Three card monte

From Academic Kids

Three card monte, also known as the Three-Card Trick, Follow the Lady or Find the Lady, is a confidence game in which the victim, or mark, is tricked into betting a sum of money that he can find the money card, for example the Queen of Spades, among three face-down playing cards. In its full form, the three card monte is an example of a classic short con in which the outside man pretends to conspire with the mark to cheat the inside man, while in fact conspiring with the inside man to cheat the mark.



The three card monte game itself is very simple. To play, a dealer places three cards face down on a table. (The table is often nothing more than a cardboard box, providing the ability to setup and disappear quickly.) The dealer shows that one of the cards is the Queen of Spades, and then rearranges the cards quickly to confuse the player about which card is which. The player is then given an opportunity to select one of the three cards. If the player correctly identifies the Queen of Spades, he wins an amount equal to the stake he bets; otherwise, he loses his stake.

Drawing a player in

When the mark arrives at the three card monte game, he is likely to see a number of other players winning and losing money at the game. These are shills, confederates of the dealer who pretend to play so as to give the illusion of a straight gambling game. The mark is likely to notice that he can follow the Queen more easily than the shills seem to be able to, which sets him up to believe that he can beat the game.

In reality, the mark does just fine at following the card he's watching - but it's not the Queen.

How it's really done

A common way for the dealer to work the trick is as follows: The cards are held lengthwise by their top and bottom edges, with the face of each card oriented away from the hand that is holding it. One card is held in his left hand, a second is held in his right hand between the thumb and the middle finger, and a third above it between thumb and forefinger (index finger). Both hands are tilted up to reveal their identities to the mark and shill(s) standing opposite the dealer, clearly showing that one of the two cards held in the right hand is the Queen of Spades. All three cards are then simultaneously dropped onto the table and placed side-by-side in one smooth motion. As they are dropped, the dealer moves his right hand sideways to separate the two cards. However, at this stage the sleight occurs - while the mark thinks the lower card has fallen first, the top card has in fact been pushed out slightly early, swapping the positions of these two cards. Done properly, the move is virtually undetectable to most.

The Short Con method

To bring the mark in fully, a roper or outside man (as opposed to the dealer, the inside man) will approach the mark and suggest a way to turn even this easy win into a sure thing, a gamble that cannot be lost. He demands to examine the cards, and while handling them puts a subtle bend, or crimp, in one corner of the Queen of Spades. This makes the Queen especially easy to identify, and the mark is encouraged to win a small amount by finding the Queen using the crease. Often the outside man will put up the stake for this first bet, so that the mark doesn't have to risk any of his own money. The outside man will then suggest that he and the mark together bet all the money they are carrying, including the winnings from the first bet, on the next play.

The greedy mark will stake everything he has on the next bet, supported by the confidence of the outside man that they can't lose; but when he turns over the creased card, he finds that the dealer has removed the crease from the Queen and put it on a losing card. The mark has lost his bet, along with any part of the final stake put up by the outside man.

In the last stage of the con, the mark is cooled off by the outside man who curses the failure of the trick and the money he claims to have lost along with the mark. A particularly gullible mark may at this point go off to find more money to gamble on a second attempt, but even an ordinarily gullible mark may not realize that he has been swindled, or (if the outside man's share of the stake was large) may even feel that he has betrayed the outside man's confidence in his ability to win the game. After the mark leaves, the inside man returns the outside man's stake and a new mark is found.

Winning at Three Card Monte

Even with the knowledge of how this game is played and therefore a better method of identifying the money card, it is very unlikely to win at Three card monte. If the mark has bet a fair sum of money and chooses the correct card, the dealer and shill(s) will have a coordinated plan to avoid payment. A shill may place money on the correct card along with the mark, with the dealer conceding defeat to the mark's correct guess but stipulating that only one win can be honored with each hand (with the win being honored to the shill, of course), or the shill may quickly place money on an incorrect card and be declared the winner and the cards quickly re-dealt. The shill may distract the mark's attention so that the dealer or another shill can switch the money card with another on the table, or the 'table' on which the game is played may be suddenly kicked over under the ruse that a police officer is in sight. In this instance the dealer and shills will very often leave in separate directions, leaving the inconspicuous cardboard box and cards on the street.

Similar games

A variation on this game, called the shell game, is played with three upside down containers (cups, nutshells etc.) hiding one small ball. The ball is openly placed under one container and the containers are expertly shuffled around. The mark, who is tricked in a similar way as in the card variant, wins the bet by correctly identifying the container hiding the ball — and ultimately always loses. In southern European countries this game is known as bola bola.

See Also

Recommended reading:

  • Notes on Three Card Monte, by Whit Haydn



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