The Big Con
he tip is a game for con men who are also gamblers, for it requires some dexterity in the manipulation of the cards. It is really no more than a crooked poker game with the confidence element added. However, the confidence element is the thing that hooks the mark and makes a good score possible, while at the same time it reduces the possibility of trouble resulting from the swindle. There are many different versions of the tip, and many different approaches used to hook the mark, but fundamentally the game differs little from time to time and place to place. Each mob works out the method which is best adapted to its needs, its abilities, and to the mark at hand. It is essential that the insideman have some experience at dishonest gambling and that he can successfully manipulate cards.
The mark is usually selected through someone who "puts him up"--that is, gives the con men his name and some details about him in advance. One expert tip player now operating gets his "sucker lists" from a girl friend connected with a large Chicago firm which supplies all kinds of crooked gambling equipment--marked cards, loaded dice, shiners, card holdouts, etc.--to would-be sure-thing gamblers. Few real professional gamblers buy these devices, and when anyone places an order, it is practically certain that he likes "the best of it." This tip player organizes his lists geographically and visits all those in one section at a time.
The roper approaches a mark in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Says he, "Mr. Jones, when I was in Scranton last week, I was making inquiries for an honest and trustworthy man in Harrisburg. Mr. White, who is a friend of yours there, said that you could be trusted in anything, and said I couldn't find a better person for the deal I have in mind."
"What's on your mind?" asks Jones.
"This is the situation," explains the roper. "But first, have you any scruples against making some sure money in a poker game?"
"Suppose I haven't?" asks Jones tentatively.
"Well," continues the roper, "this man I want to take the money away from has just inherited nearly half a million dollars. He loves to gamble and likes the best of it. He has cheated with me in several games."
"Yes," says Jones. "Go on."
"I met him in Pittsburgh this last week and he told me that he was coming to Harrisburg to look at some property. He is here in the city now. I told him that I was coming here to play in a little businessman's game, and he was all ears. He wants to be in with my play, for he knows that I can cheat any card game anywhere. I told him that I played here quite often and that I would see that he got into the game. He always carries a big bank roll on him and tries to make his money win for him. He is a sucker for gambling and is bound to lose his money. We might as well get a little of it. He will have at least $10,000 with him when he comes.
"Now I have figured out a way to beat this man. You don't have to have any money. I'll furnish you with all the money you need. You just do as I tell you and you will win this man's money. Then after the game we will divide the profits."
Mr. Jones agrees that he would like to be counted in on the deal. So the roper tells him to report at the hotel in the afternoon, and he will give him the final instructions for the play.
That afternoon the two men meet in the hotel lobby.
The roper asks the mark to buy the cards at the cigar counter. This is done to allay any suspicions he may have regarding marked cards. The roper provides himself with a large box of matches. They go up to the room to set a trap for their victim. The roper pulls the table to the center of the room and spreads the bedspread over it so as to have a good surface on which to shuffle the cards. He seats the mark at the proper place, gives him $100, and keeps $100 for himself.
"Now play carefully with that," he admonishes the mark, "for it is all I have. At first we will play 'percy pots' and you won't have to show your hand until it is called. You can open a jackpot on anything, just the five cards you hold in your hand. You understand?"
"Yes," says Jones.
"All right. Now I'll play along for a while and then I'll lose my money to you. That will give you $200 to play with. And you never show your hand unless it is called. Just as soon as I lose my money to you, I'll get out of the game and sit behind the man. I can see his hand from there and I'll tip his hand off to you so you'll always know what he has."
"But," says Jones, "how will I know? How will you signal me?"
"It's easy, and you can learn it in five minutes," says the roper. "Here I'll show you." Then he shows the mark how he will signal vvith his fingers to indicate the contents of his opponent's hand. The mark has hardly memorized the signals when the insideman calls from the lobby. They tell him to come right up.
"Where is everybody?" he asks. "I thought there was a game going on here."
