Unfortunately the world of magic lost one of its great cardmen recently.
I never had the opportunity to meet the man, and don’t have any unique or personal stories to share about the incredible Ricky Jay. But you cannot study gambling sleights and the various methods of cheating at cards without learning of his unmatched expertise and undeniable talents in the field.
He was an incredible magician and performer. He starred in multiple TV shows and movies and was often seen slicing into watermelons by throwing cards at them with the finest precision.
I will continue to enjoy learning all that is available to me through his legacy of video productions and book publications.
As my humble tribute, I will share some of Ricky’s work below. The following clip is one of many examples of his mastery with a deck of cards.
The routine “Hold’Em Hands” is a simple poker hand demonstration that utilises the Texas Hold’Em community cards. A small packet of face down hole cards is spread through one at a time. Each time there are different hole cards face up that (when combined with the community cards) display every possible poker hand in the game.
This video was shot in one take with no edits used as part of the effect. It was a secondary project while I was filming the demo for a new card effect. It is a simple routine that is not designed to be flashy.
It has evolved from 3 core ideas:
I wanted to create a Poker Hand Demonstration using the Texas Hold’Em Community Cards
I wanted to incorporate a “Twisting the Aces” style presentation where different cards (the required cards) would appear face up in the deck.
The final reveal of the Royal Flush with the community cards.
The challenges came from deciding on a set of community cards that could support every single poker hand with the addition of having only a small packet of hole cards to cycle through for the routine.
I like that this routine can be enjoyed on a few levels. Lay people can either watch or interact by guessing the next hands to appear. Magicians and Gamblers working (or anyone who watches to work out the method) will no doubt spot a few popular sleights, but will also hopefully be surprised by a few aspects of the handling.
I will release a free video tutorial soon demonstrating the method behind this routine and some others I have recently created.
On July 25 this year I had the honour of seeing one of my magic ideas (Rubber Band Through Card) published on one of the world’s largest magic retail websites. This would have been a fantastic moment for me had I been the one to release it.
Obviously curious, I purchased the familiar looking, but differently named, trick only to find it frighteningly similar to something I released three years prior in 2015. It mirrored my trick in:
The video was subtitled, but the translation used many of the same words and phrases in its advertising, and even followed very similar steps in teaching the method.
It is easy to think that I was directly copied, but as a songwriter I am very aware of how one person’s creative process can overlap another’s. My concern was not that my effect was stolen, it is that, no matter how independently conceived, it is just too similar.
For an almost identical trick to be released on a web marketing juggernaut like this, runs a huge risk of overshadowing my work in all series of online forums and markets. Essentially, my original trick could become known as the “other” version or referred to as “just like” this more robustly advertised clone.
I reached out to the magic company in private. I asked for them to discuss the issue with me so that we could clarify if the trick was indeed too similar.
After a few requests I managed to get in touch with one of there core members who was kind enough to review my work and compare the similarities.
Side note: When they asked for a copy of my method for RBTC, I very nearly replied saying “You have a copy! You’re selling a copy of it!” but I took the high road and sent them a copy of the video.
According to them, the 3 levels that classify an effect’s originality are:
When comparing our two versions of the same trick, it was deemed that the tricks “have the same foundations” but a different plot and alternate handling.
I accepted that mathematically it could be proven that the two tricks were different enough to both be sold separately. Unfortunately there is just no way to accurately measure the “feel” of the effect which I believe to be almost identical.
“In all honesty the hole actually adds something more … as you’re proving the magic by having it stop in a hole halfway.”
The email from the core member of this magic company continued saying:
“Some could consider yours superior as it has the hole plot/handling to it.“
Regardless of the circumstances, it was great to have my work reviewed by a company that I have been a member of for many years, and hold a great deal of respect for.
I will let you be the judge as to which effect is more deserving of your US$4. I have learned a little more about the industry through this experience and I want to make it clear that I don’t hold any grudges.
However, I will be very hesitant to release material publicly that I am unable to clearly claim later as my own creation. There is simply too great a risk these days of even a demonstration being reverse engineered.
