MONDAY, November 3, 2003 (from cover page)

How Mr. Pink Busted Out and Went Straight by Cheating at Cards

Special to the Sun

Everyone knew they were cheating, but no one could spot them doing it, not even after the cheaters gave us a step-by-step demonstration. After five hands of blackjack, I was busted. Just 15 minutes, but a thousand bucks down the drain.

I was there to be cheated -- at the Bustout Dealer blackjack table, where Mr. Pink, an expert card cheat, will rob you blind -- with your permission. "Bustout Dealer" is the term for the crooked dealers employed at mob-run casinos back in the day.

After nearly a lifetime of cheating friends, family, and more than a few deserving strangers at weekend card games, Mr. Pink, 36, a former commercial artist, became a full-time card cheat earlier this year -- appearing at casino night fund-raisers and corporate events.

Cheating at Blackjack
Mr. Pink and Enoch Manning (left) cheating dupes at the blackjack table

"Do you know what he has?" asked one player who has just been cheated out of several thousands of dollars worth of play-money at a recent event at the Roosevelt Hotel. "No, I don’t. I just know he's going to lose," Mr. Pink told the player and his fellow dupes.

Hand after hand, Mr. Pink had caught a highly suspicious number of naturals (a hand that reaches 21 with an ace and a 10 or face card) while the rest of the half-dozen players either busted or had to stand with bad hands. (Of course he has an accomplice, Enoch Manning -- Mr. Pink maneuvers the cards and Mr. Manning spots good ones and clues his partner using secret signals.)

"Even when you’re looking for it, you don’t see it," said Dan Richardson, a businessman who played at the Bustout Dealer table. "He’s pretty phenomenal."

Mr. Pink has been at it since he was a child growing up in Europe. Born in Paris, he grew up in France and Slovenia. He has always loved cheating at cards. He first remembers doing it as a child playing an Austrian card game called Schnapsen, with his grandmother. But it wasn’t until he was traveling in America as a teenager that he really began to develop his craft.

During a youth hostel poker game, Mr. Pink met an older, more experienced card shark who was bragging about his skills. "He had this refined way of shuffling and handling the cards and I just had to know what he was doing." After the game, he begged to be let in on the tricks. The card cheat, impressed by Mr. Pink's chutzpah, agreed to give him a few lessons. He showed him three basic techniques -- the bottom deal, the second deal, and the shift. It was from those three basics -- all methods of sleight of hand used to retain good cards and deal them to oneself at opportune times -- that Mr. Pink built his repertoire.

"For most cheating, you can go as far as you need with just those three," he explained. And really, to be a practical cheat, you only want to win slightly more often than you would naturally. Beyond a certain level, you'll arouse suspicion and drive away potential suckers.

How to CheatBut, Mr. Pink's hunger to learn more ways of cheating has never really abated. "I've read every book I could, I try to meet other people and share information. I always want to know more."

Mr. Pink certainly has the skills and knowledge to be a professional con man, but he has always pursued cheating as a hobby rather than a scam -- showcasing his skills in "soft games" -- weekend poker and blackjack games for toothpicks or low stakes. "I was always pretty public about what I was doing and at first I expected no one would want to play with me because of it. But really, no -- it's just the opposite. Everyone wanted to see what I could do -- and then they would tell their friends about me."

"I've had all kinds of crazy offers," Mr. Pink says, including a serious recruiting effort from a retired jewel thief he knows through an acquaintance. "When he saw what I could do, he got really excited. He wanted to take me around -- there’d be 50K here, guns here, guns there. But I would never want to get involved with something like that."

Not that he hasn't ripped off some unsuspecting dupes along the way. It's just that he draws a distinction between ethical cheating and unethical cheating.

Case in point: Mr. Pink tells about how he ripped off a friend's obnoxious co-worker, a man who'd been harassing many people at the office. "When my friend mentioned that this guy gets together with some guys to play poker, right away I got an idea."

Mr. Pink stopped by their office toting a copy of Poker for Dummies. "Guess what -- I was in. I had an invitation to play poker with the boys." He enlisted a friend to help with the scam -- a tactic that increases the opportunities to cheat. "Basically, we took him down and treated my friend and some of her co-workers to dinner with his money."

But for the most part, Mr. Pink has always cheated, well…because he's so good at it. And, for some reason, people always come back for more. "They want to watch so they can feel privileged, to get a glimpse into an underground world."

Or maybe it's just for the pleasure of watching a master at work. "When people find out that I can do, I don't know, let's call them miracles, with cards, they want to see it all for themselves," he says. "I'm an artist by nature and I've tried to develop card cheating into an art."

©2003 - The New York Sun - MO, Nov. 3, 2003


Bustout Dealer: Cheating at Blackjack