Learn the Three-Card Monte Trick

Article by Simon Young
Three-Card Monte cards
Last Updated: Mar 22nd, 2024 Share On Your Network:

A three-card monte game, also known as “find the lady” or simply as the “three-card trick,” is a confidence trick in which the victims or “marks” are tricked into gambling by assuming they can locate the “money card” among three face-down cards.

The dealer, known as “monte” or “card sharp”, will show his or her audience the three cards with the target card, usually the queen. 

The cards get shuffled rapidly and manipulated, and participants are encouraged to place a bet to locate the target card. The dealers use sleight-of-hand tricks to manipulate the cards, making them difficult to find. 

Many players have fallen for this card trick game and got scammed over the years. Not knowing how the trick works results in players losing lots of money. Although it is a card game, it’s nothing like other card games like online poker, where you can win money with genuine skill and little luck. 

Join us as we break down the three-card monte trick so you don’t get stung.

What Is Three-Card Monte?

Three-card monte originated sometime in the 19th century in Spain, although it is most known for being played on the streets of New York. It is frequently played on a street corner or other public spaces so the dealer can draw in individuals with the promise of easy winnings. 

Even though it is considered a scam, you can still find it on many big city streets across the globe. So, what is three-card monte, and how does it work? 

Exponents of monte usually focus only on the game mechanics, mainly “the hype”: a simple sleight that allows the dealer to throw either of two cards out of one hand. 

The illusion that dealers create is that they have only thrown the bottom card, but the top also gets dropped, which is hard to see but will change the result.

When people are watching a monte expert, those who are unaware of the technique will always choose the wrong card. It gets switched for the money card during the dealer’s fake throw. 

The dealer will also use a backflip to toss a card in the air and switch it up during the toss, and the money card will go back to its supposed position so quickly that it is hard to notice.

The dog ear scam is used by players who bend the money card slightly to see where it is and place massive bets on what they believe is an inevitable outcome. 

However, this is where it gets interesting. The player may not realise that the monte operator can either unbend or switch the card out without you noticing and will switch it with another bent card in the same corner. 

Nor will they realise that the person bending the card, who they thought was merely a fellow player, was actually in on the scam. 


How Does Three-Card Monte Work?

It essentially works on deceit. No monte crew will pay off real players, as the main object of the game is for them to fleece and rob anyone unfortunate enough to have stumbled into their trick. 

It is not a fair game as part of the crowd watching and participating are the shills who will place and encourage others to do the same. 

In fact, it’s not even a game, as there is absolutely zero chance of you winning unless they want to let you have a small win to tempt in bigger fish. Getting even one dollar out of the dealers is a miracle. It’s a form of mugging with many theatrics, with many people lining up to play. 

Their targets are known as suckers and fish, and all they see is the next victim waiting to be fleeced. Your common sense and inhibition get targeted in a complex, well-practised scenario. The dealers manipulate the cards with skill and the help of others.  

The female crew, in particular, will lean in to whisper into the spectator’s ears, convincing them they can beat the dealer. We have even seen them telling people how the operator cheats. 

It is a flirty way to make their target feel uneasy and is a proven method that causes people to make bad decisions.

The montes can also spot a mile away if someone knows the tricks of the games as it is written all over their face. The operator will change his tactic and stop cheating, while the sucker still puts all his money on the wrong card. 

The spectators on the outside watching someone placing the wrong bets draw them in, thinking they can beat the dealer as they believe they know where the money card is. 

Our human nature is being manipulated by con artists using 200 years of tried and true old-west strategies that still work today. It is the true secret to the game of three-card monte.

How to Do the Three-Card Monte

If you want to know how to do the three-card monte, follow these steps to trick your audience: 

Step 1: Your Equipment

Three-Card Monte cards

Firstly, you need three cards. Two cards should be identical, while the third should be in the other suit colour.  

Step 2: Bending the Cards

Next, slightly bend along the black lines, not the white, as our above diagram demonstrates, as we did, as they are easier to pick up. 

Step 3: Terms and Picking Up the Cards

Learn how to pick up the card and understand the following rules: 

  • Black cards end in a loss.
  • Red cards result in a winner.
  • A real throw is throwing the cards without attempting to fool the participants.
  • A fake throw results in throwing the card as usual by fooling the participants. 
  • Turn all three cards upside down on the counter.
  • Grasp the losing card between your thumb and first finger with your left hand.
  • With your right hand, pick up the other loser card between your thumb and second finger.
  • You should hold the winner between the first finger and the thumb.
  • Pick the cards up on the centre crease


Step 4: Dropping Cards

To fool your fool, show the audience the picked-up cards and drop the winner in the right hand onto the table, followed by the loser in the left hand, both face down. 

