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  • Jack Velour

SIX NIGHTS OF SCRUTINY

Updated: Jul 4

John Scarne is known for fooling Arnold Rothstein (accused of fixing the World Series of 1919) by cutting the four aces from a shuffled deck of cards. He fooled Rothstein and his men six nights in a row back in 1923. When I read about it as a kid it captured my imagination and fueled my desire to become a magician. There are many layers to this legendary story and it is shrouded in mystery. In this writing I examine those elements.

Each of these elements, for the most part, have their own chapter. The elements are like pieces of a puzzle: none of them on their own will give you the whole picture, it is when the pieces are assembled that you begin to see the whole picture. I am going to examine whether John Scarne really did cut to the aces for Arnold Rothstein and his men with Rothstein’s own shuffled deck.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • INTRODUCTION

  • The Story

  • Six Nights Of Scrutiny

  • Timeline

  • The Weather Report

  • Anecdotes About Scarne

  • Discrepancies

  • Video Footage

  • Other Thoughts

  • What’s A Zero Between Friends?

  • The Next Time You Tell That Story, Lie

  • The Final Analysis

INTRODUCTION

When I was about fourteen I read a story about a magician by the name of John Scarne. John Scarne’s claim to fame was that he could take a deck of cards shuffled by someone else, and cut to all four aces. He even did it for Arnold Rothstein, the man accused of fixing the World Series of 1919. Rothstein hired him on six successive nights in an attempt to discover his secret, but Rothstein and his men couldn’t figure it out. John Scarne took his secret to the grave.


Absent any proof, I proceeded as if it were known to be true as best as I could. It has been said that a rising tide lifts all ships and that applies to the four minute mile better than the four aces. Applying the same concept to the ace cutting, it’s as if my ship was rising with the tide, but water was coming in at the same time. The hole in the ship being my skepticism as to whether Scarne really did cut the aces as he described. Doubts kept entering my mind. I spent time contemplating the truthfulness of the story which took my attention from recreating it. Had there been proof, I wouldn’t have spent valuable time contemplating. In this book I will examine those doubts, and be making a case to you throughout. I will not leave you hanging without my conclusion as to whether this great mystery was accomplished or not.



THE STORY

The story first appeared in print in 1956 in John Scarne’s autobiography, The Amazing World of John Scarne.


It appeared again in 1966 with more detail but told in exact sequence, sentence by sentence, in his second autobiography, The Odds Against Me.


The story as told in The Amazing World of John Scarne:


4

ARNOLD ROTHSTEIN, ET AL: A BID TO

JOIN NEW YORK’S GAMBLING FRATERNITY

When I was nineteen years of age I again visited the theatrical agent by the name of Saul Bernie who later became my favorite booking agent and who now is a top-notch Hollywood talent scout. His offices were located then in New York’s theatrical district.

I entered his office one afternoon, with nothing particular in mind other than finding out how show dates were shaping up, when Bernie greeted me and asked, “Say, John, How would you like to play a date for a political club? I had a call yesterday from their chairman and they need an act for this Saturday night. They’re holding their annual banquet at the Park Central Hotel. The date will pay you twenty dollars for a half-hour performance, and I think your magic and card tricks will be just what they want.”

I replied, “Sure, Bernie, I’ve nothing planned for this Saturday.”

“Good,” Bernie replied. “Let me call him on the phone while you’re here and confirm the date.”

That Saturday evening found me entertaining before a group of approximately two hundred men and women of a Democratic organization. I opened my performance by doing a few card flourishes in an attempt to warm up the audience. At that period of my career my act consisted of card tricks, the rope trick, and the lemon trick, which I would usually employ as a finale. The rope trick, you will recall, was so staged that I would appear to cut a length of rope into several small pieces and then restore it to its original length. However, the card trick which was indubitably responsible for my not becoming a gambler was performed for the first time that night in public. It was the one trick which I had practiced years to perfect, and was to bring me more fame than any other card trick of my repertoire. But as it happened, I introduced it only on the spur of the moment after having completed the planned program.

Towards the end of my performance that evening, preparing to wind up with the lemon trick, I said to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, to complete the next experiment it will be necessary for me to borrow some money from someone in the audience but before I do so, I would like to ask any one of you to examine this lemon.”

With that I produced a lemon from my coat pocket and handed it to an alert-looking woman in the audience for examination.

“Madame, I would like you please to examine the lemon you have in your hand and make certain that it is an ordinary fresh lemon and that it has not been tampered with.”

The lemon was examined by the lady, who then passed it to person sitting next to her. It made its way around the audience until they seemed satisfied it was just an ordinary lemon and tossed it back to me.

I continued, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, you have examined this lemon and are certain that it has not been tampered with. I would at this time like to borrow a dollar bill from someone in the audience.”

This was immediately handed to me, as were ten, twenty and fifty-dollar bills, which I also requested. I then asked for a hundred-dollar bill, which I seldom received but which was actually a lead line for the following patter: “You know, ladies and gentlemen, the last time I performed this trick I received a thousand dollar bill, but of course I was performing for J. P. Morgan.”