I look forward to sharing some of my new material with you all very soon!
There isn’t any rule that specifies the sorting of cards when packaged by card companies. A single series of card decks will remain sorted the same way within a single release, but each new brand or version of a deck may alter its order without limitation.
It is up to the card designers as to what that order is for each new deck they release. These days some decks even come ordered in magic memorised “stacks” to enable miracles to occur right out of a brand new box.
Standard USPCC Bicycle Decks come arranged in the suits Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts. The Spades and the Hearts are ordered Ace to King – Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King. Then the Clubs and Hearts are the reverse – King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace.
Arranging the Cards in the A-K then K-A order places two kings in the centre of the deck in positions 26 & 27. These are commonly known as “Kissing Kings”. If fact, when you split the whole deck arrangement in the middle (between the kings) you get a mirror of each card on the opposite side. The Ace of Spades is opposite the Ace of Hearts and so forth.
Shuffling the Deck
If you perfectly shuffle a deck of cards (splitting the deck into equal 26 card halves and accurately interlacing every single card one after the other) 8 times in a row, the deck will return to its original order. If you imperfectly (randomly) shuffle a deck of cards, they can be arranged in one of more combinations than there are atoms on earth.
That’s 80,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (67 zeros) ways to arrange a deck of 52 cards!! So any time you pick up a well shuffled deck, you are almost certainly holding an arrangement of cards that has never before existed and might not exist again.
Back into order
It is documented that the fastest way to return a deck into order is to deal out the cards into four piles (one pile for each suit) and then arrange each pile before reassembling the deck. The internet is littered with record claims and videos of people demonstrating their fastest deck resorting efforts. You will no doubt find them amongst those solving Rubik’s cubes and stacking cups.
So cursed I am with continually sorting decks back into order (most likely for false shuffling) I have been crafting methods to make the process more interesting for years!
Below is one of my first attempts at making the card sorting process more entertaining. It is a video I created that turns sorting a deck of cards into a game. The idea is to use the method defined by the name “SOLVE” (flipped 37JDS) and try to complete it in the fastest time possible without dropping cards.
The main purpose of this article is to teach you my way to quickly sort a deck of cards without needing a table.
Quickly, Whenever, Wherever
The main movement for my way of sorting the cards is spreading them from one hand to the other while arranging them into simple, easy to manage categories. Reordering cards in your hands is much more versatile for anywhere you might need to prepare or perform.
This method will not only get you quicker at sorting your decks, it will strengthen your hands for other sleights as well.
– Step 1: The Colour & Suit Positions
Start by cutting to the Ace of Spaces (face up). This isn’t vital, but just makes things better no matter how the cards are shuffled.
In this first step you are going to align them according to their colour and suit as they move across.
Black cards are pulled to the front and their positions are:
Front/Top – Clubs
Front/Bottom – Spades
Red cards are pull behind and their positions are:
Back/Top – Hearts
Back/Bottom – Diamonds
– Step 2: Separate the halves.
Once you have sorted the cards into their colour and suit positions, align them so that both the sides are neat but the bottom half and top half remain separate.
By rotating the top half you can strip out that half of the deck and separate it from the bottom half. The half you stripped out contains the clubs and the hearts. They are grouped together but not yet in order.
Place the half that was stripped out from the top of the deck, behind the other half and straighten everything up.
– Step 3: Ordering the Suits
One by one spread through the cards again but this time paying attention to the values.
The first two suits should have the Ace to the right and count up to the King to the Left. Then the last two suits start with the King to the right and count down to the Ace on the Left. Once a suit is ordered, move it to the back of the deck.
There is no trick this. I simply look at each card one at a time and determine if it is in order. If not, I move it into position.
For example I’m holding a 3, I’m sliding across an 8, is that in order? Yes – it can slide into place. Even though there are cards missing still, one is greater than the other in the correct order.
Alternatively if I’m holding a Jack and I spread across a 9, I will have to shift the 9 into its correct position. At this stage it may be between a Jack and a 6, so long as it is in order, the other cards will be along shortly.
