In bridge there's an expression 'a peak is worth two finesses'. You don't have to play bridge to understand the message. Simply put, it means that a peak at someone else's cards is worth a ton.
The same is true in poker. Of course, some people think that using information that you get by seeing someone else's downcards is unethical. I strongly disagree. I think that every player has an obligation to protect his own cards. If you inadvertently happen to glance over and catch an eyeful, well then that's their fault, in my book, and you can use the information to your advantage.
But if you disagree, read no further. This article is about sneaking that peak and taking advantage of that information.
Let's be clear, however. I'm not saying that it's OK to lean over to look at someone else's cards. I'm not saying that putting a reflecting device on your ring or using some other shiner to spot downcards is kosher. That's cheating. But, at the risk of disappointing some of you who may take a stricter stand against using this information, I think that looking for flashed cards is OK - though admittedly the line is a thin one and there is some grey area.
OK. Enough confession. On to what works.
There are many ways to see people's cards that don't, in my view, cross over the line into cheating. At the very least you should be aware of these to make sure that you are protecting your hand at all times.
I find that it helps to wear sunglasses. I can glance at whomever or whatever I want and no one is the wiser. I don't want to give my glancing eyes away, nor attract attention to the fact that my neighbor is a flasher. That's something that I'd prefer to keep to myself. Sunglasses do that very well. Again, there's a fine line between glancing and leaning. For me, glancing is OK; leaning is not.
Sitting back and a bit away from the table also increases the chances that I'll be able to see an inadvertently flashed card by an opponent. So too can changing my seat position to the left or the right increase the chances that my opponents will flash their cards for me to see. Once again, this raises ethical issues. For some, changing your seating position is cheating. For me, it's part of the game.
There's another peaking opportunity. Sit low in your chair. Some dealers don't properly angle the cards down when they deal. They sometimes flash cards to the players sitting opposite them. If you have one of these dealers, or if you are in a self dealt game where players do this when they deal, you can take maximum advantage of it by not sitting too erectly.
In general, you see the most exposed cards when you sit low, sit back and look at the cards carefully as the dealer deals them off the stack. Sunglasses sometimes are a disadvantage in this regard - since they will reduce the clarity of your indoor vision - hindering your ability to quickly and accurately get a read on the quickly flashed cards. Even so, just knowing that the card was a picture card or a low card can be an advantage - even if you don't know the exact suit or rank.
Similarly, some dealers mindlessly lift the top card with their index finger in between the deal of each card - as if they're getting ready to deal the top card. They do this and then they lay their dealing hand flat on the table, with the top card slightly tipped up. If you're attentive and low and back in your chair you can sometimes catch a glimpse of this top card. This can help you in many ways, not just when the card is going to be a down card. It can also help you to know either your next up card before it's dealt or the next up card of your opponent. These are all useful when it comes to deciding whether to call, bet, raise or fold.
At the risk of sounding ridiculous, players sometimes expose their own hole cards when they look at them. They don't do this directly but in the reflection of their glasses. This is especially true when they are wearing sunglasses. This also happens, perhaps most of the time, in home games when players tend to lift their cards up to their chests and peer down at them. But it can also happen in casinos with inexperienced players who lean all the way down to the felt to look at their down cards.
By the way, it's not necessary to know exactly the rank and the suit of the card when you see the reflection in their glasses. Sometimes it just helps to know that the card is or isn't a face card. This is especially true if you're playing razz (7-card stud low) or Stud8, when you know the player is really waiting for a babe. If the card is paint, you can know with certainty that is bet represents snow - and your raise will win you the pot regardless of what you have.
Finally, let me address something usually connected to blackjack more than poker - shuffle tracking. This is tough in poker but not impossible. Dealers, especially careless ones, inadvertently expose cards while they are shuffling or "washing" them. You can keep track of where in the deck this card is shuffled. Precision isn't necessary for you to have an advantage. Just knowing in which quadrant a card is shuffled and cut can be an advantage - because you'll know whether it is likely or unlikely to end up in play.
In conclusion, I'm not suggesting that you cheat. I'm not suggesting that you take advantage of any of this information if you're uncomfortable doing so. But for me, at least, if someone flashes me a card I want to use the information to the best of my ability.