#1  
Old 09-29-2004, 07:41 AM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is offline
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Three-card monte

Is three-card monte always a scam? I was watching The History Channel last night, and they explained it this way: A shill would win a few games. When the dealer looks away for a moment, he bends the edge of the red ace. The sucker sees a sure winner, since the card is bent. The sucker plays, and chooses the bent card -- which is not the red ace. The dealer had very quickly unbent the ace, and put a bend in a different card.

I've never had TCM explained to me, so I always assumed that the dealer somehow palmed the winning card. But this leads to the problem that the sucker might ask to see all of the cards. If the winning card was not there, then there would be trouble. So after seeing the show, I think that maybe the card is there but the "cheat" is switched as described. So if a sucker knows that this is a technique, what's to stop him from winning by choosing the unbent card?

Also, how does TCM relate to the "shell game"? It looks similar. Is there always a pea under a shell? Or is the pea dropped off the edge of the table? If it's dropped, what's to prevent the sucker from holding down the chosen shell and having the "dealer" overturn the other two shells?
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  #2  
Old 09-29-2004, 09:04 AM
mack mack is online now
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I always thought the scam was that first a shill is used to attract a sucker. The dealer would then let the sucker win a couple by making the target card easy to follow, then when the sucker placed a big bet, the dealer would strike by either palming the card or using other sleight of hand to throw off the sucker following it.

With the shell game the pea is palmed, not dropped.
  #3  
Old 09-29-2004, 09:12 AM
Zebra Zebra is offline
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I've never seen a 3CM game that wasn't a scam. Although for some reason a judge in NYC declared them a game of skill. When the dealer picks up the cards he will have one card in one hand and two in the other. With the two cards, he can throw either the top card or the bottom card. It is impossible for you to follow the red card. Then of course everyone else at the game is working to get you to lose so you don't stand a chance.
  #4  
Old 09-29-2004, 09:14 AM
absimia absimia is offline
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Yes. Three card Monte is always a scam. It is a classic short-con wherein a broad-tosser's confederate takes advantage of the mark's greed by marking the card as you saw on The History Channel and then wins a hand (or invites the mark to bet himself first). The Thrower is well aware of the bent corner and will unbend it at the same time as bending the corner of a losing card.

As the program might have related, the Mark is *never* allowed to win. Anyone you see win is a confederate of the thrower. If the mark, through luck or cunning, *does* bet on the right card, another confederate will bet more on the wrong card and the tosser will give back the Mark's money, decalaring that he only takes the largest bet. A proper monte crew is usually 4-5 people. (A thrower, The guy who "befriends" the mark, The guy who probably roped the mark into the crowd in the first place, Some muscle in case things go south, A look-out, Another person to add to the "excitement" of the game.) If the mark becomes insistent, (because, perhaps, he's seen the program and knows the work of it), the muscle will let him know in clear terms that he better clear off if he knows what's good for him.

Magician Ricky Jay has a fine Real Media essay on the Three Card Monte


The Pea game is similar to TCM in that it is not a game of chance, but a straight-up con. The pea is stolen out and can be either slipped under a shell immediately...or held until the reveal. What keeps the mark from holding down the shell as you suggest? Well, most people are *convinced* they've got it figured out. I've watched some shell operators con some fairly nattily dressed people on the El out of a couple hundred bucks. They had watched it from afar (and seen the shill win once and lose twice...although it was easy to follow, to rope them in). Further, there's something about controlling the mark with your manner and such that makes people know that it would be improper to do it...and maybe a bit dangerous. Finally, the shell operator might have some muscle there too (although I don't think the couple I've seen on the train do).

Absimia
(who throws a pretty mean monte himself, but whose shellgame/thimble rigging kinda sucks)

**On Preview, I see Mack: what draws the mark in, as related above, is not the fact that they won a couple of times and want to win more. It is the "I see a sure thing and I have to bet on it" that gets them. A pool or bowling or golf hustle often allows the mark to win chump change, but that is because the sporting hustler has some real skill that (s)he's concealing. But even there, the allure is "sure money"..as in..."this golfer is a real duffer, and he wants to bet XXXX??? Guess I'll have to take his money."
  #5  
Old 09-29-2004, 09:26 AM
CurtC CurtC is online now
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I thought that the shill would play with the mark observing, and the "dealer" would play slow and easy and let the shill win. Then when the mark bet, the dealer would mix the cards fast and hard, so that there's no way the mark could keep up with the ace, so he has to guess, with a 1/3 chance of winning a bet that pays 1:1. No cheating required.
  #6  
Old 09-29-2004, 09:55 AM
Dragwyr Dragwyr is offline
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As absimia so eloquently stated, 3 Card Monte is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS a scam.

