The purpose for marking the cards is to give the cheaters card information that other players at the table do not possess. This information is then used to make betting decisions, additional betting or folding decisions, and possible hand playing strategies.
The following list describes several common alternative casino games in which the players touch the playing cards and are able to mark key cards to gain future card information. The most successful method for a casino executive to expose marked cards is through detection of the different play and betting characteristics that the cheaters display while playing on the table. Very few marked card attacks are discovered because pit or surveillance personnel have spotted the actual daubs or paints on the backs of the cards. It’s important to pay attention to hand playing and betting patterns that marked card cheaters employ as these patterns differ from the strategies exhibited by the everyday player. Once marked card play is suspected, the cards can be removed from the game and analyzed.
Three Card Poker
Three Card Poker (TCP) is a poker-based table game marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The player elects to stay in the game by making a call bet, and the dealer has to qualify with a queen or better. The player touches three cards. The optimal player strategy is to call the ante (stay in) with a minimum hand of queen/6/4. Based on that strategy, the house mathematical advantage is 3.37 percent of the ante wager.
Card marking strategy: TCP is a big target for card markers, who will mark the qualifying cards of queen through ace, marking each rank separately (known as a three-way pattern), and use this information to decide whether to fold his hand or play. The cheater would stay in on any hand that does not indicate the dealer possesses a qualifying card. If the dealer does possess a qualifier such as a queen, the cheater stays in the hand if he holds a queen-10 or better hand. It goes without saying that a dealer hand possessing a king requires a king-10 hand or better, and an ace requires an ace-10 hand. A dealer also qualifies with a pair or higher, but this occurs with approximately 20 percent of the dealer hands (the cheaters have knowledge when the dealer will receive a pair of queens through aces), which isn’t great enough to pose a problem like it does in five-card games. Marking each rank, queen through ace, and using the information for call/fold decisions, the cheater should gain an approximate 20 percent + advantage. To detect marked card play, watch for an abnormal number of hands the suspected player or players stay in but should have folded.
Four Card Poker
This game is another four-card poker variation marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The game is similar to TCP, but as the title suggests, four cards are used instead of three. Also, there is no dealer qualifying hand, and the player can raise up to three times his ante. The game is structured so that the dealer receives one extra card (six cards total) on the deal to form his best four-card hand. One of those six dealer cards is dealt face up (exposed). The player touches five cards (discards one). The dealer has a choice from his six cards to make a four-card hand. The house mathematical advantage, using an advanced but not optimal strategy, is 2.9 percent of the ante.
Card marking strategy: This is not attackable by marking cards if the game is dealt correctly, only one dealer card back can be seen. If the house procedure instructs the dealer to spread his five unexposed cards face down (as opposed to a single stack), cheating by marking cards becomes much more attractive.
Crazy 4 Poker
This game is a poker variation marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. It has been around since about 2004 and is one of the more successful poker-based casino games. Players touch five cards (discards one). Dealer qualifies with king high or better. Best hand strategy is KQ84 to raise, large raise with AA or better. The game’s house advantage is 3.4 percent of the ante wager.
Card marking strategy: This table game is tough to attack by marking cards. Marking kings and aces for qualifying information is limited since pairs or better occurs 49.9 percent of the time (minus the king/ace pairs+). The game isn’t attackable if it is dealt correctly. Only one dealer card back can be seen when the dealer’s cards are placed in a single stack. Observations of the game conclude that many casinos instruct their dealers to spread the cards (sometimes partially) on the layout to indicate the dealer has taken the correct number of cards. Under these procedures, the edges of the cards could be marked and read during the partial card spread.
High Card Flush
This game is not a standard poker variation. It made its debut in the summer 2011 and is marketed by Galaxy Gaming. The game follows a fold or call structure, like Caribbean Stud Poker and TCP. Where it differs is in the hand ranking, which is all about making the highest possible flush out of seven cards. The player touches seven cards. The dealer qualifies with a three card flush of 9 higher or better. The house advantage is 2.7 percent of the ante. Optimal strategy has the player folding 9/7/4 or lower. The dealer will have a qualifying hand 75.36 percent of the time, and the player will call 67.86 percent of the time.
Card marking strategy: High Card Flush is not a game that’s attackable. The cheater would need to mark both suits and high cards, and if dealt correctly, only one dealer card back can be seen, and that does not provide the cheater with enough information to gain an advantage. Note: Game is open to collusion. Don’t get information gained by players colluding confused with marked card information.
Let it Ride Poker
In the late ’90s, Let It Ride was among the first wave of alternative casino games. It is a simple poker-based game in which the player is paid based on his five-card hand. No dealer hand to worry about. The twist is that as the cards are revealed, the player has the opportunity to decrease his bet if he doesn’t like his cards. Three cards are touched by the player. The dealer controls two community cards. The player needs to have a pair of 10s or better to win. The H/A is 3.5 percent of the average of the original three bets.
