Adventures with the Mojave Phone Booth book now available Deuce of Clubs Book Club: Books of the Weak

How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker

Penn Jillette and Mickey D. Lynn (2005)


Cautionary tale? All B.S.? Study in human nature? Ignoramus reviewers on Amazon hate it, but if you can't manage to come up with an approach that enables you to enjoy the hell out of this book, take up the Left Behind series, because you surely have been.


There really is no such things as a friendly game of poker. People play games of chance in order to make money from the other people playing the game. There is no difference between fair play and cheating. Even "fair" poker is not a real job; it's a way to get something for nothing. And something for nothing—if it's winning the lottery or robbing a liquor store—is cheating. If you don't want to cheat, stop reading, sell this book on eBay for a couple bucks, and quit playing poker for the rest of your life.
If you want a fair game—don't play poker. If you don't want to cheat, someone else will. And even if no one is doing what you call cheating—if someone is just playing better—they're doing what I call cheating. Winning is all that matters, and if it's all that matters, then you'd better be winning any way you can. (vii)

Cheating at home card games is stealing from friends. It's as easy as that. The techniques are easy. The work is easy. All that makes it hard is the morals, and unfortunately there are ways to get over that problem. Sadly, this book will help. (ix-x)

"And hey, Dickie, what racket did you say you're in?"
"Human resources," I reply. Dull. Non-threatening. Perfect. These guys won't be asking about my work.
I buy in, sit down, and they deal me in. One of the lawyers has a three-thousand-dollar watch and a tie that cost more than my first car. He throws his chips around freely like money means nothing to him, but he sure doesn't like to lose. I can tell. You know how I can tell? No one likes to lose.
The dentist comes over the top of me in an early pot; he plays tight, but aggressive. He reads all the poker books and follows the advice to the letter. He knows he's not a chump.
"If you don't win this pot, you're going to have to sell off your extra gold fillings," I joke. Everyone laughs. That's a good joke for this table. Not funny. Not witty. Not clever. Comfortable. Real funniness puts people on edge. This is a friendly game. We're just guys. (5)

It's either all right or it's all wrong. You can come up with a bunch of reasons for why screwing a ten-year-old hooker in the ass is a perfectly fine thing to do. If something's legal it doesn't mean it's right, and if it's illegal it doesn't mean it's wrong. Look at your fucking taxes. Remember, I don't pay taxes.
If you still think there's a line that shouldn't be crossed and that the line isn't blurry, congratulations. You passed the test. You're an ethical person. You should put down this book and sleep tonight knowing that, while some evil people may think about cheating, no one does it. Go to your home game and trust everyone, and I'll see you soon. I don't take checks. (18)

If you've never touched a deck of cards before reading this book (what kind of weird fuck buys this book when they've never even played cards?), you have a year of practice before you can cheat for money. If you're really good with cards right now, you still have a year. You need to learn everything from scratch. Get rid of all your shabby habits. You have to be clean to cheat. (24)

That was the day I learned not to drink so much that I forget where I've stashed my deadwood. It's a lesson you should learn. Squirrels forget where they leave their stash and we get oak trees; if you forget, you might wind up hanging from one. (34)


The editor said that to sell this book, there had to be a chapter on how to protect your friendly home game from being walked over. Now you can feel better about being in the middle of reading a book meant for "bad people." Sucker. (47)

There's your fucking list.
Now here's how to get around every item on that list. Maybe someone flips through this book in the bookstore and, because they're too cheap to buy the book, they just look at the list. They're saving their scratch for poker. Good for them. Here's where you take advantage of the cheapskates. They may see that list and a couple of things may stick with them, and that's great; I love half-smart. (49)

Playing with chips is much better. Chips are easier to cop. People never watch chips the same way they watch cash. Put a stack of centuries on the felt and people (rich or poor) will be staring. That's cash money. It commands attention. Even a fin will have people looking at the pot. When there's thousands of dollars in cash in a pot, people are watching everything, but chips are just play money. People bet more with chips because chips feel meaningless. (52)

You're doing the losers a favor. If you beat them straight, they'll lose interest in a game they enjoy. Instead of winning a little bit of money for several months, you can clean them out quick in a few sessions. You're saving them frustration. You'll also scare out the guys that shouldn't be playing anyway—like the guy who can't afford to lose. If any of this helps you sleep better at night, then go ahead and believe it. But if cheating is going to bother you, shouldn't you have bought a book on cigars? Those are popular now, too. (53)

There are Web sites and bulletin boards where people with similar interests write back and forth. Look for people looking for poker games. Just be careful: The Internet can also attract law enforcement professionals.
Which brings up an interesting fact: law enforcement professionals love poker. They love poker more than any other group, except for maybe the gang at Gambler's Anonymous. (Don't knock it; I've found a huge number of big-money games there with people who can't quit. If they haven't got the willpower, fuck them.) It's never a bad idea to have a law enforcement professional at your home game. It's almost always illegal to run a home game, but the cops don't care. With the law right there in the room, it's automatically "okay." If there's any trouble, Officer Fife will "handle it." It's a beautiful thing; law enforcement professionals can lose their jobs for taking part in home games, and sometimes reminding them of that fact can take care of any problems that come up. Honest flatfoots don't have any money, but the straight ones are less likely to play poker. In my experience, all law enforcement professionals are crooked. (57)

