Modern Card Sharps use Scientific Methods (Dec, 1930)
Modern Card Sharps use Scientific Methods
by ALFRED ALBELLI
All the resources of modern science and invention are employed by the clever card sharp who sets out to fleece a wealthy victim. You yourself, if you play cards, are fair game for a crooked player unless you are forewarned of his methods. In this article Mr. Albelli exposes the clever methods which enable the crooked gambler to cheat without his victim being aware of what is going on.
ONE night last August four men sat down to a congenial game of stud poker in a Saratoga hotel suite, where one pays fifty dollars for a night’s lodging with benefit of bath.
The spotlight in this little drama, which was cleverly set, was focussed on Mr. A, real estate operator whose reputation swings from coast to coast and whose millions can raise the blood pressure of any card sharp or confidence man with hardly any effort.
His partner, less affable but with a much shrewder wrinkle in his brow, must remain for a moment a man of mystery. He will become known to you just before the final curtain drops on this play. Just to facilitate matters we will call him Mr. X.
The other two players, who were actual actors in this real life melodrama, were two notorious card sharps whose victims were strewn across the country’s smartest spas and clubs and across the Atlantic where they had found their prey on ocean liners, Deau-ville, London, Monte Carlo and Paris.
Now let us sit back and behold the unraveling of one of the most spectacular acts in which perverted and criminal mechanical ingenuity is at work. John E. Armstrong, superintendent of the Saratoga racing spa police department, declared that the operations of those card sharps, made unbeatable by the inventions which they introduced, were without parallel.
Everything is on the level as the cards are dealt. There are no marked cards. The green baize tablecover is unmolested.
Neither of the card sharps have coat or vest devices. There has not been a false cut or a false shuffle or a double discard. Nothing like that would have passed unnoticed before the business-trained eyes of Mr. A, the nationally-known realtor. And Mr. X didn’t appear so dumb, either.
At midnight, the game was going full blast. The card sharps had intrigued and goaded the real estater by trimming him and his partner a couple of times, though only lightly and gently. Mr. X had heard a sound in the next room, something like the noise of static over the radio.
“Nothing at all. Nothing at all,” assured one of the sharpers.
The other sharper laughed heartily, adding, “Maybe it’s spooks.”
At 3 a. m., which brings us up to the climax and the last scene, the realtor, who had been $45,000 ahead at midnight, was $150,000 in the hole.
Suddenly, to the utter astonishment and amazement of his co-players, Mr. X stealthily drew a revolver and fired into the wall facing the street.
At first they thought they were being held up. But Mr. X with his gun still drawn and menacing, drew back and threatened the two card sharps with death if they budged.
Simultaneously, he threw open the door behind him and in rushed four other men with badges pinned outside their coats.
“You are all under arrest,” declared Mr. X, flashing his own badge.
In a jiffy, Mr. X dashed into the other room, flashed on the lights, and there he found two confederates of the card sharps, cringing and cowering, with arms upraised in token of surrender.
The startled and amazed real estate millionaire, on beholding the four card crooks in handcuffs, announced, in disgust, “I’m going to get out of here right now.”
“Oh, no, you’re not,” said Mr. X, the master sleuth, “not yet.”
“Why not?” he asked, in a perturbed tone, “I live right in the next suite.”
“Well, I’ll tell you why not,” declared the detective in a soft, measured accent. “I want you to see what you’re being saved from. After this you stick to nice little family bridge parties with a cent a point as your highest wager. Not even millionaires can afford to play with these fellows here.
“Mm-mm,” murmured the real estater, radiating a more comprehensive wisdom.
The detective showed him a cleverly-camouflaged crack in the wall which was located just behind where he sat. He showed him a pair of binoculars through which one of the comrades was able to peer and view his cards plainly.
On another table, innocently placed in a corner, reposed a package. It might not have been anything more than the laundry. It faced one of the sharpers while it was invisible to the millionaire, who faced in another direction.
In the adjoining room, the millionaire was shown a complicated apparatus which looked very much like a switchboard. It contained fifty-two symbols, one for each card in the deck.
