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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Cheating with Crooked Dice

Passing on to the use of unfair dice, we find that there are three kinds employed at the present day. Firstly, there are those whose faces do not bear the correct number of pips, and which are known as 'dispatchers.' Secondly, we have those which are weighted at one side, and tend to fall with that side downwards, such being the well-known 'loaded dice.' Lastly, there is the variety bearing the name of 'electric dice,' which are the most modern development in this department of cheating. We will take the varieties seriatim.

1. Dispatchers

These are of two kinds, called 'high' and 'low' respectively, in accordance with the fact of their having an aggregate of pips either higher or lower than should be the case. They owe their origin to the fact that it is impossible to see more than three sides of a cube at one time. In making a high dispatcher, then, any three adjacent sides are taken and marked with two, four, and six pips respectively. That side of the cube which is immediately opposite to the one with six pips, instead of being marked with one, as it should be, is marked six also. The side opposite the four is marked four, and that opposite the two is marked two in a similar manner. Therefore, no two sides which bear the same number of pips are ever seen at one time, the duplicate marks being always on opposite sides of the die. In a low dispatcher the process is precisely the same, but the sides are numbered with one, two and three pips, instead of two, four, and six. It is evident, then, that a high dispatcher cannot throw less than two, whilst a low one cannot throw higher than three. Therefore, if the sharp throws with one genuine die and one high dispatcher, he cannot throw less than three, and the chances are 17.5 to 1 against his throwing anything so low. If, in addition to using a high dispatcher himself, he gives his dupe a low one1 and a genuine die to use, the throw of the two dice cannot be higher than nine, and the chances are 17.5 to 1 against its being so high. In fact, in an infinite number of throws, the sharp will average over thirty per cent, better than his opponent. This being the case it is obvious that the game can only go in one way, and that way is not the dupe's.

*1 This would be far too risky a proceeding for a sharp to indulge in as a rule. He might do so, however, if he got hold of a very great flat.

2. Loaded dice

These commodities are found to be thus described in one of the price-lists:

   'Loaded dice. -- Made of selected ivory loaded with quicksilver, and can be shaken from the box so as to come high or low, as you wish. With a set of these you will find yourself winner at all dice games, and carry off the prize at every raffle you attend. Sold in sets of nine dice, three high, three low, and three fair. Price per set, complete, $5.00.'

These are the most superior kind of loaded dice.

They are made by drilling out two adjacent spots or pips at one edge of the die, filling in the cavity with mercury, and cementing it up fast. The commoner description of these things are made by filling the holes with lead instead of mercury.

As before mentioned, these dice have the disadvantage that they will not spin upon one corner as genuine ones will; consequently a person who suspects that they are being used can easily discover the fact, if he is knowing enough to try them. This defect led to the invention of the third kind of false dice, which we are about to investigate.

3. Electric dice

These will be found quoted in one of the catalogues, together with the special tables to be used with them.

The dice themselves are made of celluloid, and their construction will be readily understood with the aid of the illustration given at fig. 54. The first operation in making dice of this kind is to bore out a cylindrical cavity almost completely through the die, the mouth of this cavity being situated upon the face of the die which will bear the six pips, and the bottom almost reaching to the opposite face, upon which is the ace.

Magnetic Dice (electric dice)

FIG. 54

At the bottom of the cavity, and consequently immediately within the die above the single pip or ace, is put a thin circular disc of iron. The greater part of the cavity is then filled in with cork, leaving sufficient depth for the insertion of a plug, which effectually closes up the aperture, and upon the outer side of which are marked the six pips appertaining to that face of the die. Before this plug is fastened into its place, however, a small pellet of lead, of exactly the same weight as the iron disc, is pressed into the upper surface of the cork, and there fixed. Finally, the plug bearing the six pips is cemented into its place, and the die is complete. Apparently, this plug is cemented in with celluloid, the same material as that used in fabricating the die itself, and the joint is so well and neatly made that it is invisible, even though examined with a powerful lens.

The rationale of this construction is as follows. The iron disc and the leaden pellet, being immediately within opposite faces of the die, will exactly balance each other, and thus the die can be spun or thrown in exactly the same manner as a genuine one. The lead and iron, however, being so much heavier than the material of which the body of the die is supposed to consist, would cause the weight of the die to be very suspicious, were it not for the fact that the interior is almost entirely composed of a still lighter material -- cork. Therefore, the completed die is no heavier than a genuine one of the same size and appearance. In fact, these dice will bear the strictest examination, in every way -- except one, viz. the application of a magnet.

The word magnet gives the key to the employment of these so-called electric dice. The technical reader will at once grasp the idea thus embodied, and will need no further description of the details of working. For the benefit of those who are unacquainted with electricity and its phenomena, however, it is necessary to explain the nature of an electro-magnet. If a bar of soft iron is surrounded by a helix of insulated copper wire, and a current of electricity is passed through that wire, the iron instantly becomes converted into a magnet for the time being. But directly the contact at one end of the wire is broken, and the current is for that reason no longer permitted to flow, the iron loses its magnetism and resumes its normal condition. If, therefore, a bar of this kind is connected with a battery in such a way that the current can be controlled by means of a push, similar to those used in connection with electric bells, the otherwise inert bar of iron can be converted into a magnet at any instant, and allowed to resume its former state at will.

Now, the table with which these electric dice are used is so constructed that, immediately below its surface and within the thickness of the wood itself, there are concealed several electro-magnets such as have been described. At some convenient spot in the table, at the back of a drawer or elsewhere, the battery supplying the current is hidden. The key or push controlling the current takes the form of a secret spring in the table-leg, so placed as to be within easy access of the operator's knee.

The result, then, is obvious. Among the dice in use are one or more of the 'electric' variety. When the dupe throws them, he has to take his chance as to how they will fall, and as long as the sharp is winning he will do the same. But directly he begins to lose, or to find that he is not winning fast enough to please him, the sharp presses the secret spring with his knee when it is his turn to throw, and -- click! -- the false dice turn up 'sixes.' The magnets, of course, attract the iron discs, drawing them on to the table, and the sixes being upon the opposite sides of the dice naturally fall uppermost. The operator has only to trouble himself with regard to two points -- he must press the spring at the right moment, and release it before trying to pick up the dice afterwards. Should he neglect this latter point, he will have the satisfaction of finding the dice stick to the table. In all other respects, he has only to 'press the button,' and electricity will 'do the rest.'

The publication of this book, however, will once and for all render the use of electric dice unsafe under any conditions. The moment the outer world has any idea of their existence, the game is too risky to be pleasant to any sharp. A little mariner's compass, dangling at the end of a stranger's watch chain, or carried secretly, will serve to reveal in an instant the true nature of the deception which is being practiced upon him by his host. It is sad that the diffusion of knowledge should be accompanied by such untoward consequences; but we can hardly hope that the sharps will die of disappointment or despair, even though dice were undoubtedly doomed to detection and disaster, and had dwindled into disuse. (Alliteration is the curse of modern literature.)

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