dodge-city-gangNever get into a card game with a guy named Canada Bill.

That was a word of caution for folks who traveled the Mississippi in the steamboat era, or who frequented Old West saloons or gambling houses. For Mr. William Jones—Canada Bill—liked to fleece the sheep.

He didn’t look the role; Jones was not a sharp dressed man. Instead, he usually wore clothes that were two or three times too big. Another gambler called him “chicken-headed … who, when his countenance was in repose, resembled an idiot.” He asked stupid questions of fellow players. Everybody took him for an easy mark.

Boy, were they wrong.

Canada Bill was an expert who took their money by either fair or foul means (usually foul). And he took a lot of it—some say in the millions during his career. The Pinkertons and other law dogs went after him, but Jones usually didn’t get caught cheating. So he took his act from town to town, gulling greenhorns and professional sports alike. He was one of the best.

Today, Canada Bill is better known for some of his quotes—things like “A Smith and Wesson beats four aces anytime,” or “It’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money.” One in particular stands out: Bill was playing in a rigged game in a small town, losing money hand over fist, when one of his pals tried to alert him—“Can’t you see this game is crooked?” “Sure I know it, but it’s the only game in town.” That was pretty much the story of Bill’s later life; he died penniless in Pennsylvania in 1880.

Today, gambling with the cards (often in virtual form on the Internet) has reached a new level of popularity. And unlike William Jones, you’ll probably want to work with some quality equipment, dressed in a bit of finery that opens doors (and wallets). We’ve got some examples in the following pages. But we don’t advise using the Canada Bill approach of cheating. The cards always turn the other way at some point.


For rules on playing faro, see p. 40 of October 2006; also available as a in the October 2006 feature story.

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