When the lookout with the magnifying glasses spotted the millionaire’s hand, he related his information to the other accomplice, a highly trained electrician who plugged the identity of the millionaire’s hand into the switchboard’s jacks or holes, which in turn reproduced the cards in silhouettes on a screen which to all outward appearances was nothing more than a package on the table. The screen reflector operated along the same line as a trans-lux board, where figures are projected from the rear.
Occasionally, the detective explained, the other sharp either coughed or stretched and turned toward the box-screen and got a good glimpse of the cards which the gullible real estate man was holding. For these two super-sharks, the rest was easy. They went about their fleecing with their usual efficiency.
The acquaintanceship of these four men was struck up all in one day at the races. The realtor, after some inveigling, said he was just aching for some stud poker. Mr. X who had been assigned to keep a weather eye for a certain ring of con men and card manipulators, convinced them all that he was a big shot, and the millionaire agreed to take his I. 0. U. pending the execution of a big business deal. Although the raid at the Saratoga hotel last August was probably one of the most sensational ever carried out, and the apparatus the most complete and elaborate to have been confiscated, police and detective bureaus throughout the country are continually encountering similar cases.
The modus operandi of the flim-flammers at cards is as varied and as fascinating as the game itself. House detectives in the big city hotels of this country and on the continent, though they are acquainted with illustrious card vultures through an underground information system, are kept busy by the wolves who single out innocent prey in hotel lobbies.’ The tired business man in quest of a little recreation is first engaged in idle chatter about the tariff or home-town affairs, and the invitation to a poker session eventually comes to the surface.
If the logs of ocean-going steamers contained the episodes concerning victims of card jugglers, there would be neither space nor time for anything else.
The concerted campaign to exterminate these crooks has gone far, but the clever ones have survived and are still plying their nefarious trade openly and recklessly.
Some idea of the methods of the professional card sharp may be gleaned from an episode which occurred recently on one of the trans-Atlantic liners. A clean-shaven man, whose tender eyes and immaculate appearance made him look like a preacher, was promenading along the deck and came to a point where he beheld a man poised for suicide. The clerical-looking gentleman seized him just in time to prevent him from jumping overboard and ending everything under the waves.
The prospective suicide explained that he had lost his entire fortune to card sharpers aboard and didn’t have the courage to go back to his state-room to face his wife. This was their honeymoon.
His savior pleaded with him to brace up and told him that he would help him without any lack of propriety or further injury to his sensibilities. He was told to go to his stateroom in an hour, as he gave him the number. Then they separated.
The preacher – looking stranger nonchalantly strolled into the salon where the desperate man said he had lost his fortune of about $25,000. He, being an old hand at poker and its byways, had little difficulty in identifying the crooks. He sauntered up to a table where they were marking time pending the arrival of another lamb for shearing and casually remarked, “I don’t suppose a fellow like me has a chance of getting into this game?”
At this point it is appropriate to explain that the man to be feared in a game of cards in which strangers are playing is not the one who has shifty eyes, a swarthy complexion and smart suavity. On the other hand, the bugaboo is sure to be the individual who looks like easy picking and to all outward appearances makes the perfect simpleton and sucker. That’s one for whom you’d better watch outâ€”because, explained my informant, who is a detective in charge of overseas crooks on a fleet of liners, they’re never as dumb as they look.
The dominie-gentleman did not wait for an answer when he asked if he could get into a game, but strode to the bar and ordered a whiskey and soda, depositing a hundred dollar note on the bar which he had peeled from a bundle of bills which were about as big as a cabbage. The card gyp-pers’ eyes widened. They were filled with glee. The altar was swept off clean for the sacrifice.
In another minute he was seated to a four-handed game of poker. He was quick to grasp the tactics of this trio. The dealing was square, there were no trick appliances, and the cards weren’t marked. What’s more they let him take the first two pots. Amateur stuff, but they seemed bent on big stakes, he figured. No doubt they were primed to clean him to the bone.
Finally, the dealer and one of his confederates dropped out. This bit of strategy was not unknown to our hero, apparently. The closing contest was left to the confederate who had raised the stakes. The stranger knew that the dealer was his opponent’s ally.
