The Mysterious Case Of “The Flipper”


How many bets
or important decisions have been determined by the toss of a coin?

From sporting
events to all-or-nothing gambles, the ability to predict or control the outcome
of such a simple thing as flipping a coin can be a powerful advantage.

Controlling A Coin Toss

how a coin will land is not always as difficult as you might think.

The “wobble”
(as I was taught it) is a simple idea that only requires a thousand hours of
practice and is usually performed with a larger coin to aid the illusion of it
spinning in midair when it is, in fact, merely oscillating without turning

The method is
to spin the coin horizontally and give it a little kick with thumb as the coin
is tossed upwards, so it rotates and wobbles without flipping.

The knack is
to give it enough of a kick to create this pronounced wobble while throwing it
straight upwards to emulate the well-known action of flipping a coin

I’ve used this in several scenarios to great effect from magic performances to Real Hustle scams and occasionally in real world situations to decide all manner of things.

It’s not the
easiest move to master and it takes consistent practice to retain the skill but
for a while I was obsessed, flipping thousands of times not just to get the
wobble to work but to make the false flip look perfect!

Later, I
learned another secret that made the turn of a coin seem much fairer and while
it was not quite 100 percent accurate, the odds were so far in my favour that over
time it has proven much more valuable and far more convincing than a perfect
fake flip.

Gaffed Coins

While there’s
a secret method to flipping a coin so it lands exactly on the side you need,
there are other solutions that make it almost automatic in the correct

I have a
friend who can let you spin a coin on the floor, then stamp on it with his foot
and guarantee the outcome.

I also knew
magician in Edinburgh who carried a double-headed coin and a double-tailed coin
so he could flip and win no matter what side was called.

I remember
watching him perform this feat and was amazed that no one noticed that for
heads, he always flipped the coin from the left hand and for tails he always
flipped from the right.

People assumed
he only had one coin, but his secret was to have a coin in each hand, so he
never even bothered to switch the coins!

Ricky Jay, in a quick item for Simon Drake’s excellent early 90s TV show The Secret Cabaret suggested an even smarter use of a double-headed coin where he would propose flipping a silver dollar to decide who paid for dinner and invite his companion to call it while the coin was still in the air.

If they called
tails, the coin was sure to land heads up and the sucker would pay the cheque
but if they called heads, Ricky would catch the coin and return it to his
pocket, claiming it was just a joke to see if they would play along then
proposed splitting the cheque as normal.

This was a
simple swindle but an ingenious construction that might gain a sizeable advantage
on the number of free meals a hustler might win in a year.

double-headed coins

Other gaffs
include coins that have had their edges expertly filed and re-milled so that
when spun, they might land on a preferred side more often than not.

hustlers can make these with simple tools, though I’ve seen poorly made
examples in joke shops that are almost impossible to make land the other way!

But the best
controlled flip did not use mechanical shoes, gaffed coins or even controlled
tosses and yet, over time, many millions were won by the master coin flipper of
all time.

Meet “The Flipper”

As a con man, “The
Flipper” has succeeded in creating his own legend with almost no personal
details being revealed and much of what I learned about him came from second or
third-hand accounts.

Details of
what he could do with a coin soon began to baffle me because it seemed
impossible that anyone could control a coin under the circumstances being

The Flipper
didn’t just toss a coin and slap it on the back of his hand; he span it high
into the air then tossed it unseen under a cup or even an upended trash can.

Sometimes he
allowed others to spin the coin – often borrowed and freely examinable at any

I was baffled
by these stories because I assumed he simply had to be controlling the outcome,
but this was not always the case (though I’m certain he was also a master of
all the methods previously described).

In fact, a
controlled flip would be a disadvantage for the Flipper’s purposes because when
he tossed a coin, it was never to win a free lunch or a few dollars.

When the
Flipper flipped a coin, thousands of dollars would ride on the outcome.

The Flipper’s Secret

So if the flip
was fair, how did the Flipper cheat?

When a coin
was tossed, the outcome was truly random but what happened to the coin after
the flip is where the Flipper’s genius excelled.

No matter if
coin landed heads-up or tails-up or whether he threw it a hundred yards away
onto an empty field, ricocheting into a trash can or under his own foot – that
coin never flipped again.

The Flipper’s
process of trapping the coin in a seemingly fair manner so it couldn’t be
controlled, allowed him (by sense of touch) to tell if the coin was heads up or
tails up and then keep it that way while placing it into a seemingly fair
position for people to then gamble on the outcome.

This meant
that he alone knew for certain what the outcome was before any bets were made
and since he would be the bookie for the bets that were taken, he had the
ultimate advantage.

From that
moment, he would take bets on heads and tails but make absolutely sure he took
more losing bets than winning bets since he already knew the outcome.

The Flipper’s
skill and showmanship gave him a powerful advantage and he would often have
dozens of people betting on the toss of a coin, each winning and losing
according to an obviously random and fair coin toss but thanks to already
knowing the result and being able to retain that result in a theatrical and
convincing manner, the Flipper was guaranteed to make money.

Shill Work

The Flipper
also worked with shills who bet money on the winning side so the Flipper could
encourage more bets from suckers on the other side of the coin.

An expert
shill might bet on heads after receiving a signal on the Flipper then offer
odds to anyone who would bet against him, so pushing all the suckers towards
the losing option.

There are so
many ways to manipulate a crowd once the outcome is certain that the Flipper
probably made millions during his ‘career’ but what became of him is unknown
and in a dozen years of asking and searching, I am yet to even learn his name.

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