Card marking

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Peczarski's 1845 work Card-sharpers by candlelight, depicting a card whose back has been marked, possibly using wax to add lines which become slightly visible when reflecting light Peczarski Card-sharpers.jpg
Pęczarski's 1845 work Card-sharpers by candlelight, depicting a card whose back has been marked, possibly using wax to add lines which become slightly visible when reflecting light

Card marking is the process of altering playing cards in a method only apparent to marker or conspirator, such as by bending or adding visible marks to a card. This allows different methods for card sharps to cheat or for magicians to perform magic tricks. To be effective, the distinguishing mark or marks must be visible on the obverse sides of the cards, which are normally uniform.


Casinos alter playing cards used at table games before they are sold or given away to prevent cheaters from buying them to cheat at table games. CasinoCards.jpg
Casinos alter playing cards used at table games before they are sold or given away to prevent cheaters from buying them to cheat at table games.

Card marking is often used to cheat when gambling or for card tricks. Many casinos, particularly those in Las Vegas alter the decks of cards they sell to tourists – either by punching holes through the middle of cards or trimming their edges – to prevent cheaters from returning to the game tables after buying the cards and then slipping the favorable cards into their hands when playing.

Marked cards can be used regardless of who shuffles and deals the cards. Some more sophisticated marked-cards scams involve additional manipulative skills to steer the cards into the correct positions once the desired cards have been identified.


The first attempts to mark playing cards involved bends, crimps and tiny pinprick bumps known as "blisters", resembling the Braille script. Later, when the first designs appeared on the backs of playing cards, cheats began altering the designs on the backs of cards. Hustlers have used various inks, pigments and scratches, to add or remove lines or patterns from the back of the card design. Some varieties of card marking include block-out work, cut-out work, scroll work, shade work and tint work.

More recently, science and technology have also enhanced marked-card techniques. Modern technologies are variations of shade techniques.[ clarification needed ] Traditional block-out and cut-out work have the disadvantage that they must be read close-up, because the marks are small. On the other hand, another advantage of luminous and juice marked-card technology[ clarification needed ] is that they can be read close-up or from across a table.



Block-out work is simply using the same color ink as the back of the card and coloring in small white areas of the card. For example, sometimes people add ink to the flowers on the back of a card by making the petals narrower or blocking out a bird on the back design.


By subtly tinting different body parts of this small "angel" feature on the back of a playing card - the head for an ace, the left wing for a king, etc. - the card's rank can be discerned. The two is left unmarked. Tinting guide for marked playing cards.jpg
By subtly tinting different body parts of this small "angel" feature on the back of a playing card - the head for an ace, the left wing for a king, etc. - the card's rank can be discerned. The two is left unmarked.

A more subtle variation on blocking, card backs can be marked by lightly tinting certain areas of a detail. Rather than blocking out the entire petal on a flower detail, the petal is washed with a light ink of a similar colour to the card ink.


Cut-out work is use of a razor to scrape off some of the printed areas of the card, such as adding (cutting out) a white bird to the back design.


It is not necessary to mark the entire deck in order to gain an advantage in most types of poker - even marking just one rank (especially the aces) is enough to gain a significant advantage in a game such as Texas hold 'em.

Detecting marked cards

Some marked cards can be identified by performing the gamblers' riffle test (also known as "going to the movies"). Looking at the back of the cards while they are being riffled, the marks will "dance" around the back of the cards like an old-fashioned cartoon, provided that the viewer knows what sort of marks to look for. The riffle test is less effective for detecting cards marked with luminous and juice methods.

Reflected light off the back of the card will reveal cut-out work (scratches or white ink), as well as many inks or solutions that tend to dull the finish on playing cards because they are alcohol-based. Only the highest quality solutions will not burn the finish of cards. Placing a drop of alcohol on a card and then looking at the finish by reflecting light off the back reveals the dulling effect that these cheap solutions can cause.

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