I know what a three-card-monte game is, but I don't know what the author wants to say when he says "he wasn't a three-card-monte-man". I don't find any really intuitive connection between the game and the meaning in this context. Does that mean he wasn't a wizard?

I was not long set before my friend returned. He looked pale and rather old, refused to hear of food, and called for tea. "I suppose all's up?" said I, with an incredible sinking. "No," he replied; I've pulled it through, Loudon - just pulled it through. I couldn't have raised another cent in all 'Frisco. People don't like it; Longhurst even went back on me; said he wasn't a three-card-monte man." "Well, what's the odds" said I . . .

From The Wrecker by R. L. Stevenson and L. Osbourne, chapter X, published 1892


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    It means he wasn't good at or didn't enjoy playing three-card monte. English often uses that pattern: "To be honest, I'm not a cat person" means I don't like cats much. Sep 27, 2023 at 13:19
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    He was not a gambling man, especially when the situation is rigged against him. Three card monte is a guessing game where the dealer uses sleight of hand to dupe the victim. Sep 27, 2023 at 13:48
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    Longhurst didn't want to be associated with it and he withdrew his support.
    – Sam
    Sep 27, 2023 at 15:15
  • Yes, that's right. But what do you take the word "three-card-monte man" to mean in this context? How does the image of a three-card-monte man match the role of Douglas B. Longhurst. In my opinion it's a false picture or the three-card-monte man is just meant to be a wizard.
    – philphil
    Sep 27, 2023 at 16:47
  • As pointed out by TimR, this is a colloquial reference by Longhurst meaning that he was averse to a risky gamble. In this reference, a "three-card-monte man" would be someone willing to take a risk at a game known for having few winners except the dealer/house. Sep 27, 2023 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


'Three-card-Monte' isn't just the name of a card game - it is a known confidence trick. The player never wins and is tricked into losing money.

On the surface, three-card-monte looks like a simple game of guessing the position of a specific card out of 3 dealt cards - a 1 in 3 chance of winning. However, in this trick, a third person working with the dealer gains an observer's confidence and tells them they know how the trick works and how to beat the dealer. They may say, for example, that the cards are marked or bent in some way so the dealer knows which is which. This encourages the person to play because they think they can win; however, the opposite is true, ensuring the player loses. For this reason, "a three-card-monte man" cannot be the same thing as "a gambling man", as anyone who knows what three-card-monte is knows that there are no favourable odds.

Your text is talking about failing to raise money ("I couldn't have raised another cent in all 'Frisco'"). By saying he wasn't a "three-card monte man" perhaps Longhurst is saying he wasn't prepared to raise money by immoral means. Alternatively, he may be referring to the scam because it has a 'guaranteed' return for those that run it. Looking at the wider text, it goes on to talk about "the odds", which could be the real chances of raising money properly.

  • That sounds good enough to me though I wouldn't say Longhurst wasn't prepared to raise money "by immoral means" but that he wasn't prepared to raise money - or to "conjure" money - by "whatever" means - "at all". That's why I suggested the word "wizard".
    – philphil
    Sep 28, 2023 at 11:43
  • @philphil I don't understand what you mean by "wizard"... what does that have to do with the context? The expression "to conjure up" is almost always used flippantly as it suggests that something cannot be created out of nothing, or "out of thin air". Literal three-card-monte is a scam. It is a guaranteed win for those who run the scam, and immoral. If you don't think it is talking about morality then perhaps it is about the guaranteed return, because I looked at the wider context and the next line is asking about odds.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 28, 2023 at 11:44
  • Doesn't a wizard conjure something sometimes? And a three-card-monte man can as well conjure money by his tricky skill in my opinion.
    – philphil
    Sep 28, 2023 at 11:49
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    @philphil There's no such thing as wizards in real life. But there is such a thing as three-card-monte. So I'd say they are different analogies. One is about making money out of nothing, the other is about making money out of people by cheating them.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 28, 2023 at 11:50
  • If you've ever been to NYC, you'd get this without any trouble. Just go to Times Square. Yes, it's a con. I can never figure out why people don't upvote correct answers. See it here: static01.nyt.com/images/2016/10/17/nyregion/17crimescene/…
    – Lambie
    Sep 28, 2023 at 12:29

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