Let’s talk about cheating.

When you play poker in a public cardroom, are you likely to run into cheaters or angle shooters or other people trying to take unfair advantage of you? It’s a legitimate question. And it’s a question that blackjack players or craps players don’t really have to face, because any cheating activity going on at those games – short of outright theft of your money or chips – is likely to be directed against the house and not against you. The same is not true in poker, for reasons we’ve already discussed: When you play poker in a public cardroom, you’re playing against other players, and not against the house. So if they’re cheating, they’re cheating you!


First of all, let me assure you that cheating is extremely rare in low limit games, for the simple reason that this sort of crime doesn’t pay enough to be worthwhile. The amount of advantage, or edge, that a cheater can gain in a low limit game isn’t a fraction of the edge that the cheater could gain by simply playing better. That said, there are some cheaty moves that you should be on the lookout for. It’s rare, but it does happen, and it’s up to you to protect your own interest.


One form of cheating is collusion. This is where two or more players essentially gang up on an unsuspecting third player. They might do this in two ways. Passive collusion has players signaling information about their hands to one another. If one Slot Online player has an ace, for instance, and can convey that fact to his partner, then the partner knows that that’s one less ace you might hold, and can change his betting strategy accordingly. Active collusion involves two players raising each others’ bets in an effort to get a third player – you! – caught in the middle. It’s easy enough to detect active collusion. Simply be on the lookout for two people who raise each other frequently, only to have one or the other drop out at the last minute.


If you think you’re a victim of either active or passive collusion, the only real remedy you have is to leave the table. Collusion is very hard to prove, and even if you spot something fishy, it’s unlikely that the floor personnel will take your word for it and kick another player or players out of the game. It’s not like the Old West, where cheaters were ridden out of town on a rail. But here’s the thing: Even if they’re not cheating, they can hurt you by making you think about and worry about the possibility that they are. Don’t take a chance. Go to a different table. As we’ve already discussed, poker takes concentration. You don’t want the fear of cheaters taking away from yours.


A fairly common form of cheating is peeking. Yes, it’s true. Certain unscrupulous players will try and take advantage of you by taking a look at your cards! To prevent this, simply be very careful about the way that you yourself look at your cards. Cupping your cards with both hands, lift them off the table just far enough to see what they are. Memorize your hand – then never look at it again! Repeatedly peeking at your own cards is just an invitation to have unethical players peek along. Look once – carefully – and then don’t look again. That’s your best protection against peekers.


To be on the double-safe safe side, ask a friend to sit beside you and try to peek at your cards. If you’re looking at your own hand correctly, he won’t be able to peek. If you’re being sloppy, though, your pal will let you know. Believe me, the peekers never will!


There’s another brand of unethical behavior that falls just short of cheating, but lands in the same category. It’s called angle shooting. Angle shooters are people who use the rules and procedures of poker, or other players’ ignorance, or both, to their advantage.


Here’s an example of shooting an angle. As you know, in hold ’em, each player acts in turn. It may be that the angle shooter is due to act before you, but he wants to know whether you’ll call a bet if he makes one. So he fakes a bet by gesturing toward the middle of the table with his chips. If he sees you preparing to call his bet, he just checks instead, and thus saves himself from making a bet he really didn’t want to make. This fake bet is a very common move for angle shooters to make. You can protect yourself against it simply by waiting until he has completed his action before you start yours.


Another angle they try to shoot is misdeclaring their hands. If you hear someone say, “I’ve got a flush,” and you know you can’t beat the flush, you might throw your hand away – only to hear the angle shooter say, “Oh, goodness, I thought I had a flush, but it turns out I don’t!” Since your hand is dead once it hits the discard pile, or muck, this nefarious angle shooter would end up winning – no, stealing – a pot that’s rightfully yours. Again, protection is simple. Wait to see the winning hand before you throw your losing hand away. If you have any doubt, just turn your cards face-up and let the dealer decide. In that way you will be invulnerable to angle shooters.


Angle shooters have myriad other scams they run, but the basic defense is always the same: Wait your turn; don’t take anything for granted; don’t give anything away. When in doubt, ask the dealer or the other players. They’ll help you protect your interests.


Although I’ve talked about cheating in this column, I want to stress that poker players, as a class, are about the most honest, and honorable, people you’re ever likely to meet. Think about it: Would you leave a bucket of quarters sitting unattended by a slot machine and trust that they’d be there when you return? Of course not! But at a poker table, you can leave your chips and cash right at your seat while you go take a walk or visit the bathroom or even grab a meal. Can you think of any other place where you can do that? I can’t.


So when you’re ready to take the plunge into casino poker (and in my opinion you should be just about ready now) don’t worry too much about cheaters and cheating. Protect your hand and protect your interests, but don’t let the fear of cheating throw you off your game. There’s a saying in poker: Nobody hurts you harder than yourself. Next time we’ll discuss why this is true.