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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The Baccarat Incident

Baccarat is a casino game that is usually played for high stakes. The object of the game is to place a wager on one of the two hands that the player thinks will be closer to a total of 9. In recent years casinos have introduced additional betting options in the game of baccarat; all of those new bets are designed specifically to increase the house edge in baccarat.

An instance of card-sharping, involving the use of secret telegraphy, once came under the author's notice, in connection with the projected exposure of a noted card-sharp. The circumstances of the case arose in the following manner.

It is well known that one of the most able and uncompromising among exposers of fraud at the present day is Mr. Henry Labouchere, M.P., the Editor and Proprietor of 'Truth.' In the columns of that widely read and influential publication, the trenchant criticisms and fearless utterances of 'Scrutator' have done yeoman's service in the cause of truth and justice.

The author has had the privilege upon several occasions of being associated with Mr. Labouchere in the running to earth of impostors of various kinds, and one of those occasions was in connection with the case of the sharp above referred to. Some of the details will doubtless occur to the minds of those who recollect the name of the man known as Lambri Pasha. It is advisable to say 'known as,' for whether his real name was anything resembling that there is nothing to show. If there is one thing which one may be inclined to believe more than another, it is that although Lambri the man may have been, Pasha he certainly was not.

This man Lambri, then, an Italian by birth and a sharp by profession, had carried on his operations upon so large a scale as to bring himself prominently before the notice of 'Scrutator.' As usual in such cases, 'Scrutator' proceeded to make short work of him.

At the time referred to, this Lambri happened to have a quarrel with one of his accomplices, and in revenge this man revealed to Mr. Labouchere the entire modus operandi of the means used by his employer to cheat the gamblers in those high circles to which he had obtained access.

This being the case, the author was approached by Mr. Labouchere with a view to arranging a plan of action whereby the arch swindler might be caught red-handed, and the exposure made complete. The following scheme was accordingly devised. The author, in the guise of a country squire supposed to be of great wealth, was to be presented to Lambri, and invited to join in the game of baccarat, specially arranged for the 'staging' of the little drama which was to follow.

For complete rules of baccarat (and other card games) please visit the Rules of Card Games page on Playing Cards Online.

Needless to say it was not proposed that the author, although armed, should be alone in a venture which promised to result in violence of a more or less pronounced type. Among the other guests it was arranged to have some whose daily avocations were not altogether unconnected with Scotland Yard.

Lambri's system was an exceedingly simple one. It was worked with the assistance of a confederate, and baccarat was the game principally favored. In this game three packs of cards are used in combination, forming one large pack of 156 cards. It is obviously impossible to hold this bulky pack in the hands with any degree of convenience whilst the cards are being shuffled; therefore the shuffle is accomplished by standing the cards on edge upon the table with their faces turned away from the dealer, and in this position they are mixed together. Lambri, having taken the 'bank,' would proceed to shuffle the cards in the manner described. During this operation, and as the various cards were brought to the front, the confederate, who had taken up a convenient position, would indicate to his principal their value by means of a code of signals arranged for that purpose. From the explanations already given the reader will have no difficulty in deducing the manner in which the cards were put up for the advantage of the 'bank.'

In order to detect this manœuvre, then, it would be necessary to watch the proceedings from the commencement, note the arrangement adopted, and at the right moment give the signal for seizing both cards and dealer.

Preparations having been made for carrying this plan into effect, and all due precautions having been taken, it was hoped that Lambri would quietly walk into the snare which had been set for him. 'The best laid schemes,' however, 'gang aft agley.' Whether the confederate had played fast and loose with both sides, which is more than probable, or whether information had leaked out through some other channel, it is impossible to say. Certain it is, however, that Lambri obtained an inkling of what was in progress, and took steps or rather, 'made tracks' accordingly. The day previous to that decided upon for the exposure the accomplice received a telegram from Paris informing him that the object of our kind attentions, owing to pressure of important business, would be detained there for some weeks.

There can be no doubt that the affairs which so suddenly called him to Paris were both pressing and important; for, to all appearance, they have occupied his attention ever since. That appointment has never been kept, and, so far as can be ascertained, he has never from that date to this put in an appearance in England. To all his former friends and acquaintances he is 'lost to sight,' though, to a great many of them, he undoubtedly is 'to memory dear,' and very dear.

A sharp may generally be trusted to arrive at a sound decision in all matters affecting his own interests; and it certainly cannot be said that 'Lambri Pasha' has proved himself to be an exception to the rule.

At baccarat collusion and conspiracy are generally used for the purpose of 'rooking' some particular individual of the pronounced 'Juggins' type, and the plan of operation is somewhat as follows.

We will suppose that the field of action is the card-room of some small club, where baccarat is played clandestinely, and for heavy stakes. Among the members who are addicted to this pastime there is one youngster with more money than brains, and several of the reverse characteristics. Half a dozen of these latter habitués of the club will sit around a table prepared for the game in an upper chamber, waiting the advent of their victim. Upon the table in front of the dealer is the shoe containing the proper number of packs: the cards being arranged, we will say, to give six winning coups to the bank, and then to lose right out to the end. They are not playing far from it, although the table may be strewn with money. Theirs is a waiting game for the present, and they are passing the time as best they can.

When the dupe arrives at the club it is whispered to him that there is a little game in progress upstairs. His arrival is signaled to the conspirators, and by the time the innocent fledgling reaches the room, there is a game apparently in full blast. The new-comer sees that the bank is winning every time. At the end of the six winning coups the dealer says he has Won enough, or makes some other excuse for retiring from the game. A new dealer is therefore required, and it does not need much persuasion to induce the 'mug' to take the bank. There is a superstition to the effect that banks which commence luckily for the dealer will continue so to the end, and the unfortunate youth never suspects that it is a 'put-up job' for him. Consequently he sits down to play, and naturally he loses everything to the end of the deal. The 'Juggins,' however jubilant he may have been, soon finds that he has no cause for rejoicing. You see, when a man takes the bank in the middle of a game he cannot have the cards shuffled, but must take them just as they lie on the table, and continue the game from the point at which the last dealer left it. If proceedings of this kind are not to be stigmatized as wholesale robbery, it is difficult to see how they are to be described.

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