This would usually bring a chuckle from the audience, but on this particular night, much to my surprise, a man seated at the head table said to me, “Here you are, young man.” And with that he handed me a bill.

As I reached out for what I thought would be a C-note, I saw that it really was a thousand-dollar bill, the first such bill I’d seen in my life.

My patter was almost lost in nervousness as I folded the one, ten, twenty, and fifty-dollar bills, and finally the thousand-dollar bill, into a small packet. I placed the bills under a handkerchief for the lady to hold and when I whisked the handkerchief away the bills had disappeared. With the bills gone, I took a knife from a table and held up the lemon, saying, “I will now cut this lemon in two, ladies and gentlemen, and if I’m correct, your money will be found inside.”

With that remark I sliced the lemon in two and extracted the vanished bills from the center of the lemon. I returned the bills, wet with juice from the lemon, to their befuddled owners and finally had just one bill in my hand, which I held up for everyone to see. It was the thousand-dollar bill, which the man at the head table had handed to me.

Looking at him, I said, “Sir, you gave me the thousand-dollar bill, did you not?”

He replied, “I certainly did give it to you.”

I then said, “Thank you very much, sir, for being so generous,” and proceeded to pocket the bill.

The audience howled with laughter, as I looked at the man with a broad smile on my face. However, as I met his gaze I could see that his eyes remained cold, lacking any expression whatsoever. I realized he didn’t appreciate the comedy taking place at his expense.

I quickly withdrew the bill from my pocket and returned it to him, saying, “Thank you for your help, sir.”

The audience broke into a round of applause, calling for more tricks as I bowed in acknowledgement. I then decided to do another trick, which I’d never included in a public performance before. Bowing to the audience, I said, “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for your kind applause. As a final experiment this eventing I will employ a regulation deck of playing cards which I have here in this sealed card-case. You can see it still bears the federal revenue stamp. I would like one of you please remove the deck of cards from this box and shuffle them.”

I handed the unopened card-case to a man in the audience who was sitting toward the front. He carefully removed the deck of cards and, after shuffling it, handed it back to me.

I returned to my place and continued, “I will now attempt to cut an ace from this deck of cards, which the gentleman has thoroughly examined and shuffled. If any gambler, ladies and gentlemen, could perform at will the following feat of cutting to an ace from an ordinary deck of playing cards, he could of course win a fortune within a very short time—perhaps after only one cut. You’ve no doubt heard of Bet-A-Million Gates cutting Diamond Jim Brady high card for a hundred thousand dollars. Now imagine what a gambler could earn with this effect.”

I then requested that a spectator cut the deck of cards and expose his cut card to the rest of the audience. This was done by a man in the front, who showed a king. I made my cut and produced the ace of clubs. With that, I then proceeded to cut the remaining three aces from the deck, flipping each one to the floor.

As the audience started to applaud I threw the deck of cards into the air, signifying that my last trick had been performed, and walked off the floor. Turning around to acknowledge the final applause, I noticed a number of men picking up the cards which were strewn all over the floor. But what drew my closer attention was the man who had given me the thousand-dollar bill. He quickly moved to the center of the floor and picked up only one card, which was lying face up. It was the ace of spades, the last ace I had cut from the deck. I continued watching him as he moved back to his table and noticed he seemed to be examining the ace very closely. Then he handed it to another man sitting alongside of him, who did likewise. The examination went on for about five minutes, when another man from this group got up and walked to the center of the floor and picked up a few more cards. He went back to their table and they started to compare these cards with the ace of spades.

The chairman of the affair called me aside and I lost track of the men momentarily. He handed me my fee plus a ten-dollar tip, and said that he was pleased with the show. As I was packing my grip to leave, three men approached me and I recognized among them the man who handed me the thousand-dollar bill.

They congratulated me on the performance and then the thousand-dollar-bill man said, “What are you doing tomorrow night, Mr. Scarne? I’m giving a little party at my apartment in this hotel and would like to have you entertain my guests.” Before I could answer he continued, “What is your usual fee?” When I replied twenty dollars for a half hour show, he said, “I’ll give you two hundred dollars to be at my apartment at nine P.M.” He handed me his card, which read:

Arnold Rothstein

Real Estate and Insurance Broker

Park Central Hotel

New York, N.Y.

The next morning I looked up a local gambler in Fairview by the name of George Bottles, and he told me of Rothstein’s reputation as the biggest racket man in the country and that he was without a doubt the shrewdest gambler in the East. I remembered that the night before I’d stated that any gambler who could cut the ace at will could easily win a fortune within a very short time. The question arose in my mind as to whether Rothstein was hiring me at a two-hundred-dollar fee, the largest amount I’d been offered up to that time, just to see another show or to get me to tell him how I did it. I banished the latter thought from my mind, as I recalled that he had said he was giving a party and wanted me to entertain his guests. I remembered also my boyhood ambition of becoming a great gambler—for that matter, a crooked gambler—and here was just the opportunity I’d always wanted: a chance to observe at close range the most celebrated gambler of the era, to see what kind of friends he had, how they acted, and how they lived.

