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Hustling The Mark
A common con game in fiction, particularly in comedy. It works like this: Someone challenges a person to a "friendly game" of something, be it cards, some kind of sport or something else. At first, they seem to be bad at the game and will repeatedly lose to the other person. Then they will suggest a wager. The minute the wager is made, they suddenly become good at the game and beat the other person hands down. A longer, and more expensive version, is to lose a series of small bets and then apparently attempt to bluff the mark
into going away with a very large, dangerous bet that completely overwrites the previous losses.
The defeated party has just been the unfortunate victim of a clever scam artist. In other words, the mark has just been hustled. Big time.
Often involves the use of Obfuscating Stupidity
. A subtrope of Short Con
. Truth in Television
. There have been many famous hustlers in Real Life
Note: This trope does not refer to ANY kind of scam. It specficially refers to a particular con involving a competition of some sort.
May contain spoilers.
Anime and Manga
- Popped up in Hikaru no Go. Hikaru is looking to recruit a kid from his school who is very good at Go, but who prefers to use his skills in semi-shady Go-parlors where money is bet on the outcomes... and he's not shy about cheating to make sure he takes home the cash, either. Eventually, however, he falls prey to this. A drunken patron plays him for a game, screws up impressively, and loses a small bet. Drunkenly complaining, he suggests a second game, with a much bigger bet, and the kid - thinking him an easy mark - agrees, putting all his money down. However, as soon as they start playing, the 'drunkard' changes, turning out to be a highly skilled and intimidating player, who is apt at sleight of hand himself. Turns out, he's actually a famed hustler who was hired by the local players to teach the kid a lesson, since they were tired of being cheated by him all the time. Sure enough, he beats the kid soundly and takes his money.
- In Mudazumo Naki Kaikaku, George W. Bush does this against Taizo during a game of Mahjong. Yes, it's one of those series.
- Duke Devlin does this to Joey in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, pretending to be a total novice at Duel Monsters, only to reveal the skills of an experienced player a few moves into the match.
- Occurs in a Dork Tower story arc. After hearing that Igor has never played poker, Ken eagerly invites him to join his poker game. At first, Igor frustrates the other players with his naive questions and obvious tells, but by the end of the evening he makes off with all of the winnings. The final strip shows Igor talking to someone on a cell phone about how he fooled everyone... while being pursued by a very angry Ken.
- In one Archie story, Mr. Weatherbee reveals he used to hustle people at “pitching pennies” when he was younger. Miss Grundy, who claims to be bad at the pastime, convinces him to show off his skills in a friendly game. If Mr. Weatherbee wins, Miss Grundy buys him lunch and if Miss Grundy wins, he buys her a dozen roses. It turns out Miss Grundy is an expert at the game and she easily defeats him.
- A Lucky Luke album has a scene where hucksters Denver and Colorado joins a poker game pretending that they have never played the game before. Naturally, they soon prove themselves to be suspisciously "fast learners".
- Naturally, this trope was used in The Hustler as well as its sequel The Color Of Money.
- Woody Allen's film Take The Money And Run sees the main character attempt to become a pool hustler and fails miserably.
- The entirety of the movie Diggstown is about this: hustles, counter-hustles and counter-counter-hustles.
- It's possibly subverted and played straight in the same scene. Oliver Platt's character tells everyone in the bar that he's good and poker and pool and everyone still accuses him of hustling when he wins, which he calls them on. However, he's also been drinking heavily, but had taken a pill to prevent intoxication which he was feigning.
- Enter the Dragon has Those Two Guys pulling this trick in a tournament fight.
- In an early scene of Maverick, the title character asks to sit in on a poker game, and finding the players reluctant he assures them that he never cheats, hardly ever bluffs, and promises to lose for a full hour. True to his promise, he spends the first hour generally acting the fool and doing things like "accidentally" displaying his hand to the entire table right after it's dealt, and loses a fair amount of money... and then proceeds to clean everyone out once the hour is up because he spent that hour figuring out everyone's tells.
- This happens in several Abbott and Costello movies. Typically it's also subverted in that Abbott 'tricks' seeming clueless innocent Costello into a game of dice or poker, only for Lou to walk away with everyone's money.
