weekend in Monte Carlo is a strange place with barriers, road closures and ugly
billboards scattered around a beautiful city infested with beautiful people and
their ugly wealth.
prospective con artist, it must be like “Con Christmas” as millionaires are
pushed to the back of the crowd by billionaires and everyone is fighting to
prove who and what they are.
It’s not my
cup of tea, frankly, and I was only there to perform a private show for clients
before heading home on race day but had a whole day to walk, explore and hop
from one cafe to the next in search of the perfect espresso.
In a small coffee shop off the main drag, I met the owner who proved to be a gold mine of stories about scams and deception and almost – almost – saw him take a guy for thousands of euros with the simplest proposition bet I’ve ever seen.
the end, all he won was free coffee in his own shop but trust me, it’s still
Meet Mr. Coffee, The Con Artist
I have no idea
what his name was, or if I even learned it, but I remember taking refuge from
the sun in his shady shop, ordering a coffee and watching the ridiculously
wealthy parade of tourists pass by his window while I shuffled a deck of cards.
“Ten of spades!”
he shouted, snapping me back to reality.
shop was surprisingly empty and he was clearly talking to me, but despite
having a deck of cards in front of me, I was still baffled.
“On top – the
ten of spades, I bet you!”
I quickly guessed that he’d been watching me shuffle and had spotted the 10 of spades as I riffled the deck higher than I should.
Perhaps he had
leaned down to take a pastry from the cabinet and seen the 10 arrive on top but
as far as I could remember in the aftermath of my absent-minded people watching
exercise, I hadn’t actually touched the cards for 10 minutes or more.
immediately intrigued me since, if he had spotted the card, he had waited long
enough to make it seem more impossible.
good grift right there.
“How much?” he
I laughed but
renegotiated – if the top card was the ten of spades, I’d buy us both a coffee.
The truth is I could easily have switched the top card with a second deal or a double or a palm or a pass or a hop or a change, but for the price of a coffee (even in Monte Carlo) I would rather have known if he was right.
enough, I ordered another espresso and one for my new friend.
We chatted a
while and I thought at first that he might be an amateur magician but as it
turned out he was actually a part-time gambler who liked to make bets he
couldn’t lose and shared several with me in return for a couple of card tricks.
It was a great
afternoon and if it had ended right there, I might have forgotten all about it.
when Mr. Suit walked in.
Meet Mr. Suit, The Mark
Mr. Suit was
Italian in cloth only, his accent part-English and part-American.
I’d love to
tell you he was an asshole who needed to be taken down but in fact he was nice
enough and actually quite friendly.
expensive suit, shoes, watch and haircut clearly labelled him as fair game to
the coffee guy.
The newcomer ordered
a coffee and stood at the counter to drink it while the coffee guy complimented
him on his suit and claimed that despite his own less attractive attire, he
could probably be just as wealthy as his well-heeled customer.
All of this
was said in good spirit and Mr. Suit was charmed and amused by Mr. Coffee,
until the bet was proposed.
It was a
cunning trap set by a seemingly innocuous comment about how “you can always
tell who has more wealth by who carries the least money”.
questioned that rationale and asked Mr. Coffee to explain – and that’s how the
trap was set.
“I’ll tell you
what. I bet you you’re carrying more cash in that nice suit than I have in my
Mr. Suit was
immediately baffled but Mr. Coffee carried on.
“Wait! I want
to play fair.”
then removed his wallet and a thick, folded bankroll, placing both on the
my pocket against everything your pocket says you have more money in your
pocket than I have in mine,” he said.
I’d heard this
bet before and was suddenly being played in front of my eyes (and no doubt, for
my benefit) but would it work.
Mr. Suit was
frozen in time, looking at the cash on the table and I already knew the hook
at his slender frame inside the neatly tailored suit, one could tell there was
no way he was smuggling a thick wad of cash in those perfectly trimmed pockets.
He started to
speak, and I could feel that familiar moment where a mark just can’t help
But as soon as
he started to say: “Actually—“, he stopped and reconsidered.
pressed him, but the mark was already backing down, smiling and reaching for
his wallet to pay for his coffee.
“I’d love to
take your money,” Mr. Suit said. “But I have a feeling that’s just a twenty
Euro wrapped around a bunch of fives.”
He slid out a
credit card, paid, tipped, and left with his own story to tell, completely
unaware that he nearly lost all his cash to Mr. Coffee.
I stayed a
while, hoping he might repeat the scam on a better sucker but as the place got
crowded, Mr. Coffee was too busy to make any more bets.
So, what was
the scam and how would it work if Mr. Suit had taken the bait?
Mr. Coffee’s Scam Explained
There are a
couple of ways to play this little swindle but the basic idea is that the con
artist (Mr. Coffee) needs to produce a thick bankroll so that the potential
mark realises that it’s much more than he or she has in their own pocket.
But once the
cash is on the table, the trap is already set and the bet can be lost or
Coffee’s cash was on the table, his pockets were empty and so the bet “you have
more money in your pockets than I have in mine” is automatically won if the
potential mark has any money on them at all!
It’s a simple
bet based on clever wordplay and is probably welched more often than it wins
but one thing was clear: Mr. Coffee had done this before and if I had been
wearing an outfit that cost as much as a small car, he might have tried it on
I still wonder
if he’s still around, trying his luck on gullible tourists with too much money
in their pockets.
Either way, it
was great to see a simple prop bet in the hands of a seasoned professional!
Best of all,
he refused to charge me for my afternoon caffeine and we parted as friends.
A Variation Side Bet
A while ago I
saw a similar version of this scam played during a poker game where one player
bet all the money in his pocket against all the money in his opponent’s pocket
that the next card would be red.
player emptied his pockets as he made this bet and I realised it was the Monte
Carlo scam in a different guise.
But if it was
black, he’d no doubt have pulled out his empty pockets and reminded his
opponent of the wording of the bet.
For more real-life sneaky bets and cons, check out: