The Holdout Keeps a Card Up the Sleeve
The popular term of ‘Keeping a card up one’s sleeve’ is taken from the worlds of card games and stage magic, and means someone has a hidden advantage. When it comes to stage magic, the card up the sleeve usually comes out with gasps, laughter, and applause.
In a card game, however, it means that the holder of that card could progress or win by cheating.
A holdout is one of the many devices or accessories used by a player cheating in a game such as poker to keep an advantageous card up a sleeve or somewhere else.
A great many devices and gadgets were invented for this purpose during the 19th century. While many of them are small and simple, they would require some skill and a fair amount of practice to be used well enough to go undetected.
Why Cards Would Be Held Out
A cheating player has several advantages over the other players, if he or she is able to successfully use a holdout to remove a card from play.
First of all, the player knows that no other player will receive that card, and secondly, the player knows exactly what that card is. They could either keep the card to exchange it for a better one later in the game, or they can use it to build a hand that is likely to win the game.
Whichever way, it increases the cheating player’s odds of winning.
A Couple of Classic Holdouts
In days past, gambling catalogues did a brisk trade in holdout devices and accessories. Made from metal and, later, plastic, they were usually cheap to make and cheap to obtain.
However, the simplest of them lend themselves to being reproduced at home, usually with a minimum of time and effort.
Used with short sleeve shirts, the clip is a classic holdout device. It’s usually a small metal or plastic clip attached to an elastic or rubber strap.
The clip is then worn on the arm, with part of the strap just in the armpit. As the game progresses, the player would place an extra card in the clip by pretending to scratch an itch. The card the later be retrieved in the same way to be brought into play, or swapped for a more advantageous card.
The ring holdout was a finger ring to which a small clip had been attached. In many cases, the ring clips in question were watch springs; tiny, flat, and with spiral coils.
It was most often employed in a technique known as ‘topping the deck’, in which the cheating player removes one or more cards from the top of the deck. This would often be done in situations where the cheating player has actually dealt the cards.
It would usually happen after the cheating player has dealt the other players their cards. While they’re inspecting their hands and deciding on their first possible moves, the cheating player would pick up the remaining cards with the hand on which they are wearing the ring and then, with some dexterity, insert one or more cards into the clip.
The player would then cover the stolen cards with their dealt cards. Presumably players’ hands would be large enough to cover the stolen cards adequately.