One of the greatest cons of all-time happened aboard the Titanic.
Its perpetrator was Piers Mason and his beautiful fiancée Isabel. Piers’ forte was gambling, specifically poker. He was well aware of the elite and wealthy passengers aboard the great ship.
Prior to boarding the ship, Piers had called in all of his old markers and borrowed as much as he could. He wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to do it, but his aim was to relieve as much “wealth” from the well-heeled aboard the ship as he could.
His initial plan was to play with a marked deck of cards, but he decided against doing this because he knew many of the wealthy card players were sharp and might notice the markings. Casting this scheme aside, he decided to play an honest game of poker hoping his skills alone would allow him to come out on top.
However, after the first night of gambling, Piers was down $10,000 pounds. But during play, he learned an interesting tidbit of information. Aboard the ship were two prestigious chess players, one German, the other Russian.
It was at that point that a clever scheme was hatched. He boldly announced “my companion Isabel can hold her own against either chess master.” After the laughter had died down, Piers upped the stakes be declaring, “Not only can she hold her own against either man, but she will play them simultaneously.”
After a few more chuckles, a wealthy retired British admiral stood up and said to him, “I think you’ve lost your marbles. Do you really want to bet that your fiancée can earn a stalemate against either Borzov or Heilmann, two of the greatest grandmasters in the world?”
Mason replied, “Yes, I do.”
The admiral then inquired as to the amount of the bet. “$40,000 quid,” stated Piers. The admiral then said, “If Isabel beats just one of the chess masters, I will give you one million pounds. Even if she just achieves a draw with one, I will give you one hundred thousand pounds sterling.”
Piers eagerly accepted the bet. Game on.
The only request that Piers had was that there had to be a partition set up between the two games. Otherwise, he explained, Isabel’s concentration would be thrown off. The chess masters so no reason to object.
In the first match, Borzov played white, so naturally in the game against Heilmann, Isabel played white. As the games progressed, Isabel effortlessly glided between the two matches. Within an hour, both chess masters were showing signs of distress.
Who is this unknown woman? This is madness. Borzov, playing white, was confident he couldn’t lose, so he was in no mood to offer a stalemate. However, Heilmann, playing black, realized he could actually lose to this relentless woman. Rather than face humiliation, he offered his opponent a draw. Piers would soon be one-hundred thousands pounds richer!
How was it possible that Isabel, who didn’t know the difference between a bishop and a knight, had achieved a draw? The partition between the two matches was the key.
All Isabel did was mimic each of the players. Whatever Boroz did while playing white, Isabel did in her match against Heilmann. Same thing with Heilmann. Whatever piece he moved, she moved her black piece against Borzov. It had the effect of the two grand masters playing against each other.
Unfortunately, neither Piers nor Isabel survived the Titanic’s encounter with the iceberg. We only know of their scheme because he had related his con to a stowaway as both were clinging to a life raft.