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|Origin||Spanish[ citation needed ]|
|Playing time||5–10 min|
Three-card Monte – also known as Find the Lady and Three-card Trick – is a confidence game in which the victims, or "marks", are tricked into betting a sum of money, on the assumption that they can find the "money card" among three face-down playing cards. It is very similar to the shell game except that cards are used instead of shells.
In its full form, Three-card Monte is an example of a classic "short con"in which a shill pretends to conspire with the mark to cheat the dealer, while in fact conspiring with the dealer to cheat the mark. The mark has no chance whatsoever of winning, at any point in the game. In fact, anyone who is observed winning anything in the game can be presumed to be a shill.
This confidence trick was already in use by the turn of the 15th century.
The Three-card Monte game is simple. To play, a dealer places three cards face down on a table, usually on a cardboard box which provides the ability to set up and disappear quickly.The dealer shows that one of the cards is the target card, e.g., the queen of hearts, 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 target card, the player gets the amount bet (the "stake") back, plus the same amount again; otherwise, the stake is lost.
Since there are only three cards, the jack of spades and jack of clubs often complement the "money card", which is usually a queen.The queen is often a red card, typically the queen of hearts. Sometimes the ace of spades is used as the money card, since in some cultures the ace of spades is viewed as lucky, which might lure the mark into playing the game.
When the mark arrives at the Three-card Monte game, it is likely that a number of other players will be seen winning and losing money at the game. The people engaged in playing the game are often shills, confederates of the dealer who pretend to play so as to give the illusion of a straight gambling game.
As the mark watches the game, they are likely to notice that they can follow the queen more easily than the shills seem to be able to, which sets them up to believe that they can win the game.
Eventually, if the mark enters the game, they will be cheated through any number of methods. An example of a simple scheme involves a dealer and two shills:
Dealers employ sleight of handand misdirection to prevent the mark from finding the queen.
While various moves have been devised for Monte, there is one basic move which is overwhelmingly used with virtually all Monte games. It has to do with the way the cards are held and tossed to the table. The dealer will pick up one of the cards with one hand, and two with the other. This is the key: although it appears that the dealer is tossing the lowermost card to the table, in actuality they can toss either the top or the bottom card at will. Thus, having done so, and while mixing up the cards, the mark will be following the wrong card from the beginning. The move, done properly, is undetectable. Even the shills pretending to play are often unaware of where the money card actually is without the dealer employing signals of various kinds to let them know where it is.[ citation needed ]
Inevitably, once in a while the mark will manage to find the right location of the card by pure chance. This presents no problem at all for the mob; if the mark picks the right card, one of the shills will simply post a higher bid, which the dealer immediately accepts, announcing that he will accept only the highest bid. In other words, the mark puts down money on the right card, at which point a shill will immediately place a double bet on top of the card, thereby winning the "right" to play that round. Of course, if the mark picks the wrong card, the dealer takes the bid and the money. The dealer will never accept a winning bid from a mark.[ citation needed ]
The psychology of the con is to increase the mark's confidence until they believe they have a special ability to cheat the dealer and win easy money. Everything the Monte mob does is geared towards creating that mindset in the mark. To increase the mark's motivation to bet, they will also employ standard strategies such as having the dealer be slightly abrasive or rude, so there is even more reason to want to take his money.
The "bent corner ploy" is one of the classic scams in Three-card Monte, and is used if the mob thinks a mark can be had for more money, or needs more convincing to put some money down. During the course of tossing the cards, the dealer "accidentally" drops the cards, resulting in a corner of the money card having a slight bend in it. Another variation is for the dealer to look away, and while occupied, one of the shills will quickly put the crimp in the money card. Either way, the dealer pretends not to notice, this perhaps being made more plausible by having the dealer wear thick glasses. Assuming the mark bets on the card with the bent corner, the dealer will tell the mark to turn it over (so there can be no accusations of card-switching), revealing that it is not the money card after all, but one of the loser cards. The dealer has, in the course of tossing the cards, unbent the money card and bent the loser card. In this variation, the mark will be even more reluctant to complain about having lost money, as doing so would reveal that he intended to cheat the dealer.
