Whit Haydn and Chef Anton
The School for Scoundrels Notes
Featuring: Gazzo on the London Monte Mob
Coil binding, 8 1/2 " x 11 ", 150 pages, over 150 photos and illustrations.
The School for Scoundrels Notes on Three-Card Monte
Closed Monte and Open Monte
Closed Monte: The Rube Act of Frank Tarbeaux
Open Monte: Gazzo on The London Mob
Trays, Boxes, Tables and Umbrellas: The Layouts
Three in the Hand Toss
Some Other Switches
Vernon’s Optical Move
Scarne’s Monte Slide
Throws and PatternsHooks and Come-Ons
Gazzo’s Creased Lightning
One-Way Backs Hook
Scarne’s Crimped Corner
Scarne’s Marked Corner
Pencil Mark, Lipstick and Daub
Psychology and Shills
Spieling the Broads: Monte Patter
Three-Card Monte in Film
Monte and the Law
School for Scoundrels Exhibition Routine
Right on Cue
The Meaning for Magic
Closed Monte: Canada Bill’s Rube Act
Closed Monte: Devol’s Bent Corner and Pencil Mark
Closed Monte: The Dry Cleaner/Tailor Play
Closed Monte: The Texas Twis
Closed Monte: The Girl at the BarOpen Monte: Devol and the Boys from Texas
Open Monte: Race Monte
Open Monte: Even a Man About Town Can Get Taken in the City
Open Monte: Piccadilly Ploy
Rise in Con Games Reported in Downtown Shopping District
How to Photograph Three-Card Monte and the Shell Game
Excerpt from the History section:
Canada Bill Jones was born in a Gypsy tent in Yorkshire, England. He moved to Canada where he learned his trade from Dick Cady, a veteran three-card monte player. By the time he left Canada for the rich pickings in the pre-war South, Bill was an expert at the game. Two decades of experience on the southern rivers, and Canada Bill became the greatest monte sharp to ever “pitch the broads.”
Canada Bill is credited with inventing the “rube act,” but this is probably false. The “rube act” is actually a very ancient dodge that dates back at least to the sixteenth century in Spain. It was known as “playing the peasant.” It is generally accepted that Canada Bill is the one who applied the “rube act” to the three-card monte and introduced it in this form to America:
Canada Bill was a character one might travel the length and breadth of the land and never see his match, or run across his equal. Imagine a medium-sized, chicken-headed, tow-haired sort of a man with mild blue eyes, and a mouth nearly from ear to ear, who walked with a shuffling, half-apologetic sort of a gait, and who, when his countenance was in repose, resembled an idiot. For hours he would sit in his chair, twisting his hair in little ringlets…His clothes were always several sizes too large, and his face was as smooth as a woman’s and never had a particle of hair on it. Canada was a slick one. He had a squeaking, boyish voice, and awkward, gawky manners, and a way of asking fool questions and putting on a good natured sort of a grin, that led everybody to believe that he was the rankest kind of a sucker—the greenest sort of a country jake. Woe to the man who picked him up, though.
—George Devol, Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi
It is said that Canada Bill was one of the few men who could display the monte cards, or tickets as they were called, and in the act of throwing them down on the table, palm the winning card and ring in a third loser card—cutting the chances of the suckers down to nil. This ability is not mentioned by Devol, and may be a fabrication on the part of someone who did not understand the actual working of the game. In one story in Devol’s book, a man does manage to pick the right card and Canada Bill is forced to pay out (as it turned out this was a setup, part of a trick played on Jones by Devol).
Canada Bill Jones Canada Bill’s makeup for the “Rube Act”
During the harness races in Utica, New York in 1876, Mason Long once capped for Canada Bill’s monte store—a saloon that fronted for his three-card monte game operating in the back room. His description of the event is included in the Appendix. In his book, Mason Long the Converted Gambler, Long called Canada Bill “the most notorious and successful thief who ever operated in this country…whose name is familiar to every newspaper reader.” After describing Bill’s performance of the rube act, he goes on to say that Bill “squandered his money lavishly and drank himself to death in about a year after the incident I have related. He died a pauper.”
