Cheating in Texas Holdem

Most casual Texas holdem players don’t worry about cheating
and don’t recognize it when they see it.

This page isn’t designed to help you figure out how to cheat.
We don’t support cheating and think that every time a player
cheats it hurts the entire poker industry, not just the players
at the table where it’s happening.

The idea behind this page is so you can learn all of the ways
that cheating is possible while playing Texas holdem in an
internet poker room or in a land based casino or room. If you
know how people can cheat you can start watching for it. This
helps you protect yourself over the long course of your poker

Some of these techniques cross over with others, but each is
covered by itself so you can get a complete coverage of the
topic. If you read the page straight through you may find some
similar information in a couple different sections, but it needs
to be this way so if you just skip to the section you’re
interested in it won’t force you to read something else for a
complete understanding.

Dealing with Cheating

We’ll start off by trying to answer two questions relating to
dealing with cheating at the poker table:

  • What do you do if you suspect someone is cheating?
  • What do you do if you’re 100% sure someone is cheating?

When You Suspect Cheating

Most of the time if you suspect someone of cheating you
should keep your mouth shut. You can stop playing in the game
where you suspect cheating, but making an accusation or comment
without proof is a bad idea.

Players who aren’t cheating can react in an extreme way if
they’re accused of cheating and even if you accuse someone who
is cheating, they can react in an extreme and violent way as

When You’re Sure of Cheating

The first thing to do is determine if you can still make a
profit at the game even though a player or players are cheating.
If you can’t you need to stop playing in the game. Even if you
can still be profitable you have to decide if your moral values
allow you to continue playing in a game where some players are
being cheated.

We don’t get into the business of telling people what their
moral values should be, so only you can decide what’s best. Even
if you decide you can’t continue playing you need to decide if
you want to do anything about the cheating or simply stop
participating in the game.

Even if you’re 100% sure that cheating is taking
place and you have proof, it doesn’t mean you should do anything.
It can be dangerous to cross some of the types of people who
cheat at poker. You might be better off avoiding the situation.

If you’re playing in a poker room you can speak to the floor
person away from the table and tell them what you know. Then let
them handle the situation without further involvement from you.

If you’re playing in a home game or private game you should
probably keep your mouth shut and leave the game. You don’t know
how deep cheating may run and the person who runs the game may
be part of the scam. You can warn other people you know not to
play in the game, but for your safety you shouldn’t say or do
anything until you’re away from the game.

When you’re playing online and expect cheating you should
contact the support department with the table and game number
and the identity of the player or players you think are
involved. Online poker rooms have ways to track players and see
how they play in certain situations and if they always play with
the same other players.

Please Note

Some forms of cheating are almost impossible to
prove 100%. If a player shorts the pot a chip, is it intentional
or an honest mistake? What if a player states their hand value
incorrectly? Is it intentional or a mistake?

Marking Cards

One of the oldest and simplest forms of cheating is marking
cards. In a Texas holdem game if you could mark the cards in
some way so that you knew which cards were aces it gives you an
extreme advantage over time.

One way players mark cards is by using a fingernail or other
hard item to make a small dent on the cards they want to track
in some way. These marks are usually toward the corners. So if
you wanted to do this you’d make an indentation on the corners
of each ace you see.

Dealers are usually trained to recognize these marks and take
the deck or cards out of play. If this happens often the dealer
is supposed to let security or the floor know so they can start
watching the table to try to catch the person marking the cards.

In a private game or home game you need to watch for this.
Concentrate on the aces as you see them. If someone is marking
cards the aces are the only ones that offer a high enough return
on investment to risk getting caught.

Another way players may try to mark cards is with a small
needle or other sharp pointed item. They make a small hole
toward the corner of the aces.

Players have also tried to use types of invisible ink and
other mixtures in combination with special glasses or contacts
that let them see marks that the other players can’t see. Most
casino and poker room surveillance is set up so they can see
cards marked in this way. But in a home or private game it can
be impossible to detect.

Why are aces the only cards worth tracking in this way?

Aces are the most important cards in a Texas holdem game for
a couple reasons. Of course they’re the top valued card so they
occasionally win a pot because of this, but they can also be
used to make a winning kicker and if you have a pair of kings or
queens and know for a fact your opponent doesn’t hold an ace
it’s valuable. This is especially true if you have pocket kings
and the flop has an ace.

