My favourite card cheat of all time isn’t the riverboat swindling George Devol or the modern criminal mastermind Phuong Quoc Truong but an awkward man in his twenties. An ex magician from Melbourne. I’ll call him Willis here.
The last time I saw Willis he wanted nothing more than to be a professional card cheat. He spent hours practicing, hiring several local sleight of hand artists to help with his second deals, his false shuffles and his deck switches.
He’d make the rounds of pub competitions and private poker games spending hours at the table waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Some nights, he’d play poker for hours and only walk away with fifty dollars profit.
But he didn’t care. Because he was a card cheat. A crossroader. A mechanic.
He dressed like a card cheat too, wearing a brown pinstripe waistcoat and pants, a cream coloured shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows and fedora atop his head with an ace of spades sticking from the brim. He could have worked as a stock image model for the keyword “Card Cheat.”
“What are you doing Willis?”
I’d agreed to meet him for coffee at the Double Up Bar at Crown Casino. I was running late and, when I arrived, I found him bent over a saucer with a green marker, colouring in grains of what looked like salt.
“I’m colouring in salt” he said, not looking up.
“I see.” I replied, easing into the booth next to him. “Why?”
He tap the side of his nose with his finger. The marker in his hand brushed against his cheek leaving a small green mark.
I ordered a coffee and waited for him to finish. When, finally, the white grains were emerald, he carefully took off his ring, flipped open the secret compartment in bezel and carefully poured the salt in.
“It’s a poison ring” he told me in a hushed tone, snapping the lid shut and sliding the ring on to his finger. “You hide a little arsenic in it and you can knock off your enemies by flipping it open near their drink.”
I moved my coffee away.
“Who are you going to poison with green salt?”
“I’m using the salt to create a break in the deck.”
A break is used to secretly mark a particular position in the deck. For example, in a pinkie break, the cheat allows the fleshy pad of their little finger to seperate the deck at a specific point.
“I shuffle the cards, stacking the deck in my favour.” He continued. “Then I open the ring, dumping a little salt on the top of the deck. That way, when the deck is cut by another player, I’ve got the grains of salt to tell me where the top of the deck is. I uncut the deck at the salt and—BAM—I deal myself a winner hand.”
As he said BAM he slammed his fist on the table. The ring popped open and the green salt spilled out on to his napkin.
In theory, the idea would work. With enough practice a cheat can cut the cards to the tiniest of breaks. Even a slightly bent card (a crimped) is enough to create an easily found break. There was no reason why a few grains of salt wouldn’t have the same effect.
Of course, I had no idea why he didn’t just crimp the top card of the deck instead of going to all the trouble of putting salt into a ring. But that was Willis. He always wanted the most elaborate method.
“Why is the salt green?” I asked.
“I tried it out at a pub game in Thornbury.” He shrugged, picking up the spilt salt and pouring it back into the ring, sweeping the remainder on to the floor. “I got away with the move but, a couple of hands later, one of the other players said ‘Why the hell is there salt all over the table?’ and everyone looked at me. I figure if I colour it green it want stand out from felt on the table.”
I never did ask Willis what happened with the green salt. The next time I saw him he was trying to build his own Kepplinger Hold Out from gear he’d picked up from Bunnings and OfficeWorks.
But I assume, somewhere in a pub in the middle of suburban Melbourne, in the middle of a game of poker, a player looked down and said “Hey! What’s with all the green salt on the table?”
Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne Magician, author and collector of scams.