Devol took great exception to Long’s description of Canada Bill. As known to his long-time partner, Bill never weighed more than 130 pounds, rarely drank anything harder than cider, and was an unabashed coward. According to Devol, he “would not fight a woman if she said boo.” Devol says that he was not a thief, but was honest to a fault, that he was a kind man in many ways, and he was noted for displays of charity to the unfortunate, even among gamblers—who as a class were noted for their generosity. Canada Bill liked to render service to someone in trouble, partly to improve his luck at the gaming tables—for “Bill’s luck” he would call it:
There never lived a better hearted man. He was liberal to a fault. I have known him to turn back when we were on the street and give to some poor object we had passed. Many a time I have seen him walk up to a Sister of Charity and make her a present of as much as $50, when we would speak of it, he would say: “Well, George, they do a great deal for the poor, and I think they know better how to use the money than I do.” Once I saw him win $200 from a man, and shortly after his little boy came running down the cabin, Bill called the boy up and handed him the $200 and told him to give it to his mother.
—George Devol, Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi
Bill needed luck because he was always a sucker for the short card games—poker, casino, and seven-up. Devol said that he had seen Bill play for seventy hours at a time, and had never known him to quit anything but a loser. It was so bad, that gamblers used to follow Bill from town to town just so they could take advantage of him. Devol says, “He loved gambling for its own sake, just as the moralists love virtue for its own sake.”
One of the most famous and most often quoted of all gambling stories, is about the time that Canada Bill had to spend the night in Baton Rouge, and searched all over town until he finally found a Faro game in the back room of a barbershop. George Devol found him there and saw immediately that the dealer was cheating using a “two-card” (rigged) box. He begged Bill to quit the game. “Can’t you see this game is crooked?” Devol asked. “Sure I know it, George,” sighed Bill with resignation, “but it’s the only game in town.” The punch line of this story has become a familiar part of our popular culture.
When the Civil War ended the reign of the steamboats, Canada Bill moved onto the railroads out west. Devol, Doc Baggs and John Bull capped for Canada Bill on the trains out of Omaha. Baggs and Bull also acted as steerers for young Frank Tarbeaux who would play the same “rube act” that Canada Bill had created so many years before.
Canada Bill in a familiar pose—The “Rube Act.”
Canada Bill once wrote to the general superintendent of the Union Pacific Railroad. In his letter he offered $25,000 a year for the exclusive rights to run a three-card monte game on the trains. He promised to limit his victims to commercial travelers from Chicago and Methodist preachers. The railroad official politely declined the offer.
In the mid-seventies, as the railroads went the way of steamboats for the sharpers, Bill began a grand tour of racetracks around the country. He made so much money at monte and other swindles that he could have retired a dozen times. Unfortunately, Canada Bill couldn’t stay away from Faro and short cards.
Canada Bill Jones died in 1880 in Reading, Pennsylvania. He was destitute, and buried at public expense. One of the gamblers who stood by as they lowered Canada Bill into the ground offered to bet $1000 at two to one odds that Bill wasn’t in the casket. There were no takers. One gambler within earshot said, “I’ve seen Bill get out of tighter holes than that before.”
When the western gambling fraternity learned of his death, a group of them from Chicago raised money among themselves to recompense the city of Reading for the funeral expenses, and had a gravestone erected for Canada Bill. But Canada Bill’s real monument is his “rube act” creation—which proved so devastating a tool in the hands of the many sharpers who followed him.
Frank Tarbeaux was born at the site of present day Boulder, Colorado in 1852. He claimed to be the first white child born in Colorado. Young Frank fought Indians “before his voice changed” and killed his first man when only fourteen. He was making his way as a professional gambler by the age of eighteen. He worked the trains out of Omaha doing Bill’s “rube act” when he was still in his early twenties.
Tarbeaux was the very model of the western gambler, and in fact, Sir Gilbert Parker and Frank Harris both wrote fictional works that were based on the character that they each had met in real life—Frank Tarbeaux:
A striking, clean-shaven, good-looking man whose years it would be impossible to say, for he had no gray hair, and yet there was a look, not of age, but of long experience, in his face…It was a figure and a face not to be forgotten. There was a touch of the foreigner in his looks and yet he did not speak with an accent…It was a face that never wrinkled with emotion. Its only life was in the eyes and at the mouth and they were most expressive. He had the impassive look of a Jap and was vigilant in a curious, quiet way…It was to be said that he had not had complete social training, and yet he was well dressed and had dignity. I can say truthfully I never met a man with greater social gifts, although it was clear he had limited education…His charm lay in keen intelligence, a rare natural philosophy, and in humour of an original kind.