Darwin Ortiz has a great book out called, "Gambling Scams" and has an entire chapter dedicated to 3 Card Monte and the various ways they get you to part with your hard earned $$$.
  #7  
Old 09-29-2004, 12:02 PM
absimia absimia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CurtC
I thought that the shill would play with the mark observing, and the "dealer" would play slow and easy and let the shill win. Then when the mark bet, the dealer would mix the cards fast and hard, so that there's no way the mark could keep up with the ace, so he has to guess, with a 1/3 chance of winning a bet that pays 1:1. No cheating required.
Nope. In fact the thrower tries to go nice and slow...but not too slow. He wants to maintain the illusion that TCM is a game of skill (so he won't go as slow as he can), but he doesn't want you to be confused. He really wants you to *know* which card it is. The sleight used is extremely deceptive and can be performed very casually. Usually when I've seen/read about monte on the street, the shill will lose a couple of times as well as win. I mean there's been times when I even find myself thinking "you damn fool! its the one on the left!! And I'll be correct." The psychology is pretty funny that way, because I'll *very briefly* think, "I could win that. I'm smarter than that guy." But then I remember it is a play for my behalf with the motive of getting into my wallet (oakus, poke) to get hold of my money (dough, lettuce, geetus).

When magicians demonstrate the monte, they'll do it without the business of the bent up corner a couple of times to fool you and then will bend up the corner as the kicker and fool you again. Even when watching for it, it is very hard to see (although not impossible). Using Bee Brand cards is best (in case you want to practice).
  #8  
Old 09-29-2004, 12:08 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CurtC
I thought that the shill would play with the mark observing, and the "dealer" would play slow and easy and let the shill win. Then when the mark bet, the dealer would mix the cards fast and hard, so that there's no way the mark could keep up with the ace, so he has to guess, with a 1/3 chance of winning a bet that pays 1:1. No cheating required.
Nope. I've never done the bent card version, but the regular straight-up three-card monte is just a simple sleight trick. There are various ways of accomplishing it, but basically what happens is that the dealer shows you the three cards in his hand. He then proceeds to throw them facedown on the table. For the shill, he will throw them down in the order he's shown them to you. You'll play along, watch the shill win, and say, "Hey, I can do that!" When you bet, he'll throw the second card over the first, so you'll be following the wrong card from the get-go.

It's difficult to explain in words, but that's one way it's done. It's an effective sleight, and the card switch is virtually impossible to detect.
  #9  
Old 09-29-2004, 12:12 PM
FlippyFly FlippyFly is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by absimia
Using Bee Brand cards is best (in case you want to practice).
Why are Bee Brand cards the best?
  #10  
Old 09-29-2004, 12:46 PM
Larry Mudd Larry Mudd is offline
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Because the uniform pattern on their reverse faces makes it more difficult to spot a swap.
  #11  
Old 09-29-2004, 01:16 PM
Bill H. Bill H. is offline
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The first time I went to NYC, I saw a Swedish gentlman get swindled in 3 Card Monte, and though the scam was different than that here, the players were the same as absimia called out. The victim spoke in pretty poor english, and since alot of what happened was intentional confusion, the poor english played into it.

In this version, the dealer was dealing, and the shill was winning, and the victim looked on, encouraged to participate by another man. At one point, the dealer threw the cards slow enough so the winner was obvious, and the victim pointed at the winning card (without making a bet). The dealer flipped over the winner, looked to the victim and said "congratulations, how much did you bet?" The victim couldn't believe it, and pulled out all his money (and got money from his friends as well) and puts it on the table. The dealer doesn't pay, and insteads throws the cards again and asks the victim to pick. The victim says "we were betting on the last hand." The dealer says "no that hand was over and you've now bet on this one. which card do you want?" some arguing, but ultimately the victim gives in and picks (of course) the wrong card, as this time they were thrown more carefully. Now the victim is upset and starts arguing with the dealer. The man who was encouraging the victim takes the victim's side, and the two thieves move the conversation slightly to the side away from the table, with the table to to the victim's back. While they're arguing, the initial player picks up the money and takes off. Another man folds up the table and puts it against the wall of a newspaper stand that was there. The dealer and victim are now arguing loudly, and the dealer yells "forget it", and turns around to walk off (in the opposite direction of the guy with the money). The victim follows him.

