The Expert at the Card Table: Introduction

The passion for play is probably as old, and will be as enduring, as the race of man. Some of us are too timid to risk a dollar, but the percentage of people in this feverish nation who would not enjoy winning one is very small. The passion culminates in the professional. He would rather play than eat. Winning is not his sole delight. Some one has remarked that there is but one pleasure in life greater than winning, that is, in making the hazard.

To be successful at play is as difficult as to succeed in any other pursuit. The laws of chance are as immutable as the laws of nature. Were all gamblers to depend on luck they would break about even in the end. The professional card player may enjoy the average luck, but it is difficult to find one who thinks he does, and it is indeed wonderful how mere chance will at times defeat the strongest combination of wit and skill. It is almost an axiom that a novice will win his first stake. A colored attendant of a “club-room,” overhearing a discussion about running up two hands at poker, ventured the following interpolation: “Don’t trouble ‘bout no two hen’s, Boss. Get yo’ own hen’. De suckah, he’ll get a han’ all right, suah!” And many old players believe the same thing. However, the vagaries of luck, or chance, have impressed the professional card player with a certain knowledge that his more respected brother of the stock exchange possesses, viz.—manipulation is more profitable than speculation; so to make both ends meet, and incidentally a good living, he also performs his part with the shears when the lambs come to market.

Hazard at play carries sensations that once enjoyed are rarely forgotten. The winnings are known as “pretty money,” and it is generally spent as freely as water. The average professional who is successful at his own game will, with the sublimest unconcern, stake his money on that of another’s, though fully aware the odds are against him. He knows little of the real value of money, and as a rule is generous, careless and improvident. He loves the hazard rather than the stakes. As a matter of fact the principal difference between the professional gambler and the occasional gambler, is that the former is actuated by his love of the game and the latter by cupidity. A professional rarely “squeals” when he gets the worst of it; the man who has other means of livelihood is the hardest loser.

Advantages that are bound to ultimately give a percentage in favor of the professional are absolutely essential to his existence, and the means employed at the card table to obtain that result are thoroughly elucidated in this work. We have not been impelled to our task by the qualms of a guilty conscience, nor through the hope of reforming the world. Man cannot change his temperament, and few care to control it. While the passion for hazard exists it will find gratification. We have neither grievance against the fraternity nor sympathy for so called “victims.” A varied experience has impressed us with the belief that all men who play for any considerable stakes are looking for the best of it. We give the facts and conditions of our subject as we find them, though we sorrowfully admit that our own early knowledge was acquired at the usual excessive cost to the uninitiated.

When we speak of professional card players we do not refer to the proprietors or managers of gaming houses. The percentage in their favor is a known quantity, or can be readily calculated, and their profits are much the same as any business enterprise. Where the civil authorities countenance these institutions they are generally conducted by men of well known standing in the community. The card tables pay a percentage or “rake off,” and the management provides a “look out” for the protection of its patrons. Where the gaming rooms must be conducted in secret the probabilities of the player's apparent chances being lessened are much greater. However, our purpose is to account for the unknown percentage that must needs be in favor of the professional card player to enable him to live.

There is a vast difference between the methods employed by the card conjurer in mystifying or amusing his audience; and those practiced at the card table by the professional, as in this case the entire conduct must be in perfect harmony with the usual procedure of the game. The slightest action that appears irregular, the least effort to distract attention, or the first unnatural movement, will create suspicion; and mere suspicion will deplete the company, as no one but a simon-pure fool will knowingly play against more than ordinary chances. There is one way by which absolute protection against unknown advantages may be assured, that is by never playing for money. But a perfect understanding of the risks that are taken may aid greatly in lessening the casualties. An intimate acquaintance with the modus operandi of card table artifice does not necessarily enable one to detect the manipulation, but it certainly makes plain the chances to be guarded against, and with this cognition the mere suspicion of skill should at once induce symptoms of cold feet. This knowledge, or thorough comprehension of the possibilities of professional card playing, can be imparted only by practical illustration of the processes employed, and the reader desiring a complete understanding should take the deck in hand and work out for himself the action as it is described.

To discriminate and show clearly the two phases of card manipulation, the first part of this work is devoted to an exhaustive review of the many advantages that can be, have been, and are constantly taken at the card table, and to those particular methods of obtaining these advantages that are least liable to arouse suspicion. The exact manner in which each artifice is performed is fully described in minutia. Part second describes the sleights employed in conjuring and many very interesting card tricks.