—Sir Gilbert Parker, Tarboe, the Story of a Life
During his long life, Tarbeaux traveled extensively outside the United States, and befriended many famous people including King Kalakaua of Hawaii, Oscar Wilde and Hadden Chambers. When he was seventy-seven in 1930, he gave his recollections to Donald Henderson Clarke and these were recorded in the book, Autobiography of Frank Tarbeaux.
Clarke described Tarbeaux as he was in his late seventies: “This amazing man still dresses like a beau, rides like a hero, and shoots like a demon. Doctors have told him that his physical condition is perfect.”
Tarbeaux was one of the few really successful sharpers to retire comfortably and in good health. Another of these few was Tarbeaux’s steerer on the trains, Charles “Doc” Baggs. Tarbeaux records that as late as 1930, at the age of ninety-three, Baggs was in good health and living quite comfortably under another name on an estate located near New York City. This is all the more surprising because Doc Baggs had won, and then at the Faro table lost, several fortunes in his checkered career.
Baggs was one of “the sharpest of the sharp,” and became one of the most notorious conmen in an era of fabulous skin-game artists. He graduated from monte steerer to full-fledged bunco operator. He claimed to have been arrested “about a thousand times,” but was never convicted of anything.
Once, when arrested by lawman Michael Spangler on a charge of “bunco-steering,” Doc acted as his own attorney. “Gentlemen,” he told the court, “no such term as ‘bunco-steerer’ appears in the statutes defining criminal acts. How could I possibly be guilty of a charge not prohibited by the statutes?” Doc Baggs even produced a huge dictionary, thumbed through it, and then announced that it didn’t even contain the term. This completely baffled the court, and the judge dismissed the charge.
Baggs once declared, “I defy the newspapers to put their hands on a single man I ever beat that was not financially able to stand it. I am emotionally insane. When I see anyone looking in a jewelry store thinking how they would like to get away with the diamonds, an irresistible desire comes over me to skin them. I don’t drink, smoke, chew, or cheat poor people, I pay my debts.”
Doc Baggs was always among the best dressed of a fancy-dressing crowd. He never quarreled or used loud words. He was soft-voiced, gentle-mannered, and always wore a smile. He was a consummate actor, equally convincing as a ranchman, stockman, miner, banker, minister or laborer. Any theater property man would be proud to own a costume wardrobe as extensive as Doc’s vast array of disguises.
Charles “Doc” Baggs
He is credited with inventing the “gold brick” confidence game, with which he managed to fleece many wealthy and prominent people. He extended and improved the concept of the monte store that was invented by his friend and fellow traveler Ben Marks—an invention that revolutionized con games and became the basis for the so-called “big store,” the foundation of all the big cons. Before we describe some of Doc Baggs’ exploits, we need to talk a bit about the origins of the monte store.
Ben Marks—like Doc Baggs, Canada Bill Jones, Frank Tarbeaux and the others with whom he teamed—called himself a gambler, but was in fact a confidence man. His object was to steer his victim into a trap, lead him to believe he was on the inside of a “sure thing,” and then milk him dry. He had worked his way westward from a home in Council Bluffs, Iowa, dealing three-card monte on a board suspended from his shoulders.
But in Cheyenne, during the days of the Hell-on-Wheels horde, he found the competition in the gambling tents too tough. He hit upon an idea that, according to Maurer, was “to revolutionize the grift, an idea which was to become the backbone of all big-time confidence games.”
Ben Marks posted a sign on a Cheyenne building reading, “The Dollar Store.” The store’s window exhibited all sorts of goods, each item worth much more than a dollar. Inside, Marks and his cohorts would wait. Bargain hunters and “something-for-nothing chumps” soon appeared.
Once inside, the sucker’s interest was switched from the dollar bargains to a three-card monte game being dealt on a wooden barrel. Since no customer ever left the monte game with any money in his pocket, none of the merchandise was ever sold.
These monte stores caught on, and were copied all over the country. Steerers and ropers would operate at hotels and the rail and stage terminals to find suckers and bring them along to the bargain store. In an ironic development, one such store in Chicago eventually found itself making more money selling items for a dollar than running scams, and the owner founded a national chain of legitimate department stores.
