foreword to the online edition
II. common sharpers and their tricks
III. marked cards and the manner
of their employment
VII. collusion and conspiracy
VIII. the game of faro
IX. prepared cards
XI. high ball poker
XII. roulette and allied games
XIII. sporting houses
XIV. sharps and flats
SHARPS AND FLATS
Among the various forms in which reflectors are supplied, there
are some attached to coins and rouleaux of coins of various values.
Also there are some so constructed as to be attached to a pile of
'greenbacks' or bank-notes. The manner in which these are used will
be readily understood, therefore there is no need to do more than
refer to them. In addition to these, there is the appliance described
in the catalogue as 'Reflector, attached to machine, can be brought
to palm of hand at will.' This will be found described in the chapter
on 'holdouts,' to which class of
apparatus it properly belongs.
The smallest and most difficult to use of all reflectors is one
the very existence of which is but little known, even among sharps,
viz. the tooth-pick reflector. In this instance the mirror is a
very tiny one adapted to lie at an angle within the interior of
a large quill tooth-pick.
It is not too surprising that this toothpick
reflector is "little known, even among sharps," as Maskelyne
states, as it is hard to imagine how anyone could possibly have
any practical use for such gaff.
With the exception of its size, it is similar in other respects
to the pipe-reflector already described. Needless to say, the extreme
minuteness of the image formed by so small a mirror entirely precludes
its use except by a sharp who is an expert indeed, and one whose
vision is of the keenest description: m, fig. 23, indicates the
position occupied by the mirror within the interior of the quill.
The noble bird typical of all gamblers from whose pinion the feather
has been extracted for so unworthy a purpose, might well exclaim,
'To what base uses may we come!'
The operator who has adopted this form of instrument will enter
the room where card-players are assembled, chewing his tooth-pick
after the approved Piccadilly fashion of a few years ago. Having
taken his place at the table, he throws down the tooth-pick in front
of him, with the pointed end turned towards him. His mirror then
comes into play, in the same manner as that of the pipe-reflector
One form of reflector which is very useful to the sharp in a single-handed
game, is that mentioned in one of the catalogues as being intended
to stand behind a pile of 'chips' or counters upon the table. It
may appear to the uninitiated that there would be great difficulty
in concealing a mirror in this way. Such, undoubtedly, would be
the case if only one pile of chips were used. By placing two piles
side by side, however, the difficulty disappears. With counters,
say, an inch and a quarter in diameter, there is ample space behind
two piles, when standing close together, to accommodate and conceal
a tolerably large reflector, as such things go.
The mirror in this case is mounted somewhat after the fashion of
a linen-prover; and precisely resembles a small hinge. The hinge
being opened, reveals the reflector. It is set at a suitable angle
and simply laid upon the table, either behind the rouleaux of counters,
as explained above, or behind a pile of bank-notes, as may be most
convenient. If the sharp should unhappily be compelled to part with
either counters or notes a circumstance, by the way, which should
never occur in the ordinary course of events though accidents will
happen now and then the reflector can be closed up and secreted
in an instant.
It is a neat little device, and one well worthy the notice of intending
purchasers. (See advt.)
In connection with sharping of any kind, as in every other branch
of art, whether sacred or profane, legal or illegal, one fact is
always distinctly noticeable. No matter what improvements may be
made, or what amount of complexity may be introduced into any system,
or into the appliances which have been invented to meet its requirements,
the practice of its leading exponents always tends towards simplicity
of operation. To this rule there are very few exceptions. The greatest
minds are, as a rule, content to use the simplest methods. Not the
easiest, bear in mind, but the simplest. The simple tools are generally
more difficult to use with effect than the more elaborate ones.
The great painter with no other tools than his palette-knife and
his thumb will produce work which could not be imitated by a man
of inferior talents, although he had the entire stock of Rowney
or Winsor and Newton at his disposal. So, in like manner, is it
with the really great expert in sharping. With a small unmounted
mirror, and a bit of cobbler's wax, he will win more money than
a duffer who possesses the most perfect mechanical arrangement ever
adapted to a reflector. It is the quality of the man which tells,
not that of his tools.
