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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Collusion in Poker

The most common method of cheating at poker in clubs and private houses alike, but particularly in good society, is one which is accomplished by means of collusion, and in connection with that process of the game known as 'raising out.'

In poker, the bets of the players are raised in rotation around the table, and the players who wish to remain 'in' that is to say, those who do not wish to forfeit what they have already staked must all have equal stakes in the pool. Now, unless a man has a particularly good hand he is not disposed to risk too much upon its chance of winning; consequently, when the stakes have risen to a certain amount, he will stand out rather than go beyond what he has already risked.

Two men, then, in secret partnership, upon sitting down to play, will contrive to get the man with most money, or the best player (their greatest antagonist) between them. Therefore, if these two men systematically raise their bets, whether they have good hands or not, they must eventually reach the point at which the other players will 'go out.' If the man between them wishes to remain in, he must make good, or, in other words, bring his stakes up to an amount equal to those of the conspirators. This he may do for some time, but sooner or later the game will become 'too hot' for him and he will go out. He is between two fires, and stands no chance whatever. Then, everyone else having gone out, the game is in the hands of the two sharps, and they can finish it in any way they think best. They may keep on raising each other for a time, until at last one of them refuses to stake another 'chip,' and throws away his hand, and then the other simply takes the pool. Or one of them may 'call' the other, and upon seeing the hand may throw his own away without showing it, the inference being that it is not so good as that of his supposed antagonist. There is really no need for the other players to see either of the hands. They cannot be called, because one or the other of them is always raising his stakes, and until the stakes are made good without anyone raising, the call is not complete and no hands are shown. Then, when all the other players are 'raised out,' there is nobody left to call upon them to show their hands. At the end of the evening, of course, they divide the spoil.

These things may all appear to be very simple, but they are extremely difficult of detection by outsiders. Indeed, it is the very simplicity of collusion that constitutes the great charm of its employment, and the great safeguard against its detection. Unlike manipulation, it can be accomplished by anyone and gives far less indication of its existence. The only drawback to it is that where there is a conspiracy there is always a chance of rogues falling out, and honest men being put in possession of the truth.

In his opening paragraph in the chapter manipulation, Maskelyne states that the cardsharps who reply on manipulations are low-level cheats. Further down he relays a story in which a seasoned cardsharp tells his apprentice that the best card cheats play in secret partnerships. So, according to Maskelyne (and the mysterious cardsharp he is quoting) the best card cheats get the job done by working in collusion, and those that use sleight-of-hand are just low-level crooks. Interestingly enough, the poker collusion scenario described above is by any standard, amateurish. By all means, collusion can be sophisticated. But there is nothing in the above-mentioned poker collusion scenario that can even approach the category of sophisticated scams, by any stretch of the imagination.

In every kind of game, and in every department of trickery, collusion has been utilized as a ready means of arriving at the consummation of the sharp's desires. It is seldom, indeed, that a scheme of any magnitude is devised without more than one person concerned in it; and the accomplices have assumed every kind of guise, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, waiters, club-porters, card-canvassers, and even officers of justice. There is no end to the disguises in which these individuals have appeared, and apparently no limit to their ingenuity.

One of the most immense frauds ever perpetrated in connection with sharping, and in which the fewest persons were concerned, was that recorded by Houdin. At the outset it was entirely conceived and executed by one sharp alone, although another took part in it at a later stage, much to the disappointment of the original promoter of the scheme. As this incident is of interest, and exhibits in a striking manner the possibilities of cheating which exist at all times and in all places, the reader shall have the benefit of its perusal. Although the events happened many years ago, the story is not very well known, and is well worthy of retelling.

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