Can you beat me at the three shell game?
Can you beat me at the three shell game?

Have you heard of the 'Three Shell Game'? It's one of the oldest and best swindler's tricks, going back at least to Ancient Greece, and the below clip of me performing it in Times Square shows why you should never place bets with street performers!

Magic fans might recognise it as a version of 'Cups and Balls' or 'Find the Lady'.

Three or more identical containers are placed face down, and a small ball is slipped under one of them. Players from the surrounding crowd are then asked to bet on which container holds the ball (the swindler often offers to double the player's stake, if they get it right.) Of course, while it looks like a game about following a shuffle, it's really all in the sleight of hand.

It's psychological, too: a good con artist will let the player win a few times before beginning the trickery, or have friends planted in the crowd.

The game is illegal in most countries, with good reason! It's a fabulous trick, one of the best, so don't part with any money if you see someone performing it in the street. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is... and as they say in War Games, the only winning move is not to play.