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  • Nicholas J. Johnson

The worst kept secret in card cheating history

I'm standing in the parking lot of Crown Casino and there's a card cheat standing in front of me—with his pants around his ankles—just as the police rolled up.

The officer wound down his window and raised one eyebrow.

Not knowing what else to say I blurted out "we're magicians"

Apparently, these were particularly magic words because the officer nodded, wound up his wonder, and drove off.

In reality, I'd followed the cheat from the floor of the casino to his car so he could show off his latest creation: a fully operational Kepplinger Holdout.

There are few gaffs that live up to the romantic image that the public has of card cheating like the Kepplinger Holdout.

It's made millions in the hands of skilled operators and it's method is ingenious to a fault: once you learn the secret, you can't help but want to share it.

The device was discovered in 1888 by a trio of card players sick of being beaten by PJ Kepplinger at the poker table. The men leapt to their feat and grabbed Kepplinger, ripping off his jacket.

Passengers on the 86 tram sick of Kepplinger's manspreading

Strapped to his arm was a metal rod that slid in and out of a tube. At the end of the rod was a small clip, capable of holding a playing card.

The rod was attached to a cable that ran up his sleeve. When they ripped off his shirt they saw that the cable ran through a series of pullies, across his back and down into his pants.

In his pants, they discover the cable ran to his left knee and then across to his right. By separating his legs, the cable was pulled and the rod (and the playing card) could be moved in and out of his sleeve.

Since Kepplinger was seated during the game, he could deliver or remove a card without any visible movement whatsoever.

Keen to avoid jail (or worse) Kepplinger exchanged his freedom for three more devices, one for each of the men who had caught him.

The device is difficult to use.

Because the cable needs to run from knee to knee, the card cheat usually needs small slits in the pants at each knee to run a cable between them. The cable needs to be hidden while moving around the room or attached under the table mid-game.

The alternative to this "knee spread" design is the "toe spread", a method that has the cable run all the way to the cheat's feet. However, this requires the cheat to keep their legs stretched out under the table, an awkward position to hold for long periods without drawing attention.

As well as the awkwardness of the device, a Kepplinger Holdout requires a certain degree of sleight of hand skill. The ability to position the card in exactly the right spot to be stolen by the clip is not an easy one.

There are few cheats in the world with the mechanical skill to build and maintain a Kepplinger, the sleight-of-hand skills to not get caught, and the willingness to dedicate time to learning its in and outs.

However, the pure romance of the device has made it one of the most notorious gaffs in card cheating history. Within a few years of Kepplinger being found out, it showed up in every gambling store in America.

Even magicians couldn't keep quiet about the Kepplinger.

Harry Anderson exposed its secrets on national television in his routine "The Grappler"

So did Handsome Jack a few years ago on Penn and Teller's Fool Us.

Heck, even I have been putting my own spin on the routine for years.

In 2012, Four Korean men won close to $900,000 in a fortnight at Foxwood’s Resort Casino in Connecticut using an exact copy of the holdout from Kepplinger’s original design.

Much like my Crown Casino card cheat the four men were caught, with their pants down.


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