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 Kepplinger Holdout

Kepplinger was a professional gambler; that is what he was. In other words, he was a sharp and of the sharpest.

As to the date at which this bright particular Star of the West first dawned upon the horizon of 'Tom Tiddler's Ground' deponent sayeth not. Neither have we any substantial record of the facts connected with the conception and elaboration of that great idea with which his name is associated. Of its introduction into the field of practical utility, however, and its subsequent revelation to the fraternity to whom its existence was of the utmost consequence, the details are available, and therefore may be revealed. The event occurred in this wise, as follows, that is to say:

In the year of grace 1888, Kepplinger, the inventor, gambler and cheat, was resident and pursuing his daily avocations in the city known colloquially as 'Frisco.'

Now it is a singular feature of human nature that, whatever a man's calling may be, however arduous or exacting, he becomes in course of time so much a creature of habit that he is never really happy apart from it. One may suppose that it is the consciousness of ability to do certain things, and to do them well, which accounts for this fact.

At any rate, the fact remains. We are all alike in this respect especially some of us. The barrister at leisure will prefer to sit in Court and watch another conducting a case; the actor with an evening to spare will go and see someone else act; the omnibus-driver with a day off will perch himself upon a friend's vehicle, and ride to and fro; and the sharp will infallibly spend his leisure moments in gambling. When there are no dupes to be plundered, no 'pigeons' who have a feather left to fly with, the 'rooks' will congregate in some sequestered spot, and enjoy a quiet game all to themselves. And they play fairly? Yes if they are obliged to do so; not otherwise. They will cheat each other if they can. Honor amongst thieves! Nonsense.

In 1888, then, Kepplinger's relaxation for some months consisted of a 'hard game' with players who were all professional sharps like himself. The circle was composed entirely of men who thought they 'knew the ropes' as well as he did. In that, however, they were considerably in error. He was acquainted with a trick worth any two which they could have mentioned. However much the fortunes of the others might vary, Kepplinger never sustained a loss. On the contrary, he! always won. The hands he held were enough to turn any gambler green with envy, and yet, no one could detect him in cheating. His companions were, of course, all perfectly familiar with the appliances of their craft. Holdouts in a game of that description would have been, one would think, useless encumbrances. The players were all too well acquainted with the signs and tokens accompanying such devices, and Kepplinger gave no sign of the employment of anything of the kind. He sat like a statue at the table, he kept his cards right away from him, he did not move a muscle as far as could be seen; his opponents could look up his sleeve almost to the elbow, and yet he won.

This being the condition of affairs, it was one which could not by any stretch of courtesy be considered satisfactory to anyone but Kepplinger himself. Having borne with the untoward circumstances as long as their curiosity and cupidity would allow them, his associates at length resolved upon concerted action. Arranging their plan of attack, they arrived once again at the rendezvous, and commenced the game as usual. Then, suddenly and without a moment's warning, Kepplinger was seized, gagged, and held hard and fast.

Then the investigation commenced. The great master-cheat was searched, and upon him was discovered tie most ingenious holdout ever devised.

What did the conspirators do then? Did they 'lay into him' with cudgels, or 'get the drop' on him with 'six-shooters'? Did they, for instance, hand him over to the Police? No! ten thousand times no! They did none of those things, nor had they ever any intention of doing anything of the kind. Being only human- and sharps they did what they considered would serve their own interests best. A compact was entered into, whereby Kepplinger agreed to make a similar instrument to the one he was wearing for each of his captors, and once again the temporary and short-lived discord gave place to harmony and content.

Had Kepplinger been content to use less frequently the enormous advantage he possessed, and to have exercised more discretion in winning, appearing to lose sometimes, his device might have been still undiscovered.

It was thus, then, that the secret leaked out, and probably without the occurrence of this 'little rift within the lute' -- or should it be loot? -- the reader might not have had this opportunity of inspecting the details of the 'Kepplinger' or 'San Francisco' holdout.

This form of sleeve machine will be easily understood by the reader who has followed the description of the j coat and vest holdout already given upon referring to; fig. 32 upon the opposite page, the illustration being a diagrammatic representation of the various parts of the; apparatus.

It is evident that we are here brought into contact with a greater complexity of strings, wheels, joints, tubes, pulleys, and working parts generally than it has hitherto been our lot to encounter. There is, however, nothing which is superfluous among all these things. Every detail of the apparatus is absolutely necessary to secure its efficiency. The holdout itself, a, is similar in construction to the coat and vest machine, except that it is longer, and that the slide b has a greater range of movement.

Kepplinger Holdout: poker cheating

FIG. 32

The machine is worn with a special shirt, having a double sleeve and a false cuff. This latter is to obviate the necessity of having 'a clean boiled shirt,' and the consequent trouble of fixing the machine to it, more frequently than is absolutely necessary.