I arrived at Rothstein’s apartment at the Park Central Hotel at exactly nine o’clock. When I rang the buzzer at the door Arnold Rothstein answered and greeted me.

He took my had and coat and asked me to follow him into the living room. There were seven men seated about, and as I entered the room their conversation seemed to stop. Their gaze covered me from head to foot. If they had any feelings about me they certainly didn’t show them by their expressions.

Rothstein, as if sensing my uneasiness, broke the silence, saying, “Gentlemen, this is John Scarne, the young magician I was telling you about.” Placing his arm about my shoulder, he said, “Johnny, I’d like you to meet George McManus [whom I recognized by reputation as the operator of New York’s biggest dice game, which was run at a place called Warren’s], and this is Fats Caldwell.” Rothstein continued introducing the men to me, one by one. I later learned that two of the men were his personal bodyguards. Their sole job was to see that no harm came to Mr. Arnold Rothstein.

With the introductions completed, I asked Rothstein where the party was being held and when he wanted me to start entertaining. He smiled at me and said, “This is it, Johnny.”

Then I realized that this hard-looking group of gamblers was to be my only audience. I felt rather important at having such a select group of mobsters for a private showing. In those rough and tough days of the roaring twenties, an invitation from Arnold Rothstein was practically and imperial command.

In a half-joking manner Rothstein turned to me and said, “Let’s go, Professor. On with the show.”

I then repeated the same routine that Rothstein had witnessed the previous night. While I was performing I took a good look at my small but select audience and noticed their cold, impassive faces. I recalled what Bernie had so often said about opening-night audiences at a Broadway show being the most critical in the world, but I realized I was facing a much more critical audience right now. I continued to study their expressions and they gazed right back at me. I was beginning to feel even more uncomfortable when I noticed they were talking about Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champion, and who would be his next opponent, while I was trying my best to entertain them with the rope and lemon trick. When I finally put the paraphernalia aside at the end of the act they generated a sign of relief. I then realized that my first hunch had been correct. This hard-boiled audience only wanted to see one thing, and that was the card-cutting which was to follow.

Of course I knew that many card-table decisions were made by cutting for high card and naturally it followed that if you could cut an ace, you could win all the decisions and consequently any money involved. I recalled, too, the high-stake stud game that Rothstein was said to participate in, and that some of these games were said to have pots which totaled well over a hundred thousand dollars.

Rothstein arose from his chair and walked toward me saying, “That was good, Johnny. Now would you cut to high card with me?”

The undercurrent of conversation in the room among the seven men slackened, and finally came to a dead stop when I said, “All right, Mr. Rothstein.” I reached into my grip and removed two decks of cards. But Rothstein said, “You don’t mind, Johnny, but we prefer you use our cards.” And with that he opened a drawer of the table and removed several decks of cards. He then removed the wrapper, tore off the revenue stamp, opened the card-case, and removed the cards. As he started shuffling I forced a smile and the other men started gathering around as close as they could. Rothstein handed the deck over to Fats Caldwell to shuffle, and then on to another one of the men, and finally the cards were handed to George McManus who did likewise and handed the deck to me.

I gave the deck a riffle shuffle and placed the cards atop the table squarely in front of Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein took his cut and turned up the ten of hearts. I squared the remainder of the deck and cut the ace of spades. A hushed silence covered the room as each of the men looked at one another as if to say, did you see how he did it?

George McManus picked up the deck and eying it suspiciously said, “Do it again.”

I riffle-shuffled the deck several times and placed the deck on the table again. Rothstein bent forward and gave the deck several cuts and then placed it in front of George McManus. McManus made a cut and showed the jack of clubs. I made my cut and brought out the ace of hearts. Fats Caldwell then leaned over and got into the act by cutting a low card, and I countered again by cutting another ace. After the cards had been reshuffled and this was repeated several more times, I turned to Rothstein, saying that my half-hour’s performance was up and that I really had to be going. I was getting anxious to get outside and relieve the mounting tension I felt.

Rothstein said, “O.K., Johnny,” and with that took two one hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to me. I thanked him and said good night to the men, who scarcely seemed to notice my departure as they were whispering to one another. Rothstein saw me to the door and thanked me again for a pleasant evening’s entertainment.

When I arrived at the Forty-second Street pier and boarded the ferry I went right to the top deck of the boat to get some fresh air and sort out my thoughts. As I put my hand in my pocket and felt the two crisp hundred-dollar bills I felt happy over the fact I’d just earned so large a fee for a single half-hour show. The night air perked me up and as the ferryboat pulled into Weehawken I was really jubilant.

About thirty minutes later I arrived home and found Mother asleep in a living-room chair with the evening paper resting in her lap. She awakened as I entered the room and I went over to her, pressing a hundred-dollar bill in her hand.

“Buy yourself a new outfit, Mom,” I said, smiling happily.

She smiled at me rather sleepily and said, “See, John, isn’t it much better to do magic tricks for a living rather than mingling with all sorts of cheap gamblers and crooks?”

I felt rather guilty as Mother continued speaking of gamblers, and moved to turn off the lights and retire. I didn’t dare tell her that only a few hours before I’d been entertaining some of the biggest and toughest gamblers in New York.