- Poker tournament mockumentary The Grand features a player who acts like he's never played poker before, not knowing the difference between a good or bad hand, when he should bet or how much, that sort of thing. None of the other players ever find this out, but this was a persona he had constructed based on something he'd read in a veteran pro's book — he's actually a very experienced online poker player.
- Happened to Nanny Ogg in Witches Abroad, playing the card game Cripple Mr Onion against a group of young men on a riverboat. Then they tried it on Granny Weatherwax. She managed to beat them without even cheating, just using headology.
"... when an obvious innocent sits down with three experienced card sharpers
and says 'How do you play this game, then?', someone is about to be shaken down until their teeth fall out."
- The titular Prince Roger demonstrates the Discworld quote above at the beginning of the second book:
"Spades?" Roger asked. "What's spades?"
"I can' believe I get taken by my own pocking prince," Poertena grumped much later as he and Denat watched Roger walk away, whistling cheerfully while he counted his winnings.
- Gaunt's Ghosts got in trouble pulling this for an unusual reason. One of the people involved was brought up before the Inquisition - and forced to prove that the method he was using to cheat did not involve the use of psychic powers.
- Denna pulls this in The Wise Man's Fear when playing cards with Kvothe and his friends.
- In Neal Shusterman's book Scorpion Shards, Dillion does this with several games of pool. He loses the first, bombs the second, and pulls out his wallet, demanding a rematch. When his opponent (convinced that Dillion's doing this to impress his girlfriend) throws down his own wallet, Dillion doesn't even let his opponent get one shot in.
- In the BattleTech novel By Blood Betrayed, protagonist Harley Rassor finds out in person that being subjected to this is practically an informal rite of passage for new recruits to the mercenary unit Able's Aces — like him. The idea isn't so much to relieve them of their money (although that can happen, a win is a win) as to see how long it takes them to figure out the scam and how they react once they do.
- Full House has D.J. hustle Michelle into doing the dishes after Michelle refuses to do them together. Michelle feels that she would much rather play jacks. D.J. says " Hey, Jacks, gosh, I was never any good at that. " Michelle challenges her to a game and wages that the loser of the game has to do the dishes by themselves. Good Ol' Deej obliterates her little sister in the game. D.J. even says "call me a sucker, but ok." Probably as close to gambling as a show like that can get.
- No, the closest they actually got to gambling was when Jesse and Joey played a game of pool. Jesse beats Joey hands down, but then Danny wants to play. Jesse mocks the strait-laced Danny for wanting to play, especially when Danny seemingly tries to use the wrong end of the stick to break. That's when Danny breaks and sinks three balls on his first shot, before mopping the floor with Jesse. Danny makes a hundred bucks off Jesse, and then gives Joey $10 for keeping his mouth shut about Danny going to college on a billiards scholarship.
- The Suite Life of Zack and Cody had a girl who was an expert at this. She hustled Zack out of some money and cleaned Maddie out of a large number of candy bars.
- In a recent episode of Jonas LA, Macy pulled this off on Nick and Kevin during a game of golf.
- Used by Mimi one time on The Drew Carey Show when she was going to hustle Drew at bowling, but then some other guys challenged them and she & Drew ended up teaming up on the Short Con.
- Happens in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. First Will racks up considerable debt to a pool shark and has to call Uncle Phil to bail him out. Uncle Phil refuses to give his money to the pool shark, and instead challenges him to a game, unfortunately not being very good at it. And then... Geoffrey... Bring out Lucille..
- Supernatural has Sam and Dean hustling a pool player like this once onscreen. Though that particular occasion falls through, it is implied that this is how they make a good deal of their money usually, since they don't exactly get paid for their other kind of work.
- Played straight on a episode of Family Matters in which Eddie and Urkel get hustled at a pool hall for more money than they have and require Carl and Grandma Winslow to get them out of their mess in yet another game of pool.
- Once in Drake & Josh, Megan first hustled Drake in a game of darts. Drawing inspiration, he goes to the pool hall and starts hustling there. Josh disapproves of the dishonest way to earn money, so he hires his two burly camp counselors to scare Drake straight afterwards.
