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Self-Defense in Private Poker Games: Part 3 – The Dealer

April 15, 2022

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In the last installment of his Self-Defense series, the late Alan25main describes what to watch for when it comes to shady dealing. Read on.

In part one, we looked at ways to make the deck itself crooked. Part two looked at the players. Today, we’ll look at the dealer.

Very few casual players ever really worry about all the things a good dealer ought to be thinking about beside his own hand in a home game. These are the things a dealer should be doing:

Visually verifying there are no outstanding cards to be collected now that the prior pot has been collected by the winner(s).

Taking a quick look at the edges of the deck to ensure there are no irregularities. 

If the deck feels light, counting the cards quickly.

If a player ante is needed, now is the time for the dealer to call for it while shuffling the deck at least three or four times. More is good, too. Have the now-shuffled deck cut.

Deal cards to the active players and/or board as needed.

Prompt the correct first person to act, then verify that the calls and raises are for the correct amounts and that the folded cards are properly mucked until all bets are equalized.

Repeat as needed until all cards are dealt and all bets are equalized.

As hands are compared, ensure the losing hands are properly mucked and the winning hands are protected until beaten.

If the pot is raked or dragged, now is the time for the dealer to take that and put it aside where ever it’s being kept.

Announce the winner(s) and distribute the pot (minus any rake or drag).

Collect the winning cards, assemble the deck, and pass it to the next dealer.

Additional things the dealer may need to do: Unless there is a clear policy or rule specifying otherwise, the dealer should be able to adjudicate any minor questions about procedure or policy. (Written “House rules” are recommended for major or important things like special ranks, what games are to be played, etc.) An alternative is to have a designated table Captain–perhaps the householder–to enforce those procedures or policies. 

So, the dealer has lots of things to think about in addition to playing their own cards. Amazingly, most of this is almost automatic to most players with even limited experience and the poker games run smoothly.

So, where can things go wrong? Once again, the first person to look at is the dealer.


If you notice a dealer holding the deck like this, be very hesitant to risk anything that you might miss if it gets lost. 

Known as the Mechanic’s Grip, it allows magicians and others to manipulate the cards in ways you may not believe are possible. The are several good videos demonstrating its use on YouTube by numerous different magicians. View a few and shudder. If you aren’t at least a little bit fearful, you didn’t watch the videos.

Now that you’ve been properly frightened, the good news is that “stacking the deck during a shuffle,” or dealing seconds or bottoms, ALL require use of the Mechanic’s Grip. They may not be possible without using the Mechanic’s Grip. 

Notice I’ve made no mention of a “cold deck.” That’s because a cold deck is pre-stacked beforehand, not created on the fly by a cardsharp or mechanic. It’s called “cold” because it isn’t warm from being played with, and yes, that few degrees difference is often detectable by feel. 

There’s one final thing to be aware of. It really belongs with the first part about the deck, but it’s almost undetectable to anyone except the dealer.

Some decks are referred to as “bellies” or “shaves.” Suppose you took all four Aces out of a brand new deck, reassembled the rest of the pack, and shaved or sanded down all the other cards by a fraction of a millimeter, tapering toward the center of the long side of the cards. That’s how shaves are made. The slightly wider center of the other cards is why the decks are sometimes called bellies, because their middles are larger than their ends.

Visually, the deck will appear perfectly normal to anyone not measuring the cards, but the dealer will be able to feel the slightly wider ends of the unshaved cards (Aces).

Those unshaved cards can then be manipulated by a mechanic dealing seconds to put those Aces in the hand he wants them in to help a confederate, or hurt an opponent, or simply to be put into a hand where it won’t impact the dealer’s desired outcome.

That’s pretty much everything I wanted to tell you. So, why did I write all this? To frighten you? No. I wanted casual players to be able to tell when they picked the wrong game to play in.

A lifetime of experience at real tables with real money against real opponents has convinced me that the vast majority of players are simply looking to have a good time at the games. They aren’t trying to be the next Johnny Moss or Doyle Brunson. They’re perfectly willing to win or lose a little in exchange for the fun of our game. 

The problem is that a small minority of those opponents see everyone else as potential victims to be fleeced. They are the same folks who would happily rob us at weapon-point in an alley, IF they thought they could get away with it. I suppose that simply makes them people, too, but they aren’t the ones I want to hang out with.

In the course of my long and borderline evil life I’ve learned a few things: The cards don’t care who they’re dealt to. They are “just visiting;” they won’t be around long enough to get to know you or care who they’re dealt to. You can–and will–get good and bad hands at about the same rate as everyone else. If you expect to be special, learn to bowl or play golf or shoot pool because playing poker will break your heart. And your wallet.