The next morning I was awakened early by the ringing of the telephone. It was for me, and when I answered the phone a soft voice said, “Johnny, this is Arnold Rothstein. Would you like to perform again this evening? I’m having another party and you can make the same fee. Two hundred for another half-hour show.”

I replied, “O.K., I’ll be there. Same time, same place?”

“That’s right, Johnny, we’ll see you tonight then.”

When I arrived at Rothstein’s apartment that evening I found the same seven men whom I had left the previous night.

As I opened my grip Rothstein turned to me and said, “Skip the magic, Johnny. We like that rope and lemon trick, but anyway let’s skip it tonight.” It wasn’t long before I was cutting the aces again for the men. After a half hour of this I received my two-hundred-dollar fee and left as I’d done the night before.

The telephone rang again the next morning. “I’m giving another party tonight, Johnny. You’re hired again. Same time, same place.”

Before I could answer or say anything he’d hung up. That evening I was cutting aces once more for the same seven men. For six successive nights Rothstein hired me at two hundred dollars a show, and all the group wanted to see was the high-card trick. I wondered if the rest of the men paid part of my fee but felt it really didn’t matter just as long as I got paid.

I later learned the real reason that Rothstein and his friends went to all the trouble they did. Two men in the group were professional card sharks and they had told Rothstein if they saw me do the trick several times they could detect my method and do it themselves. They felt that I might reject any proposition they offered for an explanation, and this was their method of finding out how the trick was accomplished. It was also a matter of professional pride with these men who were supposed to know all the angles of gambling, crooked or otherwise. For these gamblers to admit that a young kid from New Jersey was fooling the daylights out of them was just too much. However, being fooled six nights in a row and paying twelve hundred bucks for the privilege was the final blow to their pride.

Finally, on the sixth night Rothstein said, “O.K., Professor, give. How do you do it?”

George McManus then interrupted, saying, “When Rothstein told us about this we thought at first you were using slick aces [an ace treated with a wax that permits the waxed card to be cut easily]. Then, when we gave you our own deck and you did it again we thought you were using a fine crimp [a card bent during a shuffle]. But, we have to admit, kid, we don’t know what it’s all about.”

“Well,” I said, “I always give the deck one or more riffle shuffles and hold the cards in such a manner that I can glimpse the indices on the cards as they fly past during the shuffle. When I sight an ace I count by feel the number of cards which fall on top of it. Then I calculate the number of cards a player cuts, and I cut down to this total and there is the ace.” (At that early stage of my career I could cut any number of cards called for from the deck; otherwise I would never have given these racket men such an answer.)

With that reply McManus put the deck of cards on the table and said, “O.K., now cut me twenty-five cards.” I realized he was testing the veracity of my statement. I squared off the deck and made a cut which I then handed to McManus. He counted the cards aloud and reached exactly twenty-five.

They had me repeat this feat about twenty times and I finally said to Rothstein, “If you do the same thing for three or four hours a day you’ll be able to do it too, in about twenty years.” I wasn’t trying to be smart but they had asked me a question and I was trying to give them an answer as best I could.

“And how old are you?” someone asked rather skeptically.

“I’m nineteen,” I replied matter-of-factly.

His rejoinder was quick in coming as he said, “You’re nineteen and you practiced twenty years!”

“No,” I replied. “But I practice ten hours a day.”

Rothstein turned to the rest of the boys and said, “See, I told you this kid was terrific. Have you ever seen anything like that in your life?” Then looking at one of the men he said, “You’re a card shark. What do you think?”

“Geez, I always thought The Hiker was good but he’s nothing compared to sonny-boy here.”

(The Hiker was a noted card man who frequented resorts and preyed on wealthy tourists and vacationists.)

As the men were discussing the trick, I mentioned to Rothstein that it was getting late and I had to be going as Mother was probably waiting up for me until I got home. He said O.K. and handed me the usual fee of two hundred dollars, and walked me to the corridor saying, “Johnny, come over and see me sometime. I might be able to get you a few more shows now and then.”

I thanked him for the offer and said good night.

SIX NIGHTS OF SCRUTINY

When I read the story as a kid, I was captivated. My imagination ran wild. The possibility of living my life that way gripped my mind. I was stunned that he would be able to pull off the ace cutting six nights in a row for the same group of men. I had to figure out a way to duplicate what he did. Reading the story elevated my ability as a magician because of the work it drove me to put in. Now, years later as I write this, after having performed magic for over twenty years, I have a different perspective.

I know from experience that a group of men that want to figure out your trick is the toughest audience of all. When they say “do it again”, they don’t want to hear your presentation or your schtick, they want to see it again, that’s it. The faster they can get you to do it again, the sooner the mistake they are hoping for will come. In Mr. Scarne’s case, they were not there to be entertained. They were there to GET what he had.

