3 Card Monte Scam – Do You Know How You Get Tricked?

Three card monte

11 minutes

Last Updated: April 7, 2022

If you live in a big and bustling city or have visited one when traveling, you probably have noticed Three Card Monte scams on the street without even realizing what they are.

This card game is presented as a fun and easy game in which everyone can participate just by walking to the street performer.

However, 3 Card Monte is a fixed game scammers use to trick unsuspecting victims.

In this article, we’ll take a close look at how the 3 Card Monte scam works and why you can never win against scammers when playing this game.

For added entertainment, we will also explain how 3 Card Monte tricks work and help you learn them and play them for fun with your friends.

What is Three Card Monte?

There’s not much to 3 Card Monte that the name doesn’t already give away. The rules are straightforward to follow, making this game an excellent bait to fool people.

The game starts with the dealer placing three cards on the table, all face down. Then, the dealer shows the mark (the victim of the scam) the money card.

After showing the money card, the dealer quickly rearranges the three cards on the table to confuse the player about the money card’s position.

3 card monte

Lastly, the mark gets to pick one of the cards. If they get it right, they win even money, meaning they get their stake back and the same amount in winnings.

If they get the pick wrong, they lose the bet.

Three Card Monte is a short-con, meaning that the scammer tries to trick the mark after gaining their trust or misrepresenting the situation before the mark places their first bet.

Most often, besides the mark and the dealer, there’s at least one shill.

A shill is a planted player that pretends to work with the mark to trick the dealer. However, the situation is entirely opposite.

The dealer and the shill conspire to scam the mark, who unknowingly doesn’t have any winning chances. This trick is also known as a “confidence trick”.

So, what’s a confidence trick? In simple words, a confidence trick is any scam that involves wrongfully presenting the odds and probabilities to the victim.

The main goal of such a scam is to make the victim think they have a fair chance of winning and that there aren’t any hidden aspects they need to know about.

Since it’s just a common con trick, 3 Card Monte aims to exploit the inherent weaknesses of those who accept to play it.

Common human conditions like greed, naivety, and vanity are often the motivators for people who accept playing Three Card Monte.

Often, 3 Card Monte dealers are obnoxious or rude when the mark starts playing. Again, this is just another psychological tactic to trick the mark into playing more to take the dealer’s money.

Of course, the mark can never win any bet if the dealer doesn’t want it to happen.

The money card in 3 Card Monte is always a red suit, typically the queen of hearts. That said, in some parts of the world, the ace of spades can also be used as the money card.

It’s generally accepted that the jack of clubs and the jack of spades often complement this card.

How 3 Card Monte Works – A Detailed Example

A 3 Card Monte scam is often difficult to recognize, especially if you never heard of the game before and have just seen it on the street for the first time.

Through the years, we’ve learned that there are many tricks that Three Card Monte scammers use to lure in unsuspecting players and get them to play.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a real-life example of how a 3 Card Monte scam might look.

3 card monte scam

When the mark first approaches the table, the dealer and the shills act like they don’t know each other. They will be already betting as the mark approaches to see the action.

When it comes to this, scammers can use two different tactics.

In the first one, the shill may be winning, luring the mark to test their own luck at the game. Alternatively, the shill may be making obvious mistakes, leading the mark to believe they can easily make smarter decisions.

If the scam includes more than one shill, the additionally planted shill might act as a regular passerby.

The second shill’s job is to talk up the unsuspecting mark and encourage them to try their luck.

If the mark takes the bait, the dealer might let them win a couple of bets and encourage them to place bigger and bigger bets.

Once the mark places a sufficiently large bet, the dealer will make them lose. That said, this rarely happens in most 3 Card Monte scams.

In most situations, the dealer won’t let the mark win any round, as this simply isn’t necessary. As it’s a short-con, the scammers don’t need to risk any money.

After the dealer and the shills have successfully scammed the mark and taken money from them, they would claim they spotted the police.

Then, they would pack up and disperse in different directions, leaving the victim dumbfounded and cashless.

In some cases, the mark will be hesitant to join or won’t fall for the trick. If this happens, the dealer will claim right away that they saw the police and quickly pack up their things and go to a different location to find marks.

At other times, the dealer will simply wait for another unsuspecting mark to appear.

How and When Was Three Card Monty Invented?

Like most card tricks and scams, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the 3 Card Monte tricks.

The first confirmed records talk about Canada Bill Jones, a famous “confidence artist” who tricked unsuspecting players during the mid-19th century.

Apart from Canada Bill Jones, arguably the most famous con artist that employed this trick was Soapy Smith.

There’s a legendary Wild West story on how Soapy Smith stole a sack of gold from a miner returning home in 1898.

Soapy played Three Card Monte with the miner until the unsuspecting victim lost all of his cash and gold.

The local community disapproved of Soapy’s actions and ordered him to return the winnings. He refused and went on the run. The next evening, Soapy was killed in the Shootout on Juneau Wharf.