It may perhaps be asked then, if the simplest appliances are best,
why is it that they are not generally adopted, in place of the more
complicated devices? That, however, is just the same thing as asking
why an organ-grinder is content to wind out machine-made airs during
the whole of his existence, rather than to devote his time to the
far less expensive process of learning to play an instrument. The
answer is the same in both cases. It is simply that machinery is
made to take the place of skill. The machine can be obtained by
the expenditure of so much or so little money, whilst the skill
can only be obtained by a lifetime of practice. Your duffer, as
a rule, does not care about hard work. He prefers a situation where
all the hard work is put out, and the less irksome is done by somebody
else. Hence the demand for cheating-tools which will throw the responsibility
of success or failure upon the manufacturer, leaving the operator
at liberty to acquire just as much skill as he pleases, or to do
without skill altogether if he thinks fit.
In the previous paragraph, Maskelyne asks a
very good question, "...if the simplest appliances are best,
why is it that they are not generally adopted, in place of the more
The answer is simple. Most of the gaffs that
the crooked gambling suppliers
have been selling for decades (and now for centuries) are just sucker
items. Let's face it, most gamblers are just suckers looking to
make an easy buck without doing any real work. Most gamblers are
just looking for simple solutions and purchasing a gaff is often
perceived as an accomplishment in itself, in the mind of a sucker.
Crooked gambling suppliers are just businesses that supply a demand.
The demand is created by the suckers: they want solutions. So, the
suppliers create an illusion of a solution by posting a description
of a gaff in a catalog. Inside of a catalog most of these gaffs
appear practical, but the truth is that the vast majority of these
gaffs have never really been "road-tested" by the people
who developed them. Those guys just make the gaffs and sell them.
The suckers buy them and when the curiosity has been satisfied the
gaffs usually end up at the back of a drawer. A few decades later
they are rediscovered (often by the descendants of the folks that
originally purchased them) and sometimes they are sold on eBay.
That's the reality of most of these gaffs. A real cardshark doesn't
really need more than a bankroll to work the games.
According to one of the leading experts in America, the above-mentioned
bit of cobbler's wax, in conjunction with the plain unmounted mirror,
is by far the best method of employing a reflector. The mirror is
simply attached, by means of the wax, to the palm of the hand near
the edge; and when it is fixed in this position, the little indices,
usually found upon the corners of modern playing-cards, can be read
quite easily. Furthermore, so situated, the reflector is quite secure
The majority of sharps, however, appear to strike the happy medium
between the simplicity of this device and the complexity of the
'reflector attached to machine.' Thus, it is the table-reflector
which appears to be the most popular for general use, although from
its nature it is not well-adapted for use in a round game. There
are too many people to the right and left of the operator. For a
single-handed game, however, where the sharp has no opportunity
of 'getting his own cards in,' it is invaluable.
Supposing, then, for the moment, gentle reader, that you were a
sharp, your plan of working the table-reflector would be as follows.
You would find your 'mug' (first catch your hare), and perhaps you
might induce him to invite you to his club. Having got your hand
in to this extent, doubtless you would find means of persuading
him to engage you in a game of cards, 'just to pass the time.' He
thinks, no doubt, that he is perfectly safe, as the club cards are
being used, and moreover being in all probability what is known
in 'sporting' circles as a 'fly-flat' that is, a fool who thinks
himself wise he imagines that he knows enough about cheating to
'spot' anyone who had the audacity to 'try it on' with him. Now,
if there is one thing more certain than another, it is that a sharp
is always safest in the hands of a man who thinks he knows a lot.
The event will nearly always prove that his knowledge is limited
to an imperfect acquaintance with some of the older forms of manipulation;
things which have been discarded as obsolete by all practical men.
Therefore, if he anticipates cheating at all, he prepares himself
to look out for something vastly different to what is about to take
place. His mind running in a groove, he is preoccupied with matters
which are of no importance to him; and thus falls an easy prey to
In such a case, then, you have a 'soft thing.' You select a table which affords you the opportunity of securing a nice, convenient seat,
with your back to the wall. You fix your 'shiner' just under the edge of the table, and engage your 'pigeon' in a single-handed game of poker.
If you are worth your salt, you ought to pluck him nay, skin him, for all he is worth.