• Nicholas J Johnson

How to rig a coin toss

Back in 2016, Hilary Clinton won the Iowa Caucus off the back of a coin toss in high school gym. In 1903, the Wright Brothers choose the pilot of their historical flight the same way.


In 1959, Buddy Holly's guitarist went head to head with Ritchie Valens to see who would get the final seat on Holly's plane. Valens won but the plane crashed killing the young singer, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper.


Is there a way to control fate? To make the coin land the way you want every time?


There are several sneaky techniques, relying on human psychology, physics, and the probability that make this possible. To find out more about the psychology of deception, check out my Melbourne high school science incursion: Deceptology.


Here are seven ways to beat the coin toss:



1) Bet on whatever is face-up on the coin at the start of the flip.


Stanford math professor and men with way too much time on their hands Persi Diaconis and Richard Montgomery have done the math and determined that rather than being a 50/50 proposition, "vigorously flipped coins tend to come up the same way they started."


A coin that starts with heads face up will land on heads 51% of the time. If that margin seems slight, remember that a roulette wheel makes casinos millions with similar odds.


(Persi has an amazing book on the mathematics of magic.)


ODDS: 51/49 ODDS OF GETTING CAUGHT: LOW

2) Play First To Three


Penney’s Game is a great method of getting 7 to 1 odds on a coin toss. Each person guesses what they think the outcome of a coin toss will be. E.g. HEADS TAILS HEADS or TAILS TAILS HEADS. The coin is flipped until someone’s combination is tossed.


Let the other person guess first and you can win one in seven times by using the following formula:

  1. You first pick is the OPPOSITE of their last.

  2. Your second pick is the same as their first.

  3. Your third pick is the same as their second.


ODDS: 1/7 ODDS OF GETTING CAUGHT: LOW


3) Learn the feel of a coin


Toss the coin fairly and, when you catch it, feel which side is face-up with fingers. Tails are usually rougher than heads. Slam the coin on the back of your hand accordingly and you win.


ODDS: 1/1 ODDS OF GETTING CAUGHT: HIGH


4) Flip The Coin Like A Frisbee


Rest the coin on the back of your thumb with your index finger wrapped around it. As you toss, don’t flick your thumb but instead use your index finger to spin the coin like a frisbee. Practice this move until you’ve got it down pat. Add a little wobble and the move looks like a regular toss.


This move requires the practice and sleight of hand skills of a professional magician. It isn't for the faint-hearted.


ODDS: 1/1 ODDS OF GETTING CAUGHT: MEDIUM


How To Beat A Coin Flip

5) Use a Double Side Coin


American, British and European currency can all be purchased as double-sided coins from any magic shop. Learn how to switched the gaffed coin for the straight one before you even think of going up against a professional gambler. I recommend the Bobo Coin Switch.




ODDS: 100/0 ODDS OF GETTING CAUGHT: HIGH


6) Practice


If you practice your coin toss using the same coin over and over, eventually you can get your odds of winning up by pure force of will alone. Go for three to four flips maximum and try to get the coin to land on a soft surface to avoid rolling or bouncing. Carpets, table cloths or your hand are best.


ODDS: 70/30 ODDS OF GETTING CAUGHT: LOW


7) Be A Jerk

Call “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” as the coin is in the air and hope they're not paying attention.


ODDS: 100/0 ODDS OF GETTING CAUGHT: HIGH


On the flip side (see what I did there) the best way to make coin toss fair is to have a flipper who is impartial, a coin with a bit of weight, and a hard table or floor for the coin to land on.


Got any coin tosses to add to the collection? Email me here.