Alvin Clarence Thomas was certainly the greatest American gambler of the 20th century. Not only brilliant, he was an ingenious professional hustler, be it cards, golf, horse racing or shooting pool. But his specialty was sucker bets, and his creativity made him a legend.
Here are a few of those worth mentioning:
In wintertime he would bet a group of people he could hit a golf ball 500 yards. Then he would hit the ball on a frozen lake.
He bet heavily that he could throw a peanut over any clubhouse rooftop. But the suckers did not know that the shell was filled with lead.
Another inventive one was the watermelon scam. As he was standing on a hotel porch, a truck loaded with watermelons drove past. Thomas bought a watermelon and shared it with his fellow gamblers. He then started talking and bet that he could guess the number of watermelons in the truck within five. Thomas announced 413. The watermelons were counted for a total of 415. Pretty impressive, except that Thomas paid the truck driver the day before to count the watermelons and to drive past the hotel.
Legend has it that he even fooled Al Capone.
Thomas acquired the name of Titanic because people said that he could sink any opponent. And Thompson was a misprint in the New York newspaper.
In 1929, his career took a major turn with a card game involving Arnold Rothstein, one of the nation’s biggest gamblers. Thompson, a master with a deck of cards, cheated the game and won more than $200,000. Suspecting a ruse, Arnold refused to pay and was killed a few weeks later. Thompson was brought to court, and charges were eventually dropped. But after this scandal the legend of Titanic Thompson grew, so suckers were harder to find. For thirty years he travelled the country with his scams and married a couple of times. He died broke in 1974.