims into silence.

I’d thought about this behavior in the past, in the normal process of trying to deeply assess his playing style like I do anyone whom I see regularly at a table. But I was not viewing them through the lens of cheating, and so did not fully grasp the purpose of his antics and tendencies—until the actual mechanics of his con came into focus.

So:

1) This player cultivates a combined image of the Luckiest Bastard on Earth and a near-genius Mind Reader — kind of an idiot savant of cards. When weaker players are victimized, they latch onto the lucky half of the image. (He sucked out on me again! I’m so unlucky / He’s so lucky! I’ll “get” him next time!) Meanwhile, stronger players attribute his success to his poker genius, e.g. by assuming he is a more canny and fearless manager of variance — then blame themselves for not playing better, rather than suspecting his con. (For a long time, I was trying to “learn” to be a better player by analyzing his play, rather than monitoring it for dishonesty.)

2) The player likewise balances a jokey, talkative, amusing table image with an intimidating, dismissive, and at times even humiliating attitude toward players he disrespects. Though he’s notorious for making outrageously loose plays which should fail a high percentage of the time — yet almost never do — he will berate other players he dislikes if they make the same type of “terrible” plays. He keeps a double standard: If I do it and win, I’m better at poker than you; if you do it and beat me, you’re a donkey. This type of thinking is common, I would say, to many poker players, but he takes it to another level.

3) Overall, the player prefers to target weaker, less observant players far more than stronger ones who think through the action carefully, review hands in their minds afterward, and understand probability and variance well. This helps minimize detection, as the weaker players are less likely to grasp how unlikely their results are, and have less sway with others if they make accusations. However, the player may target both types as the situation dictates.

4) The player uses speech play and selective personal antagonism to generate huge calls (and sometimes huge folds) from weaker players, when he’s trapped them in a hand where he has more information than they do. The calls come from those keen to finally “beat him”; the folds come when they are afraid to look stupid. Over time, these players become paradoxically more and more likely to dump chips to the cheater, rather than less, as they are both trying to get revenge and trying not to be a donkey... without understanding what is happening. Which is: That the player has gained unfair insight into when they have a marginal made hand which can be bluffed out, or a strong one which he can beat.

5) On rare occasions when he is challenged, he’ll trot out prepared deflections designed to belittle and silence the other player, like “I could explain it to you, but you wouldn’t understand.” So most everyone at the tables keeps their thoughts to themselves, for fear of looking stupid.

6) The player does not deploy his angles 100% of the time, but more when he feels it necessary — or when he himself is tilted. Once he’s well ahead, whether from cheating or running good, he’s more likely to revert to standard play (at which he is well above average, as far as understanding the game, ranges, odds, balance, stack management, etc.). However, he appears to have some temperamental or emotional issues with (a) losing/running bad and (b) getting easily annoyed by players who rub him the wrong way. He seems far more likely to start cheating when he is down in chips, or wants to “punish” a player he dislikes who won a hand against him, or needled him. (This actually was part of how I began to catch on -- noticing that a high percentage of these monster reversals in fortune came shortly after he’d lost a big pot or was exhibiting anger/frustration at someone.)

7) In a private tournament, once he’s gotten down to the final 3-4 players, he is more eager to chop than most, at least with players he professes to like and respect more than others. (I think an ICM chop is pretty much always a good move, but many amateurs want to play it out.) One of my co-watchers believes this willingness is another way of deflecting suspicion, by appearing generous at the end. In general, he seems more likely to soft play or chop with those he socializes with outside the game and has some respect for. (I know: Anyone who cheats his friends even a little doesn’t have respect for them. But there is a degree of compartmentalizing going on in his mind, I believe.)

8) Notably, though he appears to be a modest winning player in casino cash games, and plays bigger tournaments, he has almost no Hendon Mob results. As with Postle, his win rate in private games beg the question: If he’s such a poker god, why isn’t he playing higher?

9) Like Mike tells Worm at several points in Rounders, sometimes a cheat needs to not get too greedy with his con, to avoid detection. This particular player is usually pretty good at dialing it down and not going overboard, to help extend the con. But per above, at times he seems to lose discipline, and of late he started to get way too obvious about it. (For all I know, the impending marriage contributed to an additional need for money, but that’s just speculating.) I’d say that seems to have been a feature of the Postle scandal as well — the player cultivated a Savant image, abetted by the hosts, but took it way too far and it aroused suspicions.

