How Are Playing Cards Designed to Obstruct Cheaters?

playing cards cheaters image
Casino Cheaters. Image Credit: Shutterstock

With so many playing card designs and types developed over the centuries, it is no wonder that many have become easy prey for cheaters.

Playing cards have been around for hundreds of years, and so has cheating at card games.  Historians believe the first cards originated in Egypt and were used for fortune-telling. The current tarot cards developed from this original Egyptian deck.

The first use of playing cards in Europe was recorded in the 13th century.  It is believed that these cards made their way to the Old Continent from either the Middle East or the Orient.  Established gambling salons in Spain and Italy were the first to use these cards, from where they rapidly spread to other parts of the continent.

The Evolution of Card Games and Cheating

The first playing cards were made exclusively for the wealthy since they were all hand-coloured on vellum and were expensive to produce. While paper cards were more affordable, they didn’t last too long and deteriorated quickly with use.

Both kinds of cards were easy to mark for cheating purposes. During the 15th century, the production of cards improved due to the invention of the printing press. This meant that, for the first time, artists weren’t physically drawing each card. However, these were still coloured by hand, which meant that it was possible to mark them.

At the beginning of the 16th century, copperplate engraving made card production easier, although hand colouring was still necessary. Lithography of the early 19th century introduced colour during the printing process, although this did not fully root out card cheating.

Cheating With Colours

An advancement in cheating tactics accompanied the evolution of cards during the 1800s. Gamblers began marking cards in many ways by using various kinds of ink, allowing them to hide symbols on the rear end of the cards. Gamblers also became skilful at monitoring movements between the eyes and hands of other players.

Different card decks had unique patterns that distinguished each card manufacturer. Usually, the card backs were blue or red, although they could have been other colours too, depending on the manufacturer. Because the manufacturer patterns were so unique, it was relatively easy to find ways to mark cards.

Initially, the back decorations stretched to the edge of each card, which made it much easier to mark these. However, the manufacturers eventually got wind of the cheating practices and altered the card decorations. First, they made all the patterns symmetrical, so there would only be one way that a player could turn the cards. Second, the manufacturers inserted a border along the edge of the cards to discourage card markings.

Other Card Cheating Methods

Once it became more difficult to cheat using the patterns at the back of the cards, cheaters got more creative. Some continued to alter the back patterns to figure out which card the other players had. Another way of cheating while playing cards is to truncate the card deck by a suit. This allowed players to determine the suit of a card. In addition, players also tapered ends of cards to assist cheaters with finding particular cards or suits.

To thwart the problem associated with the marking of cards, card manufacturers began layering paper together and glueing it. Like this, it became easy to determine whether there was a cut or a nick on a card. In some cases, the cards would begin to fray if there was a cut or a dent on them.  Today, most casinos use high-quality cards that consist entirely of plastic polymers. These cards would often go through a lamination process, making them resistant to scratches, cuts, or the ability for something to be written on them.

Because of mass production, before a company seals a card pack, it would check the cards for quality. Card producers must ensure that none of the cards have smears or nicks on them, which sometimes occur during the production process and is something that a card cheat could take advantage of.

Ultimately, there will always be card cheaters. However, card-making and viewing technological advancements could help casinos and poker rooms keep pace with the double-dealers.

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