You’ve probably seen the 3 card Monte everywhere. It’s a street trick that’s been in dozens, if not hundreds, of movies, television shows, and commercials.
When you start to think about it, you’ll realize that you’ve seen a version of the 3 card Monte everywhere. So to say that you’re familiar with it is an understatement, and yet, you probably don’t know much about it.
The 3 card Monte is an old trick. It goes back all the way to the 15th century, and it can be used by magicians as an illusion. Also, by con artists as a way to take money from an unsuspecting mark.
How to Perform the 3 Card Monte
The basic premise of the game is easy. A dealer puts down 3 cards and challenges an audience to pick the winning card or the money card. A money card is assigned at the start of the game. Traditionally, the money card is the queen of hearts, although the ace of spades is another popular choice.
Whatever the money card is, the audience must successfully locate its place in the lineup of 3 cards face down on the table. If the mark can identify the money card, then the mark wins.
The con and the magic trick
In a con, the mark will place a bet on their pick for the money card. Thus, it's the dealer’s job to make sure they never win. In a magic trick, it's not the magicians’ intention to take money from the mark, or make them feel silly. Instead, the intention is to astound them.
Whether it’s astonishment, or money that the dealer is after, the trick is done the same way. It involves some clever folding, and a little sleight of hand. If you learn to perform the trick well, the choice of how to use it is up to you.
Do you want to take money from your friends, or just leave them in disbelief? Leaving them astounded sounds like more fun, so here’s how you do it. Here is your guide to mastering and performing the 3 card Monte.
How to Arrange the Cards
You’ll begin by laying out the cards. You need 3 cards in total. Two losers, and one winner. It helps to use identical cards as losing cards, because it makes the sleight of hand harder for spectators to detect. For this tutorial, let’s say you are using the 5 of clubs for both losing cards, and the queen of hearts for the money card.
Once you’ve got your 3 cards selected, the first important step in preparing for the trick is the bend. You’ll take each of the 3 cards and bend them lengthwise. This means that when you place the cards on the table, the long edge of the card will be flush with the table, and the shorter end will curve upwards.
Next, you need to pre-bend the corners of the cards. You’ll need to bend the outer right corner and inner left corner of each card. When you perform the trick, you will bend the money card to make it appear easier for the mark to watch.
With a little sleight of hand, however, you will actually remove the bend in the money card, and bend the corner of a losing card to keep the mark distracted. Having the corners of all the cards pre-bent, allows you to move quicker and less detected during the trick.
Now that you’ve got the bend, you need to learn the throw. The throw refers to the way you need to place the cards on the table, so that the mark is following the wrong card from the very beginning.
Whether you’re trying to trick your mark for money, or just impress them with your skill, you’ll need to reel them in first. To do this, you have to make the game appear fair, so your first job is to master the fair throw.
You’ll start by holding a losing card in your right hand along the bottom edges between your thumb and index finger.
Then you’ll pick up the money card right below it using your thumb and middle finger. Make sure that the left vertical edges of the cards are touching one another. In your left hand, you will pick up the second losing card between your thumb and index finger.
Then turn your palms up to reveal the cards to the audience. Turn your right palm down, and moving your hand to the left, stop and release the lower card, the money card, onto the table. Then, taking your left hand, toss the losing card to the right of the first card. Finally, toss the last losing card, from your right hand, onto the table between the two cards.
The fake throw
To do the fake throw, you will pick the cards up exactly the same way, with the winning card on the bottom of your right hand, and the losing card on the top. The difference is that when you go to throw down the first card, you will throw down the top card, not the bottom card. To do this, you need to let the top card go with your index finger, and immediately grab the bottom card with your index finger.
The trick relies on this sleight of hand move, and it may take you some practice to get it right.
Releasing the top card and not the bottom card has to look natural, and it has to go unnoticed. The whole trick relies on not picking up on that one tiny gesture.
So much relies on how quickly you can move your index finger. When it’s done seamlessly, it is undetectable. When it’s not, you’ll either have a disillusioned audience, or a gambler that wants his money back.
Using Cards with Bent Corners
Some magicians will perform the trick just like that without any added extras, but to give it a layer of complexity, you will now add in the bent corners. You’ve already pre-bent the corners of your cards to make this step easier, and more convincing in front of an audience.
Begin by bending the corner of the winner. Then pick up a losing card in your right hand and show it to the audience. Turn your right hand face down and pick up the other loser in your left hand. As you show the audience the losing card in your left hand, you will use your right ring finger to pull up the corner of the losing card in your right hand as your middle finger pushes on the back of the card.
Tricking the audience
This means that the audience is watching your left hand, while your right-hand puts a bend in the corner of the losing card. Now both the winning and the losing card have a bend in the upper right-hand corner.
To get them further hooked, show the winning card in your right hand and do a fair toss, and then pick it back up again. Your audience gets a good look at the winning card with the bent corner from both the front and the back. They’ve also seen you toss it fairly, so they’re hooked.
In other words, they believe you, and they think they have the advantage because the winning card is supposedly marked with a bend. Now, once you pick up the winning card in your right hand again, you’ll do a fake toss.
You’ll throw down the losing card with the bent corner from your right hand, and keep the winning card in your right hand. You’ll pull up on the edge of the winning card with your ring finger while pushing on the back with your middle finger to remove the bend. Now the losing card is the only one with a bent corner. Toss the remaining 2 cards down, dropping the winner in the middle.
Your mark will have been busy following the bent card, and so they will not choose the card in the middle.
Add Your Own Personality to the 3 Card Monte Trick
Those are the basic moves of the 3 card Monte. Once you have them down, you can work on how to incorporate them into your act.
You’ll start by tossing the cards fairly a few times to let your mark pick the correct card, and gain a little bit of confidence in themselves and in you. Then you might try a little razzle dazzle. Also, you might try to toss the cards quickly. You might pick them up and put them down multiple times before asking an audience member to guess.
By doing all of these things you will keep your audience glued to you and mesmerized. They will hang on your every word as you pick the cards up and put them down, but they’ll still be convinced they can beat you.
Learn Skills that Carry Over into Other Tricks
The 3 card Monte is a great trick to perform for large and small audiences. You can capture their attention, capitalize on your own showmanship, and still leave them astounded. Plus, practicing the sleight of hand will help you improve your other magic tricks as well.
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