Help Thwart Cheating in Pokemon TCG

by balasar ~ June 29th, 2012.

I’m sure that some, if not most, Pokémon players have had an opponent try to cheat at some point. That happened to me a few weeks ago at a Battle Road I attended. I believe that cheating needs to be brought to the attention of the players, so I want to use this article to raise awareness. If more people know how to spot it, cheaters will be less likely to attempt to cheat for fear of being noticed.

There are several ways to cheat at even the slightest things. Cheaters can draw an extra card, manipulate the outcome of a die roll or coin flip, or even stack their deck. This article will expose every way I know how to catch cheaters.  The two largest Nationals are virtually upon us, and I hope this will let potential would-be cheaters know that it’s not okay by exposing their tricks.

We all think we know what cheating is, but do we actually know? The definition of cheating as “to violate rules or regulations”. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. Cheating is the act of purposely gaining an unfair advantage over an opponent through manipulation of events and outcomes. If someone were to draw an extra card from their deck without meaning to, it wouldn’t be cheating. If they did it purposely/consciously, however, it would be cheating.
Before we get into specifics, I must advise you that accusing your opponent of cheating is a very strong accusation and should never be done unless you have proof. If you believe that your opponent is cheating, report it to a judge so they can keep watch of the player.  Even if you truly believe that someone is cheating, there may be circumstances you don’t understand.  Always let the judge handle it.  Give them the information you have, and let them do their job.
Shuffling
Double Nickel:

                This is one of the easiest ways for someone to stack the deck without an opponent realizing it, and it will just seem that the lucky individual constantly gets those “god hands”. The way to spot the double nickel is when you see them do a five-pile shuffle, pick the piles up in reverse order of how they put them out, and repeat one more time. This only works if the deck is in an order similar to that of a decklist. So if they don’t have your deck in order, they have to “disappear” from the play area to rearrange the cards so they are in order. The reason why this cheat works is that it perfectly distributes the deck, so no matter how many times you cut the deck, your opponent has an evenly distributed hand (i.e. 2 Pokémon, 3 T/S/S, and 2 Energy). To prevent this, you should always shuffle your opponent’s deck instead of cutting it when you’re setting up. I know some of you are thinking, “You mean we can actually shuffle our opponent’s deck?”. The answer is yes, you can. They are allowed to cut after you shuffle though. I also don’t mean to just overhand shuffle either. I mean actually mixing the cards up. You should do a shuffle similar to Fig. 1, or you can even pile shuffle the opponent’s deck yourself.