“After a half hour of this” p.133

A deck of cards doesn’t take more than a few seconds to shuffle, so Mr. Scarne must have cut the aces a hundred times during each night’s half hour performance. With the men leaning in and scrutinizing his every move, it causes me to raise my eyebrows. Each night after his performance the men had a chance to discuss what they saw and their theories of what Mr. Scarne might be doing. They would also be able to test him, as a group of men certainly would if you’re fooling the daylights out of them night after night. Especially men of power who aren’t timid. Was Mr. Scarne fooling the gangsters, gamblers, and racketeers, or was Mr. Scarne fooling the reader with his story about cutting the aces?

Mr. Scarne was nineteen years old at the time of the ace cutting. At that age he had already surpassed all of the magicians to this day that still can’t fathom how he did it. I didn’t want to discredit him in place of doing the work of being able to do it myself. I always felt is was a bit of a cop out to assume he didn’t do it… without first putting in the requisite study. Aside from the methods magicians use to accomplish their feats (which I won’t go into here), the six nights of scrutiny is the most telling part of this tale.

Robert Jong- I’d be sweating bullets. I’d be perspiring. Arm pits. (my hands might be shaking). INTENSE PRESSURE AND SCRUTINY SIX NIGHTS IN A ROW. Win six games in a row, World Series (well four games).

(how many times did he do the trick in a half hour????????????????????????) What’s that… 100 times in six nights? “DO IT AGAIN”. Now they don’t watch it as a whole, they watch one little part of it and they’re are 7 men looking at it.(WHICH IS ALSO ONE OF THE REASONS WHY VIDEO IS THE ENEMY OF MAGIC) Towards the end there’s no conversation, it’s all “DO IT AGAIN”. When he’s gone, they discuss it among themselves and come up with a plan. Plus he’s only 19… extreme pressure and do it perfectly every time.

THE TIMELINE

“Just as the necessary qualification for a good liar is a good memory, so the essential equipment of a would-be lie detector is a good timeline, and a decent archive.”

—Christopher Hitchens, NO ONE LEFT TO LIE TO

In The Amazing World of John Scarne is where the story was first published, Scarne tells the reader that he is nineteen at the time the ace cutting took place. He was born on March 4, 1903, so it must be assumed that the ace cutting took place in 1922 or 1923. Ten years later, in 1966, when Scarne released his second autobiography (The Odds Against Me), it becomes clear that the story took place on a Sunday in January or February:

One late afternoon in January of 1923 I entered Saul Bernie’s theatrical booking office in the Palace Theatre Building and Bernie greeted me warmly, saying, “Johnny, you’re just the one I’m looking for. I have a terrific club date for you this Saturday night. —The Odds Against Me, p. 115

That means Scarne had to have met Rothstein for the first time on one of the four Saturday’s in January or the first Saturday in February. The claim that he cut the aces from Rothstein’s shuffled deck in his Park Central Hotel apartment must have occurred on one of the five Sunday’s following the Saturday night performance when he met Rothstein. That night Rothstein said, “What are you doing tomorrow night, Mr. Scarne? I’m giving a little party upstairs in Room 349 of this hotel and would like to have you entertain my guests.” — The Odds Against Me, p 119


  • Five years after the ace cutting, on November 6, 1928 Arnold Rothstein was shot to death. (find newspaper headline and drop it in here)


  • Thirty one years after the ace cutting, on October 22, 1954 George McManus died.


  • Now that Rothstein and McManus were both dead, in 1956 Scarne published the ace cutting story in his first autobiography, The Amazing World of John Scarne.



Neither of the men who were there could ever be questioned to test the veracity of Scarne’s claims. It is telling that Mr. Scarne waited to tell the tale of his ace cutting for Rothstein and McManus until he could stand with one foot on each of their graves. It isn’t known how long it took for Scarne to write his first autobiography or when he started it. If he started it the year George McManus died, it seems reasonable to start writing an autobiography at fifty years old. If Scarne manufactured the ace cutting story, it would also be convenient for him to release the story after the men in question died. There is also the argument that even if Scarne published the story when the men were alive, it would be hard for one to gain access to them to seek verification. To a person with that viewpoint, I ask them to consider the fact that I have written a book on the subject, and whether or not I would have gone to great lengths to question Mr. Rothstein about Scarne. If Mr. Rothstein were alive today, I would be out looking for him.

VIDEO FOOTAGE

If you look at the timeline you will see that from 1956 when Scarne first published the story, until 1985, the year he died, about 29 years elapsed. In that time Mr. Scarne appeared on television (4 times?). On one occasion, on the Tom Snyder show, he cut to the four aces but the aces weren’t in the deck whey Tom Snyder shuffled the cards. Mr. Scarne put them in the deck afterwards. The fact that he didn’t cut to the four aces on tv as he described in his autobiography is not conclusive evidence that he was unable to do it. Video is the enemy of the magician, so I leave room for the possiblity that he didn't want to risk exposing his method on tv.

The fact that he didn’t do it on tv, by itself, is not a clear indication that he was unable to do it, because even doing it one time allows the viewer to view it as many times as they want. Mr. Scarne might not have wanted to risk exposure, one might think, but he had been known to expose the moves of card cheats on video so he wasn't a purist when it came to exposure but that doesn't mean he didn't want to keep a few things "under the hat". I would think that he would have at least cut to a single ace on tv just once from a shuffled deck to prove that he could actually do what he claimed.