Living a secret life is exciting and sexy. You'll like it, but it can get difficult once in a while. You can't talk about it with anyone. No one. People like to bullshit and brag and you can't, not for real. You'll make up shit to brag about at the tables, but it's not the real shit. A lot of grifters get into working in teams just because they can't stand not having someone to talk to. They give up 50 percent of the take because they can't keep their yaps closed. They want to brag, they want to gossip, they want to compare notes. These are the same guys who like to get caught. Then they can brag to their parole officers.
Never boast about your cheating to anyone. Not a stranger on a bus, not to a hooker in a motel room. You do what you do, and part of what you do is shutting the fuck up about what you do. Talking about cheating won't get you laid. People don't get how hard it is. They want to hear sexy stories about it, and then they think a little more about it and decide that you're a scumbag; you took candy from a baby. They can't understand how hard you work, or how important you are to the people you fuck. They don't see how every bad beat you hand out is a story you tell with cards. (64-5)

A guy who can figure chances down to .00001 can still lose. It takes extra time to be that accurate, and it's not any more useful to you. Round off. Round off everything except your winnings. The difference between 26.2451 percent and 22.89453 percent is . . . none. They're the same; they're both one in four.
Think this way about big numbers: If something happens one out of two times, then it's happening to you right now. If it happens one out of ten times, it'll happen tonight. One out of a hundred won't happen tonight, but you'll see it this year. One out of a thousand might happen once in your life. Above that is bullshit. You might know someone who experiences something that's one in a ten-thousand chance; one in 100,000 is something you might hear about on the news, and one in a million or above happens to some asshole in China and gets on CNN. . . .
Losers tend to get stuck on the idea that if something might possibly happen, then it probably will. Maybe they'll get lucky. Maybe their lottery numbers will hit. They won't. But what about that hayseed who won ten million bucks in Atlantic City on his birthday? It happened. But it didn't happen to you. It happened to a loser. It won't happen to you and I'll give you a hundred to one it won't. (71)

If you realize the odds of winning are the same as getting hit by lightning, but you keep playing the lottery anyway, you're just wasting my money until I meet you. (72)

I found a small game with a bunch of dairy people (never play with farmers); they had plenty of money and nice homes, but they still drove old pickups and they never could be pushed into serious money games. It was that frugal Midwest thing. I buddied up with all of them and sat in on their game once a month, even though it wasn't worth the drive. I guess I liked ripping off subsidized farmers. They were playing with your tax money. (75-6)

The only time I've ever been in a church was to play cards in the basement. There's a lot of cash to be made in religion, but I haven't figured out how being religious will make me more money in cards, so I don't follow it. That's also why I don't follow baseball or the stock market.
The followers of Jesus use a fish as their symbol. God's trying to tell you they're fish. Who are you to disobey God? (100)

Here's a story, and it's even loaded with insider lingo, in case you need something to jerk off to. (112)

I'm sure the tax man noticed when everyone else tried to cash out hours later. I like to think that the guys who got shorted would accuse Four-Eyes since I never went anywhere near his cash box. The tax man couldn't handle basic accounting. What a pity. Fucking a tax man? There are nights when I'm more hero than scumbag. I've never paid taxes in my life and it still felt good. (114)

There's no shame in leaving a little money on the table. . . . I can get away with taking everyone for every cent they have on them, but it's hard work. Leave a couple hundred behind and walk out instead of having to run out. It doesn't cost much to be "nice" and you get to keep your face intact. I always lose the last hand of an evening. I'm greedy, but I think of that last hundred bucks as a tip. The guy that wins the last hand thinks his luck is changing and he'll want to come back, and people remember the last hand played. (123)

I sometimes get up and stretch my legs when things look like they could get unpleasant. I leave my set of keys right on the table where everyone can see them. It'll take the smart ones half an hour to figure out those keys are fakes, and you won't meet many smart ones. That's forty miles in a direction they can't guess, and you won't waste time going back to your motel. (124)

The station called me to ask for references and to set up another interview a few days later, but I pulled my application. Fuck them. I could have scammed an "honest" job in television. Give me a break. I am a cheat, but I do have standards. (129)

What a priceless idea that is. Playing poker online. You send them money and they tell you what your cards are, then they tell you whether you won or not. That's a nifty idea. Why the fuck didn't I think of that? (I did. I came up with the idea for online poker even before computers were invented. I had a postal-mail game years ago. I mailed out cards to six guys, and they'd mail back their bets and envelopes full of cash. The winner of each hand got the cash. I wasn't playing; I was just dealing, so why would I cheat? I kept all the money. It was just a few bucks and mostly I did it as a joke; I got a kick out of seeing how gullible people could be.) (189)

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