Scores of monte stores in cities throughout the West, South and Mid-West continued their profitable operations until the First World War. A swindler named Farmer Brown made hundreds of thousands of dollars in Chicago alone, mostly from ranchers and farmers who came into town.
Doc Baggs used the concept of the store to promote the sell of his gold bricks. He also used the “mitt” store in which a sucker was engaged in a game of poker and cold-decked. Marks and others developed the “race” and “fight” stores where they set up rigged foot and horse races or prizefights, and offered the sucker an inside track on a “sure thing.”
Maurer writes about Ben Marks’ contribution: “Thus, in a very crude form, developed what we know today as the ‘big store’—the swanky gambling club or fake brokerage establishment in which the modern payoff or rag is played.” The movie The Sting was based on this sort of “big store” con.
Bagg’s “store” would be an office—elaborate and rich looking. It had the best obtainable in furnishings, with an immense safe that appeared to be built into the wall, its front flush with the far side of the main office. This safe was no less than seven feet square, and as the massive doors were left conveniently open, the viewer could see in its interior depths the shelving, boxes, and pigeonholes usual and customary in all such safes.
But this one was different. It was nothing but a cleverly executed painting. It consisted of a number of thin wooden panels about the size of a cigar-box lid; all joined together by a surface of silk upon which had been painted the safe—including the fancy curlicue lettering, delicate flowers, and elaborate emblems of the period. In the case of a police raid or other emergency, it could readily be ripped off the wall and carried into hiding folded under one arm.
Doc’s heavy oak desk stood right in front of the safe, while in the forepart of the room, where the visitor would enter, were solid oak counters and a railing and gate of similar material. At least, so it looked. All of these could collapse for quick storage or convert into other completely different furnishings. Clerks seated on high stools behind these counters scribbled busily into paper-maché ledgers. Glass panels in the doors leading out of the room bore such inscriptions as Private, Manager, Attorney, and Actuary. These doors were constructed from movable partitions that could quickly disappear into hiding places inside the walls.
When a sucker returned to Doc’s office with the sheriff in tow—perhaps in a matter of twenty minutes of being sheared—he would be confused when he burst through the door to find instead of an office, the plainly furnished interior of a lady’s bedroom. A terrified Chinese servant would valiantly try to explain in his broken English, “Missy not here.” The victim would end up foolishly trying to explain to the lawman—probably on Doc’s payroll—that the brokerage office “must be around here somewhere.”
Ben Marks’ monte store is an example of closed monte. In a sense, the classic nineteenth-century version of the game as usually described is closed monte. Whether on the railroad train or in the monte store, the basic plan was for the steerer to look for a well-heeled victim, strike up a friendship, gain his confidence, and then bring him to the dealer so he can be taken for as much as possible in as quiet a way as possible. The type of character that could pull off this scam had to be a man of considerable ability and money himself. At least the bunco-steerers had to dress and act like men of substance if they were to gain the trust of a well-to-do victim. Doc Baggs and George Devol were perfect in this role.
Excerpt from the Sleight-of-Hand section:
The hype (sometimes called the overthrow by magicians) is the most important move in the monte. Although not difficult, it should be practiced until it looks just like the normal toss. Sometimes the card is thrown to the table from a few inches away; sometimes the card is virtually “placed” on the table (an excellent but more difficult maneuver). Either way, the move should exactly simulate the action of a toss. It should always be done in a casual, offhand way. It should not look like a “move” or as if anything important was happening.
The hype is identical to the toss until the point that the operator glances at the Ace. This time, as the right hand turns palm down to make the toss, the right second finger releases the Joker instead of the Ace. The second and third fingers separate just slightly during this action, pivoting the two cards on the thumb. This makes it easier to separate the two cards and release the top one cleanly.
As the top card is released, the right hand pulls the Ace quickly to the right and out from under the Joker (Photo 11), and the right second finger is placed back next to the ring finger on the edge of the Joker. The ring finger is then lifted off the card as in Photo 12. All of this happens in one quick movement as the card is thrown to the table. The hyped card should be tossed flat on the table—dead—without hitting either edge or bouncing.
The action of pulling out the right hand is difficult to describe. The appearance should be one of a relaxed, casual action. In order to create this, the right hand immediately begins to slow down as it moves to the right once it clears the Joker. It is important to mimic exactly the look of the normal toss.
