This post reveals how highly sophisticated poker cheating tools operate in the real world.
In 2015, I came across a thread in an underground forum discussing how a very sophisticated poker cheating system ripped someone off at a poker table. From what I understood at the time, the post being in Chinese, the computer has been able to read card markings remotely to warn the cheater who is going to win the next game.
Intrigued, I wanted to follow this amazing device's trail to see if people were actually cheating poker using devices that would work in a James Bond movie naturally.
Without spoiling too much of the rest of this story, let's just say that the high-end hacking tool that I've been able to get my hands on far surpassed my expectations and it's really an outstanding piece of technology.
In reality it's so sophisticated and interesting that we wanted to do a Defcon talk about how it works with Celine and Jean-Michel, my co-conspirators. You can watch our talk record below and catch the slides here:
Before delving into the device's inner workings, here's a brief demo of it in action to show you how quick and accurate it's when reading cards remotely. Remember that I made a decent shuffle, and randomly drew the cards. No sleight of hand was involved.
Acquiring the device
Seeing a few more posts on English forums persuaded me that those devices were real and gave me some idea of what I was looking for. I was able to find several possible online sellers like the one shown in the above screenshot.
The problem with all the sellers I found was that the price was very high ($5000!), with very little explanation of how the system worked. If I hadn't been sure that the system worked, I'd think that it was a scam.
Inspecting the device's few screenshots available on reseller websites, helped me to find out who was the device's manufacturer: a factory located in China.I wanted to take my chances, and directly contact them.
After a few rounds of negotiation, thanks to the aid of my Chinese contacts, I was able to acquire the unit, some accessories and a few marked decks for around $1300. Although still pricey, it was still way cheaper to go straight to the product maker than the online re-seller and it ensured that I got the real deal. That is, after I had made a leap of faith and sent them the money through Western Union:)
When I ordered the poker cheating system I expected to get a dedicated piece of hardware which looked like a fake phone, based on the screenshots I had seen early on. To my surprise, however, the computer displayed in the above image much surpassed my standards by being a completely working phone dedicated to cheating with extra hardware. To my surprise, the system not only allows you to cheat at Poker, it also allows you to cheat at almost any form of card games you may think of.
The biggest benefit of using a modified phone as a cheating tool is that it is difficult to claim it is a cheating tool, unless you know what to look for. It is also a good smartphone, capable of making phone calls and running all the applications you want.
As shown in the diagram below the device has a hidden camera embedded on one side to read cards remotely. The infrared (IR) filter was removed to allow it to interpret IR light.
There are three concealed IR LEDs next to it which illuminate the deck to make the markings on the cards visible to the camera.
A cool trick is that the phone housing is made of IR passband plastic: although the phone side appears to be sturdy and opaque, it actually allows IR light to traverse.
The best way to illustrate this behavior is to take a picture of the device while it is powered on in the dark with a camera with no IR filter, as seen in the photo above. As you can see, doing so, the three LEDs are clearly visible. The best thing about it is that phone cameras are very sensitive to IR light, so pointing your phone camera to a poker cheating system would reveal the gigantic blow of light.
What makes the whole thing work is using a special box, in which each card's four edges are labelled with IR-absorbing ink. Consequently, when the IR LEDs illuminate this marked plate, the ink spots absorb the IR, forming a sequence of black spots as seen in the above illustration. This can be contrasted with a standard deck which, when illuminated with IR, shows no markings as is also visible in the picture.
The sequence of black spots produced by the IR illumination, illustrated in the above illustration, is remotely read by the cheating system to infer the suit and value of a card. Those labels can be thought of as transparent barcodes.
Each card has a unique code, as shown in the image above, showing the markings for the six hearts, six clubs, six diamonds, five diamonds, and five hearts. On each side of a coin, those markings are replicated. Originally, we thought there was some sort of order, but it turns out that for each card the marking encodes only a known value. We assume the values were chosen to optimize reader accuracy, possibly something like a Gray code.
An fascinating problem is how the labels are put on the cards. I would have tried to build a deck from the ground up at first, but after closely examining a few decks, it's obvious they're using a real Bicycle Deck (or any brand you want) and using a dedicated machine to label them.
This marking process leaves a rather subtle but noticeable indication, as noted by an anonymous source: the corners of the cards are slightly cut. We assume the labeling process is to help.
When you order a pack of marked cards, it is delivered with its "intact" seal and plastic wrap, as seen in the above picture. It makes the scam victims less suspicious, because the pack can be opened before their eyes.
The way the seal is retained, however, is less than ideal: instead of messing with the seal and removing it (an simple feat!), they chose to cut the bottom of the box as seen in the above picture. This can be quickly noticed by looking at the box of cards, although it would have been impossible to tamper with the lock.
To really understand how good this cheating tool is, it is worth highlighting some of the main challenges faced while using high-end card cheating technology. In addition to the need to create custom hardware and a card marking process, reading cards correctly in real time is difficult for three additional reasons:
- The algorithm must realign the reading to account for the location of a card (angle and rotation) and deal with cards that may be misaligned or bent.
- Reading and decoding must be fast which is not trivial on an underpowered computer. It is not surprising, given this need for speed, that the entire recognition algorithm has been implemented in C and not in Java.
- Cards are very small, meaning their markings are only a few pixels wide. Reading those with a camera with low resolution 30 cm away leaves no space for error.
Here is the poker reader's exposed view prototype in practice, showing what the system sees when I placed the deck on the table and showing how easy it is to detect the cards:
Now that we know how the device operates, let's see how it gets applied by breaking down the device in hardware. Removing the enclosure shows that the hidden camera is attached to a dedicated chip, as seen in the picture above. The removal of the black tape at the top left corner shows the IR LEDs, as seen in the screenshot below.
Notice the right hand side of the phone's RF and Bluetooth antenna connectors. These are also controlled by the specific chip, and are used to communicate with the accessories. RF links the video camera and remote control, while Bluetooth links with the audio and haptic output tools.
See more: What is a poker bot?, How to cheat in online poker?
Q: What are high-end cheating tools for poker?
A: High-end cheating tools for poker are devices or software that are specifically designed to help a player cheat during a poker game. These tools can be anything from marked cards, hidden cameras, or electronic devices that can read the cards.
Q: How do these cheating tools work?
A: Cheating tools can work in a variety of ways. Marked cards can be identified by a cheat using infrared contact lenses or special glasses. Hidden cameras can be used to film the cards, and electronic devices can be used to read the cards and send the information to the cheat.
Q: Are these cheating tools legal?
A: No, these tools are illegal and can result in serious legal consequences if caught using them. Cheating in poker is considered fraud and can result in fines, imprisonment, and other penalties.
Q: How can I protect myself from cheaters using these tools?
A: To protect yourself from cheaters using these tools, it is important to play in reputable casinos or online poker sites with strict security measures in place. Be aware of any suspicious behavior or unusual activity at the table and report it immediately to the casino or site authorities.
Q: What should I do if I suspect someone is cheating?
A: If you suspect someone is cheating, report it immediately to the casino or site authorities. Do not confront the player directly, as this can put your safety at risk. It is important to let the authorities handle the situation.
Q: What is being done to prevent cheating in poker?
A: Casinos and online poker sites are continually implementing new security measures to prevent cheating in poker. These measures include advanced surveillance technology, strict player monitoring, and frequent audits to ensure fairness and security.
Q: Can I trust the fairness of the game?
A: Yes, as long as you play at reputable casinos or online poker sites, you can trust the fairness of the game. These establishments have strict security measures in place to ensure the integrity of the game and prevent cheating.