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 American Client

Under the general term of 'spindle-games,' a great variety of revolving wheels and pointers is sold. In all cases the 'game' consists of betting against the bank, upon the chances of a ball rolling into a certain compartment, or of a pointer coming to rest opposite a certain number or division upon a dial. Countless are the dodges and devices resorted to with the object of controlling the chances or of removing them altogether. Things of this kind are commonly used for the purposes of cheating at race-meetings and horse-fairs 'out west.' We have already seen how anything in the nature of a roulette can be sophisticated so as to give the bank every advantage, and insure certain loss to the players; and from this we may judge that something similar is possible in the case of a pointer or 'spear.' Indeed, the possibilities in this direction are endless, and all sorts of brakes and such devices for bringing the pointer to rest at a given spot have been invented. As an example, we will investigate one system, which is in all probability the most ingenious ever devised, and which is but little known.

Some years ago, the head of a well-known firm of electricians and experimentalists in Manchester was approached by an American, with a view to their undertaking the manufacture of a piece of apparatus, part of the drawings for which he submitted. The firm agreed to make what was required, and the work was commenced. As to what the apparatus could possibly be, or for what use it was intended, the manufacturers were completely in ignorance. Never having had experience of anything of the kind before, the whole thing was a mystery to them: all that they could infer from the utterances of their customer was that it was something in the nature of an experiment, and one which was of the greatest importance. Expense was absolutely no object whatever; all they had to concern themselves with was to see that the apparatus was thoroughly well and accurately made, and in accordance with the drawings given them.

The contrivance itself was a sort of circular table-top; but, instead of being made of one solid thickness of wood, it was constructed in three sections or layers. The top and bottom pieces were simply plain discs, whilst the central one was a ring. These, being fastened together, made a kind of shallow box, the interior of which could be reached by removing either the top or bottom of the whole arrangement. Into this internal circular cavity was fitted a disc of such a size that it was capable of turning freely within the table top without rattling about. Radially [sic] from the centre of this disc were cut about six or eight slots, at equal distances from each other, and sufficiently large to contain each a bar-magnet. The magnets being fixed into their respective slots, the disc carrying them was placed into the cavity prepared for its reception, and the outer wood-work was firmly glued together. To all outward appearance, then, the thing became simply a table-top, made in three thicknesses, the 'grain' of the middle thickness crossing that of the other two; an arrangement often adopted in cabinetwork to prevent warping. In the under side of the table-top, however, there was cut a small slot, concentric with the outer edge. This gave access to the movable piece within the interior, and a small stud was fixed into that piece, projecting a little beyond the under surface, so that by its means the inner piece could be revolved a short distance to the right or left.

This incomprehensible scientific instrument having been completed to the satisfaction of the American gentleman, it was taken away by him, and the firm expected to hear nothing more of it. In this, however, they were mistaken. A few days afterwards their customer again called upon them, bringing with him another drawing, and requesting them to make this second device in accordance with his instructions. The drawing presented for the inspection of the firm this time was a representation of a very heavy iron pointer, so constructed as to revolve upon a pivot at its centre. Strange to say, the length of the pointer was just about equal to the diameter of the internal disc of the table-top previously made. The head of the firm began to 'smell a rat.' That pointer had served to point out to him the solution of what was previously inexplicable. Having formed his own conclusions, he openly taxed the American with having lured him into making an apparatus for cheating. Perfectly unabashed, the man admitted the soft impeachment, and quite calmly and collectedly revealed the full particulars of his system, as though it were nothing at all unusual, and quite in the ordinary way of business.

It appeared that this innocent form of amusement was intended to be taken 'out west,' and brought into action principally at horse-fairs. The table-top which the firm had made was destined to be covered with green cloth, in the centre of which a circle was marked out, its circumference being divided into spaces colored alternately black and red. The number of these spaces was twice that of the magnets within the table. Thus, by moving the stud projecting below the table-top the magnets could be made to lie beneath either color whilst the proprietor lied over the whole. Obviously, then, the iron pointer would always come to rest above one of the magnets, and in this way the color at which it was allowed to stop could be decided by the operator. His plan of working was simply to note which color had the most money staked upon it, and set his magnets so as to cause the pointer to stop at the other. Using an apparatus of this kind, the man had already made thousands of dollars; and he only required this improved and perfected machine to enable him to go back and make thousands more. The Americans are pretty generally regarded as being a smart people-but are they? In some ways, perhaps.

All this being explained to the head of the Manchester firm, the natural exclamation which fell from him was, 'But suppose anyone among the bystanders happened to bring out a mariner's compass?' It appeared, however, even in that case, that all was not lost, and that the swindler would be equal to the occasion. Quietly putting his hand between his coat-tails, he drew out a neat little 'Derringer,' about a foot long, and observed, 'Wal, sir, I guess that compass would never git around my table. You kin bet on that.' That's the sort of man he was.

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