Now, these attributes and attitudes may be entirely specific to this player. They may not apply to another cheat at all. Or, I might be misinterpreting his metagame — I have no formal training in psychology besides one survey course in Junior year of college... and years of managing a very large membership organization, where I had to manage literally thousands of personalities. I’m 99.9% certain about his mechanical manipulations of the deck, but less so about how the above items contribute to his getting away with it. Still, having thought a lot about it, I’m putting these thoughts out there for others to take under advisement. Your mileage may vary.

Very thoughtful breakdown. I find it interesting how we as humans justify certain behaviour. Everyone has different standards for what is acceptable and we erect correspending arguments within our own minds. For example, many people cheat on their partner and have an internal narrative that somehow makes their actions okay.

The problem with something like this is the consequences are so grave. Whether cheating at poker or cheating on a spouse - its a game changer if caught.

Even IF you can justify it to yourself the fallout, if caught is so severe. I wonder why some seemingly normal people cheat and others dont.
 

Taghkanic

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Here’s a review of one overhand false shuffling method, made by a guy with a heavy Russian accent and a devilish goatee for bonus sinister effect. This isn’t quite what I observed, but it gives you an idea of how easy it is to manage decks with this “shuffle.” I’ve recently learned that there are countless techniques like this, which seem much more easily achievable by non-magicians with the overhand method than some others.

 

JMC9389

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For what it’s worth, and if it helps others to suss out such players, here are some aspects of the con which have less to do with the pure mechanics of it, and more to do with how the player managed his role and image in the game to avoid detection/deter accusations. My “read” is that the player deploys these strategies and tactics both to deflect suspicion and also to cow victims into silence.

I’d thought about this behavior in the past, in the normal process of trying to deeply assess his playing style like I do anyone whom I see regularly at a table. But I was not viewing them through the lens of cheating, and so did not fully grasp the purpose of his antics and tendencies—until the actual mechanics of his con came into focus.

So:

1) This player cultivates a combined image of the Luckiest Bastard on Earth and a near-genius Mind Reader — kind of an idiot savant of cards. When weaker players are victimized, they latch onto the lucky half of the image. (He sucked out on me again! I’m so unlucky / He’s so lucky! I’ll “get” him next time!) Meanwhile, stronger players attribute his success to his poker genius, e.g. by assuming he is a more canny and fearless manager of variance — then blame themselves for not playing better, rather than suspecting his con. (For a long time, I was trying to “learn” to be a better player by analyzing his play, rather than monitoring it for dishonesty.)

2) The player likewise balances a jokey, talkative, amusing table image with an intimidating, dismissive, and at times even humiliating attitude toward players he disrespects. Though he’s notorious for making outrageously loose plays which should fail a high percentage of the time — yet almost never do — he will berate other players he dislikes if they make the same type of “terrible” plays. He keeps a double standard: If I do it and win, I’m better at poker than you; if you do it and beat me, you’re a donkey. This type of thinking is common, I would say, to many poker players, but he takes it to another level.

3) Overall, the player prefers to target weaker, less observant players far more than stronger ones who think through the action carefully, review hands in their minds afterward, and understand probability and variance well. This helps minimize detection, as the weaker players are less likely to grasp how unlikely their results are, and have less sway with others if they make accusations. However, the player may target both types as the situation dictates.

4) The player uses speech play and selective personal antagonism to generate huge calls (and sometimes huge folds) from weaker players, when he’s trapped them in a hand where he has more information than they do. The calls come from those keen to finally “beat him”; the folds come when they are afraid to look stupid. Over time, these players become paradoxically more and more likely to dump chips to the cheater, rather than less, as they are both trying to get revenge and trying not to be a donkey... without understanding what is happening. Which is: That the player has gained unfair insight into when they have a marginal made hand which can be bluffed out, or a strong one which he can beat.

5) On rare occasions when he is challenged, he’ll trot out prepared deflections designed to belittle and silence the other player, like “I could explain it to you, but you wouldn’t understand.” So most everyone at the tables keeps their thoughts to themselves, for fear of looking stupid.

6) The player does not deploy his angles 100% of the time, but more when he feels it necessary — or when he himself is tilted. Once he’s well ahead, whether from cheating or running good, he’s more likely to revert to standard play (at which he is well above average, as far as understanding the game, ranges, odds, balance, stack management, etc.). However, he appears to have some temperamental or emotional issues with (a) losing/running bad and (b) getting easily annoyed by players who rub him the wrong way. He seems far more likely to start cheating when he is down in chips, or wants to “punish” a player he dislikes who won a hand against him, or needled him. (This actually was part of how I began to catch on -- noticing that a high percentage of these monster reversals in fortune came shortly after he’d lost a big pot or was exhibiting anger/frustration at someone.)

