Security Review: Poker Game

By Father_Of_1000000 at 7:02 pm on February 12, 2009 | 2 Comments

A game of poker can be played for fun or money. The game itself uses low tech equipments, and the two main ones are a standard deck of cards and playing chips of different colors to represent different amounts of money. Depends on the type of poker game, the dealer usually shuffles the card and deals out the cards to the players. Then the players would bet chips to play against each other. The goal is to garner as much money (in chips) as you can. I’m going to use the terms chips and money interchangeably.

Assets and Security Goal:

  • Assets: Players’ chips. The goal of the game is to make as much money as you can or be the last one left at the table by taking everyone else’s money.
  • Security Goal: Protect your own chips at all cost! You basically don’t want others to cheat and take your chips with an unfair advantage.

Adversaries and Threats:

  • Other players: They are your main threat since they are the one in the game trying to take all your chips away.
  • Bystanders: They may potentially be helping out players at the table, such as leaking information about other players’ cards.


  • Counterfeit the chips. If the chips don’t have any security features (e.g. watermark-like markings, a system keeping track of individual chips, etc.), then it is easy to BYOC (Bring Your Own Chips). This is very hard to pull off at a casino however, but you are more likely to succeed at a friend’s house playing a “friendly” game of poker. You can either buy the same chips used in the game, or you can try manufacturing them on your own.
  • Marking the cards. You can try to mark the cards so that others don’t notice the marks, but you can identify them easily. This can help you tell what cards your opponents have in order to help you win. For instance, you can dent different parts of the card, or you can use the pattern on the back of the card as a camouflage for your markings so that you have to intentionally look at certain parts of the pattern in order to notice the difference.
  • Sleight of hand. Some people can shuffle the deck so that certain cards always appear, for example, on the bottom of the deck. When he’s dealing out cards, he can deal out the desired cards from the bottom of the deck to his partner, who is also another player at the table. They can then team up and split the winnings in the end. See the movie Rounders for more info.
  • Shoulder surfing. The difficulty of pulling this off depends on the size and shape of the table, how the players are seated, and how the players look at their cards. Most of the time it’s very hard to shoulder surf, but sometimes new players look at their cards by exposing the entire surface of the cards, giving others an opportunity to read the cards. Like I mentioned above, shoulder surfing can also be done using a bystander or a spy camera.


  • Other players. This is the main defense all poker games use. Since the players are playing against each other, they would look out for themselves and make sure others don’t cheat.
  • Security Guards. In some casinos, security guards act like a threat to cheaters in which the cheaters may be beaten up if they get caught. The cheaters will have to re-evaluate the cost and benefit before cheating.
  • Guns. Bringing an unconcealed gun to a game of poker is similar to using security guards in the sense of instilling fear in cheaters, but guns are more threatening than security guards.
  • RFID chips. Use RFID to keep track of the chips. When the players cash in the chips, the casino can check whether the chips belong to the casino.
  • Raised table edges. This increases the difficulty to shoulder surf as the shoulder surfer has to be at the same angle as the player in order to read the cards.
  • No space to stand behind players. This can be a small room in which each player’s back is close to the wall so that there is no space for shoulder surfers to stand behind the players.

The risk of being cheated is losing money or the potential to lose money. Depending on the type of cheating, the amount of money lost can vary significantly. For instance, shoulder surfing gives you an advantage of knowing your opponents’ cards, but you still have to play the game to win the money. On the other hand, being able to counterfeit chips and cash in the chips successfully, it’s a direct monetary gain depending on the amount you counterfeit.
The risks of cheating are also high. If you are playing at a friend’s house and get caught for cheating, you are probably going to be disqualified in the game and lose your friends’ and other players’ trust. If you are playing at a casino, especially in Vegas, the consequences may be more than just getting disqualified and losing all of your money.
The ethics of cheating in a game of poker can vary. Some people think it’s completely unethical. Others may think gambling is a vice, and vice against vice isn’t so bad. There are online poker games now in which you can play for either fake or real money. It eliminates some weaknesses (e.g. shoulder surfing) but introduces other weaknesses (e.g. hacking).

Cheating in a game of poker can sometimes be a lot easier than hacking into a corporate server. Even though it doesn’t require too much knowledge to cheat, how it’s executed is very important if you don’t want to get caught. This means that almost everyone can cheat, but being able to pull it off requires a lot of practice and careless opponents. Unlike breaking through the airport security to plant a bomb on a plane, it’s still possible for you to win the game without cheating at all, so cheating is not necessary to achieve your goal but can help you to achieve it. I play poker for fun. Winning is good, and I wouldn’t feel bad if I lose. Cheating, however, just makes the game not fun anymore.

Filed under: Physical Security,Security Reviews2 Comments »


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    Comment by Steven Davis

    February 13, 2009 @ 10:27 am

    You should check out Darwin Ortiz’s superb book “Gambling Scams”. I’ve also written about cheating at gambling and other games at and I have a “cheat sheet” on generic cheating techniques at: which relates traditional cheating to online cheating.

    … and I had a book published on game security with a major section on cheating called “Protecting Games”.

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    Comment by Ethan Apter

    February 13, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

    What’s interesting about the above review is that it assumes that players will attempt to appear to follow the rules. That is, a cheater will try to make their actions go unnoticed by the other players. This is a good start and is likely true within more controlled environments like casinos. In such an environment there are other factors (such as security guards and security cameras) that help deter more overt cheating.

    What we do know is that all players arrive at the game with something desirable: money. Having such a group of people together makes them an attractive target.

    Suppose instead that the game occurs in a less controlled environment. This could be a “friendly” game among friends or a game among strangers in the backroom of a bar. In a friendly game, the money pot may be stored in a hat in the center of the table. It is assumed that everyone will respect the system (yes, even if they are cheating) and not steal the money out of the hat. However, with the element of surprise a player could take the money and get out the door before the others could stop her. Certainly she wouldn’t be invited back, but she’d have gotten away with the goods. Similarly, one could use threat of force or actual force to take the money. The review above mentions a person bringing an unconcealed gun to the game to intimidate the others. Why not go a little further and just rob the other players? He already has his gun out anyway. There are of course other potential consequences to this (maybe all the other players have concealed guns, and they all draw when you make the threat and before you can incapacitate them all), but if the game is important/lucrative enough to bring a gun, it might be worth the risk.

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