“Up today, down tomorrow, a rich man’s luck is a poor man’s sorrow. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, it all depends on the one you choose.”
– One of the lines I used when performing three-card Monte
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, three-card monte is a betting game (more like a con game) wherein the participant (victim) has to find the “money card” among the three cards to win. Usually, the cards are tossed repeatedly in a way that it seems the victim can follow the money card, but in reality, that’s not the case. The conman makes it look so easy to win as a way to lead his victim down the garden path. Three-card Monte is akin to the three-shell game though it uses cards instead.
Now you may wonder why I’m talking about this, right?
This afternoon, while walking down the streets of Sham Shui Po (Hong Kong), I was greatly surprised to see somebody doing three-card Monte and several people were standing there and playing. Admittedly, that part of the street is pretty seedy, but still…
In Hong Kong, the only gambling activities allowed are the lottery, horse racing, football betting and Mahjong. However, they are all tightly regulated by the government.
So, it’s rare to see other types of gambling activities here.
Having a background in magic, I’m familiar with the mechanics of three-card Monte. In fact, I have performed it several times, though for entertainment purposes only of course. So, I’m aware that this game is virtually not winnable. It doesn’t matter if I know its secrets. I think that the more you know about three-card Monte, the more you understand that this game is a fool’s game and not worth it.
Despite popular belief, the trickeries involve in three-card Monte aren’t limited to the basic Monte throw sleight. Monte conmen use a large variety of techniques to ensure they win such as:
- Secret helpers (stooges) – They pretend to be the other “players” who are constantly winning a large amount of cash to attract the attention of any unsuspecting passerby.
- Mexican Turnover – When the victim somehow chooses the right card, the conman would use one of the other two cards to turn over the money card. In the act of “turning over” the card, the conman would switch the money card with the wrong card. Due to misdirection and the large action of turning over the card to cover the small action of the switch, the switching action is difficult to catch.
- Switching bent corners – This is when the conman tells you that he will “help” you to win by bending the corner of the money card so that it would be easier for you to track it. During the process of throwing the cards around, he would straighten the corner of the money card while bending the corner of one of the other two unimportant cards, the victim none the wiser. The problem with this is that you wouldn’t know whether he switched the bent corner!
- Gaffe cards (fake cards) – They can switch them back to real cards using sleight of hands such as the McMillan Switch or any other card mucking techniques.
- And many other ways…
So, I didn’t participate and just watched them for a while. After a few minutes, I continued my walk down the street and eventually rode a bus back to my home. All in all, it was a fun and relaxing Sunday.