Can you think of other situations where knowing which cards
are aces and which ones aren’t could be valuable?

Not only is this information valuable in Texas holdem, it’s
equally as important in any type of poker game and blackjack.
When you’re playing blackjack you’re playing against the house,
so they have a vested interest in catching you if you try
marking the cards.

In some places you can and will go to jail if you try marking

Marked Cards

Marked cards are different than marking cards. The only
places you need to be concerned with the possibility of marked
cards are in home or private games. Marked cards have small
marks on the back of the cards that show the identity of the
card to players who know how to read them.

Instead of just the aces being tracked, most marked card
decks have every card marked. And getting your hands on decks of
these is easy. Most magic shops sell marked cards and you can
buy them on Ebay and Amazon.

It’s fairly easy to recognize marked cards if you know how to
look for them.

Put the deck of cards in the palm of your hand with the short
end of the cards up on edge against your palm. This leaves the
other short end sticking up. While watching the backs of the
cards use the thumb on your other hand to run across the cards
from the front of the deck to the back so you see the backs of
each of the cards quickly go by. It helps to put the first
finger of the same hand with the thumb you’re using against the
face side of the cards to hold the middle of the deck in place
while the thumb manipulates the top of the cards.

You’ll quickly be able to see any inconsistencies on the
backs of the cards this way. Grab any deck of cards and practice
a few times. When the cards flip off your thumb the backs should
all look exactly the same. Some people call this a riffle test.

Switching Cards

This is also an old method used by teams of two players who
sit beside each other and switch cards before the flop. This is
done the easiest when the two players are sitting on the long
flat side of the poker table facing the dealer.

Each player plays with one of their arms on the table flat
from elbow to hand. From the dealer’s view the player on the
left has their left arm on the table and the player on the right
has their right arm on the table. The two arms are against each
other on the table.

Each player looks at their hole cards using the opposite hand
of the one on the table and exchange cards under their forearms
on the table. A system is worked out before they play concerning
a signal for when they don’t want to exchange cards and what to
do on certain hands.

This can be as simple as one player always giving the other
their highest ranked card in exchange for the second player’s
lowest card. This alone gives the player receiving the higher
cards a long term advantage because instead of getting two cards
to make a two card starting hand they basically are getting the
best two out of three cards.

If one player receives a good starting hand like pocket aces,
kings, or queens, they don’t trade cards. This can be a signal
as simple as moving a hand slightly to touch the back of the
other player’s hand.

You might think this would be easy to detect, but if the team
is good the only way to catch them is by watching them from
behind and recognizing how their shoulders and upper back moves
when they switch cards.

The only way to combat top level teams like this is if you
see the same players playing side by side over and over. One of
the best covers for this play is an older man and woman team who
act like they’re married and want to play beside each other.

The older age makes them look more trustworthy and the cover
story of being married strikes many suckers as cute. Players
will often even volunteer to switch seats so the cheating couple
can sit beside each other.

Not every couple who likes to sit beside each other cheats,
but you need to be wary of this situation.

If you do identify two players doing this it’s basically
impossible to prove as long as they don’t admit it during
questioning. As long as they deny they’re doing it there’s
probably nothing you can do about it except avoid playing
against them.

Stealing Cards

This one is dangerous because you can get caught holding the
evidence. Some players will keep a card when they discard their
cards and only throw away one card. The card that is most often
kept is an ace.

This is usually done when another player has folded and the
cheater can quickly place or throw their single card on the
other players discard making it look like they’re thrown away
both of their cards.


If a player has an ace with a small card and folds it’s a
good opportunity to keep the ace. Then when the player receives
an ace in another hand they replace the off card and have a pair
of aces.

Then they look for the opportunity to replace another ace
with the poor card later and start looking for another hand to
make pocket aces.

This can get complicated because many poker rooms use two
decks in a game, switching back and forth between the two. Often
these are two different colored backs so the cheater needs to
make sure they don’t end up with a red and a blue back in the
same hand, but even if two decks with the same color back are
used they have to keep track of which deck they stole a card
from because if two of the same suit aces show up things can get
ugly fast.

