Three-Card-Monte style swindle for someone inept with card tricks?
June 10, 2013 8:28 AM   Subscribe

My bike gang (previously) is throwing a "Street Hustle" themed alleycat bicycle race. I need to play a simple hustler card game with 20-30 different people who will pass through my checkpoint. Three Card Monte would be perfect, except I doubt my ability to perform the actual sleight-of-hand. Is there a similar card game that is easier to perform?

An alleycat is a bicycle race where cyclists are given a list of locations ("checkpoints") around a city. They must turn in a manifest showing that they have visited every checkpoint at the race's end location. My bike gang throws themed alleycats where racer perform activities at each checkpoint. For instance, we previously did a Scout Race themed race where at each checkpoint racers did merit badge/summer camp activities like sewing a button or crafting a god's eye.

During Street Hustle, cyclists will be visiting various locations where they'll participate in simple gambling games like blackjack, dominoes, or a shell game. Three Card Monte would be perfect for my checkpoint, but I'm not sure I convincingly master the sleight-of-hand required. (For those unfamiliar with three card monte, you can see it performed/explained on video here)

I'm not exactly Ricky Jay. I need a similar (but much simpler) card trick to perform. Some specifics:

-very simple card-handling mechanics on the hustler side; no complicated sleight of hand
-can be explained in under twenty seconds to the "mark"
-instead of betting actual money, the "mark" will be awarded 0-10 points depending on how well they perform during the hustle (they can also be awarded 10 points at the beginning which they lose during the swindle depending on how badly they perform)
-some of the marks should win and some should lose; if it's so difficult that every mark loses and gets zero points, it's not useful to us
posted by Juliet Banana to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The thing with Three Card Monte is that the mark can't win. The dealer will always come up with a reason the mark lost, unless he's being strung along and allowed to win a small one so he'll bet more the second time ("Hey, man, give me a chance to win my money back -- but let's make it $20 instead of $1 this time").

So even if the mark can track the sleight of hand, the dealer will do something to invalidate the mark's win, if he wants.

For instance, the dealer shows three cards, the Queen of Spades, the Queen of Clubs, and the Ace of Hearts (or some red card). The dealer says "Find the queen" and points to the Queen of Spades. If the mark picks the Queen of Spades, the dealer says, "No, I pointed to the Queen of Clubs." An accomplice (who's acting like another player) will attest to the dealer having pointed at the Queen of Clubs.

Alternately, if the mark moves slowly toward the correct card, the accomplice will quickly bet on it first, thereby invalidating the mark's bet.

As a last resort, the accomplice will yell "COPS!" and the dealer will pick up the cards and the table and the mark's bet and skedaddle while the mark is distracted.

Essentially, anything but sleight of hand will register with the mark as "cheating," so think over how much you want people to know they're getting hosed.
posted by Etrigan at 8:53 AM on June 10, 2013

Does it have to be cards? If not, you could procure or make a set of nontransitive dice, the bigger and fuzzier the better.
posted by googly at 9:04 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could just do the Three Card Monty without the slight of hand. That way the mark will win sometimes or lose sometimes, probably along the lines of random chance (i.e. 1 in 3) if you're fast enough moving the cards around. If you need a more complicated score than just yes or no then make it best of three.

Then you can focus on coming up with a good patter and flashy card movements etc rather than learning a trick per se. Put on a good show.
posted by shelleycat at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can do the Monty Hall problem. You have three cards face down with one of them as the winner. You, as the dealer, know which is the winner (say an ace as a winner and two jokers). You let the mark choose a card without turning it over. You reveal a non-winner (a joker) from the two remaining cards and give the mark the chance to switch to the remaining unchosen card (still face down) or to keep their original one (also still face down).

If the mark switches they have a 2/3 chance of winning. Most people don't know this and so you'd expect many of them to keep their card and thus only win a third of the time.

This is simple to perform and with three cards you'll have plenty of pay-outs while the house should still come out ahead. You can change the number of cards used to manipulate the expected payouts. Or string a series of choices together. (We can help you with the math, if needed).

If a person always chooses to switch (the right move) that can be worth points even if they don't guess the correct card in the end. So it has a built-in scoring possibility.

Not a classic hustle buy maybe it fits your criteria otherwise.
posted by bfootdav at 10:54 AM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Can being a terrible hustler be part of your schtick?

You could set up a switch on the underside of the table that turns on a light or sounds a noise behind the people, to be used for "Oh my lord what is THAT OVER THERE!" misdirection? And as they turn back after looking, no-one is fooled that you've fudged the table, and indeed there is a clear giveaway cable going from the distraction to your table. "I don't know what you're suggesting sir - I've never seen that cable before! I'm as clean as..."
posted by anonymisc at 10:58 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What about a variant on the Twenty Quid Game? You have a small pile of playing cards with a £20 note at the bottom. You and the other player take turns to remove one, two or three cards from the pile. The aim, obviously, is to be the person who gets to claim the £20 as part of their turn. If you run it properly (make the mark go first, and ensure that [his move] + [your move] = 4) there's no way for the mark to win, but you can always introduce a random element (e.g. have one of your early moves determined by dice roll) to give them a fair, if small, chance.

You can make them play the Monty Hall Problem with cards. Give them two points free, to play with at the start. Then:
1) "I have five cards here, and your job is to guess where the Queen is. If you find her, you win four points"
[Mix the cards then deal them face down. You need to know where the Queen lands, and the mark should see you checking.]
2) "Choose one of the cards, but don't turn it over yet"
[Of the four remaining cards, choose three losers and turn them face up so the mark can see. Now the mark has a face-down card, and you have one]
3) "We're about to see whether you've won, but first I have an offer to make you: you can stick with your card, or pay a point to swap with me"
[The mark makes their choice. You turn the chosen card, and award points if it's the queen.]

...then play a second round, exactly the same.

In a given round, there's a 20% chance that the mark initially chose the right card, and therefore an 80% chance that your card is the Queen. Paying a point to swap is definitely the right thing to do, but it's sufficiently counter-intuitive that very few people will.

If the mark does not swap in either round, he will probably (64%) finish the game with 2 points. He might (32%) end up with 6, or conceivably (4%) win the full ten points. If you take a weighted mean of these, your average non-swapping punter walks away with 3.6 points.

If the mark swaps in both rounds, he will probably (64%) get 8 points. He might (32%) get 5 points, or conveivably (4%) lose everything and get 0 points. The mean two-swapping punter gets 6.7 points.

If he swaps in just one round, his expected returns are smack in between those two extremes.

So it involves a lot of chance, but it's quick to play with very little explanation, doesn't require sleights, and has a strategy players *can* use to maximise their chances, but almost certainly won't.
posted by metaBugs at 11:20 AM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

How about an ipad app to do the actual card game? (game is apparently some kind of NBC tie-in, so it looks pretty reputable)

After 3 or 4 turns it gets more complicated, so you could say a player had to earn $25 or $30 dollars. Combined with enough costume and lingo on your part, this could be super cute.

(Also, I think one of my friends participated in your Scout Race. Small world!)
posted by MsMolly at 5:22 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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