Then, throw the other losing ones down onto the table face down. Next, slowly throw the three cards in a row so your participants will think it is an easy game. They will then pick the right card.


Step 5: Master and Repeat Step 4

Keep doing Step 4 to make the game look easy to win. 


Step 6: The Trick

Hold the cards as usual and show them to your participants. This time, instead of dropping the winner onto the table, let the losing card slide from between your thumb and your second finger onto the table first, in your left hand. 

Now, there is one card on the table, and the participants will think it is the losing card, whereas it’s actually the winning card. Drop the rest of the cards as usual so the audience doesn’t spot anything. 


Step 7: Keep on Practising

Keep practising to master the trick, and you can fool people over and over again. 

If you spot someone doing this trick, stay away!


Things to Know About Three-Card Monte Tricks 

While many believe they can beat three-card monte, it is ultimately a scam, and the montes in charge have one aim. It is to take as much money off you as possible. The crew involved generally do this as their full-time income. And they do incredibly well out of it.

These dealers don’t suddenly become experts overnight. They spend time training and crafting their trick so that they can quickly and effectively fool the suckers who play the game. 

A whole team is in on the scam, and it is a well-oiled operation that, unless you know it was happening, is impossible to spot. You should remember that if you attempt to take the team on, you must be aware of the tricks and be able to identify them. 

If you see one happening on your streets, we suggest you watch from the outside if the crew doesn’t try to shove you away. Try to identify the key people and the various card tricks used to manipulate the game, as we have detailed below. 


The Deceiving Hype 

In three-card monte, before the dealer plays the game, the focus will first be to befriend people. They will exude confidence and charm and have some friendly banter to create a relaxed atmosphere. They do this to get your trust, and they do it well. Most people warm to them quickly.

Their second trick is the way they present the three-card trick. It is offered as super simple and easy to win, and at first glance, to those who don’t know the trick, it does seem that way. They will show the players all three cards, including the target and encourage them to make a bet. 

The dealer will start the rapid shuffling and card manipulation, making it increasingly difficult for the player to follow the target card. They do this by using sleight-of-hand techniques. 

Often, the dealer will collaborate with shills who pretend to be players and win effortlessly, creating a false sense of confidence among those looking on. 

The dealer will continue to use distraction in conversation and gestures or even incorporate additional games like the shell games, another street scam using peas and shells to divert, distract and further confuse the players.

The dealer may even allow players to win a few small bets to gain confidence that they place, but ultimately, the aim is to lose the larger bets. 


The Monte Crew

The Monte Crew are part of all three-card monte scams. They are individuals who either run or help others in the street scam. This scam has four key roles:

  • Dealer (monte): The main person, known as monte, is the one who manipulates the cards, chatting and interacting with the crowd. They are highly skilled in the sleight of hand movement, creating the illusion that a player can win the game. 
  • Shills: These accomplices pose as regular players in the crowd. They will pretend to win money by picking the correct card and encouraging others to join. 
  • Lookouts: The lookouts aren’t directly in the game. Instead, they watch from the outskirts for any law enforcement or threats. If they spot any danger, they alert the crew, who will disperse and change locations.
  • Blockers: The blockers will help to create a barrier around the game to prevent players from leaving or interference from others. It makes it much harder for players to walk away if they start to suspect foul play. 


The Bent Card

While we introduced the bent card method in three-card monte earlier, there are four standard methods used to mark the cards to trick the players:

  • Bending or Crimping: A subtle bend or a crimp gets discreetly done using a finger during the games to help it stand out from the other two cards. 
  • Nail Nick: A small scratch made with a fingernail on the edge of a card can also serve as a discreet and identifying mark.
  • Ink or Substance Marks: The cheaters may also use invisible ink, special substances, or even grease to mark the cards in a way that is visible only to them. The player won’t even notice it. 
  • Card Shading: Another trick the cheater uses is lightly shading certain parts of the card’s back with a pencil or ink that can create subtle marks that are hard to detect.


Final Words

The three-card monte trick has been around for centuries, and we are sure it will retain its popularity on street corners worldwide. The monte crew make good money by fooling players into thinking they can win a game when they don’t stand a chance. 

Essentially, these dealers are street con artists and like any con artist, most people won’t guess it’s a con till it is too late. The monte always wins, although they may allow a few small wins, giving the player confidence before placing more significant bets. 

It tricks the player into thinking they are on a winning roll and, therefore, attempting a few bigger bets and ending up down much money. The con artists are smiling, and the player is out of pocket, often by substantial amounts. 

If you see this trick on a street corner, we suggest you stay away and save money. Instead, play at a real money online casino where the games are fair. 

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