It’s difficult to catch players who steal cards unless they
screw up. The best card mechanics don’t make mistakes. The only
thing that trips them up is if a deck of cards is suddenly
replaced while they’re holding a card. And even in this case
they usually just throw the card on the floor under the table.

The casino will notice a missing card later when they count
out the deck that’s missing a card, but by that time the player
is gone.

Stealing Chips

Players who steal chips are willing to work anywhere in the
casino, not just at the Texas holdem tables. While you’re
distracted they quickly snatch the top chip off one of your
stacks. This is why it’s so important to always protect your
chips and be aware of what’s happening at the table.

Large chips are targeted the most, but even a $25 or $5 chip
is fair game if the thief thinks it’s easy enough to get.

Top Tip

Protect your chips with both arm as you play, always
know how much you have, keep your stacks the same height so you
can quickly see if a chip is missing, and watch the players
beside you.

Casinos have security systems and cameras, but they usually
aren’t watching the Texas holdem tables unless they have a
specific reason. So a chip thief may be able to get by
undetected for a long time.

Lying About Their Hand

One old trick used by poker cheats is announcing a higher
hand at the showdown than they actually have. Often an opponent
will throw their cards into the muck when they lose a hand. As
soon as a hand hits the muck it’s usually dead.

So if a cheat doesn’t have a good hand they may say they have
something better in hopes their opponent will fold. When they
fold the cheater gets the pot. This usually creates ill will and
bad feelings at the table, but the cheater doesn’t care.

Top Tip

The way to combat this is always look at the other
player’s hand to verify they have what they say and never throw
your cards away until you’re 100% sure you’ve lost the hand or
the dealer has already given you the pot.

Most poker rooms have rules that the cards play no matter
what the players say, but this still won’t help you if you fold
a winning hand.

Peeking at Cards

Many players argue that seeing the values of cards being
dealt or by seeing what other players hold isn’t cheating, but
we decided to include it here because it can hurt you.

Some dealers are sloppy and loft the cards as they pass them
out, allowing players to catch a glimpse of the card values.
Other dealers give a glimpse of cards when they peel the top
card off the deck to pass it out.

If you or another player occasionally see a card this way
it’s usually best just to let it go and move on. If it really
bothers you take a minute away from the table to quietly mention
it to the dealer. Don’t make a big deal out of it and move on.

But what about when you see your opponent’s hand because
they’re sloppy; is it ok to use this information?

Most players use this information because it’s every player’s
responsibility to protect their own cards. If a player flashes
their cards so other players can see them there’s no reason to
ignore this.

But some players go out of their way to try to see your
cards. They do things to distract you or try to get you to do
things that can give them a quick glance at what you hold.

Make sure you always protect your cards and make sure that
your opponents never get to see them no matter what happens.


Collusion fits under many headings on this page. Basically
any time two or more players work together to cheat the game and
/ or other players it’s collusion.

Good teams of players can take a great deal of money from a
Texas holdem game over time. Any profit taken from a game by
cheaters is less profit that you can get from the same game,
even if you still beat the game.

It’s often quite difficult to detect cheaters when they work
as a team. This is especially true of the best teams. A top
level team of Texas holdem cheaters can work together for years.
The only thing that often trips them up is they end up being
seen at the same table too often and other players start
becoming suspicious.

But you can find thousands of places to play Texas holdem so
if a team is willing to move around a lot they can play in
different games all of the time, making it harder to recognize
them because they aren’t playing against the same players often.

You often see signs of collusion in home games, but it’s not
often very well organized. I used to play in a local poker
tournament run by a family. Many of the family’s relatives
played in the tournament and often they’d soft play each other.
When they were in a pot together they often checked it down and
didn’t seem to get the most money out of winning hands.

They also would try to dump their chips to other family
members if they got short stacked. This was a rather transparent
situation and most of them weren’t very good players. In
addition, it’s difficult to see how soft playing their family
members was beneficial to anyone. Chip dumping is another
matter, but it often wasn’t enough to make a difference.

But what did happen is most of the outside players quit
playing in the game. Texas holdem players don’t want to feel
like someone is trying to cheat them so it pretty much killed
the game.

