The sidewalk shuffle is a game
played by magician
s and confidence trickster
s. The game is played with three playing cards
, two black and one red. Each card
is folded in half, so that the crease runs the long way across the card. The card is then partially unfolded, so that the card forms a tent
when face-down; each card should stand at roughly the same height.
The game is simple. The magician or con artist shows the three cards on a table to the audience or mark, saying something to the effect of "Red you choose, black you lose". He or she then picks up and drops the cards before the mark, shuffling them back and forth face-down in a manner similar to a shell game. When the shuffling is finished, the mark must attempt to pick the red card from among the three.
The fix to the game is in the shuffling. When a card is picked up, it is held by the crease with the thumb and middle finger. A second card is picked up under the first. With an exaggerated movement, the hand then appears to drop the lower card, but what actually happens is the con artist uses the index finger to bring the top card over to drop onto the table. A person skilled in prestidigitation can even use their index finger to bend or unbend the corner of a card, allowing the audience to believe that a card is marked with a bent corner.
The game is mainly used for entertainment. Some con artists play the game as an illegal gambling service on the streets of some large cities, using a shill to encourage players and to watch for law enforcement, as well as to help ensure that the money won is successfully absconded with.