Honour Among Thieves

Honour Among Thieves

Do you think there’s honour among thieves in poker?

The worst punishment for players thought to be cheating in poker rooms has traditionally been merely to bar them from the place in which they’re “made.” In many cases, even that doesn’t happen. The thief is given a symbolic slap on the wrist. A manager might say, “Hey, you’re bringing heat down on the joint; watch your step.”

In some cases the house is aware of the activities of thieves, and accepts a piece of the action in exchange for tolerance, that is, letting them continue to play. The official management is not always aware of the activities; sometimes it’s just one shift boss, or one floor person, who turns his or her head at the right moments, and gets rewarded generously in return.

When I was a full-time player, I knew a few thieves.

Some were acquaintances. I knew who others were because I had to protect myself. Part of the money-making skill was knowing whose games to stay out of, and whom to avoid. I did not approve of the activities of the acquaintances, and rarely played in their games. If I did unavoidably end up in the same game, the understanding was that not only would they not cheat me, but they would not “do” anything as long as I was in the game.

Why didn’t I turn them in you ask? It’s not that easy. Recently I read a Dear Abby letter from a woman whose mother was cheating on welfare. She regularly collected her welfare check, yet kept secret from the authorities ownership of a nice home, fine car, and sufficient income to live comfortably. What should the woman do? Turn her mother in? Abby advised warning her mother that she would turn her in if she didn’t quit cheating the government (which ends up as cheating you and me, for welfare comes out of the pockets of all the rest of us). What would you do in the same situation? Turn your mother in, and have her maybe go to jail?

The situation was similar regarding my thieving friends. If you’re a professional poker player, you can’t help but know thieves. They’re considered professionals, too. The unspoken code of ethics among professional players is that they do not turn the thieves in. Professional players do not acknowledge to the unknowing players that thieves even exist, both to not spoil the business of the thieves, and not frighten the “dummies” off.

I don’t like that code of ethics. Among other things, it taints you by implication. If the other players find out you’re protecting thieves, they may automatically assume you’re one, too.

And do you think the situation is reversed? If you’re ever accused of cheating, do you think the thieves will come to your rescue? “Him? Nah, he’s no thief. He just knows us. We’re the thieves.” Ha! They’ll accuse you to take the heat off themselves.

These thieves also cheat anyone they think they can put one over on, including others they consider less capable in their “line of work.” They’d “cheat their own grandmothers”, the saying goes.

That’s what I mean about honour among thieves. There is none.

Don’t let the thieves play. Warn them, and then turn them in. Poker is tough enough to beat without having to go uphill against sleight-of-hand and scamming teams. And even if they don’t cheat you, as the understanding is supposed to go, they’ll take money off losing players that should go to you because of your skill.

Poker is a game that should be won on the basis of one’s talents. It should be a gentleman’s — and lady’s — game, with the best players winning within the parameters set by the rules.

by Michael Wiesenberg

Photo by Thgusstavo Santana from Pexels