Cheating in Poker in Early Times

The early days of poker in the United States were held in paddle steamers in the Mississippi River during the early 1800s. These luxury ships were floating casinos that catered to rich plantation owners of the South. The wealthy Southerners in these steamboats were looking for luxury and pleasure. The steamboats with their wine, women and games were perfect for spending and losing money for fun and pleasure.

The poker games played in these boats were wholly different from the poker played in today's modern casinos. Instead of a complete deck of 52 cards, only 20 cards were used. Since there are only 20 cards, only 4 players can participate on each table. There was no draw and bets were made after dealing the cards, after which the cards were shown and the best hand is declared the winner.

The simplicity of the game and the lack of a card draw opened the gates for card sharks to unfavorably manipulate the results of game. The card sharks used several cheating techniques using skill and sleight of hand.

Sometimes, special mechanical devices such as the sleeve card holdout were used. This ingenious device used a metal clip attached to a leather band that was strapped to the forearm. Crooked gamblers then use this device to secretly snatch a card.

Crooked gamblers also bribe the ship's crewmen, who in turn, place suckers or "marks" who assist the gambler by revealing their cards using special hand signals. The accomplices would then receive a portion of the gambler's winnings as payment for their aid.

Cheating by card sharks became so commonplace that many writers and journalists began writing books on the widespread existence of poker cheats and warning ordinary gamblers about the risks of associating with professional gamblers. The book "The Exposures of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling," written by Jonathan Green in the 1840s called poker a "cheating game."

Nowadays, it's extremely difficult to pull off the kind of cheating that was so prevalent in the 19th century. The game has evolved into a 52-card game with several variations, making it difficult for gamblers to manipulate a game. Plus, electronic monitoring and the presence of watchful casino staff make cheating all but impossible except for the most talented cheaters.

Is poker really a cheating game? It cannot be denied that there are a few cheats and crooks surrounding the game, just like any other game or sport, but it doesn't diminish the game's massive popularity and appeal.