Titanic Thompson by Kevin Cook is a deeply flawed book about a reprehensible man that has many lessons for market people. The deep flaws in Ty's persona are ably expressed by Herman Keiser, a former masters winner, who was just one of Ty's hired stooges, hired to pretend to be a caddy. "He was a thief," Kaiser said. "One day, at 80 he shows up at my house with a partner and two young girls. Herman, I've got a plan that's gong to make you rich. Give me 5,000, Herman." I tell him, "Ty, stay here. I'll be right back." I go to the house and get my 22 pistol. I come out and tell him, "Get outta here right now or I'm gonna shoot you."

Ty had no shame in cheating his best friends. When he was a sergeant in the army, he cheated all the soldiers under him out of their pay check. When in an old age home, he cheated all his fellow patients out of all their money. His father stole his mother's last money, and Ty treated his wives similarly. Worst of all, he fixed the game that Arnold Rothstein lost his fortune in and that led to Rothstein being murdered, when he welched on the deb on the grounds that he had been cheated.

And yet, there are many things we can learn from him. The first is the importance of practice. He practiced card throwing, dice throwing, horse shoes, shooting, and golf in line with the 10,000 hour rule and became the best in each of them. He kept records of the throws and was able to reduce the odds of throwing a 7 in dice with various dodges. He always made his proposition bets the kind that he had fixed before hand, and that could not be tested afterwards. I like the one where he offers to retrieve a golf ball from Lake Michigan 100 yards out in the winter where he marks many balls with an x before hand, and then retrieves one with an x, but no one is likely to swim into Lake Michigan and dive in to the bottom to test him. Or the time he bet that he could hit a golf ball 500 yards and he did on a frozen Lake Michigan, but he had the rules of the bet set down in writing before hand so he didn't have to hit it 500 yards on the course.

Also good was his trick of throwing loaded lemons and peanuts over a roof where the object he was throwing would disappear. His numerous proposition bets make you realize that you should never take the opposite side of a derivatives bet, as there is always something you don't know. The advice in Guys and Dolls about a jack squirting you in the eye if someone bets you it will, is a good one. Never accept a deal that looks too good to be true.

What a waste. He was so skilled. About the best golfer, horse shoe thrower, shooter in his day. He could throw a key through a key hole, and chip a put into a cup loaded with water so the ball wouldn't fall out from 15 feet, or flip 50 cards in a row into a hat 10 feet away.

What evil lied in this man, and how many men were ruined by him.

The best thing anyone ever said about him was that he would never steal or hustle all the money from someone who would kill himself afterwards. How fortunate that he died broke, hated by everyone including his son. And how the biographies show that evilness is inherited. His father and he were both the most evil of men, who thought of nothing but themselves and gaining money by any means and it runs in his family with his kids.

My favorite con of his: 

He dresses the best golfer of his generation up as a farmer. Has him driver a tractor around a gold course for a month, pitching manure, and chopping trees. Then he goes to the golf club where they've seen the farmer doing his rounds routinely and says he'll challenge the best two player in the club to a match, and they can choose any partner for him in the world. They choose the farmer. The farmer is a -4 handicap and they win and rush out of town.

Ty was very good with the gun, had to kill many people, and was often in jail and left for dead by thugs. Had to travel with a body guard as he was always cheating to win, and his fellow gamblers were as adept at marking cards, and using wires as him.

One con that he tells is hiring Harry Lieberman to feed him checker moves in a checker match against the best in Kansas city through a wire. Hard to believe that a checker player would do that, and the story doesn't ring true as supposedly the wire told him when a move was bad as he was wavering and touch move must have been played.

His cons remind me so much of the kind that the brokers play when they send you a big research report on a company or industry or country and then offer to take the other side of your trade. You are in the same position as the club people who insisted the farmer be his partner.

Gordon Haave comments: 

My experience when they offer to take the other side of the trade, if you press them, is that they say they are just a middleman and are offloading the risk on someone else. Or course as they own the fed, treasury, congress, CFTC, and FINRA they can pretty much do whatever they want.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

A fellow Arkansan and famous pinup girl who also used the results of hours of practice to advantage :

'Jeanne Carmen was born in Arkansas in 1930 into a family of poor cotton sharecroppers. She ran away at 13, first to St. Louis, then to New York City, where she eventually landed a job as a fashion model. In 1949 she got an assignment to model clothing for Jack Redmond, a local golf pro and shop owner. Carmen, who had never seen a golf course, was modeling different outfits at Redmond's indoor golf range when he playfully asked her to take a swing at the ball. A lefty, she spun the right-handed club around in her hand and, with the back side of the club face, smacked the ball into the canvas backdrop, knocking it off its support.

"You sure you haven't played before?" asked Redmond. He then set up the backdrop again. "He had me stand on the other side of the ball and hit right-handed," Carmen recalls, "which was harder, but I knocked the drape down again."

Redmond asked her to come in the next day: "I'd like someone to see you."

The next day Redmond had the golf champion Jimmy Demaret watch as Carmen hit balls.

"They were oohing and aahing," she says, "and I thought, 'What's the big deal?' I don't think this is a very difficult thing."

