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Card Sharp

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The Cardsharps (ca. 1594) by Caravaggio

"Trust me, son. When I play cards, it ain't gambling."
Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell, Prison Break

Quick hands. The prestidigitator member of a con team, who sometimes works alone. Frequently, the tricks he pulls have to do with manipulating playing cards, hence the name, but a team will sometimes call on a card sharp to make a tricky switch, "dip" a pocket, or put up a fancy misdirection. Likely a Hustler, their favorite routine is Hustling the Mark into getting their guard down enough to make a foolish bet.

May or may not be a Death Dealer. A Five-Aces Cheater doesn't bother as much subtlety. Compare Professional Gambler. Has a good chance of getting into a Gambling Brawl or being hit with Tar and Feathers.

"Card Shark" is a variant of the term which doesn't always imply cheating, just a penchant for playing cards. Often in the US it refers to the professional gambler who focuses on card games.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Both Firo and Keith Gandor from Baccano!. Firo's picked up enough tricks from managing an underground casino that not only can he slip cards in and out with the best of them, but can pick marks well enough that he can nearly sweep a casino without cheating at all. Keith, on the other hand, cheats so much and so blatantly that he has a deck of cards composed entirely of jokers.
  • In Cowboy Bebop
    • Faye is highly skilled in conning people in a game of cards (also dice, though then she just flat-out cheats with rigged dice).
    • Spike's no slouch either and was able to spot Faye's con a mile away.
  • Protagonist Allen Walker from D.Gray-Man is an expert at cheating in cards due to the horrible experiences with debt he had from being with General Cross.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Daniel J. D'Arby, one of the villains in Part 3, is a gambler who specializes in this. He considers cheating just part of the game, fully expecting his opponents to cheat as well. Unlike most, however, he prefers rigging the entire game well before any cards are dealt. Jotaro defeats him by bluffing so perfectly that what's actually in their hands doesn't matter... which is good, because Jotaro had crap.
  • Unsurprisingly, comes up frequently in both Kaiji and Akagi.
  • Nearly every major character in The Legend of Koizumi is able to cheat at Mahjong in some way.
  • In Liar Game, the 17-Card Poker game becomes a battle of dueling card sharps: Akiyama uses skill and strategy, while his opponent uses superhuman reflexes honed from an aborted career in boxing to track the cards.
  • In No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, the socially awkward protagonist Tomoko cheats at a trading card game. Against kids. And she's a high-schooler. Her cousin is not impressed.
  • Gojyo in Saiyuki frequently cheats at cards. Hakkai can still beat him though, so one wonders if his playing style is completely orthodox.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bandit Keith tends to use this method of cheating. In his semi-finals duel with Joey, he slips his "7 Completed" cards out of his wristbands (which Pegasus notes and later explains after Joey wins the duel), and in his anime-only duel with Yugi, he keeps cards in a special gadget kept up his sleeve.

    Comic Books 
  • In Fables Jack has the ability to draw into four Jacks anytime he wishes during a poker game. The trick is to only do so only with a very large pot since it only works with four Jacks and his opponents would catch on if he tries it a second time during a game.
  • Though it rarely comes up as a plot point, the lead G.I. Joe pilot, Capt. Brad Armbruster, didn't get his codename Ace from being a top pilot, but rather from his love of cutthroat poker. His superiors look the other way regarding his gambling habit, since he's not only that good a pilot, he's not really "gambling" at poker since he never loses.
  • A recurring character type in Lucky Luke, either seen at the edge of a poker table or being on top of a rail being escorted out of town after the requisite Tar and Feathers.

    Film — Live Action 
  • "Shooter" (Karl Malden) in The Cincinnati Kid — a tragic case, as he is a psychologically broken honest player who is blackmailed into using his "mechanic" skills.
  • Dealt examines the life and career of Richard Turner, a blind "card mechanic" who demonstrates how card games can be manipulated to result in the exact outcome he desires.
  • The Lady Eve: Jean is a card sharp from a family of card sharps; her part of the con is to lure gullible and smitten young men into a game where they can be cleaned out by her father. It goes wrong when she falls In Love with the Mark.
  • It's card sharp vs. card shark in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels when card sharp Eddy goes up against "Hatchet" Harry. Harry has someone with binoculars spying on Eddy.
  • Quite a few sharps in Maverick got caught cheating during the big riverboat poker tournament (the penalty for which was being tossed overboard). The dealer at the final table was also one, surreptitiously dealing from the bottom of the deck (this is known as "base/bottom dealing", by the by).
  • Clark Gable's character Babe in No Man of Her Own (1932).
  • Matt Damon's character facilitates this role in the Ocean's trilogy. Also, Brad Pitt and George Clooney clean out a poker school of celebrities in the first movie.
    Ocean: Cause yesterday I walked out of the joint after losing four years of my life and you're cold-decking "Teen Beat" cover-boys.
    • Constance from Ocean's 8 is first seen robbing unsuspecting tourists from their money using the Three-card Monte con.
  • Rotten Luck Willie in Paint Your Wagon.
  • Edward Norton's character, "Worm," is a card-sharp, or "mechanic", in Rounders. His more honest gambling buddy, played by Matt Damon, warns him against utilizing his tricks against players with sharp eyes who might turn violent if they catch him at it. Worm doesn't listen, and a group of cops beat the ever-loving piss out of them both and confiscate tens of thousands in winnings before kicking them to the curb.
  • The Dean, Vernon and Larry in the poker film Shade (2003). Larry tries to cheat a poker game only to lose his mob boss's money (and shortly thereafter his life). The game was a con to steal the boss's money. The Dean and Vernon each use their skills in the film's final hand, with Vernon's three Jack's losing to Dean's three Queens. It's a con designed to bankrupt Vernon's partners Tiffany and Frank, who had each betrayed him in different ways.
  • Paul Newman's character in The Sting demonstrates his skill against Lonnegan as the setup for the big con. (The card manipulations in the film are actually performed by John Scarne.)
  • Tazza: The High Rollers is a Korean movie about a whole gang of card sharps who specialize in the Korean game of "hwatu". Mr. Pyeong is The Mentor, who trains young Goni in how to cheat at hwatu—palming cards, dealing from the bottom of the deck, and other parlor tricks, all used to scam the mark.
  • In Within Our Gates, the dealer at a card game has a mirror that he uses to see who is getting which cards. This precipitates a shootout.

