Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Three Card Monte
I'm working on a WIP with a gambler as my hero. To be exact a riverboat gambler. While reading books on the subject of riverboat gambling and gambling in general I learned about a game I'd heard of but didn't know anything about and I've had my illusions of gamblers dashed. My character is a little like James Garner in Maverick. Only reading books about gamblers I learned, the natty-dressed, clean shaven, sophisticated gamblers of the movies were few and far between.
Gamblers didn't dress to impress or show their prowess at gambling. They dressed like the miner, the rancher, the farmer, or laborer whose money, gold, valuables they were trying to gain. From reading the books I've learned that gambling wasn't just about knowing how to play cards and play them well, it was about illusion.
Some gamblers carried game boxes. These held the equipment they needed for specific games: poker, euchre, brag, dice, and paper squares to form the layout of certain games where betting is done on marks. Or the ones that wanted to remain anonymous (no game box giving them away) could purchase a deck of card from a bartender on a riverboat. The riverboat captains knew boredom led to problems so they all ordered cards be available in the saloons to keep the passengers engaged.
Riverboat gamblers didn't operate alone. They stalked their prey and drew them into a game with one of the gamblers as the dealer and his cohorts filling the table using signals like cigar smoke, and scratching of ears, nose, and eyebrows.
Poker was played as well as faro, euchre, brag, crown and anchor, and backgammon, but the game that caused the most stir and used slight of hand was three card monte.
Three card monte wasn't really a card game it was a slight of hand game like the shell game. It used three cards, Two insignificant cards like fives or sixes and an Ace called the "baby". The professional gambler put the cards face down and shuffled them around on the table, mixing them. The other person bets on the location of the Ace. The dealer or "thrower" starts the game with a spiel:
"Here you are gentlemen; this ace of hearts is the winning card. Watch it closely. Follow it with your eyes as I shuffle. Here it is, and now here, and here, and now- where? It is my regular trade, gentlemen, to move my hands quicker than your eyes. I always have two chances to your one. The ace of hearts.If your sight is quick enough you beat me and I pay; if not, I beat you and take your money. Who will go me twenty? It is very plain and simple, but you can't always tell. Who will go me twenty?"
He goes slow the first few rounds allowing the bidder to build his confidence by winning. And with each game the "thrower" ups the bids. until they are up to $500 and possibly $1000. Then while the gambler pretends to be preoccupied and accomplice makes a mark on the ace that the bidder can see.This builds the bidders confidence and he starts bidding higher and winning. Then the dealer slips a low card in for the ace and when the bidder picks the marked card, he loses because it isn't the ace and he can't cause a riff because he would have to tell on himself for cheating knowing he had been picking a marked card all along.
I've also been reading a biography about a riverboat gambler. Gamblers were not heroic figures so the one I'm writing will definitely be fictional!
My source for this information was an interesting book: Gamblers The Old West by Time Life books.