I walk up to the victim and tell him his money went the other way, and point at the guy who has it (who is now almost a block away). Out of nowhere, a very large man is in front of me and asks me "what do you care?" At this point (it happened very quickly), all of the active participants, the table, cards, and money are gone, and the victim runs off in the direction the dealer went.

It was disturbing to see, but also fascinating in some way; it was all very well executed.
  #12  
Old 09-29-2004, 04:14 PM
Rodd Hill Rodd Hill is offline
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And, as with every con--short or long--it all depends on the mark's own greed to work.

Quote:
A confidence man prospers only because of the fundamental dishonesty of his victim. First, he inspires a firm belief in his own integrity. Second, he brings into play powerful and well-nigh irresistible forces to excite the cupidity of the mark. Then he allows the victim to make large sums of money by means of dealings which are explained to him as being dishonest--and hence a "sure thing." As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. Thus arises the trite but none the less sage maxim: "You can't cheat an honest man."

This fine old principle rules all confidence games, big and little, from a simple three-card monte or shell game in a shady corner of a country fair grounds to the intricate pay-off or rag, played against a big store replete with expensive props and manned by suave experts. The three-card-monte grifter takes a few dollars from a willing farmer here and there; the big-con men take thousands or hundreds of thousands from those who have it. But the principle is always the same.
- "Doc" Maurer, The Big Con, 1940.
  #13  
Old 09-29-2004, 06:09 PM
ianzin ianzin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry Mudd
Because the uniform pattern on their reverse faces[/url] makes it more difficult to spot a swap.
Specifically, it's the fact that the geometrical pattern on the backs extends right to the edges of the cards, with no white border. This assists the execution of a small number of sleights, including the main moves involved in the TCM. This feature is not unique to the 'Bee' brand or design, but 'Bee' are good, well-made cards which lend themselves to cons such as the TCM.

And to answer the OP, it is always a scam, it is never fair, and you should never play the game for money.
  #14  
Old 09-29-2004, 06:31 PM
hajario hajario is offline
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I have watched TCM and the shell game on sidewalks all over the world. It's an amazing thing to watch. I try to pick out the shills which isn't too difficult. Usually there will be ten or so people watching and six or more of them will be in on the game: a dealer, two or three fake players and a couple of lookouts. There will often be a floater who will play and win big and take all of the mark money away.

I stood behind a guy doing a shell game. I had been watching for a while and they knew I wasn't going to play so they didn't mind me watching so long as I kept my mouth shut. When the mark placed a bet, the dealer palmed the pea so that all of the shells were empty. The mark picked an empty shell (of course) and then he quickly dropped the pea under a different shell as he turned it over so it looked like it had been there all along. The shills will all start yelling and making a big commotion during the mark's play to make the whole thing more confusing.

The people running these cons are total scum but you don't want to fuck with them. They'll have no qualms about stomping the shit out of you.

Haj
  #15  
Old 09-29-2004, 07:14 PM
filmyak filmyak is offline
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I regret that so much information was given out here, because

1) yes, TCM and the shell game, on the street, are always scams

2) take the scamming away, and they make for marvelous magic tricks *grin*


Seriously, I took a class called the School for Scoundrels that went into the history of these cons (and others), and the classic TCM scam is so complex it took a full 30 mins to explain just how the shills worked with one another.

Never, ever, EVER bet on these. And usually the sucker will NOT win the first hand they bet on, because the dealer has no guarantee they will bet again. Basically, you will only win the rounds you do not bet on. The other times, you will swear you are sure where the card or pea is, and there will be lots of "mistakes" by the dealer that allow you to catch him "in the act" -- but these, in reality, intentional moves that the dealer pretends not to notice.

You can't win. It's not gambling, it's cheating. And if you do pick the right card/shell, it will be switched right in front of your eyes and you'll never see it happen.

