Three Card Monte

This is not really a game, but a scam or swindle. Three Card Monte is the American name for it. In Britain it is usually called Find the Lady, and the equivalent French game is Bonneteau.

The appearance of the game is simple. It is played between the dealer (or tosser), who manipulates the cards and takes the bets, and the punter, a more or less gullible member of the public who places a bet on the game in the (unrealistic) hope of winning some money.

The dealer has three cards, one of which is a queen. These cards are shown to the punter and then simultaneously thrown face-down on a table. The punter is invited to bet on which card is the queen. The dealer will employ various tricks, often with the help of accomplices, to ensure that the punter loses.

Normally the operators of the game work as a team:

  • The Tosser (dealer) is the sleight of hand man who mixes the cards and takes the bets
  • The Shills are accomplices who pose as punters making bets, to give real punters the impression that the game can be beaten
  • The Lookout watches for cops (police) and signals their approach so that the game can be "folded up" quickly
  • The Muscle Man takes care of anyone who decides to complain
  • The Roper seeks out likely punters and encourages them to join the game

If you do happen to bet on the right card, the Tosser may employ various tactics, such as accepting instead a wrong bet from a Shill and refusing your bet on the grounds that only one bet can be taken at a time, or swapping the cards while your attention is distracted, or simply arranging for the table to be knocked over and declaring the deal void.

Bonneteau

This description of the French version of the game was contributed by Jean-Pierre Coulon.

Bonneteau is described here as a warning to card enthusiasts visiting France, who might lose about 1000 French francs (150 Euro) within minutes if they happen to join such a game.

This game is often played in the street on a "table" made with a stack of two packing cases. Only three cards are needed, two from a black suit, and one from a red suit (or the opposite). The cards are slightly bent around their long axis, in a way similar to Mediterranean tiles, to facilitate their picking up from the "table". Hence the name Bonneteau, a little cap.

The "dealer" shows all three cards to you, lays them face-down on the "table", and rapidly picks up one card with his left hand and the other two in his right hand, and drops them back on the table at new positions. He repeats this scheme a couple of times. Now you have to bet the position of the card which is alone in its suit. In other words this is a contest between your eyes and the "dealer's" hands. A typical bet is 200 French francs.

You will easily win the first few deals, but afterwards you won't win a single one, because the "dealer" uses the following trick. There are two cards in his right hand. The upper card is held between his thumb and his forefinger, and the lower card is held between his thumb and his middle finger, with a small gap (a few millimeters) between both cards. According to common sense, the "dealer" should drop the lower card first, but his forefinger surreptitiously ejects the upper card first, which causes you to lose track of the right card. This is especially difficult to see if the "dealer's" hand makes a sweeping move from his left side to his right side while he drops the cards.

One variation is as follows. An accomplice diverts the dealer's attention, taps your shoulder, and bends a corner of the right card, to help you following it. But the dealer has a trick to simultaneously unbend this card, and bend the other card he is holding in the same hand.

Strategy

Don't play it! Do not think you will win because you know the trick - you would be in great danger. Do not be misled by noticing some players who quit the game after some winnings. They are accomplices of the dealer - a part of the swindle.

You may play the game with your friends provided:

  • no real money is involved.
  • you explain the trick afterwards.