Since he did not, it seems that the odds are against him.

THE WEATHER REPORT

One late afternoon in January of 1923 I entered Saul Bernie’s theatrical booking office in the Palace Theatre Building and Bernie greeted me warmly, saying, “Johnny, you’re just the one I’m looking for. I have a terrific club date for you this Saturday night. —The Odds Against Me

“One late afternoon in January of 1923.” That is where the timeline begins. The performance when Arnold Rothstein saw Scarne was on one of five possible Saturdays: January 6th, January 13th, January 20th, January 27th, or February 3rd. Since Rothstein saw Scarne perform on one of those Saturday nights, and hired Scarne to perform for his guests the following night, which would have been one of five possible Sundays:


January 7th, January 14th, January 21st, January 28th, or February 4th.


The average temperature January 7, 1923 was 22.5 degrees.

The average temperature January 14, 1923 was 28.5 degrees.

The average temperature January 21, 1923 was 48.0 degrees.

The average temperature January 28, 1923 was 21.5 degrees.

The average temperature February 4, 1923 was 18.0 degrees.


*Source: https://nowdata.rcc-acis.org/okx/

When I arrived at the Forty-second Street pier and boarded the ferry I went right to the top deck of the boat to get some fresh air and sort out my thoughts. As I put my hand in my pocket and felt the two crisp hundred-dollar bills I felt happy over the fact I’d just earned so large a fee for a single half-hour show. The night air perked me up and as the ferryboat pulled into Weehawken I was really jubilant.” —The Amazing World of John Scarne

Having grown up in Ohio, 131 miles northwest of Steubenville, Ohio, where John Scarne was born, I have experienced a lot of cold weather. I can’t help but ponder whether Mr. Scarne would want to go to the top deck of the ferry to “get some fresh air” anytime in January in New York City. The average temperature that month was 29.9 degrees. The highest temperature is usually during the day when the sun is out, and it tends to get cooler at night, and even cooler in the morning. The Park Central Hotel is about a mile and a half away from the Forty-second Street Pier. See the weather report for the New York-Central Park Area for the whole month of January below:



January 1923 Weather Reportpdf

He says, “I was getting anxious to get outside and relieve the mounting tension I felt.”

“When I arrived at the Forty-second Street pier and boarded the ferry I went right to the top deck of the boat to get some fresh air and sort out my thoughts. As I put my hand in my pocket and felt the two crisp hundred-dollar bills I felt happy over the fact I’d just earned so large a fee for a single half-hour show. The night air perked me up and as the ferryboat pulled into Weehawken I was really jubilant.”

He had no problem clearly describing his feelings about what he felt, except for when it comes to what is obvious to me about going outside in January or February on a ferry: How brutally cold it must have been on that ferry. I’ve been on a ferry in much warmer temperatures and felt the cold wind cut through me. Brutal is a word I’ve used to describe the cold wind. Bone-chilling is a way I have described the cold. Other less extreme words such as chilly, brisk, and cold were not used by Scarne. Only that the night air “perked me up.” I’ve been perked up by a warm breeze. I’ve been “perked up" by the sound of tires screeching, a slap on the back, and the sight of a beautiful woman. Lets examine the word perk: become more cheerful, lively, or interesting

It is not that I don’t believe that he was ever on a ferry in New York City, it’s just that it seems as though he may be conflating events into one story.

Four out of the five Sunday’s that the story in question could have occurred, the average temperature was below freezing, yet Scarne makes no mention of that.

My friend Ben Tremaglio, who I run things by said, “A lot of people have braved colder temperatures just to smoke a fucking cigarette.” I concur, but to not mention that element of the story screams of a manufacturer’s defect. I have noticed in myself that in moments of extreme excitement I don’t feel pain quite like I normally do. Something about excitement that can mask the pain. Although, it is part of who I am to mention that sort of observation when I retell a story of an experience like that. “It was the middle of winter and I went outside without a jacket, and you know what, I was so fucking excited the package arrived that the cold didn’t even bother me!” That sort of thing.

My friend Tom Meros' opinion is that it is much different on the water with nothing to block the wind.


And so, it seems that the odds are against him.

DISCREPANCIES

The story in Scarne’s second autobiography, The Odds Against Me, is told with exact sequential adherence to his first autobiography, The Amazing World of John Scarne. He adheres to the sequence but changes the words in places. He also mentions how he recognized Rothstein as the man accused of fixing the World Series of 1919 in the second autobiography but not the first. Here’s an example of the words being changed but adhering to sequence below. First a line from the 1st autobiography then a line from the 2nd:


I reached into my grip and removed two decks of cards.

I reached into my grip and removed two decks of cards. (both are the same here but look at the next example).

—But Rothstein said, “You don’t mind, Johnny, but we prefer you use our cards.”

—But Rothstein said, “You don’t mind, Johnny, but we prefer to use our cards.”


—And with that he opened a drawer of the table and removed several decks of cards.

—And with that he opened a drawer of the table and removed several decks of cards.