  • From The Crystal there's Saern, a sorcerer, who apparently cheats using both magical means and mundane. Don't bother catching him at it, he'll act offended and fireball you.
  • In the Discworld series:
    • In Witches Abroad, the witches run into some, but Granny manages to beat them without cheating or using magic, and supposedly without having played the game (the incredibly complicated Cripple Mr. Onion) before. She'd actually played it quite a bit while caring for a sick witch, but used her newcomer image for an advantage.
    • Moist von Lipwig created an alter ego to be this. Subverted in that the character was quite awful at being a card sharp, fumbling and missing golden opportunities to cheat. And when the mark left away, gleeful at having conned such a pathetic charlatan, they'd find that the few coins they'd swiped didn't make up for the wallets and watches they were now missing. And to add insult to injury, the coins are fake.
  • In the Gentleman Bastard series, the eponymous Locke Lamora successfully cheats in the safest gambling place in the world, where the mere act of cheating carries the death penalty.
  • Believe it or not, this was James Bond's original specialty - though he's certainly no slouch at fighting, killing, and seducing, the plot of his first book Casino Royale was all about out-gambling a Soviet agent. His card-sharping skills come in even handier during Moonraker.
  • Fisk from the Knight and Rogue Series is rather good at card tricks, though he usually sticks to cons that he can get more money out of and sneak away from easier. Unfortunately this skill doesn't see a whole lot of use. For Michael's sake, he'll usually stick to betting on whether or not he can do a trick than actually tricking people.
  • The Lacework Kid, from Damon Runyon's story of the same name. ("Lacework" refers to his artistry with cards.)
  • Subverted in River of Teeth. Cal Hotchkiss is introduced as a potential member of the Caper Crew Houndstooth is about to assemble and as someone who makes his living at the cards table. He then quickly proceeds to have his left ear cut off for being caught cheating and eventually is thrown to the feral hippos to die because he never learns his lesson. As it turns out, Houndstooth didn't want him for his nimble fingers but for his connections.
  • In Time Scout, Skeeter's as much a master at cheating with cards as he is with any other cheat. Picking pockets is just another part of the game.
  • Feodor Dolokhov in War and Peace.
  • The Way Of Kings (first book of The Stormlight Archive): Yalb, a sailor from Shallan's ship. He plays against cops, and he mentioned that the game isn't who will win, the game is will he cheat them out of their money or will they prove he was cheating, take all of his money and throw him in jail for the night to boot?

