Hakim saw me waiting for a hand at a $4-8 Hold'Em table at my local poker room and asked if we could talk. I needed a break, so we walked out into the summer heat.
Hakim told me he had convinced the players in his home game to use the Scarne cut described in my Poker Player column "Safety Begins at Home," but he was still losing, big time.
"Is it possible," I asked, "that someone in your game is a card cheat?" How could he tell, Hakim asked. If he's good, then you won't know for sure, I answered, but one clue is the way he holds the deck. If he deals with his index finger on the front of the deck near the outer corner, then he could be a card mechanic. The mechanic's grip is unnatural: you should suspect a professional card cheat whenever you see it.
A card mechanic deals seconds until he wants to deal the top card. You can watch carefully to see if he rotates the deck, while he's doing something else as a diversion, because he must turn the deck vertical to glimpse the top card.
He said there was someone who dealt with a 'funny' grip and asked what he should do about it. You could re-organize your home game without him and see if you and the others won for a change, I supposed. No good, Hakim responded, the one he suspected was well liked by the others, and they'd invite him anyway.
I asked Hakim if he suffered from arthritis, or if any of his regulars suffered from arthritis. He said he had twinges in his thumbs from time to time, and that he thought a couple of others were similarly afflicted. What did arthritis have to do with cheating, he asked.
For about $25 you can buy a transparent shoe that holds up to four standard decks. Of course for poker you would use only one deck. After cutting the deck as John Scarney taught, put it in the shoe and deal from the shoe. Having everyone deal from a shoe is a good way to prevent a card mechanic from applying his skill for his benefit.
You could say, I told him, that you read that the poker dealers all use a shoe at The Star City Casino in Sydney. You thought it was a good idea for your home game because so many are arthritic.
Now don't try to save ten bucks by buying an opaque shoe, I told him. An opaque shoe could easily be gaffed and then you could still have someone cheating. Spend the extra money, I told him, to buy a transparent shoe, one that's nearly impossible to gaff. If the player you suspect really is a skilled card mechanic, then he'll drop out of the game no matter how well he's liked, I predicted, he'll move on to games where the players aren't so suspicious. A card mechanic looks down on cheats who use marked cards: he probably wouldn't resort to marked cards, unless the game was really a good one.
That described his home game exactly, Hakim told me, it had lots of loose players for whom money came and went easily. "Would a transparent shoe prevent cheaters from using marked cards?" he asked.
"A shoe will thwart card manipulation by the dealer," I answered. "Marked cards are a whole different problem."