You need to understand there’s a difference between teams of
players colluding and teams of players working from the same
bankroll or for a team runner who each are playing to win. These
types of teams don’t cheat; they simply work together from a
financial standpoint. They might even split their profits
equally, but they don’t try to collude to change the outcome of
the games or cheat in any way.

You can study more about team play of this sort in many
advanced blackjack books because there are many blackjack teams
that count cards and try to win large sums from the casinos.


One way players collude is by letting their other team
members know what they hold. If two or more players all know
what each other holds it helps them avoid playing big pots
against each other and also assists them in computing pot odds
and making the most profitable playing decisions.


If you have a pair of queens and know that two other players,
who you are working with, each have an ace, it makes it more
likely that your hand is good. Instead of the possibility of
four aces being in other opponent’s hands, the odds are cut in
half. Only two aces remain making your hand more valuable.

Signals can be tricky but systems have been designed that
quickly show card values in ways that can be hard to detect.

Here’s a simple system that a team could use. Remember that
you only need 13 signals to cover all of the ranks. And the
truth is you only really need five signals to change the outcome
of the game over time.

If you simply track the aces, kings, queens, jacks, and tens
you can use the five fingers on each hand. Hold your cards with
one hand and leave the other on the table. If you have no high
cards you leave your hand in a fist. You assign one card value
to each finger and place your fingers out to designate which
cards you hold.

A system to track all 13 cards can be done using your
knuckles on one hand.

If you see what may be signals used by two or more players
try to determine if you can break the code. If you can figure
out what the signals mean you can turn the table on the
cheaters. It can be difficult to prove your opponents are using
signals but if you start taking their money by reading what they
have it’s better than forcing them to stop.

If you’re interested in signals use you can learn more about
it from studying top level blackjack team play. Blackjack teams
have to be able to relay the count easily to new players at the
table and they’re almost always on camera from surveillance so
they develop some of the best systems to use under close

String Bets

A string bet is what you tend to see in the movies when a
player raises the pot. They say I call and I raise. This is a
string bet and illegal in most poker rooms. Many players don’t
seem to understand why this is such a bad thing.

Good players can say I call to read the reaction of their
opponent and then say I raise or just let it go depending on how
the opponent reacts.

The correct way is to state that you’re raising and then say
how much and push your chips forward.

If you’re playing where string bets are allowed make sure you
don’t show any reaction when a player says they call, or give
the opposite reaction to what you really want. If you want them
to call and not raise act disappointed when they call and if you
want them to raise act happy when they call.

Shorting the Pot

Old time players who tried to get an advantage by any means
necessary were often called angle shooters. One of the old angle
shooter tactics is trying to short the pot when making a call or


If the call costs $25, the player throws four $5 chips into
the pot instead of five.

Professional poker rooms in casinos and reputable rooms don’t
let players throw their chips in the pot. The players are
required to place the chips in front of them but not in the pot
and the dealers count the chips and adds them to the pot.

But in many home and private games players frequently throw
their chips directly into the pot. This can cost you a great
deal of money over time so you need to be aware of it. It’s hard
to prove a player is shorting the pot so it’s often best to just
avoid games where it’s possible.

If a player can short the pot once an hour for $5 or more
they basically make that much more money per hour they play. Of
course some of the pots they short they end up winning, but on
the ones where they lose, they lose one less chip of whatever
denomination they’re able to short the pot.

Online Teams

Online teams are one of the scariest cheating possibilities
facing high limit online Texas holdem players because they’re
very hard to detect. They also can cost you a great deal of
money in just a short amount of time.

A team of online cheaters will all play at the same table and
share details about their hand with the other team members by
phone, Skype, or some other messenger system. A team as small as
two players can help each other quite a bit, but a team of four
or five players can really alter the outcome of a game.

If a team of four players were working a table with eight
total players they create a huge advantage against the other
four players. The four honest players each know the value of two
cards, their own, before the flop and the four cheaters each
know the value if eight cards before the flop. This advantage
creates even more valuable situations as the hand progresses.

If four break even players could use this type of collusion
to win an extra two bets an hour at a $100 / $200 table they’d
each make $100 an hour. And the advantage is much larger than
two bets per hour for four players. A two player team can
probably alter at least one or two bets per hour by colluding.

How do you catch online cheating teams?

