The Dark Side of Poker – The Pocket Aces Impossibility

January 6, 2017

Poker is a game that I love very much but unfortunately poker has a dark side.

When you have dedicated as many hours to this game as I have you’ve seen your fair share of the evil that poker can bring out of people.

Before I dive into some of my experiences it’s important for me to say that I don’t think that poker in of itself is evil. Poker is nothing more than a card game. It is people who decide to behave in certain ways which ends up tarnishing a beautiful game.

This is the first post in a number of posts I plan to write which will tell some of the darker stories from my experiences playing this game over the last 8 years.

The Pocket Aces Impossibility

I remember the scene like it was yesterday. I was just off the main street in a little town in Israel called Raanana, when I got a call from a long time poker buddy of mine. He spent the next few minutes telling me about the previous night’s poker session. The funny was that his description of the session was almost identical to a few other sessions which had taken place in the last few months. There was a pattern.

My friend described for the 4th or 5th time how one of the players in the game had picked up aces over six times in the session. My friend can exaggerate with the best of them but I knew he wasn’t exaggerating this time round. The reason I believed him was because I had seen this seemingly statistical anomaly with my own eyes. This player, lets call him X seemed to have a special gift in being dealt pocket aces.

An interesting question that needs to be answered before I continue is what is the likelihood of picking up aces in your standard 9-handed poker game? I mean we have all been in sessions when we get dealt aces a few times in the session right? The odds of being dealt pocket aces is 1 in 220 hands. Now in a regular home game you are expected to be dealt around 25 – 35 hands an hour, depending on the game and the overall ability of the players in the game to deal a hand of Texas Holdem. It also depends if there is a dedicated dealer or not. Most of the time there isn’t a dealer so the average number of hands lands up being around 30 an hour.

This means that in a typical session you should be dealt aces less than once. Since there is variance in hand distribution stats you will sometimes go a few sessions without picking up aces. Every now and then you will get dealt aces three or more times in a single sitting, this is just how the math works.

Now imagine you are aware of the fact that a random player should get dealt aces once a session and instead he is getting dealt aces three to six times every single time you sit with him. This should set off some alarms, and when it came to player X the alarms had been ringing for a while.

It was a cold Thursday night when we finally caught player X in the act. It wasn’t me who noticed it, it was a younger player who caught him dealing himself an ace. The black ace of spades.

Over the next 24 hours information started spreading that player X had been dealing himself an ace every so often , thus dramatically increasing his chances of picking up pocket aces. He had been doing this for months and had made a lot of money doing it. He had made some money off of me as well but financially the biggest damage was caused by him fleecing the weaker players in the game over the previous months. When the fish are stripped of their money by a single (cheating) player, the win rate of the other winners in the game drops significantly. Player X had cost me thousands of dollars in potential profit over a 6 – 12 month period.

Player X was ashamed of his actions and tried to apologize to us. Some forgave him and even started playing with him again. I decided that if this guy could do this to his so-called friends for that long he didn’t deserve forgiveness. Perhaps that makes me seem cold… or perhaps that is just the dark side of poker.

The magically growing stack of chips

Every now and then a new player will show up in your regular game who just rubs you the wrong way. Player Y was irritating and a horrible player (these characteristics usually go together). He would play with us once maybe twice a week and usually drop a few hundred dollars before leaving the game.

In one particular session Player Y ended up cashing out almost one and a half thousand dollars, a significant profit. I was surprised when I heard that he had so much in front of him because I didn’t remember him playing particularly well, and couldn’t remember him winning any huge pots. Another problem was that when we cashed everyone out we were hundreds of dollars short. The minute I heard that we were short I knew that somehow Player Y had brought chips into the game.

Let me take a step back and walk you through this slowly.

In the cash game sessions I play in there is always a dedicated “banker” who handles the money and chips. Usually everyone will buy in for say a hundred or two hundred dollars and get a stack of chips. The money is all given to the “banker” who puts it in the chip case or his pocket. The “banker” is responsible for making sure that at the end of the game when everyone hands back their chips that there is enough money to cash everyone out.