- Appears in one episode of Degrassi High. The cool kids invite nerdy, insecure Arthur to their poker party so they can take him for all he's worth. He's totally out of his depth — at one point, he asks, "does three of a kind beat a full house?" But he suddenly starts winning, and by the last hand, it's down to Arthur and the host ...and Arthur wins almost all the money by bluffing when his hand is complete junk. The cool kids are amazed, then Arthur grins and says, "'Does three of a kind beat a full house?' You guys are so gullible."
- In the Victorious episode Freak The Freak Out, Jade, Tori, and Cat pull off a rather awesome example on Haley and Tara. (Complete with Oh, Crap looks on Haley and Tara's faces when they realized Tori wasn't the pushover they thought she would be.)
- Subverted in an episode of Leverage, in which Ford pretends to pull this trick on his mark, in a game of poker. When the mark realizes he's been scammed, he pulls a gun on Ford in front of a room full of undercover cops, which was the actual con.
- Hustle, obviously. Though, being Long Con artists, they tend not to go for competition hustles as often as they might. Still frequently enough to be mentioned here, though.
- Daphne does this at a pool hall in the Frasier episode "You Can't Tell a Crook by His Cover":
Opponent: All you have to do to win the game is pot those five balls. So what do you say we double our bet?
Daphne: Oh, I might as well. I never really have understood this game. Never understood it, when I started playing with me older brothers, at the age of six. And I never understood it during all my formative years, spent mostly in the pool halls of Manchester. Playing in local competitions and club tournaments ... winning cup after cup after cup ... until our poor dad had to convert the pantry into a trophy room. And I can't really claim to understand it — eight ball in far corner — even today. But I certainly do enjoy it.
- In Auction Hunters, Allen and Ton are negotiating with a potential buyer over the price of a pool table. Eventually, Allen convinces the buyer to settle the final price over a game of pool: the buyer wins, the buyer pays his last offer; the auction hunters win, the buyer pays their last offer. The buyer is allowed to pick the game; the buyer picks nine-ball. Cue Ton: "Dude, what's nine-ball?" The buyer is then asked which of the two auction hunters he'll face. Naturally, he picks Ton. The moment the two shake on it, Ton grins very widely, letting the buyer know he's in trouble. After the buyer scratches on the break, Ton proceeds to pot all the balls on the table, finishing with a two-rail shot on the nine ball.
- In one MADtv sketch, a pool hustler and his accomplice try to con someone, but fail because it is very obvious that they’re hustlers.
- In Dracula, Dracula is playing cards with some rich gentlemen and seems to have already lost a lot of money. However, we are shown that he can use his vampiric Super Senses to see the reflection his opponents' cards make on their eyeballs, so it is obvious that he is hustling them. Sure enough, the next day Dracula is the owner of the company shares one of his opponents owned which were the real reason he was playing cards with the man.
- Farscape: Rygel at one point gets beaten by a pirate captain in a game of "Tadek", basically space chess, while providing a location for another character. After the game, he tells Moya's other crew that he deliberately lost in order to keep the captain from being suspicious of the fake coordinates, and the pirate was so bad at the game that losing required a great deal of skill.
- In Mass Effect 2, the Normandy's engineers at one point invite Shepard to participate in a 'friendly' game of Skyllian Five (the local IN SPACE! version of poker). If Shepard simply accepts, you lose some credits, having been hustled by Donnelly. Alternatively, a Paragon Shepard can hustle the hustler, or a Renegade can basically order the engineers to let you win.
- Plankton in Sponge Bob Square Pants takes the long view with this trope. He threw friendly poker games to Krabs for fifteen years until he finally got him to wager SpongeBob and won.
- In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Barbary Coast Bunny", Bugs is disguised as a gullible country bumpkin in a poker game against the villain. The villain gets a full house, to which a dejected Bugs moans, "Gee, all I got is two pair. A pair of ones, and another pair of ones." (That's a Quad of Aces, an extremely high hand that can only be topped by a Straight Flush. note )
- Attempted by Peggy in King of the Hill after she and several friends had been conned by a diploma mill. She failed at hustling, but succeeded in the Kansas City Shuffle.
- In one episode of The Simpsons, Homer is hustled at checkers by a chicken. The bird was apparently clever enough to lose the first few games to build up Homer’s confidence.
- Homer once bulked up one of his arms and goaded his mark into an arm wrestle while keeping only his weaker arm visible.