The only way is to track your play as closely as possible
against all of your opponents and start trying to build
statistical models of your opponent’s play. The problem with
this is you need such a large set of data that it becomes
difficult to gather enough to prove anything.

If you start suspecting online teams are cheating let the
security team know through the support department where you
play. Catching cheating teams is even more difficult online
because they might be able to create a number of accounts so the
players can play under a set of names instead of just one per

Most lower and medium level Texas holdem players don’t have
to worry too much about online cheating teams. If you’re going
to form a team and cheat the odds are you’ll want to target as
much money as possible.

But you also need to be aware that some countries have people
who are so poor that if they could scam as little as $5 or $10 a
day it can change the quality of their life. And no one is
watching the low limit tables for this type of cheating. You can
probably still beat the lower levels even if two or three of
your opponents are cheating, but you can still be aware that it
might be happening.

Should you avoid playing Texas holdem online because of the
possibility of being cheated?

This isn’t a wide enough problem that you shouldn’t play
online because of it, but you do need to watch for it if you
play at higher levels. The best way to see if something fishy
may be going on is by closely tracking all of your play both off
line and online. If you aren’t making as much playing online as
playing at a land based poker room you need to try to determine

A change in your win rate isn’t always related to being
cheated but it can be. Most of the top players can earn a little
more per hour playing online than in live play because they play
more hands per hour online and can play at more than one table
at a time.

The tradeoff is it’s harder to read your opponents and get a
feel for an opponent like you can while playing live so your win
rate per hand may be lower, but this is made up for with the
extra hands.


If you win $50 an hour playing live Texas holdem while
playing 50 hands per hour, your average win per hand is $1. When
you play online, your win per hand might go down to 50 cents, but
you play twice as many hands per hour and play two tables at a
time. So your hourly win rate while playing online is actually
twice what your live rate is, but it’s still half the amount per

This makes it look like you make more money playing online,
and in a sense you do, but only because you play so many more
hands in the same amount of time while playing online.

You have to be able to track all of these things so you can
get a true picture of what’s happening in your play. Only by
doing this can you get a real picture of the possibility that
you’re being cheated.

Another complication is if you’re playing two tables at a
time online would you be more profitable if you were only
playing a single table? You might find that you can win more per
table by only playing one table instead of two, but you can
still make more by playing two tables at a time.

Don’t get overwhelmed by all of the possibilities, but be
aware of them before you start accusing other players of


In the last section we talked about how the people in some
countries can change their quality of life by earning a few
dollars a day. By trying to develop and use software programs,
called robots, to play Texas holdem online some players try to
earn a few dollars per hour at the lower limits.

The idea is they have many accounts at the same and different
poker rooms and use a robot to play that’s been programmed to
play in a way that it can earn a small but consistent profit
over time.

Please Note

Robots won’t work at the higher levels of play
because the players are better than the artificial intelligence
of the software, but at the lower limits it’s possible to make a
profit because most of the players are bad.

Programming a robot to be able to handle everything it needs
to be able to do is a challenge and also the reason they don’t
operate at the middle and high limits. Better players will
quickly figure out how to beat a robot. But it’s not impossible
to create one that wins at low limits.

Here’s an example:

If you could program a robot to do the following functions
after you logged in and bought into the table it would have a
chance to be profitable.

  • Buy back in when the chip stack went below 50% of the
    original buy in.
  • Move all in with pocket aces, king, and queens.
  • Fold all other hands.
  • In the big blind check in a un raised pot and check
    until facing a bet. When facing a bet fold.
  • Leave the table after a set amount of playing time or
    after a set amount of win or loss. For example, leave the
    table if it gets down $20 or if it gets up $50 for the
  • Leave the table if the number of players falls below

We can’t be sure that a robot programmed to do this would
show a long term profit, but at the micro limit no limit Texas
holdem tables we imagine it could squeak out a small hourly

Here’s the magic of how this works when you find a program
that actually shows a small profit. If you can make $1 per hour
with a program you use 10 of them at a time at different tables
and in different poker rooms and you make $10 an hour. This
doesn’t seem like much to many people, but remember the
conversation about the players in the poor countries? If some of
them could make $10 an hour they’d live like kings.

Most online poker rooms have specific rules against using
robots or software, but there’s usually a way around these. And
since these software programs focus on lower limits they can go
a long time without being detected.