Finally, Redmond said, "I think I can make a trick-shot artist out of you," and asked if she would mind coming in two or three times a week.

"Sure," she said. She hit nearly every day, sometimes for hours on end, for six months. Then she was ready.

"I could stack three balls on top of each other, which itself is very hard to do. I'd hit the middle ball 200 yards, the top ball would pop up and I'd catch it, and the bottom ball would rest, untouched. I could hit the ball 200 yards while standing on a chair on one leg. I could hit a flagpole 150 yards out."

She and Redmond traveled up and down the East Coast, putting on three shows daily at various clubs and earning upward of $1,000 per day. For their finale, she would have a volunteer from the gallery lie flat on his back and tee a golf ball between his lips; then she would drive it 200 yards without disturbing so much as a whisker.

Within a year personal differences ended this lucrative partnership. Carmen then met a dapper young man from Chicago, John Roselli, and moved with him to Las Vegas. Roselli was a lackey in the Chicago mob who helped run the Sands Hotel. When he found out about Carmen's golfing talents, he told her, "Look, honey, we're going to play a little game here." The way he described it, she says, "He said we're never going to take a nice guy. We're only going to take the assholes, and I know who they all are."

"I could hit the ball 200 yards while standing on a chair on one leg. I could hit a flag- pole 150 yards out…."
"Well, that sounds good to me," Carmen recalls saying. "What did I know?"

Roselli would plant her in a lounge reading a magazine. He'd sit at the bar, scouting for pigeons. Eventually he'd strike up a conversation and steer it toward golf and gambling."That's not so great," Roselli might say. "Even I could beat that." Then, pointing at Carmen, "Hell, even she could beat that."
Says Carmen: "And the guy might say something like 'Maybe in the bedroom but not on the golf course.'"

Wanna bet?

The group then would go over to Carmen, who, pretending to be a stranger, would innocently agree to be a pawn to their betting proposition. Dressed as provocatively as the era would permit, she would stand on the first tee and spin the club around in her hand, feigning to have never played before.

"I'd hold the club all wrong and then duff it, or slice it, whatever. After a couple of holes the guy would say, 'This is getting to be a bore. I'm going to win this hands down.' And John would say something like, 'Give the lady a chance. Give it a few more holes.' And then I'd get a little better and a little better. Until right at the end, when I'd start reeling them in. We'd win every time. They never knew what hit them."

The two worked the scam for about a year, until one day when Carmen slipped. She'd had a drink while waiting for Roselli to set up the mark, and, a bit tipsy, started playing too well too soon. The man knew he had been set up. "He was carrying on, complaining," Carmen says, "and Johnny said, 'Look, pay up, you lost the bet. Pay up and let's call it a day.' But this guy refused."

Roselli told Carmen to go to her room; he'd call her later.

"He then roughs this guy up. He calls me and tells me to get to the roof of the Sands Hotel. I get up there and open the door to see Johnny toss this guy over the side. Oh, my God. I'm in shock. I'm crying. So Johnny says, 'Come over here and look.' I didn't notice that the guy had a rope tied around his ankle. I go over and see this guy dangling down there… . He pulls the guy up and … Johnny's got his money and cuts the guy loose.

"Right then I decide I'm in too deep. I had to get out of there. I go pack my things." She moved to Los Angeles and became a star in B-movie potboilers such as Guns Don't Argue, Reckless Youth, and Born Reckless. '

Jeff Watson writes:

 I'm not a chess player, never have and never will be one. I know how each piece moves, a little strategy and that's it. However, school my best friend was a solid chess player and a member of the chess club, however ranked kind of low on the totem pole. I heard of a surefire method to beat a whole group at chess without cheating and ran a proposition against him and a bunch of the guys in the club. I bet him and the guys that I could play chess against the club and win at least 50% of the games, no draws allowed, play each game to the conclusion, and also beat the process;. We commandeered a classroom and set up 16 chess boards on desks in a circle around the room with me in the center. I assigned different numbers to different tables and when one would make a move, I'd make that exact move on another player. In reality, they were playing each other, and I was just the mailman. I won exactly 50% of the games and I beat my roommate by having him play the club champion. I couldn't believe that they fell for that one, but I made the bet so high that their greed made them irrational and the took the bet hook line and sinker. If that is cheating, that's up to someone above my pay grade. I thought it a clever bet, like most of my props but never used gaffs only percentages, exact terms, paradoxes, math, or physics to win. The lesson here is that one can make a bet so high that people will take it, especially when they think they have the edge. If one makes a really, really high bet, the edge better be huge. The best prop hustlers play games that they have an edge in, play it for freeze out, and let old man vig grind away at their opponents stack. Small prop games like flipping coins can be played for loose change, you will have a very high edge, and your friends will be delighted and amused, thinking you're clever, while you take their money. Gotta let your opponents win sometime as someone once said, maybe it was Runyon that "While you can shear a sheep all the time, you can skin him only once."

Nigel Davies comments: 

This is an old con that was repeated on TV by Darren Brown. I'm sure that the assembled titled players knew very well what was happening but they must have been getting well paid to get them to wear suits! 


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