    Live-Action TV 
  • Face from The A-Team has been shown cheating at cards.
  • Londo tries this once on Babylon 5 using his, ummm...attributes. It doesn't work out to well.
  • Magnificent Bastard Arnold Rothstein from Boardwalk Empire gets his Establishing Character Moment by showing that he's a first rate poker player... and more than capable of cheating and getting away with it due to his connections on the occasions when that alone isn't enough. Keep that in mind, it sums up a lot about Rothstein's character.
  • Mr Terence Sampson in Downton Abbey is invited to the Abbey in Series 4 for a big house party, where he cheats Lord Grantham, Michael Gregson, and a few others out of substantial sums at poker. Gregson figures him out, and counters with the same technique (which he picked up in his "misspent youth"), winning back not only his losses but those of Grantham and the other guests (which he promptly returns to the respective players, particularly Grantham). Later, in the Series 4 Christmas special, he steals a love letter from the Prince of Wales to Freda Dudley Ward; the Crawleys invite Sampson to a game of poker at Grantham House as part of a scheme to get the letter back and protect the Prince from scandal.
  • Heroes: Hiro tries this with his time-altering super-powers at one point. Unfortunately for him, someone notices the switch, because he switched the cards after his opponent had already seen them.
  • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, both Joe and Luka are very skilled poker players, but Joe insists that Luka can never lose if she doesn't want to. When events lead to Luka and Joe playing poker against the Zangyak Empire, Luka proves her skills with shifty dealing to cheat their way to victory.
  • One episode of The Love Boat has a grandfatherly type hustling the crew at gin rummy. They exact revenge by spying on his cards through a porthole and using the ship's public address system to make coded announcements about his hand.
  • Porthos from The Musketeers is introduced cheating at cards in a tavern or inn.
  • Person of Interest: The number that The Machine spits out in "All In" points to an old "Mechanic" from the mobbed-up Atlantic City days. He used his skill at switching cards to win enough money at a casino to pay for his wife's cancer treatments, only to end up being forced to work as a money launderer for the casino's owner. It ends up being a Chekhov's Skill when during the climax of the episode he is forced to play Russian Roulette and is able to take the bullet out of the gun without anyone noticing.
  • T-Bag in Prison Break. Claims that maybe 5 people in the country can do what he can with cards. It's only significant in one episode, however.
  • Sneaky Pete has Eddie and Marius both very good at playing cards and conning people. Tate is also good at playing cards.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: When necessary, Data has shown that he can stack the deck (though in that case it was to send a subliminal message), squeeze a set of loaded dice hard enough to rebalance them, and count cards. When he needed money after being trapped in 19th Century San Francisco, he hustled another group of sharps using his abilities.
  • A G-rated version appears in an episode of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, in which a little girl scams Maddie out of all of her candy by getting her obsessed with trying to pick the right card. Then again, aforementioned little girl's father was pretending to be injured in order to get a free hotel room, so yeah.

  • In "Lay It Down (Saturday Night)" by Samantha Fish, she meets a card sharp named Jimmy, with an ace up his sleeve. The "it" she lays down is his body—in a shallow grave.
  • Nautilus Pompilius: In the song "Scoundrel and Angel", the scoundrel is a card sharp who won the angel's wings.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The hucksters of Deadlands find their lives last longer if they minor in sleight o' hand, as a little legerdemain goes a long way in convincing the Torches and Pitchforks crowd that, no, you didn't just summon spectral cards into your hand and use them to channel a stream of ghostly-white energy at your opponent. It was a trick of the light and nothing more. Some "hexes", like trinkets, even go so far as to allow a huckster to summon small objects literally from thin air into his hands, furthering the use of one as a Card Sharp con man.

  • In Carousel, Jigger plays blackjack with Billy and draws twenty-one every time, cheating him of all the money he would have obtained had the robbery they were about to attempt been successful.

    Video Games 
  • The game Card Shark is about playing a Card Shark in 18th century France in various high-stakes card games and learning various tactics to cheat your way to victory. The player starts off as an accomplice who helps his mentor count cards before becoming a proper card sharp by himself hobnobbing with nobles.
  • Dragon Age: Origins: Isabella, the NPC who can teach you the Duelist specialization for rogues, is a card sharp who's shown being attacked by some people she beat at cards when you first meet her. If you have a high enough pickpocket skill, you can out-card sharp her in a game, the greatest example being by letting her deal you a lousy hand and herself a winning hand, then swapping your cards while the two of you are holding them! She's impressed by how skillfully you out-cheated her.
  • Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist: The first baddie to show up in the last act.
  • Twisted Fate and Graves of League of Legends fame met in a card game where they both showed four aces for their final hand. Twisted Fate in particular embodies this trope, as he uses Death Dealer abilities in battle and has a repertoire of quotes related to gambling.
  • Left 4 Dead's Nick is stated as being a con man. He was down in Savannah trying to hit up the riverboat circuit when the infection hit.
  • The difficulty selection in Railroad Tycoon is represented by characters having a number of aces in their hand. The mogul has an extreme number of cards in his sleeve.
  • The Elegant Suit in Red Dead Redemption gives Marston the ability to do this, pocketing a single card to discreetly swap out at any time whenever it's his deal. Failing at the minigame causes him to lose his ante and initiates a duel with the player who caught him.

    Visual Novels 
  • The first case of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney has a witness who is a professional Card Sharp, hired to plant evidence to falsely accuse Phoenix Wright of being one himself. Hilariously, Phoenix Wright actually is one, but he's so good that he messes up the hired Card Sharp's plan by recognizing it and then subverting it without anyone noticing.

  • In Girl Genius Master Payne plays cards with a Wulfenbach soldier and they both take to cheating, though Payne seems to be coming out on top before their game gets cut short.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman in Batman: The Animated Series is skilled at slight-of-hand tricks (he learned them from Zatanna's father). In "Second Chance" he palms Two-Face's coin and replaces it with a trick one that will only land on its edge to paralyze the villain with indecision, and in "Joker's Wild" he swaps out cards in a hand of blackjack as he's looking for the Joker (who has taken the dealer's place at the table).
  • Smokescreen of The Transformers possesses a "built-in override wire" that allows him to hack machinery. In his spotlight episode he uses this ability to cheat at slot machines and use the winnings to free his captured fellow Autobots.


Video Example(s):


Playing For High Stakes

Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) warms up before the big poker game with a little help from magician John Scarne.

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