The question you need to answer is if you think using a robot
is cheating? It’s fine either way, but if you think it’s
cheating what are you going to do about it and how can you prove
an online player is a robot?

Some players say opponents who never chat are robots or
players that act a certain way are robots, but some real players
don’t chat and do weird things.

At the end of the day most online Texas holdem players don’t
worry about robots. The bots aren’t very good and usually only
play at the smallest limits so you don’t need to be too worried
about them.

Tournament Chip Dumping

This one has received some coverage in the news over the
years but we don’t know how much it really happens in real Texas
holdem tournaments. Chip dumping is when one player purposely
loses their chips to another player in a tournament to give the
player receiving the chips a better chance to win the

The idea of paying a player to buy in and then dump their
chips to you sounds possible in theory, but what happens in a
field of 100, or 500, or over 1,000 entrants?

You might never reach the same table so how can you dump
chips? In a large tournament if you are at the same table early
how much will an extra buy in really help in the long run? If
you get 10,000 in chips at the start of the tournament and
another player dumps 10,000 more to you early, if the tournament
has 1,000 players the extra amount only amounts to one tenth of
one percent of the chips in play. You can construct a way this
can make a difference, but it isn’t likely to make a huge

In a smaller tournament field it’s possible this could work,
but there’s still no guarantee. The closest thing that might
work is if two or more players agreed to split all of their
tournament winnings and if they did end up at the same table
agree on who gets the chips dumped to them.

You can be aware that this might happen, but proving it will
be almost impossible so there’s probably nothing you can do
about it even if you do know it’s happening.

Tournament Fake Chips

Another possibility for tournament play is a player
counterfeiting the tournament chips and adding them to their
stack. Texas holdem tournaments usually use special chips that
are different than the ones the ring games and other casino
games use.

Many times these chips are more simply constructed than
regular casino chips so they’re easier to make copies of. You
can find a few records of this happening, but it doesn’t appear
as if it happens often.

Poker tournament organizers can easily track the number of
chips in play and learn if extra chips have been introduced, so
if this ever becomes a widespread problem it can be easily

Hidden Cameras

Hidden cameras, one way mirrors, and other cool sounding ways
to cheat opponents by seeing their cards are for the most part
things imagined by Hollywood and the movie industry. But this
doesn’t mean they can’t happen in a private game.

The odds are you won’t ever have to worry about hidden
cameras, but even if they’re being used you can do things that
make them not work. You’re much more likely to be cheated by
someone using marked cards than hidden cameras.

The easiest way to make sure hidden cameras aren’t effective
is to place your chips directly in front of you against the rail
of the table. Then accept your cards between both of your hands
in front of your chips. Lean your head down toward the table and
lift the corner of your cards just enough to see what they are
and quickly lay them back down flat. Place a chip or something
on top of them and don’t pick them up again until you use them
to win the hand or fold them.

Using this method a camera mounted in the rail won’t work and
nothing from behind you or overhead can work either.

It’s possible for a camera to be mounted under a table in
front of the dealer so the cards the dealer passes out are
recorded and seen, but this isn’t a likely scenario. If this is
possible and you suspect you’re being cheated you need to find
somewhere else to play.


Many of the cheating techniques covered on this page are
difficult or impossible to detect in a private or home game if
the cheater is good at what they’re doing. You need to be
careful playing in these types of games. It’s easy for a cheater
too take advantage of you.

If you’re just a casual player and are playing for a small
amount you don’t have to worry about it too much, but when you
start playing for serious money the odds go up that someone will
try to cheat.

Our Advice

We can’t tell you what to do, but, if you have the
choice between playing in a casino or poker room and in a
private game, you should usually opt for the casino or poker room
because you’re less likely to be cheated.

It’s usually impossible to get stories like this confirmed,
but we’ve read about professional Texas holdem players who
figured out they were being cheated and still played in the
games because they were able to still turn a profit because once
they knew they were being cheated they used it against the

But you need to understand a few things if you ever find
yourself in this situation. What stops a player or team of
players who’re willing to cheat from simply robbing you? Don’t
make the assumption that someone will pay you or honor their
losses or simply won’t rob you at gunpoint if they’re willing to