Three-Card Monte Scam

By Alex Smith, Last updated Nov 4, 2022

If you have ever walked through a major city and seen little stands with performers showing a card trick, there is a good chance you have witnessed a three-card monte scam already, without even realizing what you are looking at.

The three-card monte scam is presented in a way that makes it look entertaining – a game that any passerby can participate in by simply walking up to the street performer. However, while it may look like a fun game on the outside, three-card Monte is a game that scammers use to trick unsuspecting victims. Many people have fallen foul of this scam, and on this page, we will closely examine how the three-card monte scam works.

We will show you why it is impossible to beat scammers when playing this game – and, later on, we will even teach you how to play so that you can have some harmless fun with your friends.

What is This Confidence Trick all About?

Three-card Monte is precisely as it sounds. The game’s rules are relatively straightforward, and the game begins with the dealer –the scammer – putting three cards on the table, all face down. The dealer will then show the victim the money card – and after showing this card, they will quickly rearrange the three cards on the table to confuse the player about the money card’s current position.

The victim is then asked to choose one of the cards. If they guess correctly, they win an even money payout – for example, if they had placed a bet of five dollars, the return would be $10. If they choose the incorrect card, they lose their bet.

However, three-card Monte is what is known as a short-con. This means the scammer attempts to deceive the victim once they have gained their trust. Before the victim places their bets, the scammer will appear friendly – and it is common to find shills in the audience to intimidate the victim into placing a wager.

Together, the scammer and the shill work to scam the victim, who doesn’t realize that they do not have any chance of winning any money. The three-card Monte scam can also be known as a confidence trick. A confidence trick is a scam that involves wrongfully presenting the odds and probabilities to an unsuspecting victim. The main objective of a confidence trick is to persuade the victim into thinking they have a fair chance of winning – even though, in reality, there is no chance of them winning.

Unfortunately, several natural human instincts like greed, vanity, and naïveté come into play – and these are often some of the key motivators for unsuspecting victims who play three-card Monte. Until the victim places their bet, the scammer will be friendly – but once the victim has placed their wager, the scammer will often become rude, obnoxious – or even angry. This is all part of a psychological trick to try and intimidate the victim and make them spend more money.

In most countries, scammers use a red card – usually the Queen of hearts – as the money card. However, the ace of spades can also be used in other parts of the world.

How the three-card Monte Works

If you are unfamiliar with how the three-card monte scam works, recognizing it can be pretty challenging, especially if you have no idea it exists. However, there are several tricks that most three-card Monte scammers use to attract unsuspecting victims – and below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common ways this scam is performed.

In most circumstances, when the victim first walks up to the table, the scammer andthe shills pretend that they don’t know each other. They will pretend to play a game between themselves to make the victim think everything is legitimate. However, two different tactics can be used; firstly, the shill may appear to be winning, relying on the victim’s greed to place a bet.

Secondly, the shill may make apparent mistakes and trick the victim into believing they can easily make more intelligent decisions to outsmart the dealer and win money. If the victim takes the bait, the scammer may even let them win a couple of bets to encourage them to place larger wagers. Once a big wager is placed, the scammer will make them lose.

Once the victim has lost their money, the scammer will claim that they have spotted the police, and they will quickly pack up their table and run away in different directions – leaving the victim dumbfounded, out-of-pocket, and angry.

When Was three-card Monty Invented?

It’s difficult to put an exact date on when the three-card monte scam first appeared. However, the first confirmed record of the scam being carried out was by a man called Canada Bill Jones – a well-known confidence trick artist who scammed hundreds of unsuspecting players during the mid-19th-century out of tens of thousands of dollars. Soapy Smith was another well-known con artist who successfully used the three-card Monte scam.

Today, three-card Monte appears on many TV shows and movies, and several educational shows have also been produced that reveal how the scam works and how you can avoid falling for it. For example, on the TV show “How Do They Do It,” celebrity illusionist John Lenaham performed the trick – and as a result, he became the first person to be expelled from the magic circle organization.

