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Laura London: Ten ways to cheat

By | Published on Monday 15 August 2016


Close-up magician Laura London is performing ‘Cheat’ at the Voodoo Rooms this Fringe. To get you in the mood, she introduces some famous female cheats from cheating history, before providing ten tips for cheating at cards.

I’ve been working as a professional close-up magician for the past fifteen years. But latterly I’ve been obsessed with the world of card cheats and hustlers; their stories, their lives and their methods. There’s a huge crossover between magic and card cheating. Both professions use very similar techniques, a combination of digital dexterity and outright cunning.

It’s not just magicians who are curious about cheats, it’s the public too. Movies like ‘The Sting’ and ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ portray them as quirky anti-establishment characters. Roguish knaves. The reality is far from that, but there is undoubtedly an element of the romantic, in fiction and film, when it comes to the depiction of con-men and hustlers.

On viewing these popular cultural images one question occurred to me. Where are the women? It turns out that they are as rare in the card cheating world as they are in magic, but I can tell you that they did exist and they were good too.

Two of my favourites are Poker Alice and Madame Moustache. Poker Alice, real name Alice Ivor, was a well known gambler in the American West, though she was originally from Devonshire. It is said she made as much as $250,000 while playing poker from the early 1900’s till her death in 1930. Alice was a skilled poker player but not averse to using her charm and beauty to distract her opponents at the table. She was also a good card counter, the skill of keeping track of which cards have been played.

In contrast Eleanor Dumont was a cheat through and through and notorious for crooked play. She was famous in the mid 1800s as a woman who flirted with the men to keep them at the table where she dealt. As Eleanor got older she grew a line of dark hair on her upper lip and ran a brothel, hence the nickname Madame Moustache.

In my own show in Edinburgh I tell the tale of another cheat, Geraldine Hartmann, but you’ll have to come along to hear those details. Until then here are a few of the ways that Geraldine used to hustle people out of their hard earned cash when playing cards…

1. If you’re dealing get a glimpse at the bottom card of the deck. Just knowing the position of one card gives you a huge advantage.

2. If there’s a mirror on the wall, use it to get a look at your opponents’ cards. If no mirror, then even a glass on the table or the surface of a cup of coffee can be used to reflect the face of a card as you deal it from the deck.

3. Mark the high cards. Easy to do if you have long nails. Just press them into the edge of the card.

4. Card counting. Very useful in Blackjack. Memorise the high cards that have already been dealt. It’ll help calculate the odds when you draw new cards to your hand.

5. Ringing in a Cold Deck. Gambler’s jargon for switching in a deck that has already been stacked so you will win.

6. Stealing chips from the pot. Risky but a sure way to take home the money

7. Planting cards on your opponent to let them take the blame; dirty play.

8. Control the shuffle. Yes, you really can shuffle any cards to any position ready for the deal. Takes lots of practice though.

9. Have a shill. A shill is a secret partner. Cheat so he is the winner. It takes the heat off you when you’re dealing. You split the winnings later.

10. The Drunken Mitt. Pretend to be drunk and while people are trying to cheat you, you cheat them!

Laura London performed ‘Cheat’ at Voodoo Rooms at Edinburgh Festival 2016.

Photo by James Millar