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The Cheating Dealer
Blackjack Gold, Part IV
by Lance Humble

The honesty of the dealer is critical to winning. No matter how powerful your strategy or how much of a mathematical genius you may be, you will not win against a cheating dealer. The purpose of this article is to discuss different kinds of dealers, how to recognize them and how to play against them. I begin by talking about the most important kind of dealer-the cheating dealer.

The Cheating Dealer


First, let's learn how the cheating dealer cheats.

The most common way of cheating is by the use of sleight of hand. Sleight of hand means the use of manual dexterity to manipulate cards and deal cards from other than the top of the deck. The most common type of sleight in casino blackjack is the dealing of seconds, which means dealing the second card from the top of the deck while leaving the top card intact. Thus, what the dealer is doing (while he is adjusting his chips or paying players off, or while he's looking underneath his up card. when it is a ten or an ace to see whether he has a ten or an ace underneath) is moving the deck around at different angles, and it is on these occasions that he has a chance to crimp the top card and take a peek at it. Now, once he knows what -the top card is, he'll know whether he needs to deal seconds or not in order to save himself the top card so that he'll make his hand.

Most dealers who can deal seconds can also deal bottoms; that is dealing the card from the bottom of the deck. Many dealers can also deal thirds and fourths; that is, the third or fourth card from the top of the deck. In large and in small casinos, these sleight of hand dealers are so expert that it is impossible to detect when they are dealing seconds or cheating you in other ways. Therefore, don't waste your time trying to spot such cheating. Learn to detect. cheating in other ways.

Another common way of cheating is to stack the cards. Cards may be stacked in a number of ways. The two most common ways are to arrange the discards in a certain order as they are being picked up or to set up the cards in a desired position while they are being shuffled. In casino blackjack, it is rare that you'll see the dealer picking up the discards in a seemingly random order or in an order that is haphazard, such as a high card, then a low card, then a high card, then a low card. The way dealers are trained to pick up cards in a casino are from left to right or from right to left all in one sweep, keeping the cards for each player's hand together so that the hand may be reconstructed at a later time should the player dispute the dealer's call as to whether he won or lost the hand.

It is rare that you'll see a dealer picking up the cards in any way other than in a smooth order from his left to right or from right to left. However, a fellow player and I did spot a dealer picking up the cards and arranging them in a high-low stack in a four-deck game in a Las Vegas Strip casino.

In addition to stacking the cards, there are other ways to cheat with the shoe. One way which has been used by casinos is to simply take some tens and/or aces out of the shoe. This automatically raises the casino's advantage. Another way to cheat is to use a hold-out shoe. This is a shoe that holds the top card in place so that the second card can be dealt (seconds) and the top card saved by the dealer for his own hand. A man in Las Vegas makes and sells these shoes. He gave one of my former students a demonstration. It is impossible for the average player to recognize this shoe. It is different in only one respect from the honest shoe. The face plate (which has the hole in it) is about one quarter of an inch higher. In this way, the dealer can get a peek at the top card from behind. You may detect such a shoe from the way the dealer pushes out the cards. In this shoe, in order to hold the top card, he must hold it steady through the hole with onefinger while pulling out the second card from the bar- tom slit with another finger. The tell-tale sign is a dealer using two fingers to deal, but only one finger is moving. At the second annual conference on gambling, a veteran gambler told us that there was a special dealers' school in Las Vegas where dealers learned how to cheat with the shoe.

A general statement about cheating comes from a former casino owner, Harold Smith Jr. He states in his book, "We could cheat all the time, and they would never know it. We're far more expert at this business than they are." By "they," Smith is referring to the agents of the Gaming Control Board, who are supposed to be experts at detecting cheating. If Smith's statement is true, how can the average player ever hope to spot cheating?

There are many other ways in which the dealer can cheat, but they are all variations on those mentioned above. The important thing to learn is how to spot a potentially cheating dealer or how to detect the fact that you are being cheated without actually seeing it.

Dealing With the Dealer

Knowing when and how to tip the dealer can be critical to winning. Here is how to go about it. First of all, the general philosophy is to never give the dealer any money as a tip. Whenever you tip him, place a bet for him. This is very common in the casinos. The proper procedure is for you to put a chip above your chips on the upper part of the betting spot. All dealers know exactly what this means. They know that this is a bet for them, and they know that if you win your hand, they will pay you and will also pay off this extra chip that's sitting above your pile of chips. They know this is a bet for them. Thus, when you tip the dealer, always place a bet for him. The tip is always in the form of a bet.

