How Playing Cards Are Made to Prevent Cheating


Playing cards have been around for centuries – and so has cheating at cards. There have been various types of cards made and various types of cheating tried over the years. Keep reading below for a look at how playing cards are made to prevent cheating.


old playing cards

Some people believe playing cards originated in one of two places. People believe that the Indians developed them to represent a game of chess when they couldn’t move the chessboard. Other historians believe the cards originated from divination cards –fortune telling cards — in Egypt. Examples of these cards are tarot cards. The first recorded use of playing cards was in Europe in the 13th century. Historians believe they came from somewhere in the Middle East. There is evidence, however, that someone in Asia most likely used them first. European salons in Italy or Spain were the first ones to see the cards in Europe. From there, they quickly spread all over the continent.

Early playing cards were similar to the cards we see today. Just like today’s cards, the decks from the Middle Ages had 52 cards and four suits. These varied between swords, cups, jousting sticks, and coins. Numbered from 1 to 10, the cards contained kings, deputy kings, and second deputy kings – but interestingly, no queens. Because there was no consistent design on the cards, cheating was rampant.

And, because cheating was rampant, the people who made the card suits standardized them. That way, players would know what each suit was. The modern card symbols — spades, diamonds, hearts, and clubs — first appeared in France in 1480.

The Evolution of Card Playing and Cheating

The Evolution of Card Playing and Cheating

The earliest playing cards were only for the extremely wealthy. They were hand-colored on vellum and cost a lot to make. While paper cards were cheaper, they did not last long and deteriorated quickly with use. Both kinds of cards were easy to mark in order to cheat. In the 15th century, the manufacturing of cards improved again because of the invention of the printing press. That meant, for the first time, cards didn’t have human hands drawing on them. They were still colored by hand, however, and that meant it was still possible to mark cards.

In the 16th century, engraving on copper plates made making cards easier, but hand coloring was still necessary. Color lithography in the early 1800s introduced color during the printing process. However, that did not stop people from cheating at cards.

Cheating in Color

With the evolution of cards in the early 1800s came the evolution of cheating at cards. Card players began to mark cards in many ways. They used different kinds of inks and hid symbols along the backs of cards. They also used movements between the hands and eyes of a partner. They decorated the backs of the cards with a pattern unique to each card manufacturer. Usually, the card backs are red or blue, but they can be different colors, depending on the manufacturer. Because the patterns of each manufacturer were so unique, it was fairly easy to find a way to mark cards.

Originally, the decorations on the backs of the cards reached all the way to the edge of the cards. That made it much easier to mark the cards. However, the manufacturers got wind of the cheating and changed the decorations on the backs of the cards. First, they made the patterns symmetrical. That meant that there was only one way a player could turn the cards. Second, the manufacturers put a border around the edge of the cards as a way to discourage marking them.

Other Ways to Cheat Besides Card Drawing

Once it became difficult for people to cheat using the drawing on the backs of cards, cheaters got more creative. Some cheaters continued to alter the backs of cards so the players could figure out which cards the other players had. Another kind of cheating while playing cards is to shorten the card deck by suit. This allowed players to tell the suit of a card. In addition, players have also tapered ends of cards to help cheaters find cards or suits.

To thwart some of the problems with marking cards, card makers began layering paper or pasteboard together and gluing them. Often, it was easy to tell if there was a cut or a nick in a card. In some cases, the cards will begin to fray if there was a nick or a cut. There are also higher quality cards that some casinos and poker houses use that consist entirely of plastic polymers. These cards then go through a lamination process, and that makes them resistant to scratching or cutting. These cards are also difficult to write on.

Because of mass production, before the company seals the card pack, it checks the cards for quality. It must make sure the cards have no smears or nicks on them. These can sometimes occur during the printing process. A card cheat could take advantage of something like that.

The Future of Cheating

When the mass production of card decks began, the art of cheating had to step it up a notch. People began to count cards. Counting cards began with blackjack and moved into poker and baccarat. Counting cards means a player in the game must establish a point system for the cards. If the player is good at counting cards, he or she will know what is in the other player’s hands, as well as what the dealer has.

Players who can count cards well and don’t flaunt their winnings can quietly win without the facility noticing. Casinos have developed methods to stop card counters, however. One method used to throw off card counters is the automatic card shuffling machine. This device constantly shuffles decks for dealers to use so that players find it more difficult to count cards.

Another fairly recent innovation for casinos, poker tournaments, and poker halls to use is facial recognition technology. Casinos can save images of people and compare them to known card counters or people they suspect might be cheating. The technology also means that casinos can slow down card action on the software. They would do this to determine if a person is a card counter. They can also use it to determine if a person signals his or her partner or partners.

Casinos have the technology to determine if people have marked or painted cards. They use infrared or ultraviolet technology. Usually, the painting will show up on the card when it is under infrared or ultraviolet lighting. Much card marking has been eliminated because of the casino’s use of unopened decks at various times during the day. However, there are still times when card cheaters have been able to mark cards. Recently, a scandal involving marked cards happened at a casino in Macau. It involved a dealer and one of the VIP players in a high-limit poker room. The dealer marked cards so the player could see the cards the other players had. The casino discovered the scheme by using the ultraviolet technology.

There will always be card cheaters. However, card making and viewing technology should allow casinos and poker halls to keep pace with the cheaters.

Disclaimer: All images are copyright to their respective owners and are used by USA Online Casino for informational purposes only.

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Thomas McCoy was born in Bethesda, Maryland and studied finance at the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington D.C. before heading to New York and a job as a forex trader on Wall Street. Successful enough to launch his own, online forex trading platform, Thomas has long had a keen interest in the places where the worlds of finance and technology meet. As a prolific blogger, Thomas considers himself an expert on cryptocurrencies, casino asset restructuring, and emerging technologies set to change the way people do business.