Three Card Monte

Find The Lady, Chase The Ace, Running The Red, Three Card Molly.

Tourists and commuters with a taste for gambling and a quick buck.

Two to eight crew members are involved, each with a variety of tasks.

The Scam
The victim is drawn to a group of people playing a simple card game, follow the winning card amongst two losing cards as all three are mixed face down on a table or box. The victim thinks they have figured out the game but always end up losing.

All variations have the following in common: -

  • Their are at least two con artists and one victim. (It COULD be done with just one man but this is not sustainable.)
  • The 'money' card is switched with a losing card without the victim seeing.
  • The victim never wins money.

The switch is achieved via a move called The Hype. This move allows the con artist to appear to be throwing the winning ace down at the start, when really is throwing down a losing card.

Closed Monte
The most basic version of this scam has two con artists. The inside man and the outside man. The outside man pretends to befriend the victim and brings him into the game which is run by the inside man. The outside man and the victim are both players are united against the inside man who is actually tossing the cards. This allows the con artists to convince the victim to play.

When the cards are thrown in a fair manner, it is referred to as a "toss" or "throw". However, if the con artist use sleight of hand to throw the winning or 'money' card into a different position, it is referred to as a "hype".

The outside man will play a few rounds and win a little. He will encourage the victim to play to. Particularly when it appears to be a sure bet. As soon as the victim plays, the con artist uses the hype and the victim loses. This basic scam is called a "closed monte" and is played in private.

The Dollar Store
Invented by early 20th Century con artist Ben Marks, The Dollar Store is a cheap shop set up to provide a venue for the Monte. The customer comes in looking for a bargain and just happens to arrive during an seemingly impromptu game of cards is being played.

Street Monte
To make the game more succesful, other members of a monte crew can be introduced to perform certain tasks, particularly when the game is played on the street. The victim is not aware that these people are a part of the scam.

  • Roper: Similar to the outside man. Brings in new victims.
  • Lookouts/Slides: Looking out for the police. They will shout "fold" or "slide" and the game breaks up.
  • Handler: Runs the whole scam without taking part.
  • Capper: Outbids the victim if he somehow manages to pick correctly.
  • Booster: Loudly wins a large amount of money.
  • Gate Closers: Obscures victims or witnesses that the crew do not want to play or watch. They will also get in the pay of tourist's cameras.
  • Muscle: If the game turns ugly, a beefy protector can come in handy.

Street monte can be seen on La Ramblas in Barcelona, Queen's St in Stockholm and at markets such as Marché aux Puces de Clignancourt in Paris. It also has a strong presence in New York subways.

Country Boy
The victim is brought into the scam as a 'member' of the crew, thinking that another man, usually a bumpkin, is the victim. The victim has to contribute money to the scam in order to be a part of the con. This money is stolen via the Jamaican Switch.

The con artist or a confederate accidentally marks or bends the corner of the winning card so that the victim can always follow it. The mark or bend is moved to a losing card via sleight of hand. The victim bets on the card with the bent corner and loses his money. Obviously, he can not complain that he was cheated because he is cheating.

The Keened Eyed Victim
One con artist loses the game several times. He then asks the victim for 'help'. With the victim's help, he starts to win money. The victim sees others betting and winning based on his guesses and so beats himself. If the victim does not bet, the hustler will raise the stakes and his confederate will ask the victim to go partners with him to cover the beat.

Other Variations
  • Magicians will often swap the winning card for a THIRD losing card. This is never done by con artists despite being depicted this way in films, tv and books.
  • The game is broken up by the police directly after the victim loses preventing him from trying again. The police are paid to do this.
  • Having a confederate lose more then the victim so that the victim does not feel as bad. This is a cool off.
  • The game is a massive distraction to allow pickpockets to crowd in an pick the victim clean.

Hungarian Monte
Perform with tin disks instead of cards. The winner disk has a paint spot on it.


Trinidad Monte
Performed with rubber disks instead of cards. The winning disk has a chalk mark or spot on it.


There is a fairly thorough set of references for Three Card Monte in the Scoundrels Bibliography.

Historical, Short Con, Gambling, Cards, Street, Playing Cards

Bets on this game tend to fall around the $20-$50 mark but, like all gambling, there is also the potential for a big bet. A shell game con man will always ask his victim to bet more than first asked.

Created by Nicholas J. Johnson
Australia's Honest Con Man