There is a purpose to betting for the dealer. One very important reason for betting for the dealer is to tell him that you are on his side, that you are looking after him. If he is a cheating dealer, this may make him think twice before he begins to cheat you. He will cheat you anyway if you are winning money or if the policy in that casino on that shift is for them to cheat players regularly. However, he may wait a few minutes before beginning to cheat you to show his appreciation for the fact that you have made a bet for him. If you are playing against an honest dealer, it is also a good policy to make a bet for him because he may a deal further down in the deck instead of shuffling up on you quickly. As soon as I win a big bet or as soon as I win several small bets, I immediately place a bet for the dealer. The idea here is to make a bet for the dealer as quickly as you can after you start winning so that he will not begin to cheat you or shuffle up on you right from the beginning.

Another time for tipping the dealer is when you want him to deal further down in the deck than he usually deals. Most dealers deal to a certain level in the deck, usually three-quarters of the deck, or in some casinos such as Harrah's, they deal two-thirds of the deck. At any rate, each dealer deals down to a certain level of the deck and then shuffles up. If you want the dealer to deal another hand out, then use the tip. When you have a high plus count and you're down to about two-thirds of the deck, it is a very, very good idea to place a bet for the dealer before the next round of cards is dealt. Nine times out of ten, the dealer will deal that extra hand, especially when you are playing alone or with just one other player and he has enough cards in the deck. Obviously, if you haven't recognized it yet, this is out and out bribing the dealer. But all is fair in love, war, and blackjack.

Getting Personal With the Dealer

If you are using a simple point count and have learned it to such a degree along with the strategy that you can engage in a conversation while playing, it is a very good idea to get personal with the dealer. That is, start asking how long he has been dealing, where he has dealt before, where he is from. Tell a few stories and crack a few jokes. This makes it very difficult for most cheating dealers to concentrate. It helps if you can tell a few jokes or funny stories. Then they really lose their concentration. I was playing at the same table with a joker one time at Brutus' Cave. At first, things were quiet. We were both losing, and the dealer was making hand after hand after hand. Then this guy started to joke around. His jokes were so funny that one of the pitbosses came over and started to laugh. Everybody was having a good time. Another player sat down at our table, we all continued laughing, and we all kept on winning from then on. That was a very good experience. The thing not to do when you're talking to the dealer is to complain. Never complain. These dealers get complaints all the time. Complaints are the last thing the dealer wants to hear. It's very depressing. Try to cheer the dealer up without being too obvious about it. The best way to cheer him up, of course, is to make a bet for him. One thing I found that really works with female dealers is the smile. It's very good to smile as you walk up to the table where a girl is dealing. Just smile and make a few pleasant remarks. Most of them will smile back and become cheerful and friendly.

Hit and Run

Most dealers deal honestly when you first sit down to play. I'm not sure why this is the case. Perhaps they are waiting, wishing that you would win the first few hands so that you would make a bet for them. Or perhaps they are dealing honestly to see how good a player you are so that if you are a counter, then they know they must cheat you. Whatever the case may be, I have found on a lot of occasions that I begin to win money after 10 or 15 minutes at the table, then things turn around, and I begin to lose money, especially by losing big bets. The reason for this is that most dealers in large casinos are cheating dealers to begin with and that most of them are told not to let anybody win any appreciable amount of money. I also know that the dealer's livelihood depends largely on the tips that he gets from players. Now if a dealer is going to get tips, then he must allow the players to win a few hands at least. Nobody makes a bet for the dealer if they are losing (unless they are crazy). Thus a dealer may deal honestly at first, hoping that you will get up a few units on him so that you will make a bet for him. Then later on, he knows that if he is to keep his job secure, he must gradually or very quicklytake the money back that you have won. This is when to run. As soon as you lose two or three large bets, quit right away.

