Three cups

Just down the road from our apartment, you can see most days a group of old men playing that cup game, in which a coin is placed under one of three cups and, after they have all been moved at lightening speed, you have to try and find which cup contains the coin. The game is intriguing to watch – and I love the idea of these old fellows gathering around the cup game on a softly-sunny afternoon, and betting on whether they can discover where the coin is. The old men win a fair bit of the time. The spectacle, which is fun to watch, puts me in mind of lazy country towns further south or in the dusty hamlets of Spain and Portugal.

Of course, the observation that the old punters win most of the time should set the alarm bells ringing. It’s clearly rigged. This was pointed out to me the other day, as I was romantically pontificating about the Three Cup game, and expressing my view about how nice it is to see such games still existing in a country’s tradition.

This afternoon, I decided to put my friend’s belief to the test, and observe from a discreet distance the game. Not just the old men, who always seem to be there, but newcomers to the game, who, like me, were intrigued that it existed at all.

I watched several games of two young Chinese travellers, and then a few games from a bespectacled hippy. No one won any money, and they went away puzzled and bemused. Something funny was clearly going on. I returned to watch the old fellows played, and money was certainly changing hands. Sometimes the old fellows one. Sometimes they didn’t. But, whatever, they didn’t leave. They were the regulars. The bait for the other punters, if you will. Shortly, an auburn-haired lad stumbled upon the group, and was similarly spelled bound by this rustic spectacle seeming so out of place on the fashionaable streets of Turin. He was soon drawn in, and I took that as my cue to take my leave.

It is interesting to see the latest figures – that, whilst most sectors of the Italian economy have been hit hard by the current financial crisis, the gambling industry has proved resilient. Long live the man with the three cups, I say. Or at least the man with the three cups that doesn’t have to rip the tourist off.

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