Photo 11 Photo 12
When learning to “place” the card on the table, it may be easier at first to hype to the left position instead of the center. This sometimes helps the beginner to get a feel for placing the card down and moving the hand to the right. The pullout is the real secret. Think about it as if you were pulling a tablecloth out from under some dishes.
A useful ruse in the hype is to “call the card facedown.” Instead of showing and naming the Ace and then throwing it to the table, the Ace is shown and thrown but is not named until it hits the table. The idea is to shift the moment in which the spectator is implicitly asked for agreement.
The performer shows the Ace to the spectators and says, “Here’s the money card. That’s where the hive is, that’s where the honey is…” Now he glances at the face of the card as in Photo 9, and hypes the Joker to the table. “I pay on the Ace of Spades.” The card should land on the table as the word “Spades” is said. As he says this last line, the operator gestures slightly toward the card on the table with the face down card in his right hand. He looks at the spectator inquisitively as if asking, “You understand, right? I pay on the Spade?” The operator then nods at the spectator as if silently thinking, “Good, you’re with me.”
The spectators are being asked subliminally to agree that the facedown card on the table is the Ace of Spades. At the same time, the dealer is vocally seeking agreement that the Ace of Spades is the money card—that it’s the one that pays. Since the spectators already accept that the Ace of Spades is the money card and readily agree to this, they are then inclined to agree to the other implicit question without thought. This is subtle, but extremely powerful. The idea of calling the facedown card is useful in other card tricks that require a double-lift, top-change or other switch. By moving the moment of agreement, a number of discrepancies can be cleverly buried. The additional ruse of shifting the question for agreement to one previously accepted adds even more authority to the maneuver.
The hype can also be used to show the Ace and remaining Joker as two Jokers. These moves are called flash-hypes. After the Joker (supposedly the Ace) is hyped to the table, the Ace is in the right hand, and the Joker is in the left. The two hands are casually brought together and the two cards are arranged in the right hand in the toss position with the Joker underneath. The operator does not look at his hands as he does this, but rather acts as if he is moving the left hand card to the right hand so that he can gesture with the left as he talks.
The right hand turns palm up so that the performer (and also the spectators) can see the Joker, as if the operator is reassuring himself. It is then casually hyped either to the left or right of the face down card on the table. The right hand turns palm up again, and checks the “other” Joker (actually the same Joker), then tosses it to the opposite side of the supposed Ace on the table.
Sometimes the two losers are thrown facedown to the table as in the description of the toss above, and then as if on second thought, the Ace (supposedly a Joker) is picked up and placed on top of the Joker in toss position. The Joker is then shown, the Ace is hyped, and the Joker shown again and dropped to table.
Another patter subtlety for the flash-hype is to hype the Joker (supposedly the Ace) to the table and call it face down. “The Ace of Spades...” Then as the two supposed Jokers are shown in the flash-hype, the operator says, “and one (hype), two Jokers…” as he shows and tosses the “second” joker to the table. He gestures to the cards on the table and says, “Just three cards.”
People will subconsciously question any assertion that the operator makes. This is part of the normal process of gathering information. By making the point of the operator’s assertion seem to be that he is proving that there are only three cards, the spectators are not subconsciously questioning when he shows the two Jokers, “Are they both Jokers?” They are able to accept the assertion “just three cards” without question since they have by that time already assured themselves of this fact.
Excerpt from the Spieling the Broads section:
The patter of the monte dealer is an essential part of the scam. It is his way of drawing a crowd and entertaining them, as well as a means of misdirection, and often a code by which he can direct the members of his mob. Darwin Ortiz in Gambling Scams tells of a situation in which a young man was trying to pull his lady, already firmly on the hook, away from the game.
The operator used his rhyming patter to direct his shills to “block her man.” A shill then interrupted the young man and kept him busy while the woman was cleaned out. (By the way, Ortiz has one of the best and most helpful descriptions of the game we’ve found in print.)
