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Three-Card Monte

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Three-Card Monte, also known as the Three-card marney, Three-card trick, Three-card shuffle, Triplets, Follow the lady, Find the lady, or Follow the Bee is a confidence game in which the victim, or mark, is tricked into betting a sum of money that they 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.

It should be noted that even if the game is played without the usual sleight of hand, it is unfair to the players, as the payout is invariably even money, whereas the true odds are 2/1.

This confidence trick has a great deal in common with the Shell Game


In his Notes on Three-Card Monte (released by his School for Scoundrels), Whit Haydn speculates that Three-Card Monte has been around since at least the mid-nineteenth century, when it was played in Paris, according to famous French conjurer Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. In 1861, Robert-Houdin briefly described "Les Trois cartes" (literally "the three cards") in his Les Tricheries des grecs dévoilées (various English translations followed, such as The Sharper Detected and Exposed in 1863, Professor Hoffmann's Card Sharping Exposed in 1882, and Card Sharpers in 1891). Another description of the trick was published around the same time in A Grand Expose of the Science of Gambling by "An Adept" (1860).

When Professor Hoffmann published his seminal Modern Magic in 1876, it contained the most expansive description to date, called "The 'Three-Card' Trick." Hoffmann described the false throw, and briefly mentioned the idea of doing the trick with a bent corner to mark the money card. But his technical description of the techniques were lacking.

Other descriptions of Three-Card Monte from the era appear in books not about magic, but ones by and about gamblers and con men. The game played a part in many of the stories in famous swindler and riverboat gambler George Devol's autobiography, Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi (1887).

A few years later, in 1894, John Nevil Maskelyne released for the public A Complete Revelation of the Secrets of Cheating at Games of Chance and Skill, called Sharps and Flats. It focused on how to watch out for the "sharps" (cheaters), and avoid becoming a "flat" (victim). He included a section on Three-Card Monte, and even warned of the bent corner, and the piece of paper stuck to the money card to supposedly mark it.

The true expose, however, occurred in 1902, when S. W. Erdnase's The Expert at the Card Table was published. Magicians, gamblers, and swindlers alike all got the first really detailed description of the inner workings of the game. The book explained using a length-wise crimp in the cards, and also detailed the bent corner move.


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