Encyclopedia Titanica

Fate Deals a Hand - Review

Titanic Review

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There is an old saying that 'you must speculate to accumulate', and the professional gamblers, or 'sharps', who preyed on wealthy first-class passengers aboard transatlantic liners certainly did so.  Not only did they have to purchase expensive tickets themselves, but they also had to play a slow game to win their potential victims' trust over a journey taking several days.  They faced the ever-present and potentially career-ending risk of being unmasked; even being suspected of being a 'grifter', could render that trip an expensive and fruitless adventure, and seriously jeopardize future earnings.  Perhaps unsurprisingly then this was one area of crime where there was a certain honour, or at least a camaraderie, amongst thieves, as the sharps sometimes worked together to cultivate a 'mark' and share the spoils.

Fate Deals a Hand CoverIn this highly entertaining exploration of the men who were, or might have been, professional gamblers aboard the Titanic George Behe has revisited a story he first wrote about more than 40 years ago in the Titanic Commutator.  When something isn't broken, there is little need to fix it, and he has kept that same title for this greatly expanded study.

Separating fact and fiction can be difficult even when researching passengers who were not professionally inclined to conceal their identities or obfuscate the record.  So the author has taken on one of the bigger challenges in Titanic research.  He relies, as most researchers do, to a large extent on the newspaper reports, which brought forth a torrent of detail in the weeks after the Titanic went down.  But sifting this material to determine fact from fantasy, and, in some cases, deliberate deception, is a sometimes insuperable challenge. In some cases, Behe asks the reader to decide how much of a particular account they believe.

There were professional gamblers on the Titanic, though not as many as the newspapers, and even the gamblers themselves would have us believe.  The fact that three survived the sinking may be in part due to their habitual sense of self-preservation, aided perhaps by a familiarity with the geography of the ship from being relatively frequent travellers.  The gamblers were well known to the crew aboard liners and while warnings highlighting the presence of sharps aboard were sometimes posted in smoking grooms and cabins, it is also highly likely that some crew were in cahoots with the sharps and facilitated their trade.

In addition to seeking to unravel the story of the actual gamblers aboard the Titanic Behe addresses others who were reported to have been aboard but were not.  He provides a succinct background to the world, or underworld, in which these men operated, their often chaotic private lives, and, as far as can be established what ultimately became of them.

This slim but attractive hardback volume, with The History Press's customary production values, Fate Deals a Hand is always an enjoyable and illuminating read which, while leaving many mysteries unsolved, reveals these shady passengers in a brighter light than ever before.

Fate Deals a Hand: The Slippery Fortunes of Titanic's Professional Gamblers
The History Press (2023)
224 pages


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2024) Fate Deals a Hand - Review (Titanic Review, ref: #798, published 4 June 2024, generated 19th June 2024 05:52:35 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/fate-deals-a-hand-review.html