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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Crooked Faro Banks

Having thus elucidated the comparatively simple methods used to cheat the dealer, we now proceed to investigate the more complex devices employed in those cases where the bank cheats the players. As stated in the earlier part of this chapter, the players may be swindled either with fair cards and a fair dealing-box, or by means of mechanical appliances.

When the dealer elects to cheat without the use of mechanism, he is, of course, compelled to resort to manipulation, and to 'put up' the cards in such a way that they will help him to win. The reader will doubtless remember that in the description of the game 'splits' were mentioned as winning for the dealer. That is, when both cards of a turn are of the same value, the dealer takes half the money staked on the card which has split, or turned up twice in succession, the suits, of course, not counting. It is obvious, then, that if the dealer in shuffling the pack can contrive to put up a number of cards in pairs of the same value, his chances of winning are greatly enhanced. Splits, therefore, are the stronghold of the faro dealer's manipulation. If he can only make them plentiful enough without leading the players to suspect anything wrong, he is bound to win in the long run, and to win plenty.

Whilst dealing out the cards in the first game, the dealer determines in his own mind what cards he will make split in the second game. We will suppose he has just drawn a nine from the box, and that this card has to go into pile 'C' (fig. 40). Now, by the laws of the game he is bound to place this card upon the top of the pile to which it belongs, therefore he does so. He may, however, with apparent carelessness, place it just a little on one side, so that he can distinguish it from the other cards He now waits for the appearance of another nine, and this time one which will have to go into the other pile, 'D.' This one is disposed in the same manner. He has in sight, therefore, two cards of the same value, and if these two cards can be brought together during the shuffle, they will constitute a split. Seizing a favorable opportunity in evening up the two piles of cards, he may skillfully 'strip' the two nines -- that is, draw them out from the others and place them at the bottom of their respective piles. There is no fear of losing them now; they are always to hand when required.

Placing a card slightly out of alignment (as described above) is nowadays commonly known as a "brief."

It is not necessary, however, that the cards should be put at the bottom. So long as they are each in the same position, in the pile to which they respectively belong, that is all the dealer needs. Suppose the ninth card from the bottom of pile 'C' to be a king, all the man wants is to have the ninth card of pile 'D' a king also. If, therefore, the ninth card of that heap is placed a little to one side, and all the succeeding cards are put above it in like manner, that will leave a division in the pile, into which a king can be stripped at a convenient moment.

If the players are sufficiently lax to allow the dealer to throw the cards carelessly into two heaps, instead of making two even piles, the case is, of course, much simplified. He has only to put the cards directly at the bottom or wherever else he may desire to have them.

Given the fact of certain cards having been placed in pairs, one of each pair in the same position within its pile, the problem which presents itself for solution is, How can the dealer shuffle the two piles one into the other, so as to bring the proper cards together? In short, How are the splits put up?

This is accomplished by means of what is called the 'faro dealer's shuffle.' It must not be thought that this manipulative device is essentially a trick for cheating; on the contrary, it is an exceedingly fair and honest shuffle, provided that there has been no previous arrangement of the cards. By its use, a pack which has been divided into two equal portions may have all the cards of one half placed alternately with those of the other half at one operation. In faro, the manner of dealing the cards necessarily divides them into two equal parts. This being the case, they are taken up by the dealer, one in each hand. Holding them by the ends, he presses the two halves together so as to bend them somewhat after the manner shown in fig. 44, in the position 'A.' The halves are now 'wriggled' from side to side in opposite directions, with what would be called in mechanism a 'laterally reciprocating motion.' This causes the cards to fly up one by one, from either side alternately, as indicated in the figure at 'B.' Thus it is evident that those cards which have been placed, with malice aforethought, in corresponding positions in the two piles, will come together in a shuffle of this kind, and form splits.

Interestingly enough, Maskelyne says that a faro shuffle "must not be thought that this manipulative device is essentially a trick for cheating" and that "it is an exceedingly fair and honest shuffle." However, he clearly describes that a faro shuffle results in the cards from each pile alternating perfectly, one by one, with the cards of the opposite pile. By today's casino industry standards this kind of shuffle would never stand the chance of being approved by any of the authorities that have a say in approving casino procedures, as this kind of shuffle is obviously a stacking procedure. It is hard to imagine that people in the 19th century did not object to this kind of shuffle.


Faro Shuffle

FIG. 44

This shuffle is a very difficult one to learn; but with practice and patience it can be accomplished, and the cards can be made to fly up alternately, without any chance of failure. A dealer, skilled in the devices we have just touched upon, can put up four or five splits in one deal, if he thinks it advisable so to do. By the use of such means he is also enabled to arrange the cards so as to checkmate any player who may appear to be following some particular system of betting. Finding that the players are, on the whole, inclined to back the high cards, the dealer may so arrange the pack that the low cards only win for them, the high ones falling to the bank. In this, however, he runs a great risk. It may happen that the players, finding themselves constantly losing on the high cards, may alter their mode of play, and back the low ones. That would be bad for the bank unless the dealer had a mechanical box which enabled him to alter the run of the cards. Such boxes, however, are obtainable: and their description is included in the branch of our subject which treats of cheating the players by means of mechanical contrivances, and to which we now proceed. In cases where the dealer uses apparatus for cheating, his requirements are three in number. Firstly, he must have what is known as a 'two-card' dealing-box, that is, a box which will allow him, whenever he pleases, to withdraw two cards at one time, instead of compelling him to deal them singly. Secondly, he must have an 'odd,' or fifty-third card. Lastly, he requires a mechanical shuffling board, which adds the 'odd' to the pack, after the cards have been counted at the commencement of the game.

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