The dealer will often go from the rhyming patter which he uses with his repetitive throws and displays, to asides and jokes with the crowd, and then to direct instructions and one-on-one give and take with the suckers. He has to establish a fun and non-threatening environment, and at the same time project energy and excitement. His sing-song ballyhoo, much like an auctioneer’s spiel, gives a sense of urgency and confusion at the same time. He can’t just stand and wait for a crowd to come over. He has to be moving the cards around and making a pitch at all times. His nonsensical doggerel helps overcome the monotony of the necessary constant repetition of the same themes.
Once he has drawn a crowd, he switches to a method of speaking that sweeps up the spectators and forces them to think along with him, following his line of reasoning uncritically. Professor Maurer writes about this type of speech:
Any grifter who spiels the nuts or tosses the broads will superimpose on his regional and social dialect certain synthetic elements which can be best described as a kind of artificial platform English. It is used to control people of a certain kind for a certain purpose. It must be clear and plainly understood. It glories in excesses of hypercorrectness, both in usage and pronunciation. Its intonation, stress, and juncture pattern is time-tested and guaranteed, when used by a master, to produce exactly the human responses which the grifter needs to operate his racket. It is the speech of the medicine show. We hear echoes of it in the speech of certain backwoods politicians and fringe-type evangelists. The great comedian W. C. Fields thoroughly mastered this style of speech, then based his acting career on a subtle burlesque of it.
—David Maurer, The American Confidence Man, p. 258.
The conman adopts a tone of patience and confidence, but that is slightly condescending. He takes on the manner of authority. In adopting this sort of speech, he wants to take over the thinking processes of his listeners. He seems to always be making good sense, and always seeking agreement. “I always have two chances to your one, you understand? I only pay on the Ace.”
Beyond the style of speech, patter itself is a powerful tool that can work as misdirection. It can cover a discrepancy in a move, or distract the audience in their thinking. A joke or line that makes the audience think can be like a thrown barstool when someone is being chased—it slows down the pursuers.
We talked earlier about how a ploy like “calling a card face down” can lead the audience past a switch like the double-lift or top-change. The throw of the cards should always be made with appropriate patter that leads the spectator’s thinking into agreement with what the operator wants them to believe.
The following lines come from the literature, from magicians’ patter, and from the contributions of our students and others that have collected lines used by actual monte dealers. This is an important resource for creating authentic-sounding routines. We are always on the lookout for this type of material, and appreciate any contributions to this ongoing effort to make a record of it.
Some lines will fit in with a performer’s chosen character and some won’t. Be careful to always choose from the lines that fit both the period and the style of your performance character.
“Here you are, gentlemen, this Ace of Hearts is the winning card. Watch it closely.
Follow it with your eye as I shuffle. Here it is, and now here, now here, and now—where?
If you point it out the first time, you win; but if you miss, you lose.”
“Here it is, you see; now watch it again. This Ace of Hearts, gentlemen, is the winning card.”
“I take no bets from paupers, cripples or orphan children. The Ace of Hearts.”
“It is my regular trade, gentlemen, to move my hands quicker than your eyes. I always have two chances to your one. The Ace of Hearts.”
“If your sight is quick enough, you beat me and I pay; if not, I beat you and take your money.”
“The Ace of Hearts; who will go me twenty? It is very plain and simple, but you can’t always tell. Here you are, gentlemen; the Ace, and the Ace. Who will go me twenty dollars?”
— Albert D.Richardson, Beyond the Mississippi, 1869.
“All right, folks, this is a playing game, not a watching game. Ten will get you twenty and twenty will get you forty. I don’t get sore when I lose and I’m glad when you win.”
“Hi diddle diddle, the Queen is in the middle. When the money goes down, the lady can’t be found!”
“Red you choose, black you lose!”
—Frank Garcia, Don’t Bet On It, 1978.
“Up tomorrow, down tomorrow;
Rich man’s luck and poor man’s sorrow…
Maybe you win, maybe you lose—
It all depends on what you choose.
If you pick the queen, then you win…
If you pick a black card—you play again…
Find the Lady! Find the Lady!
Cherchez la femme!”
—Black monte-tosser who worked Sportsman’s Park and Race Track
on the outskirts of Chicago as related by Johnny Thompson, Jan 98
“Chase the Ace, don’t ride the Bee. Only a little fool would ride a bee like that.
He’s gonna get stung.
The Ace—that’s where the hive is. That’s where the honey is, that’s where the money is…”
We hope you have enjoyed these excerpts from
The School for Scoundrels Notes on Three-Card Monte
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