In my experience it is easier to concentrate on just moving one card at a time rather than shifting blocks of cards around as this can be harder to keep track of. Although this process seems quite manual, the one by one sorting actually becomes a lot faster once you get into a rhythm.
Grab your cards … get set … go!
From Sorting to Practice
Another method I use to sort a deck of cards is slower but more focused on practising some sleight of hand. There is an advanced card move known as a spread cull that is a very effective way to secretly locate and control cards. Sometimes instead of using my standard method above, I will use a spread cull to collect and move each card into a simple “Ace to King” order.
If you are familiar with the Spread Cull move and would like to try what I do, here is the order I run with to get my preferred Spades, Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Ace to King order:
Spread cull all of the 2s to the top.
Go back to the start and cull the 3s
Continue this with the 4s right up until you have culled the Kings (The Aces will be all that remains and will be in order by default)
Next spread cull all of the Hearts to the top.
Go back to the start and cull the Clubs
Lastly, cull the diamonds.(The Spades will be all that remains and will be in order by default)
After completing the above steps, the deck will be in order and you will have practised spread culling 15 times!
“Perfect Practice Makes Perfect” is a quote from Richard Turner, one of the best card mechanics in the world. By altering the well known quote from just “Practice” to “Perfect Practice”, he is referring to working on moves and sleights but ensuring that work is focussing on correct techniques and methods. In short, practising how to do something imperfectly will not “make perfect”.
“The only shortcuts are at the butcher shop”
This quote comes from another master of his craft. Tommy Emmanuel, well known as one of the worlds best acoustic guitarists, insists that there is no other way to become great at what you do. Excellence requires constant hard work and dedication in your pursuits.
Not Bad, Not Ready
I have been practicing cards for well over 5 years now. I’ve explored magic, gambling, cheating and even created some of my own effects. I have accumulated a large amount of resources and knowledge about all areas of the subject and have met and consulted with some of the best magicians and card men in the world.
Am I good at this? Yes.
Am I good enough? Not yet.
The method behind magic tricks and gambling demonstrations often requires only minutes to learn. But to be able to perform the sleights effectively and consistently while maintaining the showmanship required for an entertaining performance takes months at minimum. Maybe years.
I once read an article where a magician compared this process to learning a musical instrument. This comparison resonated with me. If you have just started and learned to fumble through one or two basic songs on something new, would you go out and straight away perform to an audience? Even if you can navigate your way pretty confidently and only struggle at one or two parts, are you performance ready? No.
You shouldn’t just practise so you don’t make mistakes – practise so you CAN’T make them.
No retreat, No surrender
I have watched many performances where card masters who have been practicing their whole lives still drop that last Ace in a shuffle, or miss the crimp in a cut. I have personally been in situations where I have practiced cards solidly for months but when asked “Can you show me a trick?“, I just can’t.
This path is filled with multiple challenges. There is of course the physicality required to handle a deck of cards with confidence, but there are mental and social challenges as well. I still wouldn’t feel comfortable asking a stranger to “Pick a card” and I am assuming that no matter when I finally perform, I will never feel fully prepared.
Luckily for me practising cards is like meditation. My breathing and heart rate instantly slow down and my stress levels fade with every cut, spread, fan and shuffle. I thoroughly enjoy this process of learning and that helps me recover from those setbacks I encounter along the way.
The only true way to fail at something is to give up!
Unfortunately, there is only so far you can get having only a mirror or video camera as your audience. There is nothing wrong with practising alone, and I encourage doing this with every trick to ensure the moves become second nature. It is bad etiquette to perform routines that are underprepared as it risks revealing their secrets. It is always best to work on every part of every move, learn the script, become aware of all angles and make it a performance – not just a trick.
Ironically, the work behind magic and cards is designed NOT to be seen in front of spectators. It requires interactivity and a strong command of misdirection. This can only be achieved through working with an unpredictable and often critical audience.