Card marking strategy: Let it Ride is a game that can be attacked by card markers. The card marker will mark 10s through aces with each rank marked differently—a total of 20 cards. The cheater’s advantage is the two dealer-controlled community cards’ backs are visible when dealt using the standard procedure. The cheaters know when to take back their bets if they don’t have a pair of 10s minimum hand, or leave the bets up if the marked community cards indicate they hold a strong hand. Watch for bet decisions that don’t follow common sense based on the visible information at the time the decision is made. The advantage from marking cards would provide about a 10 percent plus edge.
Mississippi Stud Poker
Mississippi Stud Poker is a poker-based table game marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The game is simple to play. Wins are based only on the player’s final five-card hand. The skill is in deciding how much to raise, or fold, as the cards are revealed. The player touches two cards. Usually the three dealer-controlled community cards’ backs are visible. The player is allowed to wager up to 3X his ante during 3 betting rounds. The player hand will push on pairs of 6 through 10 and win on pairs of jacks or higher. Based on an optimal strategy the house advantage is 4.9 percent of the ante.
Card marking strategy: Game can be successfully attacked by marking ranks of jack through ace individually. The cheater could extend his return by marking to 6s through 10s as well. This game would provide a huge return (50 percent or greater) to card marking cheaters because of the 3X wagering option. As stated previously, watch for bet decisions that don’t follow common sense based on the visible information at the time the decision is made. Keep as many of the community cards covered until the moment they are exposed. Note: This game is open to hole-card advantage play. Do not confuse information gained through seeing a sloppy dealer’s community cards with information gained from marked cards.
Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow Poker is a variation of the Chinese domino game Pai Gow tiles. While Pai Gow Poker is a game of some poker skill, it is not difficult to learn proper strategy for setting hands. Generally, each player wagers against the dealer hand causing the entire table to win or lose together, resulting in a fun and social game. The players touch seven cards, and the dealer usually banks, and the bank edge is based on ties of the low hand or high hand. Ties occurring in the two-card hand (common) or the five card hand (uncommon) are won by the banker. This produces a banker edge of approximately 1.3 percent, and because of the 5 percent commission charged on all winning (net winning) results when the house banks, the house advantage on a player wager is 2.8 percent, and when the player is banking, it’s practically a break-even game.
Card marking strategy: Card marking in PGP involves marking the aces and joker, with the marked cards seen when sitting in a seven-card stack prior to player banking. Watch for the seven-card stacks containing the most aces and/or joker is directed into the cheater’s banking hand through manipulating the dice or dice cup. Marking cards for player hand setting strategy does not provide enough of an edge to be a threat. When the PGP game uses a shuffling machine that drops seven-card stacks along with a number generator (not dice cup), marking cards for player-banker information is eliminated.
Texas Hold’em Bonus
The first Hold’em-based table game was originally played in September 2005. Like real Texas Hold’em, the player may bet his hole card after the flop, and after the turn (but not after the river).
The ante requires a straight or flush (depending on the location) or higher to win. All winning bets pay even money. The strategy for playing the two-card hand is to fold unsuited 2/3 through 2/7. The player who stays in until the “flop” bet will make the “turn” bet 43.1 percent of the time and the “river” bet 48.5 percent of the time. If the player made the turn bet, then he will also make the river bet 85.8 percent of the time. If the player made the flop bet, but not the turn bet, he will make the river bet 15.8 percent of the time. The house advantage is approximately 2 percent of the ante using an optimal strategy (that no one really knows).
Card marking strategy: Texas Hold’em Bonus is a moderate game to attack by marking cards. High cards are important, but if dealt correctly, only the two dealer card backs are visible, and none of the flop/turn/river card backs can be seen. The card marker may mark ranks 10s through aces. By knowing a high card is in the dealer’s two-card hand is strong enough to gain a reasonable edge. Watch for hand decisions based on the information not available at the time of decision.
Ultimate Texas Hold’em
Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a very popular poker-based casino game in which the player may make one raise at any time during the course of the hand. Unlike other poker-based games, raises made after the ante still have action, even if the dealer doesn’t open. This game is marketed under Scientific Games’ SHFL brand. The player touches two cards. The strategy for UTH is quite complicated. If the player were to play optimal strategy, the house advantage would be 2.2 percent of the ante and blind wager. Most players are subject to a 3 percent + house advantage.
Card marking strategy: Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a difficult game to attack by marking cards. High cards are important, but if dealt correctly, only the two dealer card backs are visible, and none of the flop/turn/river card backs can be seen. Like Texas Hold’em Bonus, the cheater may mark ranks 10s through aces. Knowing a high card is in the dealer’s two-card hand is strong enough to gain a respectable edge. Note: This game is subject to advantage players gaining the hole-card. Don’t confuse the two attacks. Marking cards is cheating; advantage play is legal, but not welcomed.