It will be seen that the free ends of the base-plate and cover, instead of being pierced with holes, as in the vest machine, are serrated, forming a termination of sharp points (p). These are for the purpose of facilitating the adaptation of the machine to the operator's shirt-sleeve, which is accomplished in the following manner. In the wristband of the inner sleeve a series of little slits is cut with a penknife, and through these slits the points upon the base-plate are thrust. The base-plate itself is then sewn to the sleeve with a few stitches, one or two holes being made in the plate to allow this to be done readily. Thus the points are prevented from being accidentally withdrawn from the slits, and the whole apparatus is firmly secured to the sleeve. In the lower edge of the false cuff slits are cut in a similar manner, and into these the points of the cover are pushed. The cuff is held securely to the cover by means of little strings, which are tied to holes provided for the purpose in the sides of the cover. These arrangements having been made, the shirt, with the machine attached, is ready to be worn. The operator having put it on, takes a shirt stud with rather a long stem, and links the inner sleeve round his wrist. Then he fastens the false cuff to the inner sleeve by buttoning the two lower stud-holes over the stud already at his wrist. Thus, the inner sleeve and the cuff are held in close contact by the base-plate and cover of the machine. Finally, he fastens the outer sleeve over the whole, by buttoning it over the long stud which already holds the inner sleeve and the cuff. Thus, the machine is concealed between the two sleeves. If one were able to look inside the operator's cuff whilst the machine is in action, it would appear as though the wristband and cuff came apart, and the cards were protruded through the opening. The points, then, are the means whereby the double sleeve is held open while the machine is in operation, and closed when it is at rest.

From the holdout, the cord which works the slide is led to the elbow-joint, where it passes around a pulley (c). This joint, like all the others through which the cord has to pass, is what is known as 'universal'; that is to say, it allows of movement in any direction. From the elbow to the shoulder the cord passes through an adjustable tube (d). The telescopic arrangement of the tube is to adapt it to the various lengths of arm in different operators. At the shoulder-joint (e) is another universal pulley-wheel, which is fastened up to the shoulder by a band of webbing or any other convenient means. At this point begins the flexible tube of coiled wire, which enables the cord to adapt itself to every movement of the wearer, and yet to work without much friction (f). The flexible tube terminates at the knee in a third pulley (g) attached to the leg by a garter of webbing. The cord (h) now passes through an opening in the seam of the trouser-leg and across to the opposite knee, where through a similar opening projects a hook (i), over which the loop at the end of the cord is placed.

It must not be imagined that the sharp walks about with his knees tethered together with a piece of string, and a hook sticking out from one leg; or even that he would be at ease with the knowledge of having a seam on each side unpicked for a distance of two inches or so. That would be what he might call 'a bit too thick.' No; when the sharp sits down to the table, nothing of any such a nature is visible. Nor when he rises from the game should we be able to discover anything wrong with his apparel. He is much too knowing for that. The arrangement he adopts is the following:

At each knee of the trousers, where the seams are split open, the gap thus produced is rendered secure again, and free from observation, by means of the little spring- clip shown in fig. 33. This contrivance is sewn into the seam, being perforated to facilitate that operation. When closed, it keeps the edges of the opening so well together that one could never suspect the seam of having been tampered with. When it is required to open the gap, the ends of the clip are pressed with the finger and thumb (B, fig 33). This instantly produces a lozenge-shaped opening in the seam, and allows of the connection between the knees being made.


FIG. 33 -- Seam clips, A and B

When the sharp sits down to play, then, he first presses open these clips; next, he draws out the cord, which has hitherto lain concealed within the trouser-leg, and brings into position the hook, which, turning upon a pivot, has until now rested flat against his leg: lastly, he passes the loop at the end of the cord over the hook, and all is in readiness. These operations require far less time to accomplish than to describe.

The sharp being thus harnessed for the fray, it becomes apparent that by slightly spreading the knees, the string is tightened, and by this means the slide within the body of the holdout is thrust out, through the cuff, into his hand. The cards which he desires to hold out being slightly bent, so as to adapt themselves to the curve of the cuff, and placed in the slide, the knees are brought together, and the cards are drawn up into the machine.

At the conclusion of the game the cord is unhooked, and tucked back through the seam; the hook is turned round, so that it lies flat; and finally the apertures' are closed by pressing the sides of the clips together.

There is one point in connection with the practical working of the machine which it may be as well to mention. The pulley g at the end of the flexible tube is not fixed to the knee permanently, or the sharp would be unable to stand up straight, with the tube only of the requisite length; and if it were made long enough to reach from knee to shoulder whilst he was in a standing position, there would be a good deal too much slack when he came to sit down. This pulley, therefore, is detachable from the band of webbing, and is fixed to it when required by means of a socket into which it fits with a spring-catch.

Such then, is the Kepplinger holdout; and the selling-price of the apparatus complete is $100.00. If there were any inventor's rights in connection with this class of machinery, doubtless the amount charged would be very much higher. Governments as a rule, however, do not recognize any rights whatever as appertaining to devices for use in the unjust appropriation of other people's goods or money at least, not when such devices are employed by an individual. In the case of devices which form part of the machinery of government, the Official Conscience is, perhaps, less open to the charge of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. What is sauce for the (individual) goose is not sauce for the (collective) gander. However, two wrongs would not make a right, and perhaps all is for the best.

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