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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Marked cards have goon through some notable changes and improvements since 1894, when the book Sharps and Flats was published. Many of the descriptions in this book are outdated, but some are still valid today. For an up-to-date resource on various types of marked cards please visit the Marked Cards chapter on our sister site CARDSHARK Online.

PROBABLY it was at no very recent date in the history of card-playing that some genius first recognized the advantage which would accrue to a player who could devise some means of placing a distinctive mark on the back of each card, imperceptible to all but himself, to indicate its suit and value. Every card-player must at some time or other have exclaimed mentally, 'Oh, if I only knew what cards my opponents hold!' There one has, then, the origin of marked cards. The sharp, above all others, desires to know his opponent's cards. It is almost a necessity of his existence; and in his case it is certainly true that 'necessity is the mother of invention,' and 'knows no law.' Whatever the sharp may find necessary he is sure to acquire, and will not be scrupulous as to the manner of its acquisition.

The first attempts at marking playing cards may have born out of the desire of knowing what cards other players hold, as as Maskelyne explains. It should be noted, however, that reading opponents' hands is not the only way in which marked cards may be used. In many instances cards can be marked to enable the mechanic to locate and manipulate cards. Maskelyne does offer some explanation for how this may be done, in the cards marked whilst in play chapter, when he explains some of the principles of second dealing. He also touches upon the subject in the following paragraph, when he mentions that a cheat can sometimes read the cards by sense of feel, without looking at them.

The systems of card-marking are as numerous as they are ingenious. They vary from a mark which covers the greater portion of the back of the card to a mark which is invisible. This latter may not appear to be of much utility, but it must be borne in mind the sharp is not restricted to the use of the sense of sight only. Sometimes, indeed, it is necessary for him to know the cards without looking at them, and then a visible mark would be of no possible use to him.

So numerous, indeed, are the systems of marking almost every card-sharper, worthy of the name, having a system peculiar to himself that it is impossible to give a tenth part of them. To attempt to do so would be to weary the reader, and, further, it is unnecessary. All these various systems are capable of general classification, and a few leading instances will suffice to give the key to the whole. For brevity and convenience, then, we will consider the subject under the following heads:

A -- General principles of marking

B -- The marking of unprinted backs

C -- Marking by dot and puncture

D -- Cards marked in manufacture

E -- Shading and tint-marking

F -- Line and scroll work

G -- Cards marked whilst in play

Maskelyne does not cover all the methods of marking cards. One professional method of marking cards that had been talked about in great detail all over the internet, but had not yet been invented in his time is juice work, which is similar to shading and tint-marking.

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