A confidence game, also known as Find the Lady and Three-card Trick, in which the victims (or “marks”) are tricked into betting a sum of money, on the assumption that they can find the target card (or “money card”) among three face-down playing cards. The Three-card Monte, existing since the 15th century, is an example of a classic “short con” in which a shill pretends to conspire with the mark to cheat the dealer, while in fact conspiring with the dealer to cheat the mark. Consequently, the mark has no chance whatsoever of winning, at any point in the game. The psychology of the Three-card Monte con is to increase the mark’s confidence until they believe they have a special ability to cheat the dealer and win easy money. To increase the mark’s motivation to bet, they will also employ standard strategies such as having the dealer be rude, so there is even more reason to want to take his money.
To play, a dealer places three cards face down on a table, usually on a cardboard box which provides the ability to set up and disappear quickly. The dealer shows that one of the cards is the target card, (usually the queen of hearts), and then rearranges the cards quickly to confuse the player about which card is which. The player is then given an opportunity to select one of the three cards. If the player correctly identifies the target card, the player gets the amount bet (the “stake”) back, plus the same amount again; otherwise, the stake is lost.
Before a mark arrives, the shills pretend to play, so as to give the illusion of a straight gambling game. As the mark watches the game and other (fake) players winning and losing money, they notice that they can follow the queen more easily than the shills seem to be able to, which sets them up to believe that they can win the game. However, dealers employ sleight of hand to prevent the mark from finding the queen, by picking up one of the cards with one hand, and two with the other. Therefore, the mark follows and pick the wrong card. If the the mark manages to find the right location of the queen by pure chance, one of the shills posts a higher bid, which the dealer immediately accepts, so the mark looses the game inevitably.