Shell Game – Everything You Need To Know

The 3 shell game is a gambling scam. A small pea is placed under one of the shells. The shells are moved around, and you must keep track of the pea. Sleight of hand is used, which makes it impossible to follow. The shell game is very entertaining and is performed by many magicians. I have been performing the 3 shell game for a long time and will teach you the exact routine and moves I use.

Watch me perform the routine


NEED: 3 shells, a pea, a close up pad (optional).

Click here to buy an excellent and inexpensive set of shells on Amazon that I highly recommend. This is the set I use in the YouTube performance video above.

Click here to learn all about magician’s close up pads and the one I recommend.


sleight of hand
I am right handed, if you are a lefty switch hands.
grip 1

Grip the shell from above with your thumb on the left side, your 1st finger on top, and your curled 2nd finger on the right side. Curl your 3rd and 4th fingers naturally. Your thumb and 2nd finger should touch and make a “V” at the back.


You will steal the pea out of the back of the shell as you push the shell forward.


Cover the pea with the shell and grip it from above. Press down firmly with your 1st finger at the front right side so the shell stays against the mat during the steal. Move the shell forward. The pea will automatically slide out the back. Lightly pinch the stolen pea between your thumb and 2nd finger.


Grip the shell and slide it back toward you. Press down firmly with your 1st finger at the front right side so the shell stays against the mat as you load in the pea. The pea will automatically slide back in.


  • The steal and the load should look the same. Move at the same pace.
  • Keep your hand close to and parallel with the table.
  • Keep your thumb and 2nd finger pressed tightly against each other so they don’t move when you make the steal.


Holding out is when you have the pea secretly concealed in your hand. You should never hold out for a long time. In my routine, I steal the pea and immediately load it into another shell.



phase 11

Start with the shells on the table with the middle shell injogged toward you.  Place the pea in front of the middle shell, in line with the side shells.

Grip the side shells and turn both hands palm up, showing the shells are empty.  Place them back down. With your right hand lift the middle shell and turn your hand palm up, showing it empty. Place it down covering the pea, don’t’ let go of the shell.

Grip the left shell with your left hand. Move both shells forward and steal the pea into your right hand. Shift your hands to the right and move the right two shells back and load.  With your left hand move the left shell back in line with the shells.

Slowly turn over the middle shell, then the left shell, then the right shell.


phase 111

Place the shells on the mat with the middle shell injogged toward you, same as in phase 1.  Place the pea in front of the middle shell, in line with the side shells.  Cover the pea with the middle shell, you can let go of the shell. You will only use your right hand for this phase.

  1. Move the right shell forward.
  2. Move the middle shell forward and steal the pea. 
  3. Move the left shell back toward you and load the pea.
  4. Move the middle shell down in line with the left shell.
  5. Move the right shell down in line with the other shells
  6. Turn over the middle shell, then the right shell, then the left shell.


phase 3

Get rid of one of the shells, you will only need 2 shells for this phase. Place the shell on the right forward of the left shell. Place the pea in front of the left shell.

Lift the left shell and turn your hand palm up flashing it empty. Cover the pea and immediately slide the shell forward so it is in line with the other shell.  Steal the pea as you do this.

While holding out the pea lift the right shell. In an arcing motion wave it over the left shell and then bring it back toward you. Put it down on the mat behind the left shell and load the pea in as you move the shell toward you.

Mime taking the pea from the front shell and dropping it in the back shell. Turn over the back shell and then the front shell.


I only do three phases in my routine, and they are pretty simple. The reason is that after being wrong two times, your spectators become aware that somehow you are manipulating the pea. Therefore they will be guessing between the two shells they know it should not be in. It becomes a guessing game and if they get it right it weakens the trick.

I never have my spectators guess which shell the pea is under, I present the routine as a visual that they just watch. The reason for this is because if people are guessing everyone chooses a different shell and since there are only three shells, someone will be correct. And when they are, it ruins the trick.

I don’t talk during the routine. This is a great trick for when it is loud at an event or if people don’t all speak the language. It is easy to follow and no talking or presentation is necessary.


Many magicians present this routine with a shot glass ending. They cover the pea with the shell and then cover the shell with a shot glass. I don’t do this ending for two reasons. First off, I don’t think it adds that much to the routine, though I am sure some magicians would disagree. Second, I am lazy and don’t want to have to carry a shot glass.


My hands tend to sweat, which makes stealing and gripping the pea very difficult. There have been times where I dropped the pea. That is not good. My best recommendation is if your hands are moist, don’t do the trick.


You do not need a close-up pad for this trick; it will work on a hard surface like a table. I like using a close-up pad because it makes the steal and load a little easier, plus it acts as a mini stage.


The shells I currently use are the Street Shells by Whit Haydn and Chef Anton. I like them because they are small and I have small hands. I have played with many sets of shells and to be honest, they are all good.

There is a website that sells everything for the 3 shell game. Click here to check out the best resource for all the best props for the 3 shell game. This is where professionals shop.


Hi, I'm Matt Furman. I've been a full-time professional magician for over 20 years, ever since I left medical school to pursue my passion.

I have a ton of real world experience and I am constantly practicing and performing new mind blowing magic.