Friday, May 1, 2009


From More Intelligent Life:

Over lunch with Simon Lovell, a fascinating former card shark, Allison Schrager learns all sorts of things about how swindlers operate ...


"I can spot someone's weakness a mile away. In any room I can pick out the best target," says Simon Lovell, reformed con artist and famed magician, when asked over lunch about the root of his talents.

"Take that woman over there." He motions across the room towards a lady speaking to a man engrossed in his menu--"vulnerable, needy, looking for attention from the man she is with, but he won't give it to her. She even lacks the social skills to get the waiter's attention."

"Or that man over there, over-dressed, too neat, over-confident, thinks he is too smart to be taken." He says, pointing to a middle aged man in a neat suit, with excellent posture.

"But ultimately, anyone can be conned, if you have the balls to do it."

Simon Lovell should know. He spent many years pulling cons, indulging in everything from swift bar games to more elaborate schemes. A fascination with magic as a child eventually led Mr Lovell to hone his skills as a sleight-of-hand expert, and then as a professional card cheat.

Presently, instead of subjecting people to cons, Mr Lovell stars in a one-man off-Broadway show, "Strange and Unusual Hobbies". The performance consists of a mix of comedy, anecdotes from his card-shark days and elaborate card tricks (I once saw him pull a missing card from his mouth). He's vaguely English, 50-ish, handsome (in an ageing Peter O' Toole way), and very slight--the result of a balanced diet of beer and cigarettes. With his young, blonde girlfriend in tow, he explains what it takes to be a successful con artist.

"I could sell shit at an anti-scat party," he says, "you have to figure out someone's wants and needs and convince them what you have will fill their emotional void." A con man is essentially a salesman--a remarkably good one--who excels at making people feel special and understood. A con man validates the victim's desire to believe he has an edge on other people....MORE

HT: Marginal Revolution