Figure 1

Riffle Shuffle:
                Riffle shuffling (like how most people would shuffle a deck of playing cards) can be an easy way for someone to make sure certain cards stay on the top or bottom of the deck. By releasing the bottom card of one stack sooner than the other, they could prevent that card from mixing into the deck. The same goes for the top card. The only difference is that they release that card later than the top card of the other stack. Once again, the way to prevent this is to always shuffling your opponent’s deck like how I am in Fig. 1, or you can simply just cut your opponent’s deck (which wouldn’t help thwart the double nickel). My recommendation is to always cut (or shuffle) your opponent’s deck after they do.  It’s just a good habit to get into.
Overhand Shuffle:
                The overhand shuffle is the most common way of shuffling, because it’s so simple and fast, but a would-be cheater can manipulate the deck while doing an overhand shuffle. What they can do is grip the one card that they want left on top and release every other card just like they would with a proper overhand shuffle. If done correctly, an opponent may not notice that the top card isn’t moving. Once again, preventing this just comes down to making sure that you cut or shuffle your opponent’s deck.
Hindu Shuffling:
                This technique seems to be more prevalent in Yu-gi-oh, but the idea is similar to the overhand shuffle. What happens is the cheater can lock their fingers of their dominant hand on the bottom card(s) and pull out about half the deck and slowly places the cards on their deck until the card(s) they gripped is on top. If that’s not clear, it doesn’t matter.  The point isn’t to learn how to cheat, the point is to prevent and spot cheating.  Just know that this technique will result in one or more specific cards being placed at the top of the deck.  Again, this is easy to thwart. Just cut or shuffle your opponent’s deck.  Spotting these shuffling tricks can be difficult, so just watch the opponent and always cut their deck.
Card Manipulation
Roy Sinclair:
                I have never seen or heard of this happening in Pokémon, but it did happen in Yu-gi-oh, and it could theoretically be used in Pokémon during rare occasions. What happened was Roy Sinclair matched the number of cards played by the opponent so his cards were always equal. He conveniently “forgot” to draw a card during one of his turns and passes. His opponent draws and Roy asks how many cards are in his opponent’s hand. His opponent has one more card than him, because Roy didn’t draw on his turn. Roy then accuses the opponent of cheating.  Preventing this is easy as pie. All you need to do is make sure that your opponent draws when he needs to.  In Pokemon, you should always make sure your opponent is doing mandatory things like drawing to start their turn and taking a prize when they get a KO.  In fact, a judge can issue you a warning for not helping to keep the game state properly, so keep alert.
The Better Hand:
                This is another one of those tricks where a would-be cheater needs a specific situation to pull something. When a card, like Pokegear 3.0 for example, has them draw a certain number of cards (separate from their hand), they could look at the cards, then their hand, then the cards, and so-forth until they see fit. They could possibly thinks about which set of cards is better for the exact situation and follows the affects using the better one of the two “hands.” If the cards they drew from the Pokegear’s effect (in this example) are better, they could take those cards as their new hand. If not, then they just act like nothing happened and continue on normally. Again, watch your opponent. Make sure you keep track of which is really their hand.  Don’t think that because it’s not your turn that it means you’re not in the game.
Palming:
                Because a potential cheater will need large hands to pull this stunt, Juniors and Seniors probably need not concern themselves here.  A would-be cheater could place a card in the palm of their hand at some point in the game, and it can remain hidden by the back of their hand until they need it.  The way to spot this is that their hand becomes very rigid and can’t bend easily. If you suspect this, just ask them to spread their fingers to see if they are palming.  If they have nothing to hide, they will have nothing to worry about.  If they don’t want to show their palm, just call a judge.  When in doubt, never accuse, just call the judge and explain the facts.
Sleeving:
                Similar to palming, sleeving is hiding a card. The only difference is that it’s in a sleeve sleeve. If your opponent is wearing long sleeves, it’s okay to ask them to roll them up before the match. Most people are reasonable and will, but people are free to wear what they want.  Don’t be offended if they deny the request. Just keep alert as I recommended earlier, and watch the opponent’s sleeves and hands whenever they are handling cards. If you have to take your eyes off of them, ask the number of cards in their hand and for them to fan out the cards so you can count them before you switch your attention. Many high level players will ask the number of cards in their opponent’s hands multiple times even during the same turn. It’s a good way to understand your opponent’s game state, and the side effect is to thwart palming and sleeving.
Lapping:
                Another way to hide a card is also similar to palming and sleeving, only it takes place in the lap. Unless players are getting something off of the floor, they are actually required to keep their hands above the table. However, a cheater using lapping will often accidentally “drop” part of their hand during the set-up into their lap. Simply Just ask that they put all the cards back into the deck and for you to re-cut just to prevent them from cheating. You can ask them if it’s okay for you to count their deck 6-pile shuffle it (which will result in 6 piles of 10 cards).  Like people asked to pull up their sleeves, most will think that it’s the honorable thing to do and let you, but you’ll come across someone who won’t call a judge and ask them to randomize the opponent’s deck. You should never need a reason to shuffle an opponent’s deck after they’ve shuffled, but it’s polite to ask permission.
Dice/Coins

Figure 2

Always Flipping Heads:
This happened a few years ago at US Nationals in Juniors. A kid had flipped heads every time he needed to flip a coin. A judge finally noticed it and gave him another coin to use. The kid couldn’t pull of a head every time he flipped it. Apparently, he practiced with the coin so much that he could always flip heads. Just call the judge if you see this and tell them that you believe that the opponent has an insufficient method of randomization as far as always flipping heads.  Again, you never know why a person is doing something.  In Juniors for example, some kids think it’s a challenge to try to flip heads.  They may not realize that it’s against the rules.  A judge can help educate them, and you will be doing all of their future opponents a favor by giving the judge the opportunity to correct the behavior.