A skilled card mechanic can perform this con without shills or assistants. Everything is legitimate up until the reveal. To show that nothing dishonest is being done with the selected card, the dealer does not even touch it, using one of the other cards to turn it over. If a losing card was selected, the card is simply turned over. If the winning card was selected, a Mexican Turnover is used to switch the two cards. When done correctly, the two actions are indistinguishable. No matter which card is selected, when turned over it is a losing card.
The Three-card Monte is performed in card magic tricks with minor or major variations that manipulate the use of gimmick cards, and other sleight-of-hand techniques.
In Canada, under section 206(1) of the Criminal Code, it is illegal to do the following in relation to Three-card Monte, which is mentioned by name:
They are indictable offences, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
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Canada Bill Jones (1820–1877) was considered a master of Three-card Monte, in the middle of the 19th century in America.
In 1898, infamous con man Soapy Smith stole a sack of gold from returning Klondike miner John Douglas Stewart after several rounds of Three-card Monte. After Stewart had wagered and lost his cash, he was induced to bring his gold out of safekeeping. Smith's associates grabbed it and ran. A local vigilance committee ruled that Smith should return the gold, but he refused, claiming that Stewart had lost it "fairly". Smith was killed during a shootout with the committee the next evening.
After revealing the secret behind the trick on the British television show How Do They Do That? , American illusionist John Lenahan became the first person to be expelled from The Magic Circle.
The play Topdog/Underdog centers around two brothers who play Three-card Monte; the climax of the play comes when one brother bets his entire inheritance on one game. The play won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The film Short Circuit 2 features a Three-card Monte scam being uncovered by pure chance by the protagonist Johnny 5, who correctly guesses the red card due to his acute vision.
The 1995 film Restoration has a brief Three-card Monte sequence that utilizes a double turnover and flushtration (or "back") count. These magician's sleights fail to fool Meg Ryan's character Katherine.
The 1967 film Waterhole #3 features an excellent version of Three Card Monte, including the trick of bending one corner being used by James Coburn's character, Lewton Cole.
The film Now You See Me 2 features a life-sized version of the Three-card Monte performed by Jack Wilder ( Dave Franco ).
The music video for Run DMC's 1987 song "It's Tricky" features illusionists Penn & Teller trying to scam people by performing the Three-card Monte in front of the Rialto Theater in Los Angeles.
In a 1995 episode of The Simpsons entitled "The Springfield Connection," Homer is taken in by a Three-card Monte scam run by Snake and another man, a shill who Marge suspects is related to Snake, "or at least in cahoots" with him. Homer places a $20 bet anyway and loses. Marge reveals that he's been scammed and accuses Snake of "preying on the greedy and stupid". Snake protests his innocence ("surely, you don't blame me!") and then flees.
In the novel and BBC series Wolf Hall episode "Three Card Trick", Thomas Cromwell learns and utilizes the trick to survive in his adolescent days on the streets in early Tudor-era England, later emphasizing the supremacy of a child doing the trick due to the perceived confidence of prospective players. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, baffled by his aide's skills at the con, jokingly suggests he teach it to him, should they fall from favor and be put in financial jeopardy.
The film Hearts in Atlantis (2001) features Alan Tudyk as a carny worker performing the Three-card Monte to fleece money from the protagonist Bobby Garfield (played by Anton Yelchin). However, Bobby had inadvertently absorbed a mind reading ability from Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins' character) and was able to beat the con.
In the Marvel Comics television show The Punisher , Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) learns how to play Three-card Monte with his temporary ward, Amy Bendix (Giorgia Whigham).
In the Dave Chappelle special, Unforgiven, Chappelle mentions he was conned in a game of Three-card Monte when he was 18-years-old.
In French-speaking countries, the game is known as Bonneteau. In Italy it is known as Gioco delle tre Carte. In German-speaking countries, the game is known as das Kümmelblättchen.In Uganda, it is known as Wakaleba. In Turkish, it's known as Bul Karayı Al Parayı 'Find the Black, Get the Money'. In Dutch, a similar game is known as "Balletje Balletje" in which the con artist moves three cups to hide one small rubber ball.
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