In this fateful evening when the game had come to an end and we counted the value of the chips we saw that the value of the chips in play was much higher than the value of the money given to the “banker”. The only way this can happen is if the “banker” made one or more mistakes, or additional chips were brought into the game. Since the difference was not ten bucks but hundreds of dollars it was obvious that chips had been smuggled into the game.

After a lot of shouting, threats and other noise I took the money owed to me and left the apartment. I was concerned that the neighbors would call the cops and I didn’t want to be around for that.

In the end the story goes as follows. In a session earlier that week Player Y brought his cell phone charger with him to the game. After the game he left and “forgot” his charger. Some time after the game he phoned up the host and came back to the apartment to get his charger. The host let him in and apparently it was at this time that Player Y snatched some chips from the case with the intention to smuggle them into the game in the next session.

Player Y never played with us again.

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Thanks and good luck at the tables.


Justin Butlion

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Welcome to my blog. My name's Justin Butlion and I'm the owner of The Great Grind. At The Great Grind I share my thoughts on beating the game of poker. The blog covers poker strategy, game theory, poker related statistics and the psychology needed to grind out consistent profit at micro and low stakes online poker.
  • Alec Torelli

    Hey Justin,

    I just came across your blog. You write well and have some great insights.

    I just started a ‘Best of Poker’ series on my blog which aims to feature the best poker content on the web on a monthly basis. I think some of the articles you wrote would make for great pieces. It will help you because your posts will be seen by all of my readers, plus the link backs are great for your site as well.

    Feel free to submit any of your posts (old or archived posts are fine) on my blog here:

    Each month the most popular ones will be selected as winners, and I’ll include some of my personal favorites as well. My goal is to showcase the best poker content on a monthly basis and help raise the bar for what the influencers produce.

    Thanks for your time, and good luck on the grind!
    Alec Torelli

    • Justin Butlion

      Hey Alec, thanks so much for the kind words and invite. I’ll go through your post and submit something soon. Good luck to you too.

  • Henry Bickley

    Justin, I take it that you guys who were playing with the AA guy–yal weren’t counting the cards between hands. I don’t mean between every hand, but once every hour or so in every game I play in, I grab the cards between deals and count them in front of everybody. Nobody seems to mind. Thing is, he might not have palmed it. If yal play with the same brand of cards every week, he knows what kind of cards to bring in. I don’t host games often, but I keep 5 sets of cards around here. (Only one set is marked. I don’t plan on using those decks but it’s good to know I have it on hand.)

    As far as chips go, I live in the U.S. and I have a few sets of old casino chips. It would be remarkable if anybody else in town had the ones I have. I count those chips before and after.

    The bottom line is that a lot of problems are preventable. Some aren’t. It sounds to me like you guys are playing for enough money that you can expect a medium level crook, but not a high level one. That means you bend him over the table and announce that there will be an anal rampage before the poker game resumes.

    It is way too easy to palm an Ace or a King. And it doesn’t have to be an Ace or a King. A 2 could come in handy

    I have been dealt Aces back to back twice I think. Luckily for me, both times were online, because the odds of that are 1 to 220×220–I think we can look at it this way though: about every 220 times we get dealt Aces, we can expect to see it back to back.

    I think this also means that that, at a home game, you can expect to see back to back Aces every 220 times Aces are dealt.

    In one night, it would be possible but unlikely for anybody to be dealt aces twice. On that third time, somebody’s ass should be busted if he comes up with AA three times. Actually, three times–just make that a big RED ALERT. If it happens 4, you know for sure.

    It is too easy to become a card mechanic. I mean, anybody who will put a year and a half into it, just a few minutes a day, can bottom deal without it being noticed.

    • Justin Butlion

      Hey Henry,

      In this specific case the AA player was dealing himself an A as his first card. He obviously had worked at shuffling the deck in a way that he could place the A in the right position depending on the number of players at the table.

      Once you can give yourself that first A the chances of you getting dealt AA, AK or AQ goes up a huge percentage because the first card wasn’t random.

      In many of the games I play in we open up a new deck of cards and play with a random set of chips so its very unlikely for someone to come to the game prepared.

      Since we are a small group of mostly amateurs we can easily pick up on weird trends, especially if it starts happening from game to game.

      Thanks for your comment.