7) In a private tournament, once he’s gotten down to the final 3-4 players, he is more eager to chop than most, at least with players he professes to like and respect more than others. (I think an ICM chop is pretty much always a good move, but many amateurs want to play it out.) One of my co-watchers believes this willingness is another way of deflecting suspicion, by appearing generous at the end. In general, he seems more likely to soft play or chop with those he socializes with outside the game and has some respect for. (I know: Anyone who cheats his friends even a little doesn’t have respect for them. But there is a degree of compartmentalizing going on in his mind, I believe.)

8) Notably, though he appears to be a modest winning player in casino cash games, and plays bigger tournaments, he has almost no Hendon Mob results. As with Postle, his win rate in private games beg the question: If he’s such a poker god, why isn’t he playing higher?

9) Like Mike tells Worm at several points in Rounders, sometimes a cheat needs to not get too greedy with his con, to avoid detection. This particular player is usually pretty good at dialing it down and not going overboard, to help extend the con. But per above, at times he seems to lose discipline, and of late he started to get way too obvious about it. (For all I know, the impending marriage contributed to an additional need for money, but that’s just speculating.) I’d say that seems to have been a feature of the Postle scandal as well — the player cultivated a Savant image, abetted by the hosts, but took it way too far and it aroused suspicions.

Now, these attributes and attitudes may be entirely specific to this player. They may not apply to another cheat at all. Or, I might be misinterpreting his metagame — I have no formal training in psychology besides one survey course in Junior year of college... and years of managing a very large membership organization, where I had to deal with literally thousands of anxiety-ridden personalities. I’m 99.9% certain about his mechanical manipulations of the deck, but less so about how the above items contribute to his getting away with it. Still, having thought a lot about it, I’m putting these thoughts out there for others to take under advisement. Your mileage may vary.
Jeez, even without the cheating issues, doesn't sound like someone that I'd want at my game.
 

Taghkanic

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Well, he’s a charming guy overall. The occasionally borderline-abusive stuff that I mentioned gets mixed in with a lot of hilarious banter and friendly gestures. (For example, for a time he was dating a woman who ran a wine shop, and he’d would always bring a couple of nice bottles for people to sample and share.) He’s now engaged to the very sweet sister of a guy many of us know and like, further complicating the situation.

His more dickish behavior I guess we all tended to write off as his theatrical poker image, which gets compartmentalized from his more normal day-to-day attitude. Like others have said, it’s amazing how wired we humans are to overlook this stuff. Especially in the context of a game which is designed for “friendly” combat.

I’m sure we all must know people who behave differently, or lose their cool, or act inappropriately in the context of gambling, as opposed to, say, when they are with their families, at work, or among non-poker friends.
 
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WedgeRock

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I’m sure we all must know people who behave differently, or lose their cool, or act inappropriately in the context of gambling
Give it a fucking rest, will you?! It was one fucking time and I said I was sorry! How long are you going to keep poking the bear on this?!

Oh, you meant in general? Well, then... nevermind. :whistle: :whistling:
 

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@saleen121212 Here is a fuller review of the methods observed (which may not be his only method, but the ones which we were sure about, which precipitated taking action) ...

(1) Going through the muck. The player begins by trying to look through the muck as soon as it is passed to him to shuffle. Sometimes he gets just a quick peek, sometimes more, depending on timing, who’s paying attention, etc.

I and others have barked at him not to do that when it is observed. (He’ll say something bland like, oh, sorry, I was just trying to remember what I folded, or the like. One time recently when a member of my “team” told him to “knock that off,” he replied quietly, “Oh, you saw that?” Which is a pretty darn odd reply.)

(2) The “overhand” shuffle. This is followed by an “overhand” shuffle, with the deck’s long side parallel to the table, with the faces toward him enough so that he can view the positions of cards. He does not except very rarely use the more standard and correct “riffle” method of shuffling.

Here is a simple video I found of a normal overhand shuffle, performed by someone not trying to cheat:


Here is the same guy showing a method for keeping a card on the bottom:


The way our expelled player did it, at first the deck gets tilted away from him so he can see the bottom of each clump he’s picked up, rather than the backs of the cards as in the video above. Once some cards are in place that he wants to know about, it is then possible to do a “false” overhand shuffle to keep those in place, based on various videos I’ve now watched online. If you search YouTube for “overhand shuffle card cheat,” you’ll get a ton of results.