—He then removed the wrapper, tore off the revenue stamp, opened the card-case, and removed the cards.

—He tore off the revenue stamp, opened the card case, and removed the cards.

—As he started shuffling I forced a smile and the other men started gathering around as close as they could.

—As he started shuffling I forced a smile and the other men leaned as close as they could.

—Rothstein handed the deck over to Fats Caldwell to shuffle, and then on to another one of the men, and finally the cards were handed to George McManus who did likewise and handed the deck to me.

—Rothstein handed the deck over to Fats Caldwell to shuffle and then on to another one of the men, and finally the cards made their way to George McManus, who did the same and then handed the deck to me.

—I gave the deck a riffle shuffle and placed the cards atop the table squarely in front of Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein took his cut and turned up the ten of hearts.

—I gave the deck several riffle shuffles and placed the cards on the table squarely in front of Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein took his cut and turned up the Ten of Hearts.

—I squared the remainder of the deck and cut the ace of spades.

—I squared the remainder of the deck and cut the Ace of Spades.

—A hushed silence covered the room as each of the men looked at one another as if to say, did you see how he did it?

—A hushed silence covered the room as each of the men looked at one another as if to say, did you see how he did it?

George McManus picked up the deck and eying it suspiciously said, “Do it again.”

—George McManus picked up the deck, eyed it suspiciously, and said, “Do it again.”

—I riffle-shuffled the deck several times and placed the deck on the table again.

—I again riffle-shuffled the deck several times and placed the deck on the table.

—Rothstein bent forward and gave the deck several cuts and then placed it in front of George McManus.

—Rothstein bent forward and gave the deck several cuts and then placed it in front of George McManus.

—McManus made a cut and showed the jack of clubs. I made my cut and brought out the ace of hearts.

—McManus made a cut and showed the Jack of Clubs. I made my cut and brought out the Ace of Hearts.

—Fats Caldwell then leaned over and got into the act by cutting a low card, and I countered again by cutting another ace.

—Fats Caldwell then leaned over and got into the act by cutting a low card, and I countered again by cutting another Ace.

—After the cards had been reshuffled and this was repeated several more times, I turned to Rothstein, saying that my half-hour’s performance was up and that I really had to be going.

—After the cards had been reshuffled and the procedure repeated several more times, I turned to Rothstein, saying that my half hour’s performance was up and that I really had to be going.

—I was getting anxious to get outside and relieve the mounting tension I felt.

—I was getting anxious to get outside and relieve the mounting tension I felt.

—Rothstein said, “O.K., Johnny,” and with that took two one hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to me.

—Rothstein said, “Okay, Johnny,” and with that he took two one hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to me.

—I thanked him and said good night to the men, who scarcely seemed to notice my departure as they were whispering to one another.

—I thanked him and said good night to the men, who scarcely seemed to notice my departure as they were whispering to one another.

—Rothstein saw me to the door and thanked me again for a pleasant evening’s entertainment.

—Rothstein saw me to the door and thanked me again for a pleasant evening’s entertainment.

—When I arrived at the Forty-second Street pier and boarded the ferry I went right to the top deck of the boat to get some fresh air and sort out my thoughts.

—When I arrived at the 42nd Street West Shore Terminal and boarded the ferry I went right to the top deck of the boat to get some fresh air and sort out my thoughts.

—As I put my hand in my pocket and felt the two crisp hundred-dollar bills I felt happy over the fact I’d just earned so large a fee for a single half-hour show.

—As I put my hand in my pocket and felt the two crisp hundred-dollar bills I felt happy because I’d just earned so large a fee for a single half-hour show.

—The night air perked me up and as the ferryboat pulled into Weehawken I was really jubilant.

—The night air perked me up, and as the ferryboat pulled into Weehawken I was really jubilant.

DISCREPANCY WITH THE CUTTING OF THE ACES AT THE BANQUET WHERE ARNOLD ROTHSTEIN SAW SCARNE FOR THE FIRST TIME:

I then requested that a spectator cut the deck of cards and expose his cut card to the rest of the audience.

—I then requested that a male spectator seated in the front row cut the deck of cards and expose his bottom cut card to the rest of the audience.

—This was done by a man in the front, who showed a king.

—This was done by the man and he showed a King.

—I made my cut and produced the ace of clubs.

—I made my cut and produced the Ace of Clubs.

—With that, I then proceeded to cut the remaining three aces from the deck, flipping each one to the floor.

—With that, I then proceeded to cut two more Aces from the deck, flipping each one to the floor.

—As the audience started to applaud I threw the deck of cards into the air, signifying that my last trick had been performed, and walked off the floor.

—As the audience started to applaud I threw the deck of cards high into the air, and while the cards were falling in all directions I reached into the air and caught one card. It was the last Ace. I showed it to the audience, and walked off the stage as the audience began to applaud.

The Amazing World of John Scarne, p. 128

The Odds Against Me, p. 118

Some of the sentences are absolutely identical, and others are identical with the exception of a change in a word or a few words. The story is told exactly the same until the end of the banquet the night Scarne first met Rothstein. In The Odds Against Me he says he reached into the air and caught the last ace. I leave room for the possibility that he can’t remember how he did it so he wrote it two different ways to account for both memories he may have had in his mind, false as one or both of them might have been.

