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The Art of Winning at Three-Card Monty.

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by Rene Williams, for outsideleft.com
originally published: December, 2004
There's a very good chance you're going to be followed and eventually mugged
by Rene Williams, for outsideleft.com
originally published: December, 2004
There's a very good chance you're going to be followed and eventually mugged

Three Card Monty—a time-honored classic among the ex-con circuit; a favorite among movie and TV directors when they want to establish a rough part of town; and a great place to network with gritty hookers and dope dealers. Sure, Three Card (as it's called on the streets) is a scam—we're not fooling ourselves, but it's all part of the New York experience: Visit the Stature of Liberty; take in a lap dance at Scores; and drop a few twenties on Three Card. Of course, you can win a few twenties if you follow our lead.

The Concept
Three standard playing cards, one face card and two number cards, are scrambled around the top of a makeshift dealer table usually found on most New York street corners with light to medium traffic. You choose the face card and you double your money. That's better odds than Vegas, baby!

How It's Played
Besides, Blackjack, Three Card is probably the easiest of all card games. Basically, it's you, the dealer and three cards on the cardboard box that separates you both. The dealer's going to show you all three cards; they'll be two black number cards and one face card (usually the queen of hearts). The cards will also all be slightly creased down the middle, don't worry about it though; it's just so your dealer can shuffle them quicker. Anyhoo, he'll scramble the cards face down for a few seconds and upon completion of the shuffle, he'll ask you to point to the card that you think is the queen. Even though you kept your eye on the queen the entire time and you'd bet your parents entire retirement fund on it, you're going to be wrong. Why? Because he's actually using four cards and he palmed the queen before he shuffled the cards. He's going to let you win a few times to get your confidence up though. What you want to do after your third win is walk away from the table. There's a very good chance you're going to be followed when you leave the table and eventually mugged for everything you own. That's why you have to read the next tip very carefully.

Other Tips:
Since Three Card Monty is still, for now, an illegal game, all rules are thrown out the window. The dealers know it, their partners in crime know it and so should you. First, don't go alone, bring a friend, preferably male, preferably very large, and willing to take a bullet while you cower behind him like a girl. Secondly, know your surroundings: Make sure you're aware of everyone around you, there very likely are plants waiting for you to drop your guard so they can pickpocket you.

Which brings us to your wallet: Don't put it in your hip pocket—you might as well just hand it over to the guy salivating behind you because he's just going to swipe it anyway. Instead, keep it in the breast pocket of your jacket or the front pocket of your trousers. And for Christ's sake, when you do finally decide to get in on the action and put money down on the table, just don't go waving it around; keep it close to your stomach at all times—otherwise a crafty con will just grab it from you as if it were a baton and sprint away like Carl Lewis running the mile relay.

Finally, when you see the fuzz—and you will if you hang around the table long enough—don't take off in a mad dash, don't even look at the police car. Just walk away as if you were continuing your afternoon stroll through the Bronx. The cops really don't want you anyway, they want the dealer and his accomplices and if you go off and start running away, they're going to think one or the other. That's when you have problems.

Fun Facts
The New York State Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Council says that Three Card dealers rake in an estimated $2.1 million per year from out-of-towner and locals who should know better. We say those losers didn't read the official outsisdeleft guide to Three Card Monty.

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