I do these routines as part of a closeup magic act, so take the classic bit of advice to heart: if you look around and don't see a sucker, then the sucker is you.
  #16  
Old 09-29-2004, 10:57 PM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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If you want to learn how to do TCM for yourself (to amuse your friends without taking their money, of course), William Poundstone has a nice writeup on it in one of his "Big Secrets" books. I learned how to do the basic move ("hipe") pretty easily, once you've got that you can bamboozle somebody. He also explains how to switch the bent corners of cards - you bend the corner of the lone black card, go through your routine and voila the black card is no longer bent but one of the red cards is, and your mark never saw it happen...

Saw it live on the El in Chicago, it was an obvious scam and the shill might as well have been wearing a big neon sign, but they managed to get a couple of young girls to bet. Other people were warning the girls not to do it, and somebody even tried to talk the scammer out of taking them. Didn't work, girl lost $20 just like that. The shill then walked into the next car and at the next stop the scammer got off the train, walked down the platform and then onto the same car like he was just getting on, ready to repeat the whole show.
  #17  
Old 09-29-2004, 11:05 PM
testride testride is offline
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As part of their stage show, Penn & Teller regularly demonstrated the shell game with clear glasses and a brightly colored ball. You still couldn't keep track of the damn ball. To repeat, never bet on this stuff!
  #18  
Old 09-30-2004, 03:01 AM
filmyak filmyak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by testride
As part of their stage show, Penn & Teller regularly demonstrated the shell game with clear glasses and a brightly colored ball.
Actually, that was their cups and balls routine. Similar, but some distinct differences. And in general, cups and balls is for magic, doesn't really work as a con game, though I suppose someone could figure out how to do it.
  #19  
Old 09-30-2004, 06:47 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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Just slightly puzzled -- most of you are saying that there's a dealer and four or five others (shill, encourager, etc)? How much money do they usually make on a bet, that they can pay that large a staff? (I mean, OK, sure, there's no social security deduction and no tax, but still...)

I've never bet on a game, nor watched one (except a magician doing it as a friendly sleight-of-hand trick, no shills and no bets)... how much is the average bet on the street?
  #20  
Old 09-30-2004, 07:32 AM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C K Dexter Haven
Just slightly puzzled -- most of you are saying that there's a dealer and four or five others (shill, encourager, etc)? How much money do they usually make on a bet, that they can pay that large a staff? (I mean, OK, sure, there's no social security deduction and no tax, but still...)
Turnover. You can hit a lot of marks in a few hours.
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  #21  
Old 09-30-2004, 08:53 AM
FlippyFly FlippyFly is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C K Dexter Haven
I've never bet on a game, nor watched one (except a magician doing it as a friendly sleight-of-hand trick, no shills and no bets)... how much is the average bet on the street?
The time I saw this game (in Budapest, if you must know) the guy tried to bet $20 and the dealer said “Man, make it worth my time. Bet $50 at least” and the fool did indeed pony up his bet.
  #22  
Old 09-30-2004, 09:17 AM
hajario hajario is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C K Dexter Haven
I've never bet on a game, nor watched one (except a magician doing it as a friendly sleight-of-hand trick, no shills and no bets)... how much is the average bet on the street?
Usually it's the equivalent of ten to twenty dollars. I watched one group in Barcelona for about an hour and they got two suckers. It doesn't seem like a good living to me either.

Haj
  #23  
Old 09-30-2004, 09:25 AM
absimia absimia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C K Dexter Haven
Just slightly puzzled -- most of you are saying that there's a dealer and four or five others (shill, encourager, etc)? How much money do they usually make on a bet, that they can pay that large a staff? (I mean, OK, sure, there's no social security deduction and no tax, but still...)
I was about to say what FlippyFly and RealityChuck said and then add that I don't think your average short con crew is raking it in...but I see that once again I was beat to the punch...this time by Haj I have also heard the advice from Harry Anderson (who, as I recall, was a monte thrower before he got beat up a few too many times and became a Magician/actor) that the crew will watch to see how much money you have in your wallet when you pull it out to bet and will try and get out of you what ever you have. He suggested, if you wanted to throw your money away for the experience of being hustled, to have the money you're about to lose out. As hajario said, it happens so damn fast and is confusing, that you're often broke before you know you've been fleeced.
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