Unfair Advantage: The Anatomy of a Con Game
Anthony Riniti on Saturday, March 15th, 2014 Comments Off on Unfair Advantage: The Anatomy of a Con Game
Anyone can be had, but a ‘sucker’ isn’t just anyone. A sucker will bet you twenty bucks that he can’t be had, and there’s a sucker born every minute. To the untrained eye, street cons like Three Card Monte, the Shell Game, and Fast and Loose seem like simple games of chance. If you know which card is the queen , you win. If you know which shell hides the pea, you win. If you know which loop holds fast, you win. Everyone knows that these games depend on skill at sleight-of-hand, but they do not understand the true nature of the game, in which sleight-of-hand plays a very small part.
The real secret to these ancient swindles is not about what the victim knows, but what he doesn’t know – about himself, his situation, and the way the world works. This documentary will take you on a fascinating journey into a world of mystery and deceit, and will demonstrate for the viewers how easily we can all be taken in by these masters of manipulation.
A street con is a fully scripted performance in which a half dozen well-trained ‘actors’ each do their part to place the victim in an unreal but believable situation in which every step in his thinking and decision making is manipulated and controlled until he is willing, and in fact, determined to wager everything he has on what he believes in a sure thing.
Through the prudent use of re-creations, complemented by illustrations, paintings, and photos, we will delve into the forgotten history of these swindles – and the colorful and brilliant characters who created them. These were men such as kindly ol’ Doc Bennett – Napolean of the Thimbe Riggers’ – who trimmed the suckers with a tiny scrap of paper; Canada Bill Jones – the slickest ‘rube’ that ever was; hard-headed George Devol who never lost a fight and never gave up a purse; ladies man ‘Lucky Bill’ Thornton who, in 1850’s San Francisco, took in $24,000 with the shell game in less than two months time; and the incredible ‘Soapy’ Smith, who ran Denver and the rich mining towns of Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska with his gang of over a hundred conmen. These fabulous hustlers made fortunes on the steamboats, trains, and street corners of nineteenth century America, and in the process helped create a point of view which has shaped how all Americans look at business and ethics today. We’ll look at how the ‘ministers of mistrust’ viewed their work, lifestyles, and victims.
We will demonstrate how a well trained mob of conmen can take a sucker for hundreds – even thousands – of dollars in less than seven minutes , and be back on the street again, operating on another victim, in less than fifteen minutes. In fact, the viewer will experience for the first time ever, a behind-the-scenes look at how a decent, law-abiding citizen can be suddenly transformed into a greedy, reckless, and dishonest opportunist – at how conmen with a deep understanding of human nature can appeal to our lowest instincts in their attempt to turn us into victims.
It’s true you can’t cheat an honest man, but these conmen and women know how to speak to that little bit of larceny in all of us. No one places a bet in these games unless he fells that he is morally superior to the grafter, that the grafter needs to ‘be taught a lesson,’ and that, most important, he has a secret ‘unfair advantage’ over the grafter.
All of these thoughts are illusions manufactured by the hustlers – illusions that melt into smoke the instant that a card is turned or a walnut shell is lifted. The reality is that it is always the conman that has the ‘unfair advantage.’ Each new sucker is merely the latest unsatisfied customer for the longest running and most successful play in history.