Fast forward to today, 3 Card Monte has been widely featured in many gambling movies, TV shows, and educational shows that expose how the game works.

When it comes to the latter, successful illusionist John Lenahan revealed the secret behind the 3 Card Monte scam on the TV show How Do They Do It. For this, he became the first person to be expelled from the Magic Circle organization.

Common 3 Card Monte Methods and Tricks That Fool People

Over the years, many scammers implemented various moves to give their own touch to this trick.

That said, there’s one method that is used by most 3 Card Monte scammers. This is the specific technique of tossing the cards on the table and holding them.

More specifically, the dealer picks up one card with one hand and the two other cards with his other hand.

3 card monte trick

This allows the dealer to put the first trick into place. While it appears that the dealer tosses the lowest card on the table, the dealer can actually toss either the top or the bottom card from their hand.

A skilled 3 Card Monte dealer can do this without the possibility of detecting the move. When executed, this move fools the mark, tricking them into following the wrong card right from the toss.

Sometimes, even the shills can’t tell where the money card is unless the dealer gives them a specific signal.

When it comes to the game itself, there are several underhanded yet very inventive ways 3 Card Monte scammers make sure they fool the mark.

If, by some chance, the mark picks the right card, one of the shills observing the game will just post a higher bet, and the dealer will state that they only pay the highest winning bet.

This is perhaps the best outcome for the mark, as they will manage to save the money. Of course, if the mark picks the wrong card, the dealer accepts the bet right away and ends the round immediately, taking the mark’s money.

Bending the Corner – A 3 Card Monte Classic

Another common trick in 3 Card Monte is the famous “bent corner” play, a variation of the above-mentioned tricks.

Scammers often use this tactic when they think they can sway the mark to bet a more substantial amount.

When tossing the cards, the dealer will pretend to accidentally drop them. The result of this is a bent corner of the money card.

Sometimes, the dealer might even look away for a few seconds and pretend he’s getting something.

During that time, one of the shills will quickly bend the money card a bit. Not knowing that the shills are in collusion with the dealer, the mark often falls for this trick.

If the mark falls for this trick, when the dealer turns back to the playing surface, they will ask the mark to turn over the card they choose.

3 card monty

By requesting so, the dealer protects themself from any accusations of switching the cards. However, when the mark turns over their card of choice, it will always be one of the two losing cards.

The way this trick is executed is by the dealer unbending the money card and bending one of the losing cards during his “accidental card fumble.”

The bent corner play is a more sophisticated approach to Three Card Monte. It doesn’t leave any room for the mark to complain. By doing so, the mark would only expose themselves for trying to cheat the dealer.

How to Perform the 3 Card Monte Tricks

Now that we’ve gone through everything important regarding this infamous scam, it’s only fair to go over all of the aspects to help you learn.

But, before we go over the step-by-step guide, we remind you to only use this trick with your friends and family members for fun, and never to make money.

Moreover, in many countries, 3 Card Monte is illegal. So, make sure to never play it for real cash. With all of this in mind, here’s to practice the 3 Card Monte trick:

  1. Prepare two black-suited (preferably identical) cards and one red-suited card from the deck of cards.
  2. Bend all three lines at the horizontal half-point (this makes it easier to pick up and control the cards).
  3. Grab all the cards at the center crease you made when bending them
  4. Show the cards to the player
  5. Drop all the cards with the winner card first, then the single loser card, then the other loser card that was in the same hand as the winning card. The unsuspecting player will easily follow the cards and know where the winning card is.
  6. Pick up and hold the cards
  7. Throw the cards again, only this time, let the loser card slide first, and keep the winning card in your hand. Then drop the single loser from the other hand, followed by the winning card.
  8. If you’ve executed the move seamlessly and smoothly, the guessing player won’t have a chance.

As you can see the steps above, 3 Card Monte includes both a real throw and first and then a fake throw.

Needless to say, the latter requires a lot of practice. To master the technique, you need to make it seamless so that the player has no clue where the money card is.

Three Card Monte master dealers can make the difference between the real and fake throw undetectable.

As a beginner, you can start slow and increase your tempo as your fingers get used to the cards and learn the movement.

Additionally, you should always pick up the cards the same way. The one losing card should always be between your thumb and index finger.

In your other hand, the second losing card should be between your thumb and your middle finger. Lastly, the money card should be between your thumb and index finger of the same hand.

Three Card Monte – A Fun Trick But Dangerous Scam

Hopefully, this detailed Three Card Monte guide has helped you learn all the detailed information and different tricks.

Moreover, it should have helped you learn the financial dangers of falling prey to such a trick.

Three Card Monte is basically a theatrical scam that aims to take advantage of gullible victims. The dealer is always in complete control and the mark always loses.

So, if you run into such a setup on the street, you should always stay away from playing. Moreover, you should never play 3 Card Monte for real money, neither as the dealer nor on the opposite side of the table.

With that in mind, if you’re looking for a simple and fun trick to wow your friends, remember the tips from this page, and you’ll amaze everyone!

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