How The Fraudsters Trick Victims – The Wrong Card Trick

There are several different methods that scammers use to scam players successfully. The most common method is to use the technique of tossing the card onto the table and holding them. In essence, the scammer picks up one card with one hand and the two other cards with his other hand.

This allows the scammer to begin putting the trick into place, and while the dealer can toss the lowest card under the table, they can toss either the top or the bottom card from their hand at will. A three-card Monte scammer who is exceptionally skilled can do this without the victim being able to detect the move – and when executed successfully, this completely fools the mark, tricking them into following the wrong card. Unfortunately, even if the victim accidentally chooses the right card, one of the shills will just place a higher bet.

The scammer will then claim that they only payout the highest winning bet – although in this scenario, the victim does at least get their money back. If the victim chooses the wrong card, the dealer will accept their bet regardless, and they will lose their money.

Bending the Cards

Another widespread trick used in three-card Monte is the well-known bent corner play. This is a slight variation of the trick we have mentioned above, and scammers often utilize this tactic when they think they can extort a more significant amount of money from the victim.

After they have tossed the cards, the scammer will accidentally pretend to drop them on the floor. As a result, the money card will have a bent corner. Sometimes, the scammer might even look away from the table for a few seconds to pretend that they are getting something – and this tricks the victim into believing they have the edge over the scammer. 

As a result, the victim will often be prepared to bet a more significant amount of money, although, during that time, one of the shills will quickly bend the money card a bit.

As the victim does not know that the shills are working in collaboration with the dealer, they are oblivious to what’s going on – and if they end up placing a bet when the scammer turns back to the table, they prompt the victim to turn over the card they chose. 

By doing things this way, the scammer protects themselves from being accused of any accusations of switching the cards. However, the scammer unveils the money card during his accidental turning away from the table.

This version of the three-card monte scam is much less common as it requires much higher skill levels.

How To Perform the three-card Monte Trick

While we would never recommend playing three-card Monte on the street, it can be fun to trick your friends. Below, we will take you through the steps required to perform the three-card Monte step.

Firstly, you will need to prepare two black-suited cards and one red-suited card from a standard 52-card deck. Secondly, you must bend all three lines at the horizontal half-point. This makes it much easier to control and maneuver the cards. Once you have done these steps, grab all of the cards at the center crease you just made when bending them and show the cards to the player.

Next, you will want to drop all the cards with the winning card first, followed by the single losing card. Next, you drop the other loser card in the same hand as the winning card – and the unsuspecting victim will think they can easily follow the cards and predict where the winning card will be. Once they do so, pick up and hold the cards. This time, you will let the losing card slide first – while keeping the winning card firmly in your hand.

Finally, you drop the single losing card from the other hand, followed by the winning card – and if you manage to perform this maneuver correctly, the player will not stand a chance of accurately choosing the correct card. While the three-card monte scam may sound straightforward, it takes a lot of practice to master. When scammers perform this trick, they need to do so seamlessly so that the victim cannot tell they are being scammed.

It takes a lot of finger practice, discipline, and control to be able to pick up the cards in the correct way – and place them down on the table – and it can take months or even years to perfect the trick to a level high enough to be able to scam people.


Hopefully, by reading this guide, you will know what to look for when you see three-card Monte scammers on the streets. While it can be tempting to have a punt at games like this when you see them offered – especially when shills are working in conjunction with the scammer to deceive you – you should realize that the game is rigged from the very beginning.

Essentially, the game is a theatrical scam designed entirely to take advantage of players by pulling at various emotions. This scammer is always in complete control, and the victim always loses. If you run into three-card Monte on the street, you should alert local authorities, as what the scammers are doing is illegal. More so, you should also attempt to warn anyone who looks like they are about to play the game and point out that it is probably a scam.

Unfortunately, con artists have existed since the beginning of time. Scammers will always be looking at ways to deceive unwitting victims out of their hard-earned cash, and this is why you must try to be as vigilant as possible and know what you are looking for when it comes to scams like this.

If you see three-card montes played, the queen will typically be the “winning” card in the card game. The card table will ALWAYS make the scammer win – even if the card tricks don’t make it look like this in the beginning!

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