Sharps and Flats: The Secrets of Cheating
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foreword to the online edition


I. introductory

II. common sharpers and their tricks

III. marked cards and the manner of their employment

IV. reflectors

V. holdouts

VI. manipulation

VII. collusion and conspiracy

VIII. the game of faro

IX. prepared cards

X. dice

XI. high ball poker

XII. roulette and allied games

XIII. sporting houses

XIV. sharps and flats










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A very necessary adjunct to collusion of almost any kind is some system of secret telegraphy. With such a system in operation between two or more players who are in secret partnership, there are many games in which winning can be made a certainty. The telegraphy, of course, is seldom of a character which would permit those acquainted with it to indulge in secret gossip, but for the most part consists of signs which indicate the names of the cards. Generally speaking there will be two classes of indications, one for suit, and one for value. For instance, if the player who is signaling is seen to lay his right hand open upon the table, that may serve to indicate hearts; if the hand, instead of lying flat, is resting upon its side, that may mean spades; if clenched flat on the table, clubs may be signified; and finally, if clenched and thumb upwards, that may denote diamonds. The values of the cards are no less easy to indicate. If the telegraphist looks upwards, that may mean an ace; if downwards, a king; if to the left, a queen; if straight in front of him, a knave; if to the right, a ten; with head on one side, and looking upward, a nine; ditto, and looking to the right, an eight; ditto, and to the left a seven, and so on through the whole number. There is no difficulty in arranging a system of this kind, to be worked either by word or sign, and such systems if carefully thought out are very difficult to detect.

Suppose two partners at whist are in collusion and one of them is about to lead. The other may desire him to lead clubs. He may, therefore, address to anyone in the room a sentence beginning, 'Can you tell me --' The initial letter of the sentence indicates the suit which he desires his partner to lead. If he wanted diamonds he would say 'Do you know --' &c. If it was necessary to call for hearts he would observe, 'Have you seen' &c. Lastly, if spades were in requisition he would ask some question beginning, 'Shall you have --'. These things are all very simple, but they mean a great deal, sometimes, in a game of cards.

Another system of signaling sometimes adopted is to indicate the fact of certain cards being held by the position in which the cards are laid upon the table. The person signaling, having looked at his hand, wishes to let his accomplice know that he holds a certain card of importance in the game. Therefore, whilst waiting till the other players have sorted their hands, he closes up his cards for the moment, and lays them before him en the table. The manner of their disposition will give the required cue, or, as it is called, 'office.' The end of the cards farthest from the operator may be taken to represent a kind of pointer, which is set opposite to some particular figure upon an imaginary dial, supposed to be drawn upon the table. Several cards can be indicated in this way, and for others additional factors can be introduced. For instance, the cards may be spread a little, the top card may project a little to one side or over one end, or the operator may keep his fingers resting upon the cards. In fact, the variety of signals is infinite. From the laying down of a cigar to the taking up of a glass of wine, from the opening of the mouth to the stroking of the chin, every movement, however simple and unsuspicious, can be made the means of cheating at almost any game. A code of signals to indicate every card in the pack, and no more difficult to decipher than the Morse code in telegraphy, can be arranged by anyone in five minutes. Indeed, the Morse code itself can be used in connection with what the French sharps call 'La dusse invisible,' a system of signaling to an accomplice by pressure of the foot under the table. In using this system care must, of course, be taken not to tread on the wrong person's toes.

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