I point out the capitalization of the letters in the second version to show that details are different, but also to show the I haven’t overlooked the possibility of the fact that he may have had a different editor.

It is as if Scarne was trying to tell us that he is full of shit by leaving several obvious discrepancies, such as the last production of the ace where Rothstein initially saw him.

It is clear that Scarne is invoking his “literary license”. I wouldn’t want to publish a dissertation like this if Scarne were still alive because I do have admiration for what he has done and the story he told has had an impact on my life. There is the empathetic side to my personality but there is also highly skeptical and take nothing on faith side of my personality. It is not easy to manage those two often irreconcilable traits.

ANECDOTES ABOUT SCARNE

Talking to David Malek about John Scarne was informative. He is a magician and one of the more knowledgable men about the workings of such things as cutting aces and other card table work. He told me that his friend Tony Giorgio, who played Bruno Tattaglia in The Godfather, knew Scarne and they had a nickname for him: Johnny Bullshit.


Here are some excerpts from a forum on the subject:


"[I have managed to come up with four anecdotal accounts that seem relevant. In fact just recently, Harry Lorraine was a guest on this Forum. He was protégé of Scarne’s as a young man and he was asked the following question directly

Question: "Did you ever see Scarne "cut to the aces?"

Lorayne: "Of course I did, John. I was not as impressed as laymen or many magicians were. There are much, much, better versions of cutting the aces now."

Well, I don’t know about you, but this is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the ground breaking ace cutting effect that supposedly fooled professional gamblers and magicians alike. The second anecdote comes from a book by Mike Skinner. He describes meeting Scarne at the Magic Castle and he asked him to perform the ace cutting extravaganza. To his deep disappointment Scarne merely gave a standard ace cutting performance. Again, not quite the magical breakthrough we are looking for. So far things are looking a bit dodgy for the magician who supposedly fooled the world.

The third piece of information comes from the radio show ‘Jay’s Journal’ hosted by Ricky Jay and entitled ‘Gambling with Superlatives’ which was broadcast in January 2004. Apparently, Ricky was befriended by Scarne as a youngster. He describes how Scarne epitomises himself in his biography as THE foremost authority and only arbiter on gambling respected and trusted by all in the gambling world. Ah, do I detect the faint and delicate scent of modesty? He goes on to mention Scarne’s one time collaborator, the policeman Odley Walsh who was also a gambling expert and a book collector of some note. He possessed a comprehensive and meticulously classified library. A friend of his commented that he could not find the Amazing World of John Scarne. ‘Oh’, replied Walsh, ‘You are looking in the biography section, I keep it here between Grimms Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson’.]"


And so, it seems that the odds are against him.

POINTS OF REFERENCE

The following two short stories will give you some insight into a couple of other "big fish" storytellers.

A VIEW FROM ABOVE - An autobiography by Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain was known for scoring 100 points in one NBA game and after he released his autobiography, “A View From Above” in 1991 he became known for a second number: 20,000. He claims to have layed 20,000 women. I wasn’t there to witness the scoring for either number, but many people observed the 100 point game and it isn’t disputed. As for the 20,000 women claim, it seems extreme because he would have had to lay 1.2 women a day from the age of fifteen until he wrote the book. By all accounts he wasn’t a ladies man in high school, and he had struggles during his years at Kansas that would have surely interrupted having at least a lay a day.

"Although the 20,000 feat would have been logistically difficult, Chamberlain allegedly told his on-and-off girlfriend Lynda Huey, "What's a zero between friends?" to imply that the number was actually more like 2,000. According to David M. Pomerantz's exquisite must-read Wilt, 1962, lifelong friend and confidante Lynda Huey thought that number sounded about right.” —2009 article by Ethan Trex on mentalfloss.com

Wilt has been asked about the number publicly on Howard Stern, and you can tell by Wilt’s responses that he has a flexibility with the truth and he also refined his statement to say “encounters” with women.

And so, it seems that the odds are against him.

ADVICE FROM A GREAT STORYTELLER

When I was seventeen I began working at a casino rental company that put on casino nights with dealers for company parties. My manager told a story after work one night in front of a bunch of the employees and the boss, John, (an incredible storyteller) about a great night he had with a stripper that used to work there. He recounted the night and all of the fun they had, including the touching and kissing. At the end of the story, everyone was left wondering, but nobody was going to ask the important question, except the boss: “So... did you fuck her?”


...“Umm, no.”


“Okay, the next time you tell that story… LIE.”

It seems that John the boss and John Scarne two jokers from the same deck. And so, it seems that the odds are against him.

CONCLUSION

Whether or not John Scarne cut the aces from Arnold Rothstein’s shuffled deck, on six successive nights, cannot be known for certain, but there is plenty of evidence upon which to draw a conclusion. Any of the pieces of this puzzle, on their own, do not help in discovering whether the ace cutting story actually occurred. It is in the combining of the pieces that I have come to the conclusion that THE ODDS ARE AGAINST HIM.