History Of Card Cheaters And Frauds

Cheating – the use of dishonest, fraudulent tricks in gambling, most often in card games.

Manufacturers of playing cards began to search for ways of struggle against this evil immediately. The special absolutely opaque paper was developed. Cards began to do from two layers of a dense glossy paper, gluing them with black glue on the basis of soot – such card under no conditions of illumination is not looked through on light and resists to an inflection, drawing of dents, wrinkles, and scuffs. The gloss that covered the cards prevented them from being marked with ink or paint. But even greater ingenuity was shown by those for whom dishonest play became a profession.

The profession of a cheat quickly became dangerous. In the XVI century, caught cheaters were sent to the gallows. American courts recognized the right of the cheaters’ victims to physically dispose of criminals, up to their murder.

In 1849, the magistrate of a French city asked the famous magician Jean Robert-Uden to study a hundred and fifty card stocks confiscated from a suspiciously lucky professional player. For two weeks, armed with a magnifying glass, an experienced magician examined the card after card, but could not find anything unusual. The cards of the time had no shirt pattern – their backside was white. It was believed that on an empty, clear-white field any attempt to apply a nettle would be visible.

The upset magician, having accepted his failure, got up from his chair and threw the evil cards on the table. “And suddenly it seemed to me that I noticed a pale spot on the shiny back of one of the cards,” Robert-Oden wrote. – I came one step closer, and the stain was gone. But it immediately appeared again when I retreated again. The magician realized that the cheat removed the gloss from one place – perhaps just by dripping a drop of water on the cardboard – and thus made a mark visible only at a certain distance, at a certain angle and in a certain light. The spot indicated the suit and rank of the card. Robert-Uden became interested in the problem and published a whole book a few years later on the methods of “working” card cheaters.

Since 1850, the reverse side of the cards began to apply a complex pattern. The idea was that it will hide the visible contaminants accidentally caught on the map in the process of its use – a drop of coffee or wine, scuffs, which is dishonest or just an observer player can distinguish the familiar map.

However, and the drawing of the card shirt cheaters began to use for their purposes, adding to it low-profile signal strokes, dots or shades. There was a real arms race between map makers and cheaters. They were the first to develop glossy methods to prevent any marking. The latter was looking for recipes for colors and ink to apply low-profile marks on the shiniest cardboard.

In response to the release of state-guaranteed clean wells in sealed parcels, crooks developed ways to replace those wells with labels. They did not stop before large-scale operations: they sold lots of tagged cards for cheap to traders, from whom they were bought by owners of hotel and club kiosks and restaurants. Having prepared the ground, crooks went to play in these establishments.

In the middle of last century Spanish cheat Bianco bought a large number of high-quality Spanish wells. He carefully marked them every card, sealed in the original packages and resold them cheaply to Havana, which was then known as the capital of card games for money. Then he himself sailed to Cuba to “reap the fruits of his labor”.

Landing in Havana, Bianco found that everything goes as he calculated: “his” decks were sold with a guarantee of purity in all the best casinos. Playing in these establishments, Bianco tore down huge banks. In order not to arouse suspicion, in every place of a new game in the next casino or club, he complained about a major loss, allegedly just befell him in a nearby gambling house.

A thief at the thief…


Meanwhile, a French card cheat, Laforcade, arrived in Havana. He managed to infiltrate one of the most aristocratic clubs in the Cuban capital and stole there a few decks of cards to mark them and enter the game in the same club. But, having printed out the stolen decks in his hotel room, he found out that all the cards in them were already marked. Cautiously inquiring and buying fresh decks from the Havana suppliers, he realized that he had stumbled upon a giant scam.

Trying to figure out its organizer, Laforcade walked through the gambling houses and watched the players. Soon he noticed Bianco, who with constant luck always complained about losses. And so in a cozy corner of one of the clubs Laforcade made with Bianco private party in the nectar, during which he literally revealed to him the cards of his scams and offered a choice: either to share with him half of all cheating income or immediate exposure. The Spanish had no choice but to take the Frenchman’s share.

But after a while, Bianco was tired of sharing money, and he fled from Cuba. Laforcade tried to continue the scam on his own, but the Spaniard’s stock of stolen wells in Havana casinos was running low. Laforcad himself lacked the skills and experience to launch his stained “product” into the game.

Soon he was caught cheating and arrested. But the investigation failed to prove that he was marking cards or throwing tagged decks in the game (and he was really innocent of it), so he was acquitted.

Other cheaters were developing ways to mark cards as the game progressed. Cards were marked with a sharp nail or the tip of a needle soldered to a ring, applying points or scratches felt by touch. Applied tags and special ink from olive oil, camphor, stearin, and aniline. If necessary, the cheat slightly wet his finger with this paint, a small stock of which was stored on a button of the suit or even on a special pad type stamped, sewn behind the lapel of the jacket. After the game, the spot of such ink was easily washed off the cards, leaving no evidence.

If the cheat could not mark the cards, he tried to look at what cards on the opponent’s hands. The easiest, but rarely successful trick – to sit a partner with his back to the mirror, lacquered cabinet or another reflecting surface. More subtle methods are using the glass surface of a table, a polished cigarette case or even a puddle of a drink that was intentionally spilled on the table.

Happy Dutchman

Different methods of card substitution were used. In the simplest cases, everything was based only on dexterity. The card was hidden in the sleeve, under the knee, under the collar of the shirt. There were also mechanical devices with springs, capable of removing the card from the cheater’s hand in the sleeve or behind the sinus, and then throw it into the game. In 1888, the San Francisco cheat P. J. Keplinger nicknamed Happy Dutchman revolutionized the cheat, developing on the basis of previous achievements of anonymous inventors of its wittiest mechanism. In the double sleeve of a specially sewn shirt was placed retractable steel clamp, which at the will of the player could take a card or several cards from his hand and pull them into the sleeve. In the same way, cards could be issued from the sleeve to the hand.

The whole system was powered by a cable, which passed under clothing through a series of tubes and pulleys to the knee of Happy Dutchman. Sitting at the card table, the player would feel the end of the cable, take it out through a cut in the seam of the pants outside and cling it to another knee. Under the table, a thin cable connecting the player’s knees was not visible. Breaking the knees, the cheater forced the steel clamp to extend and unbend, and taking the knees, closed and pulled the clamp into the sleeve.

A few hours of training, and Keplinger learned how to hide and give away any card he had.