Sharps and Flats: The Secrets of Cheating
home introduction book content links advertising contact


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










Bookmark and Share

ALTHOUGH there can be no question as to the utility of marked cards in the hands of the sharper, it frequently happens that he is unable to avail himself of the advantages presented by their employment. It may be, perhaps, that he is so situated as to be compelled to use genuine cards belonging to someone else; and that the comparatively scanty and hurried marking supplied by means of poker-ring or shading box will not provide him with all the information imperatively demanded by the nature of the game in which he is engaged. He may, perhaps, be playing in circles where the devices of marking, and the methods of accomplishing it, are well known. For many reasons the use of marked cards may be too risky to be ventured upon; or the cards themselves may not be available at the. moment. Again, the sharp may not have taken the trouble to master any system of marking; yet, for all that, he requires a knowledge of his opponent's cards just as much as his more talented brother of the pen, the brush, and the needle-point. How then, it may be asked, is he to obtain this knowledge? Simply very simply. The sharp needs to be hard pressed indeed, to be driven to the end of his tether.

Marked cards being out of the question, it is possible to obviate to a great extent the necessity for them by the use of certain little instruments of precision denominated 'reflectors,' or, more familiarly, 'shiners.' These are not intended to be used for the purpose of casting reflections upon the assembled company. Far from it. Their reflections are exclusively such as have no weight with the majority. They, and their use alike, reflect only upon the sharp himself.

These useful little articles are constructed in many forms, and are as perfectly adapted to the requirements of the individual as are the works of Nature herself. Just as man has been evolved in the course of ages from some primitive speck of structureless protoplasm, so, in like manner, we find that these convexities of silvered glass have crystallized out from some primordial drop of innocent liquid, more or less accidentally spilled upon the surface of a table in years gone by.

Such, then, was the origin of the reflector. The sharp of long ago was content to rely upon a small circular drop of wine, or whatever he happened to be drinking, carefully spilled upon the table immediately in front of him. Holding the cards over this drop, their faces would be reflected from its surface, for the information of the sharp who was dealing them.

The drop of wine is an interesting idea, but although it's an innocent "gaff" it is probably not very practical. Another similar type of shiner that Maskelyne doesn't mention in his book is a cup of black coffee. With the right illumination it is possible to catch the reflections of (some of the) cards. Of course: easier said than done.

Times have advanced since then, however, and the sharp has advanced with the times. We live in an age of luxury. We are no longer satisfied with the rude appliances which sufficed for the simpler and less fastidious tastes of our forefathers; and in this respect at least the sharp is no exception to the general rule. He, too, has become more fastidious, and more exacting in his requirements, and his tastes are more expensive. His reflector, therefore, is no longer a makeshift; it is a well-constructed instrument, both optically and mechanically, costing him, to purchase, from two and a half to twenty-five dollars. Not shillings, bear in mind, but dollars. Think of it! Five pounds for a circular piece of looking-glass, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter! The fact that such a price is paid is sufficient to indicate the profitable character of the investment.

The first record we have of the employment of a specially constructed appliance of this kind describes a snuff-box bearing in the centre of the lid a small medallion containing a portrait. The sharp in taking a pinch of snuff pressed a secret spring, the effect of which was to substitute for the portrait a convex reflector. The snuff-box then being laid upon the table the cards were reflected from the surface of this mirror, giving the sharp a reduced image of each one as it was dealt. A device of this kind may have passed muster years ago, but it could never escape detection nowadays. At the present day card-players would be, unquestionably, 'up to snuff.'

Maskelyne is obviously playing with words and being witty when talking about a snuff-box and being up to snuff. Nowadays a snuff-box shiner would stand out like a sore thumb in much the same way as a cell-phone shiner would have stood out in Maskelyne's time. Perhaps this is the reasons why Maskelyne does not mention the use of cell phones, anywhere in his book.

Bookmark and Share


« marked cards... (...marked whilst in play) reflectors (table reflector) »

home | introduction | book content | links | advertising | contact