Most cheaters in private games use crude techniques that are easily detectable. [ 20 ] Yet most players ignore even obvious cheating to avoid arousing unpleasant emotions. When a player detects someone cheating, he often rationalizes it as a rule violation or a mistake. But the good player identifies cheating quickly and can detect even highly skilled cheaters without even seeing a dishonest move. How does he do that? Cheaters betray themselves by violations of logic and probability. The good player, with his sharply focused concentration on his opponents, the game, and the odds, has an acute awareness of any improbable playing and betting patterns. That awareness enables him to promptly detect cheating, even without seeing a suspicious move.

Professor Merck suspects Sid of cheating. One night, Sid cheats him out of a $700 pot. After sitting in silence for several hands, Quintin abruptly leaves without a word and slams the front door. Knowing that Quintin detected Sid's cheating and fearful that he will tell others, John pursues him out the door. Quintin stops under the street lamp when he sees John approaching. For a moment, neither says a word.

"You saw it too?" Quintin asks, squinting his green eyes.

"I see it in every game."

"So why haven't you said something!" the professor half shouts. "He should've been bounced from the game long ago."

"Look, who's the biggest loser in the game?" John quickly replies. "It's Sid. And you're a big winner. In the past couple of years, you've taken Sid for thousands of dollars. Sure he's cheated you, me, and everyone else out of pots. But what if we'd thrown him out two years ago? We'd have done him a $40,000 favor."

Quintin's mouth opens. He rubs his chin.

"Sid's a cheater and deserves to be penalized," John continues. "But the best way to penalize him is to let him play. We only hurt ourselves by bouncing him from the game."

"Never thought about it that way," Quintin says, scratching his head. "Maybe you're right Who else knows about his cheating?"

"No one who'll admit it. Cheating is a strange thing. Most players have strong feelings against acknowledging it Everyone subconsciously knows that Sid cheats. But no one wants an unpleasant emotional experience, so no one sees him cheat."

"Someday, someone will accuse him."

"Perhaps," John continues, "but visible suspicion will occur first. Take yourself--he cheated you out of $700 tonight. Yet, still you didn't accuse him. You passed it off till next time. The next time you may accuse Sid, or you may pass it off again."

"But what happens when someone does accuse him outright . . . what then?"

"If he's accused outright, we not only lose Sid, but other players might quit. The game might even fold. We must convince any seriously suspecting players that the best action is to let him play. If they won't accept this, then we must either stop the cheating or eliminate Sid from the game."

"So for now, we leave everything as is?"

"Right," John replies with a nod. "And when Sid steals your pot, just remember he'll pay you back many times."

"But why is he a big loser if he cheats?"

"A cheater, like a thief, is unrealistic. He overestimates the value of cheating and plays a poorer game. In fiction, the cheater may be a winner. But in reality, he's a loser, and usually a big one. The good player--the winner--never needs to cheat."

"True, true," Quintin mumbles.

"See you next week," John says as he walks away.

What does John accomplish by his discussion with Quintin? He keeps the game intact by pacifying Quintin, and keeps Sid in the game to continue his cheating and losing.

The good player can lose to cheaters in certain situations. Two or more professional cheaters, for example, can gang up on a good player to reduce his edge odds to a losing level. The good player, however, quickly detects team or gang cheating and either beats it or eliminates it or quits the game (see Chapter XXXI).

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