The Three Card Monte Scam

Modified by Danny Bradford on July 26, 2021 in

The trick has been used over time to fool many a player to believe they can outwit the ‘dealer’. Often played with walnut shells, thimbles, cups, or seashells - you might have even played it with friends in a bar using bottle caps. 

It’s a common trick to be seen played on sidewalks where Monte crews gather to trick cash from unwitting victims. It’s incredibly difficult to win the ‘game’ and even the most hypervigilant people can easily be scammed. And that’s what the Three Card Monte is - a scam, the game is 100% rigged. 

Can we even call it a game? When it’s an out and out method of tricking people out of cash, there is no chance that anyone will be able to win. With no fairness involved, the trick can be thought of as a polite way of being mugged!

In this article we will break down one of the most famous card tricks of all time, letting you in on the secrets which have conned people for centuries of their hard-earned cash. 

What is a Three Card Monte

  • Three Card Monte is a card trick that uses 3 cards with the aim being to guess where the ‘money card’ is after the dealer has shuffled the cards. It can also be played with beer mats or leather disks.
  • Historians debate when the card trick was first created and where it originated. It’s commonly believed that it was developed in the USA. Records show that the trick was being used at the beginning of the 15th century.

The Scam Laid Bare

If you’ve ever played against a dealer in this trick - it’s easy to get sucked in. It’s human nature to believe that you can ‘beat them’ and win the cash when others have failed. But in reality, a well-run ‘crew’ have got all angles covered when it comes to getting you to part with your money. 

Even if you are aware of each of these Three Card Monte scam techniques, the dealer can spot a ‘wise guy’ and will simply stop cheating. The player then tries to outwit the dealer and fails miserably because everything in the throw was fair. This helps the crew attract further players who are confused and then think that they can win.

The Hype

The Dealer will pick up the 3 cards and using a sleight of hand will throw 1 of the 2 cards held in one hand. This is to make the ‘player’ believe that the bottom card is the only card ever thrown. And that the top card can be thrown down in the same way to change the outcome of the round. The outcome of this is that the wrong card will then be switched for the marked one during this fake move.

Tricky to understand from reading this in a paragraph online, right? Don’t worry because if you are facing a Monte expert you won’t realise this sleight is even happening. 

The Backflip

Done in a lightning flash, the dealer will throw a card face up, switch it, and trick the player to believe the money card is back in its original position.

Bending a Corner

You might believe that the dealer is doing you a favour by bending the corner of the money card - trust us they aren’t. They may even turn away whilst one of their crew does it, making you believe this is impartial and that you’re onto a winner. 

The player will then be able to track the money card more easily during the shuffle. Players will often at this stage then bet their entire bankroll.

The crafty bit is that in the meantime the dealer has swiftly unbent the money card and bent the corner of a losing card. Ouch.

Master Manipulators

Whilst Three Card Monte dealers are experts at their craft and the trick will always result in emptying players’ pockets - the scam also relies on human nature. Which is easy to manipulate where a monetary gain is concerned. 

The Shills 

A quick glance around the onlooking crowd will turn up the ‘Shills’. These are the Monte crew members who are planted to assist in scamming players. They’ll be paid to make bets (often large ones too) simply to get you to take part. 

They’ll of course lose, which kicks off the human instinct that makes other players believe that they can do ‘better. So they take their position and the trick continues as money is lost time after time. 

Female Shills will be skilled manipulators who tell the crowd that they know that the game can be won. They’ll also explain that they know exactly how the live dealer cheats. Coupled with flirty behaviour this can then trigger members of the crowd to step up and make bad decisions. 

Appearances Count

Human nature is to judge others on the way that they look, even if we try not to - it happens. Approaching a bunch of people on the street who are playing a game of cards might make some feel that they are ‘better’ or more intelligent. This feeling of superiority then makes players feel like they can easily take advantage and beat the dealer with their pockets of cash. Wrong move!

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