The sharper and the stranger looked into each other’s eyes intently as they made their requests of the dealer for cards. The shark seemed a little flushed. The preacher-man was as cool as if he was attending Easter Sunday mass. But he was constantly on his guard, ever-watchful for the sly second and crucial moment when the dealer would slip a card to his opponent.
All of a sudden the stranger seized the shark by the wrist and insisted, “Show your hand as it is! Here are my cards. Four kings and a ten take this pot.”
With lightning speed he forced five weak cards from his adversary’s hand. Before his associates were aware of what had transpired, the would-be reverend grabbed the pot, which was $100,000 flat, and was on his feet.
“One word or one move from any of you,” he challenged, “and I’ll see that you all go to jail not only for this but for past offensesâ€”and you all know what that means.” He bowed suavely and departed.
The man whom he had saved from suicide was waiting for him at his cabin. The stranger could see the dents in his lips where he had been biting them from nervousness.
The benefactor kept his word. He gave the man back his $25,000 on a promise that he would confine his card activities to the people upstairs and not run into a similar trap again.
“That ecclesiastical-looking gent,” explained the ocean liner’s detective, “was at one time a fearless card sharp. He went in for diamond smuggling, too. But he was retired for some years before the occurrence of this latest escapade. We never actually had anything on him. He was one of the smartest in the business. He knew all the tricks and combinations from A to Z.”
Now for a further insight into the tricks and wisdom of card cheaters aside from the sleight of hand and mechanical card-tricks, which will be explained further, it will be interesting to note that mathematicians have computed that a full deck of fifty-two cards contains 2,598,960 possible combinations for 5-card hands. One-half of these have absolutely no poker value.
Furthermore, out of those 2,598,960 different hands, there are only 40 straight flushes possible of which four are the royal flushes. On the other hand, 624 sets of fours may be formed and you can derive 3,744 full houses and there are 5,100 ways in which you can compose flushes, 10,200 for straights, 54,912 combinations of three’s, 123,500 hands containing two pairs and 1,100,000 hands with single pairs.
Here is the way readers, or marked cards, are made. A piece of wax or resinous substance is used to make a streak across the back of a card. This becomes very visible when held against a strong light. The curve of the streak may further identify the card.
India ink, which has been secreted within the groove of the finger-nail will enable one to mark certain cards while playing. Cards which are accessible before sitting down to a game may be easily marked by ordinary pen and ink or crayon.
Many a crooked card game is won right at the start, beginning with the dealing. Concealed instruments of sand, glass or acid may be used to mark the cards while playing, so that when it comes to the dealing again, the highly-sensitive fingers of the sharp can discern from the nature of the rough part on the back of the card made by the scratching just what kind of a card it is. The clever dealer withholds that particular card for his partner, slipping another one in to his opponent in its stead, as shown in accompanying drawings.
The polished surface of a cigarette case or a little concave mirror attached to a pipe which reposes on a table may be used to reflect the other side’s hand. Or a similar mirror may be attached to a match box. Or, still again, a mirror that is very tiny may be tacked onto the table itself. In former days when the snuffbox was popular, the mirror trick was first used on it.
Dealing with a stack of cards which has been marked is easy work for the sharp card practitioner. For a wizard of this type it is very easy for him, on the theory that the hand is quicker than the eye, to slip out a card from the bottom to his partner or to deal a card which is second from the top and worthless to his opponent.
The so-called hold-out is one of the simplest tools of the card thief. One of the crudest means is to conceal the card in the palm of the hand, inserting it into play at the ripe moment. One hold-out machine which is very much in use today has netted the inventors a rich harvest. This consists of a leather band fastened around the arm near the elbow, beneath the coat sleeve as illustrated in accompanying drawings. To this is attached a spring, pressure upon which works a rod running along the arm which connects with a plate.
The cards which are held out have been placed beneath the plate which in turn keeps them in position. When it behooves the player to draw from his reserve cards, he merely presses his arm against his body, thus setting the spring in operation. The spring works the little rod which throws forward the concealed cards from behind the plate.