R. Paul Wilson On: False Card Deals
Editor’s note: In this article, R. Paul Wilson explains some card cheating techniques by breaking down the three main categories of false dealing: second, bottom and middle deals.
When manipulating a standard deck of 52 cards, a professional mechanic (cheater) has thousands of techniques to help steal pots from honest players. The problem is that many of these moves require years of practice before betting one’s life in a live game.
In fact, most moves require many years of experience before a seemingly impossible feat of skill becomes second nature.
In the arsenal of cheating methods, false deals can be the most elusive to master and the most difficult variations could still fail, even in the hands of an expert.
Never-the-less, false deals remain a staple of the mechanic’s repertoire. They can be used in many situations in the heat of play, solve problems, fix bad situations or, in the event of a failed deal, send the operator directly to jail.
In this piece, I offer a brief introduction to the art of false dealing. In later articles I’ll explore how these deals might be used and offer ways to detect false deals but for now, a quick primer on how each deal works.
Seconds, Centres & Bottoms
There are three main categories of false deal:
- Cards taken from directly under the top card or cards (seconds, thirds, fourths etc.).
- Cards taken from the bottom of the deck (bottoms or Greeks).
- Cards dealt directly from the middle.
1. Second Deal Card Trick
The second deal is often mistaken as easier than bottoms since the card being taken is close to the top and only one or two cards need to be pulled aside to make the false deal.
In my experience, seconds or thirds can be just as challenging as dealing directly from the bottom since you are extracting a card from between other cards, causing issues of friction.
Cheaters need to deal the desired card while maintaining the illusion of taking the top card.
This illusion can be destroyed if the deck does not appear natural before and after the false deal.
Accessing a desired card requires that the top card be pulled aside, then returned to its normal position, while the dealing hand contacts the second card and deals that card while simulating the action of an honest deal!
The friction created by cards above and below the card being dealt can cause that card to catch and remain protruding from the deck as the dealing hand comes away holding nothing.
This is called “catching a hanger” and can happen in any false deal.
Worse still, in some versions of the deal, the hand comes away with nothing and the card remains inside the deck. The hand appears to “catch air”.
This is such a common problem for inexperienced mechanics that a strategy evolved to cover this mistake: when reaching for a card and coming away empty handed (so long as a hanger wasn’t sticking out of the deck) the dealer would knock on the table demanding everyone throw in their antes!
If you’ve seen the film Rounders you’ll have seen Edward Norton’s character getting caught with a hanger while trying to cheat a game loaded with police officers.
Historically, it’s been the demise of many cheaters who probably should know better than to deal deuces when players are suspiciously watching the deck.
The second deal is a staple of crooked blackjack dealers and can be a powerful tool in lowball variations of poker. It can also subtly change the order of a deal to improve the outcome for a cheater’s partner and has even been combined with cutting edge methods to guarantee a better outcome.
It’s especially useful when working with “paper” (marked cards).
2. Bottom Deal Card Trick
One of the most powerful moves available to the professional cheater, the bottom deal would be a contender for the king of crooked techniques with cards.
Once a desired card is moved to the bottom, it can be kept there until needed. It is then dealt directly from the bottom between fair deals to other players.
The bottom deal has similar issues as the second deal, but friction can be defeated with the way the deck is held to avoid contact with the palm.
Held correctly, the bottom card can easily be slid out either by the dealing hand pushing the card to the side or pulled off the bottom directly by the other hand.
I know, it sounds complicated because it is. In fact, it’s worse than you know.
Getting the card to slide easily off the bottom might be solved with the correct grip.
But then the bottom card has to get past the fingers holding the deck. These fingers could be trained to move aside but this becomes a four-finger flash to signal that the top card might be gathering dust.
The secret to a successful bottom deal is the ability to swiftly extract the 52nd card down, while creating the illusion that it comes from the top!
Fluttering fingers or inconsistent actions can easily ruin this illusion, so cheaters spend many years perfecting timing as much as technique.
The bottom deal tends to hide amongst several honest deals, having been mastered to the point where it looks and sounds almost identical to an honest deal.
The action of dealing several hands offers many opportunities for natural camouflage in terms of how the hands move and the very best false dealers take advantage of this cover.
Dealing from the basement is a card-table superpower that offers as many risks as advantages. It can be applied to countless games but has probably done more damage in private poker games than any other cheating technique.
3. Middle Deal Card Trick
In this heroic move, desired cards are held in the middle of the deck and during the deal, squeezed out without hesitation while maintaining a consistent “from the top” illusion.
Okay—this is where we venture into dangerous territory.
When rumour of a mechanic who could deal from the middle of the deck began to spread in the magic community, a legendary card expert hit the road to hunt down the secret.
How he found it is a story for another day but since that first method appeared, several others have evolved over time.
But the truth is: none of them have been used by real cheaters.
If you stumble into a crooked card game or a cheater happens to sit down at your table, second deals and bottom deals are definitely possible.
But a mechanic who deals from the middle is so rare, experts believe they are either extinct or never actually existed in the first place.
Crooked players may be willing to practice in order to steal your money, but they only care about what works and whether it’s worth the risk.
Sleight of hand enthusiasts are far more interested in expanding their repertoire as a sort of skill-based collection. As a result, esoteric, super-difficult sleights like the middle deal become challenge moves rather than practical techniques.
It is entirely possible to deal four aces out of the middle of a deck. But the risks this entails, and the work required to get into position (and stay there), makes the centre deal far less practical than other methods.
I’m not saying it hasn’t happened in a live game or that it won’t but if I were a betting man (and I am), my money would be on it never being used under fire.
The middle deal has become a legendary technique that few of us have taken the time to master. At the card table there are easier, better ways to steal the pot.
It’s All About G.T.F.M.
I met one of the finest card experts I know when he was just fourteen years old. When I asked him to show me a bottom deal, he replied: “What grip?”
There are many ways to hold the cards for a false deal and this kid did them all!
This illustrates a key difference between cheaters and magicians: a professional mechanic will do one or two things very well in order to “get the money” (G.T.F.M.) while a sleight-of-hand enthusiast might perform a dozen variations of every move.
This obsession with variations has led to some ridiculous “show” moves that are purely designed to demonstrate skill rather than win money.
False deals are a powerful weapon for cheaters – but it’s also a dangerous way to make a living.