Slow Down the Dealer

Many players I have taught privately complain that a lot of dealers deal so fast that they can't concentrate on how to play, and they lose track of the count. As far as I have' been able to determine, there is no excuse for this. It is very easy to slow down the dealer. All you have to do is not give him a signal until you are perfectly sure how you want to play your hand. A lot of players are intimidated by the dealer. The majority of dealers intimidate players on purpose. Here is how they do it. If you should sit down alone at the table and begin to play, you'll notice that the dealer will start dealing quite slowly. Then very, very gradually, he will pick up the pace of the deal. He will be dealing gradually faster and faster, from shuffle to shuffle, from hand to hand. He wants to get you into his rhythm of play. Since the dealer does this gradually, most players do not become aware of what is happening. What they do realize, though, after playing for 15 or 20 minutes, is that they feel rushed. Most players do not want to admit that they can't play as fast as the dealer can deal, so they usually stand more often or don't get as big a bet out as quickly as they otherwise would. Generally, they play an inferior brand of blackjack. Don't let this happen to you. This is ridiculous. From the beginning, play at your pace, and don't let the dealer get you into his rhythm. The way to play at your pace is to be very slow and methodical and give very clear signals to the dealer. If you want a hit, scratch your cards. If you don't want a hit, have a look at your cards first, look at them twice, then slowly put them under your chips. Take your time and really slow down the dealer so that he is playing your game, instead of him forcing you to play his game. This can be done without effort, after you have consciously practiced it two or three times. After this, it will become your normal way of playing. Don't overdo it, though. Don't be too slow, or you may irritate the dealer or any other players at your table. Is He Hot?

This is a very good question to ask of players already playing at a table at which you are about to sit down. As you are walking up to the table, simply smile and ask the first player that turns around, "How's he been? Is he hot?" If the player says, "Yeah, he's hot. He keeps on getting blackjacks," don't bother sitting down at the table. Just walk out of the casino. You do not need to ask this question very often, only when you are not sure whether the players have been winning or losing at that table. It is easy to tell if the players have been winning at the table. If they all have a lot of chips in front of them, they have been winning. If they don't have a lot of chips in front of them, it's hard to tell whether they have been winning or losing. So this is a good time to ask the question whether the dealer is hot or cold. Sometimes you don't even have to ask the question. You can hear from a table or two away players complaining about how hot the dealer is and that he never busts. You hear ooohs when the dealer keeps making good hands. The best example I've ever encountered of this was one day about 10:30 in the morning. I was walking between the tables at the XYZ Inn on the Strip. I started to walk up to a table where there was just one player playing, a gentleman in his 50s. He started to get up as I approached the table and said to the dealer, "You know Lou, I've been coming here every Sunday morning for seven years, and I haven't beat you yet! " That was enough for me. I just kept on walking.

Reading the Dealer

After you have become an expert player, you can add a new dimension to your game. This dimension is called reading the dealer. It is a skill that many card players, not just blackjack players, learn very early in their card-playing days. What is meant by reading the dealer is looking for tell-tale signs which give away the dealer's hole card. Recently, this has been labelled body-language. Here are a few examples. Some of the inexperienced dealers, when they have a ten-value card up, will look clumsily underneath to see if they have an ace. Because of their inexperience, a lot of times they look so quickly they don't remember what the card underneath was or they don't see enough of it. So they have to look again. Now when they do this, it is a pretty good sign that the card underneath was not a face card but rather that it was a smaller card. It's very easy to see a face card. You don't have to see very much of a face card in order to know that it is a face card. Face cards have a lot of paint. But it's difficult to know whether a small -card, such as a two, four or seven, is an ace. Conversely, very rarely will an inexperienced dealer look underneath his up card twice if he has a ten-value card underneath. When the dealer does look under there twice, chances are more likely than not that he has a small card under there. Since he has a ten-value card on top, then the thing to do is to stand if you have any kind of a stiff, that is any hand of 12 to 16. He has a good chance to bust now. If you have a soft hand, the thing to do would be to double in this situation. Also, of course, if you have a nine, ten, or eleven, the thing to do would be to double in this situation, especially when the count is on the plus side. This alternate form of playing adds a great amount to your advantage.

Here is. another way in which some dealers give themselves away. When they have a ten-value card on top and they've looked underneath, if they have a card underneath that makes up a good hand, some dealers will place their fingers somewhere away from their up card. That is, when they have a solid hand they don't have to draw to, they leave the hand alone. But when they know that they have to hit (when they have a small card under there), they usually place their fingers close to the up card so that when they turn the cards over, they are ready to hit. Of course, when you can read a dealer in this way and know what his total hand is, you have a great advantage. If he has a stiff, you double your bet (if you can) or split pairs, even though you would not play this way normally. If you read his hand as a good hand, then you can surrender and save half of your bet (if that casino allows you to surrender).

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