How to spot the poker cheats

How to spot the poker cheats

Back in the 1800s or even 1900s if someone cheated at poker it might be a case of pistols at dawn - although it didn’t stop people then. The consequences have lessened now so it’s no wonder there are always people looking for an illegal edge in poker.

Cheating in poker is as old as the game and sophisticated cheaters can make a living from it, especially in less formal settings. So if you’re playing poker seriously you should spend some time learning about cheating and how to spot it. Here are a couple of tips to get you started.

Low-skill methods

These are tricks that don’t involve a high degree of skill to pull off, which include avoiding fees or looking at other player’s cards. The benefit of this is it’s pretty hard to prove and it can feel awkward confronting other players. Another tactic is removing some chips from the game so that some winnings are preserved rather than being risked in large hands. Because it can be hard to call these cheats the best method is if you suspect any cheating, walk away from the table as soon as possible. It’s hard enough winning in poker without having to beat players tilting the odds in their favour.

Marked Cards

This can be common practice and is incredibly effective. It involves ‘marking’ the back of the cards so that you can see what other players are holding. There are numerous levels of cheating within this technique, from marking one or two key cards to gain a slight advantage to knowing every card in the pack. Substances (called juice or ‘daub’) can also be used as a subtle means of marking cards. Changing packs regularly or even bringing your own pack to private games is a way of mitigating against this tactic.


Collusion is incredibly common in poker; there are a number of different ways to collude to get an advantage. There are a few tactics: ‘soft play’ involves failing to bet or raise in a situation where this would be normal to avoid costing a partner money; ‘whipsawing’ is where players raise each other to trap players in between; ‘dumping’ is where one colluder will deliberately lose to a partner and ‘signalling’ is the trading of information between colluders.

To avoid collusion be aware of suspicious behaviour where the actions of one person benefits the other. Proficient colluders are very difficult to spot. It’s unlikely that players who are colluding will seem intimate - in fact they will likely be well practiced at ignoring each other. It’s better to look for players to raise and re-raise one another when there is someone else in the pot - but rarely have a showdown.

String Betting

This is an illegal type of bet where a player doesn’t put all of their chips into the pot in one motion and instead puts them in using multiple motions. This helps the player to see what effect putting the chips into the hand has before raising. String betting is rare in well run and organised poker tournaments. There are clear rules about how you place your raise into the pot and knowing these means if you ever come across string betting you should be able to deal with it immediately.

In an organised tournament you must verbally state the amount when raising and if you don’t state the amount you should place all of your chips. A forward motion counts as when a player moves chips past the betting line. Although most poker tables don’t display the betting line it can be considered where the wood meets the poker cloth. The key here is the forward motion, and when this is made your chips are considered part of the pot.

Hand Mucking

Using this technique a cheat hides cards in his hand with the purpose of switching them later in the game. This can be very effective if used with collusion, and especially if the dealer is supporting the hand mucking. To spot this look for players who are doing something which may be distracting: they will need to switch the cards to their current hand and may use a distraction to help do this. Experienced ‘hand muckers’ will be almost impossible to spot but there normally has to be a distraction. Look for this rather than actually trying to spot cards.

Cheating in poker is hard in organised settings but still exists, and in less formal settings can be rife. As a rule of thumb if you turn up to a house party and big money poker is suggested, ignore it!

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