Advantages that are bound to ultimately give a percentage in favor of the professional are absolutely essential to his existence, and the means employed at the card table to obtain that result are thoroughly elucidated in this work. We have not been impelled to our task by the qualms of a guilty conscience, nor through the hope of reforming the world. Man cannot change his temperament, and few care to control it. While the passion for hazard exists it will find gratification. We have neither grievance against the fraternity nor sympathy for so-called “victims.” A varied experience has impressed us with the belief that all men who play for any considerable stakes are looking for the best of it. We give the facts and conditions of our subject as we find them, though we sorrowfully admit that our own early knowledge was acquired at the usual excessive cost to the uninitiated.
When we speak of professional card players we do not refer to the proprietors or managers of gaming houses. The percentage in their favor is a known quantity, or can be readily calculated, and their profits are much the same as any business enterprise. Where the civil authorities countenance these institutions they are generally conducted by men of well known standing in the community. The card tables pay a percentage or “rake off,” and the management provides a “look out” for the protection of its patrons. Where the gaming rooms must be conducted in secret the probabilities of the player’s apparent chances being lessened are much greater. However, our purpose is to account for the unknown percentage that must needs be in favor of the professional card player to enable him to live.
There is a vast difference between the methods employed by the card conjurer in mystifying or amusing his audience; and those practiced at the card table by the professional, as in this case the entire conduct must be in perfect harmony with the usual procedure of the game. The slightest action that appears irregular, the least effort to distract attention, or the first unnatural movement, will create suspicion; and mere suspicion will deplete the company, as no one but a simon-pure fool will knowingly play against more than ordinary chances. There is one way by which absolute protection against unknown advantages may be assured, that is by never playing for money. But a perfect understanding of the risks that are taken may aid greatly in lessening the casualties. An intimate acquaintance with the modus operandi of card-table artifice does not necessarily enable one to detect the manipulation, but it certainly makes plain the chances to be guarded against, and with this cognition the mere suspicion of skill should at once induce symptoms of cold feet.