How to identify the "players" in the CTA shell game

Here’s a big Tattler thank you to Venus for posting this photo at my Facebook page. It reminds us who and what to look out for on the old CTA shell game. I will let Venus tell the story, since she did it so well:

WARNING – CTA RIDERS! It’s called the old “Shell Game,” a prehistoric hustle still alive and kicking on the CTA.

The “Hustler” pulls out a flat board with either three cards or three bottle caps. He moves them around and asks you to find the cap with something under it, or the odd playing card. He makes it seem easy, like you have a fair chance.

He plays the game with the “Plant.” They act like they don’t know each other. He finally “convinces” her to gamble and she “wins” some money.

The “Lookout” either sits quietly, scanning the car to make sure there are no cops, or he joins in the conversation, encouraging people to play because it will be “easy money.”

THEY ARE PREDATORS, taking advantage of anyone who might be vulnerable to their game.

When I took this picture they packed up the “game” and simply moved to another car, acting like they didn’t know each other and starting the hustle all over again.

If you see them, DON’T PLAY and call the conductor and tell him there are hustlers on the train. THE ARE CRIMINALS. – p.s. If I’m killed on the CTA it will probably be by these folks. I’ve called them out on their “game” more than once and they don’t like me much.


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  • There are no conductors on the trains. You can just call 911 and tell them where your train is relative to the next station and let them take it from there.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Which they probably won't. Maybe 13 shootings in one night is a higher priority.

    Anyway, with apparently the 5000s coming back with darn few seats, there won't be any place for them to set up on their laps, thus resolving the problem.

    I wonder if Venus bought any pens from the "deaf vendors," either.

  • In reply to jack:

    The fun thing about people pretending to be deaf is that I can usually figure it out by signing back to them, and if they walk away, I know they're not deaf. I did that to this one "deaf" person at Christkindlemarket and she moved away from me.

    On the flip side, if you know sign language or some other language, you can usually either scare away the swindlers since they can't communicate with you (keep on trying to "communicate"), or if they do know your language, it sidetracks them as you talk about that language (country, whatever).

    In any case--whether or not the police comes depends on priorities, as Jack said. Talk to the driver, call 911...get it documented, but don't expect police to arrive.

  • In reply to Holly:

    The fun thing is that you don't even have to speak a real language. Just a few babbly words will have them walking away. I usually throw a little Esperanto (which I speak with a very strange accent).

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    In reply to Cheryl:

    But there IS a motorman who can call CPD.

  • Anyone that falls for this shit should be immediately sterilized!
    They're way too stupid to be allowed to perpetuate their genes.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Problem is that the government couldn't get away with that today. There was all that uproar in the South in the 1940s, 1950s.

  • Rather, the 5000 car seats are perfectly suited to this game, which is just a 3 card monte hybrid. I suppose now that so many folks have moved here from the hinterlands of the Midwest, we need to explain this feature of big city public transit. But for most of us, we learned this as kids riding the L.

  • In reply to oconnorm:

    Heck, the fine French emporium J.C. Pennay has a commercial with it using clear glasses. But I don't know if the game works if the car lurches and the pieces are hurled into the aisle.

  • Appreciate the helpful diagramming.

  • Here's an even more helpful tip: if a ghetto stranger attempts to speak to you on any public transit for any reason, ignore them. They are either politely requesting your money with a fictional sob story or preparing to take it by force.

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    Just saw these idiots on the train yesterday. Called the motorman and he did zero. So much for the "if you see something, say something" motto.

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