Three Card Monte
The Short Con Card Game
I love watching a street performer, or in this case someone running a short con, work a mark over with Three Card Monte. In starting up this new category, I didn’t know that it dated back to the 15th century, so not only is it a Victorian era game but it dates back to the late Renaissance as well. So, if you see someone running the Three Ladies at a Ren Faire, don’t think they are working out of timeperiod or that they are being anachronistic, they are simply working a con that has been around for a long time.
We are all pretty familiar with this game. The dealer has three cards. One is a queen. The dealer shuffles the three cards around the playing surface and of course allows the mark to one a couple of times to get them interested in making money. All of a sudden, the mark starts losing. He is allowed to win every once in a while but only enough to keep him interested and to draw a crowd.
Now, the fact that there are only three cards is the part that makes this a great performance in my opinion. Even if there is no money involved, it is always fun to watch the dealer, the shill work a crowd and a mark over to con them out of cash or at least make them look like they are a little slow due to the misdirection used.
Did I forget to mention the shill?
The shill is second part to the team. In the traditional version of the game, the shill pretends not to know the dealer and he acts as part of the crowd. He pretends to be in cahoots with the crowd, and especially the mark to make the dealer lose money, all the while he and the dealer are conspiring to take as much money as possible from the mark.
Now, outside of a gambling scenario, three card monte in the hands of someone that is talented, is amazing to watch. The relationship between the dealer and the shill, the patter that the use to build a crowd, the way they convince the mark to become the mark is some of the best live, street-side performance that you will find. In some cases, at faires especially you are going to find a magician doing three card monte style work. They are going to use the same tactics as the con man though. They are going to use misdirection, sleight of hand and of course a lot of fantastic language skills to suck in the mark and control the crowd.
This is one of my favorite street side performance games and therefore it was a no-brainer as the starter for the new Street Performer category. Remember if you have a favorite, email them to me.