Always Rolling Heads:
This is one of those tricks that people in Las Vegas in try to use. A cheater attempting this picks up their die, then they’ll fit it between their middle finger and their palm like in Fig. 2. The number they want is placed towards their thumb, and their fingers are set even to each other.  When the die is dropped from the hand onto the table, they are careful to not “roll” it. This is what is referred to as a “straight drop”. If you see this, you can just ask your opponent to re-roll the die, because it has to turn at least three times according to official rulings. If they don’t want to, just ask a judge how to proceed.  The same thing goes for a coin. If it doesn’t turn three or more time, they should re-flip or re-roll.

                I hope this helps you in your future tournaments. The main two points to take away from this is to always shuffle/cut your opponent’s deck after they shuffle and always keep alert even when it’s not your turn.  These two things alone can help thwart attempted cheating.  If everyone does these things to keep cheating down, it will foster an environment where would-be cheaters become won’t-be cheaters. I hope you have a successful and cheat-free Nationals!
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  • PPG_Meowth

    There’s more about it than that – the BIGGEST problem I have seen in Pokemon TCG as far as cheating goes is collusion. Be it the friend or kid of someone on staff, or just someone who’s a local “big name”, certain players have a lot of leeway to accuse people, and ignore accusations themselves. Where I’m from, this behaviour has gotten so bad many local players have quit because major tournaments are effectively fixed.

    • coolestman22

      That’s really terrible, I’m sorry to hear that. People really need to stop cheating, or at least P!P needs to step up and do something about it.

      • PPG_Meowth

         I’m starting to think it goes all the way up to Seattle and a few people have connections…nothing anyone’s reported has ever had anything done about it.

        • PPG_Meowth

           Then again, maybe it’s LA being LA.

  • pikkdogs

    I know this is a controversial topic for some people, some will say that this kind of article will only create cheating. 

    But, I disagree.  Knowledge should be out there for people to consume, not hidden from the populace.  You shouldn’t censor what is going on and hope for the best.  If people are informed they can better prevent cheating. 

    Thanks a lot for the article, it is a great idea.  No matter what people will say, this is a very good article.  

  • pikkdogs

     big ups to Ed for having the huevos to publish it. 

  • coolestman22

    Did you just copy and paste this from 6p?

    • ed went through and changed wording. but pretty much yeah. the point of the article is the spread the word of a timeless piece.

    • pikkdogs

       Well the author did send it to both sites.  Adam at 6P was the first to publish it so we thought that we wouldn’t do it, but then Adam took it down and we thought it was worthy enough to have us publish it. 

      I think this article is better here.  6P has a much wider base than us, but this article could use a more narrow base.  Yes, I want everyone to know how to stop cheating, but putting it on a lesser known channel will make the information avaliable without putting it in the forefront. 

      • coolestman22

        So Balasar wrote it for 6p?

  • thanks, ed, for publishing this! you have no clue how much this means to me.

  • Twan

    This article should be shown to all new judges out there so they can spot cheating better. Also declumping and stacking should be discussed as well, even though they are harder to spot. People in general should know to always shuffle your opponents deck at the start of a game. Not just cut a deck, always shuffle it.
    If you have good sleeves, a side shuffle is a good way to randomize the deck without cheating together with the riffle shuffle.

    Really good article :)

    • Ed

      I always like the side shuffle, but some of my opponents think it’s funny. :)

      One interesting thing I picked up from this article is that I now use the double-nickle shuffle in my playtesting or whenever I have a newly built/sorted deck. It’s a great way to get that first game or two in without having odd clumps. After that, the deck usually seems sufficiently randomized.

      Thanks for commenting, Twan. I agree that this is good information that should be more widely known. If everyone knows this stuff, it’s a more level playing field, and it’s better for the judges.