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How to host a no-limit Texas Hold'em poker tournament in your home

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Cheating at Poker

(What to watch out for)

There are three or four major forms of poker cheating that you must remain on guard against; marked cards, imported chips, mechanics, and collusion. Imported chips are unauthorized poker chips brought into the tournament. Mechanics is the physical manipulation of playing cards to someone's advantage, for example, dealing from the bottom of the deck. Collusion is playing differently against one or more players at the table than you do against others.

Cheating at low stakes home poker games is not usually a problem. Tournament play discourages cheating due to the relatively low buyin dollar amount. Many home tourney players are attending for the enjoyment and camaraderie rather than the need to win the money. So don't worry too much about cheaters at your game.

Surprisingly, the biggest form of "cheating" is peeking at other players cards. Glimpsing your neighbor's cards is sometimes unavoidable due to the cramped quarters of a home poker room. Remind your guests to protect their cards at all times. Remember that is not improper for one player to complain about another player who constantly has the opportunity to view a third player's cards.

Marked Cards

Marked cards can be purchased on Ebay and at other locations. Brand new decks of marked KEM cards (in sealed plastic!) use a dye that is only visible to players wearing special glasses. This cheating method can be easily avoided by never using anyone else's cards at your home tourney.

Some players may also try to mark cards by tearing or nicking them with a fingernail. This is usually a little too obvious a tactic but of greater concern is a 'punched' card. A punched card has a little indentation punched into the card in a specific location. You can view a punched card here. A dealer can feel the punch as he deals the card and an observant player can view the punches on everyone's down-cards.

Imported Chips

You must be on guard against players who might try to bring their own poker chips into your tournament. This is particularly true if you use one of the more common types of chip that is readily available. If you use a customized chip with your name printed on it, you don't have to worry about a player having an identical chip, but if you are using the plastic Bike chips - what's to stop a player from bringing extra chips into your tourney?

If you must use common poker chips, try to modify them in some unique way. One easy method is to place little stickers (labels) of a certain color or shape on each chip. Just make sure they don't come off ... you don't want to make false accusations against an innocent player. You might also use an unusually colored felt marker to permanently mark your chips.

Always pay attention to the chips in play. If you've owned your set of chips for ten years but all of a sudden one or two shiny, new Purple (500) chips appears .. you've got a problem. Make sure you account for your entire chipset at the end of the night. Chips do occasionally get lost under carpets or down ventilation grates. Ensure that you know the exact number of chips you have in your set.


You should always pay particular attention to the dealer as this is where the majority of cheating can occur. Your worries will be greatly lessened if you have a dedicated dealer you can trust. You can learn more about card mechanics at


Collusion is extremely difficult to prove and caution must be used when dealing with the issue. In a public cardroom, or someone else's house, it is best to simply walk away from the game when you suspect collusion. Unfortunately, walking away is not an option when you are in your own house hosting 20 guys for a night of poker!

Some common forms of collusion are:

  • Dumping chips: Deliberately losing to a partner (perhaps someone you are backing financially or with whom you have traded a percentage stake).
  • Hand-mucking: Switching or altering hands. Two people sitting next to each other might try to switch hands or alter them in some way.
  • Hot-seat: A new player is invited to a game, only to play against a team of players all secretly working together.
  • Signaling: Trading information between partners. Signals can take many forms, from the placement of the chips on the cards, to coughing, to Morse code tappings on the table. The key ingredient in all signaling systems is the ability to be repeated without being noticed. In a game where people (hopefully) are always watching each other, this can prove problematic. When a cheater is signaling the value of his hand to his partner(s), he is also signaling the value of his hand to everybody else at the table.
  • Soft play: Failing to bet or raise in a situation that would normally merit it because of your opponent. In home poker games it is common to be playing against someone you know well but the best advice is to leave friendship outside the door, especially in tournament poker. Soft playing a friend is cheating all of the other players at the game who would prefer to see you bust out your friend, getting them closer to the prize money.
  • Whipsawing: Partners raise and reraise each other to trap players in between.

Implicit Collusion

Let's say there are three players left in the pot and one of those players goes all-in. There is now a good chance that the remaining two players will "check it down", meaning that they will both check, rather than bet or raise, until the showdown. This is known as "implicit collusion" because the two players are now, in effect, teaming up against the all-in player. There are several legitimate reasons why implicit collusion is somewhat tolerated:

  • The chance of a successful bluff is much lower since there is a guaranteed card showdown with the all-in player.
  • Eliminating players is an important objective in a tournament and both players have a vested interest in seeing the all-in player eliminated. Two hands have a better chance of beating the all-in player than one.
  • Players not in the pot also have a vested interest in seeing the all-in player eliminated.

For these reasons, don't be surprised to see many checked-down hands in these situations. It is not considered to be cheating unless done by verbal agreement.

Angle Shooting

There is another form of improper play referred to as angle shooting. Angle shooters try to use the rules or procedures of poker to their own advantage. Angle shooters will also try to take advantage of another players lack of proper procedure. A classic example of an angle shooter is a player who is suppose to act behind you but verbally declares at showdown that he has a flush. You muck your hand and he then reveals his hand which is not a flush. You would have won the pot had you not mucked your cards.

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