Is that a shill or shell game?

Sep 19, 2005 1:57 AM

Carol, do you remember when we were in San Francisco and visited Fishermen’s Wharf? We went there to eat a fresh fish dinner.

Well, there was a group of folks there playing a game, about four or five people playing and another two folks serving as "lookouts" just in case the authorities showed up!

Then there was the operator of the game and two shills. A shill is a pretend player that gives the impression to the "innocent" players that there are more people playing than there really are.

In this game, it was arranged so the shills were winning large amounts of green money.

Remember, I took out some money as if I wanted to play the game and show you how the swindle was taking place.

Then you could see how the operator, the two shills and the two lookouts were cheating the people out of their money.

I did all this but I don’t remember telling you the name of the game was "Thimblerig."

Thimblerig — it sounds innocent enough. In this game, the operator or "thimblerigger" places a seed or button or other small object under one of the thimbles. Then he deftly scoots the thimbles around on a small table, which is really all the equipment they need to pull of the swindle.

After the thimblerigger has pushed the thimbles around, he ask one of his shills to pick out the thimble that hides the object. In the process, the shill places a bet and wins $200 for the $100 he bet.

The games had been under way for a while and the betting increased from one dollar, then progressed to $10, then $20 and finally into the $100s.

Of course, the shill "wins" each time he bets. And the innocent "sucker" watching the action is also mentally picking the same thimble, so it all appears so easy. In his mind he believes he can win and now wants to play.

So the sucker or "trick" pulls out his green $100 bills and plays.

At first he is allowed to win a little, but the trick gets greedy and wants to play for more money each time.

But the thimberigger is a master of sleight-of-hand and can move and manipulate the seed and even palm the object so that it can end up in his hand or pocket and not under any thimble.

The poor trick really never stands a chance.

Some folks may remember this game better if it were played with nutshells, and the game was called a shell game.

Yes, the shell game has been in play for many, many years. But here in Nevada we have legal gaming and are protected from this type of game.

Thus, you will never see a shell or thimblerig game in Las Vegas.

Three things happen when a tourist comes to Las Vegas.

1. They bring money to play the games.

2. They lose some of it, and that is what pays the light bills and builds the beautiful hotels and makes Las Vegas a fun town to vacation and play all the fun games.

3. They have a good time, go home get some more money and come back as soon as they can.

Poker Tip of the Week

The shell game can also be played with three cards.

One of the cards will be an ace. The cards will be slightly cupped or bent and you will be asked to pick out the card that is the ace.

This game is sometimes called Three Card Monte. Do not play this game. I’ll tell you why next time.

Until next time remember to stay lucky.