(3) Previewing and/or arranging cards. Cards sometimes get moved to the top, but sometimes to the bottom. He’s grabbing bunches of cards from within the deck, so he can see the bottom of each bunch, and choose to move those specific cards toward the front or back of the deck. He does it quickly and casually, reflecting years of practice, it looks like.

The longer the player has to shuffle this way, the more precision alignment is possible, and the more information gets gleaned. So the deck may be pretty well stacked in some cases when there is more time. In other situations, he must may “only” have knowledge of maybe a half-dozen card positions.

(4) Avoiding cuts. In addition, the player consistently tries to avoid having his shuffles cut when delivering a deck he’s handled this way. For example, he will hand the deck straight to the next dealer, rather than the player to his left (dealer’s right), with the cut card underneath, instead of on top. Putting the cut card on top signals, “remember to cut.” When it’s on the bottom, it’s easier for the cutter to say “who cares” and not cut; and easier for the dealer to assume it already was cut, if he was not looking.

Repeated warnings to the whole group that the deck must be cut have not been very effective, since a lot of them are more casual players who are focused on the action and socializing.

Anyway, even when his previewed and/or arranged deck does get cut, by observing the depth of the cut the player at minimum can know what cards are likely to be close to the top, or close to the bottom. This makes a smart, attentive player much more able to effectively range opponents... especially after seeing his own hole cards, and the flop.

(5) Discussion / errata. For a smart and experienced player who understands poker theory and math well, even a little extra information is very powerful. I can think of other players who would either learn very little via this method, or misapply what they saw. At mininum, I’d liken the size of the edge that this confers to, say, always getting dealt suited connectors in late position. (Not saying that’s what he does — just trying to quantify the relative value of this angle.)

I’ve seen decks he handled result in some pretty outrageous hands which look like set-ups. Of course, such hands do occur naturally in poker... but with a much higher frequency with this guy.

Overall, his method seems more weighted toward “merely” gleaning information to give him an advantage, rather than true cold-deck type set-ups... unless maybe when he has an especially juicy opportunity. (Say, a hand which takes a ton of time while he is “shuffling” the next deck, or someone to his left who regularly neglects to cut.)

There could in theory be other, more classic methods of cheating also going on. But I have not spotted anything like bottom-dealing, or signaling, or marking cards, or the like. (His lifelong friend plays in the game, but for now no one on our team suspects he is involved, though we do wonder how he could possibly not have noticed something fishy, having played with him much longer than the rest of us. He is an average player, more thoughtful than some, but seldom a big winner in either the tourney or cash. He does seem to kind of idolize his pal.)

Lastly, I check all decks carefully before each session, replacing any card with even a slight dimple, scuff, or other imperfection. Generally 2-4 cards get discarded each time due to this spot check.I’ve saved these for a year, and see no pattern of marking.

Bottom line: In a game like Hold ’Em where even small edges can make a massive difference in outcomes, my “team” thinks what we’ve observed fully accounts for his amazingly good results.

Skeptically: only #1 (Digging through the muck) is suspect. And really suspect enough where I would call him out 1st time and not invite him back the 2nd time. That’s probably the easier approach for any similar situations.

#2 (overhand shuffle) doesn’t imply cheating, but it’s weird enough and brings up enough suspicion that just ban these. No overhand shuffles. Must be riffled face down then cut by someone else. And for you upcoming magicians, false riffles aren’t hard to do but that’s another thread.

#3 (previewing cards) most rec players are sloppy and shuffle cards where they can easily see bottom of both riffles. Have them shuffle casino style with the cards face down the entire time or just trust your cut methods mitigates most of the advantage.

#4 (putting cards on bottom or top) is the definition of overhand shuffling

#5 (him better at ranging opponents, unusually high coolers) there is no way you could ever tell in live games
 

Taghkanic

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@Frogzilla Re: #4 Clearly, I was talking about a shuffler who moves specific cards, for a purpose other than randomization, not a generic and innocent overhand shuffle (which can be fine, but is suboptimal in many ways). On #5, we felt confident due to both the specificity of recent observations and our ability to place these in the context of years of behavior and hands. The other points I agree with and we took similar ideas into account before making a decision.

Anyway, per the title, this thread was intended to be about how to deal with expelling someone already found to be cheater who is embedded in a tight-knit group, as opposed to some random guy at a less private game, without destroying the group. I’ve provided some details of the guy’s metagame and mechanics only because some were curious, and it might help others think things through if it comes up their games. But for me, the much bigger question was the handling, not the investigation.
 
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