"The boys will be here any minute," says the roper. "Let's get things going."
So they start to play, the matches selling for a dollar apiece. The insideman displays large quantities of money and bluffs heavily. The roper throws off his money to the mark, as arranged, then takes his place behind the insideman, who is betting from $100 a hand up. The insideman asks the roper, "Do you want to be in with my play?"
"No," says the roper, "I'm broke and if you should lose, I couldn't make my end of it good. I'll just stay out now. You go it alone until the other boys come up."
The game goes on, with the insideman using a shiner so that he can see what he deals the mark, and signaling the roper what to tell the mark. The mark gets the roper's signals perfectly. The stakes go up until there are large jackpots every hand. Then comes the "spring hand." The insideman sees that he has dealt the mark two pairs. He gives the roper the office to tip the mark that he, the insideman, has one pair in his hand. The mark bets fifty dollars on his hand. The insideman raises him $200. The mark stays with him. The mark has the best of it. They draw cards, but neither helps his hand.
"What will you bet on that good hand you are holding?" asks the insideman. "I'm going to make you lay it down."
The mark, feeling sure of his ground, bets all he has in front of him, perhaps $150. The insideman pulls out his bank roll and says, "That's all right. I'll take you and raise you $500 more."
The mark has only a few bills in his pocket, say twenty dollars, and he puts that up. The insideman starts to beef about a showdown. The mark sees his winnings slipping away. Then the roper gives the mark the wink and says, "You can get it, can't you? Here we'll put the cards in an envelope and I'll hold them until you come back."
"O.K.," says the mark. "I have it in the bank. You hold the cards and I'll be right back."
The insideman says, "O.K.," and the mark starts for the door.
"While he's gone, I'll try to round up the boys," says the roper, and starts for the door also.
"Here, here," says the insideman, "I doubt that either one of you will be back. So just pay me for the chips you have before you leave."
"Oh, we'll be back," says the mark. "At least I will," and hurries out.
In the hall the roper shows the mark the hands he has in the envelope. There can be no mistake. The mark holds the winning hand. The roper goes with him to the bank and urges him to get enough money to raise the insideman and force a showdown. The mark gets all he can, for he knows that the insideman has enough money with him to raise again. He draws, say $1,000. The two return, the hands are laid out, and the mark wins the pot.
Another hand is dealt and the process of "faro-banking" begins. The mark knows that the insideman has a large bank roll with him, and lusts for more of it. The signaling process goes on, and the mark wins and loses, while the stakes mount up. To the mark it looks like a repetition of the first play, so he raises his bets as fast as he dares. Finally in the excitement of the play the mark bets his hand before the draw. The insideman draws out on him, thus winning the pot. There are many variations in the method of "putting in the sting," but the principle remains the same.
Sometimes the roper blows the mark off immediately. However, if he feels that the mark has more money in the bank and if he still has the mark's confidence, he may send him back to the bank again with the assurance that this time there will be no slips and the promise that they can recoup their losses--$200 of which apparently has been sustained by the roper.
To cool the mark out, the roper may use any one of a number of tricks. A favorite one is to take him to the telegraph office and wire for a friend of the roper's to come immediately on the next train and bring plenty of money and a hold-out machine. This leads the mark to believe that it is only a matter of hours until they will take the insideman for his bank roll. Meanwhile, the roper may give his personal note (worthless, of course) for the amount the mark has lost, since the roper claims to feel some responsibility for the mark's losses.
A thousand dollars is a good average score on the tip. Often the mark yields less, and sometimes of course he is good for more. A score of $3,000 is considered very good, while one of $5,000 is phenomenal.
One of the earliest con men to specialize on the tip was Old Man Jennings. Later came Bill Bennett, Scotty, Wildfire John and others. Today any of the con men who gamble proficiently are likely to fall back on it for a touch.
Excerpted from The Big Con by David Maurer. Copyright © 1999 by David Maurer. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Anchor, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.