At this stage, I have only dipped my toe into the magic performance world by publishing some of my work on YouTube. I am currently working on and refining a live set that will hopefully see me performing live by 2019.
Unlike music, cards have the advantage of being easy to carry and versatile to practise. I always carry a deck with me and work on moves sitting, standing or even walking. I have portable card mats for table work in cafes, restaurants or aeroplanes.
Unlike music, card practice is not disruptive to those around you. If you have any hesitations, just see it as an alternative to poking a smart phone like everyone else is no doubt doing.
My Regular Routine
Bottom Dealing (with & without sailing)
Strike & Push Off Seconds (with & without sailing)
There are multiple card printing companies in the Northern Hemisphere – all of which produce fine quality decks on top grade stock. Down here in Australia, when it comes to playing cards, we have very few locally made options. Even our souvenir koala and crocodile decks are made in China.
The one brand that stands out in most supermarkets and toy shops is “Queen’s Slipper“. I am unsure how well known they are up north of the equator, but here in Australia they are one of the most well recognised locally made decks around.
Developed by Tom Johnson, Queen’s Slipper have been making cards since 1919. This nearly 100 year old brand of deck can no doubt be found in the cupboards and garages of many Australian houses. I located a few that I picked up prior to becoming a playing card enthusiast and, even though I am not a collector, I always find myself picking up any new designs I come across in stores.
According to their website they provide the facility to produce Custom Playing Cards. They don’t have online uploading and building facilities like Make Playing Cards but rather invite you to contact them to discuss producing your design.
The printing on the tuckbox claims the cards are “High Quality” and they are indeed well made. The finish is called “Casino Slip” and when handled, the cards have a very glossy and plastic feel to them.
I recently bought a brand new Poker deck and tested it out. My first impression was that the cards resembled many of the cheaper decks available but, unlike those, Queen’s Slipper cards fanned, faro shuffled and dealt quite well. They feel sturdy and will no doubt last a long time in even the greasiest of hands.
Regardless of how these cards stack up in comparison, most Magicians here in Australia still prefer USPCC Bicycles and associated brands. Even though I found the cards very usable over all, I will still be importing my main supply of decks for practise and performance from the USA.
One magician who has put his name behind Queen’s Slipper is Cosentino – a previous “Australia’s Got Talent” contestant turned prime time performer. Cosentino has produced his own design that includes a secret marking system. The advertising website prompts you to enter a code to uncover the tricks.
Sleight of hand is something that requires a lot of time and practice working on moves that are only really ever used in performance. On this blog I plan to do a series called “EUFM” (Everyday Uses for Magic) that will put those hard earned skills to use in day-to-day settings.
The dexterity and shade awareness achieved while working on magic tricks can not only be practiced everywhere, but can be used to get a slight edge in many other non-magical circumstances.
No Biscuit Tricks
Here in Australia, biscuits are what others might call “cookies”. Regardless of there name, its important to note that I am not referring to their use in magic tricks. Although if I were …
This article is aimed at highlighting where knowledge of magic and sleight of hand can give you a huge advantage at home, in the office, or any other biscuit sharing situation.
The “Fair Share” palm
The idea behind this sleight is to clearly present to family members or coworkers (or anyone else you might be sharing a plate of communal biscuits with) that you are only taking a single biscuit in assurance that everyone gets their fair share. This is demonstrated in picture 1.
As you can see in picture 2, using your awareness of palming and angles, you can quite easily hold out 2 or 3 more unfair biscuits to enjoy later. I recommend ditching the extra load into a pocket or biscuit sized topit of some kind to lower your chances of flashing what you’re holding out and being outed as a greedy cheat.
The Bad Bikky Force
A common tool used in tricks is called “Magicians Choice”. This is also known as “equivoque”. This specially crafted method of social engineering can also be used to ensure you get the best of 2 available choices. For this example we will use the following 2 biscuits.
Let’s assume you are really in the mood for a cream filled double layer biscuit (pictured left) and have to get someone else to “choose” the other, non-creamy, single layer biscuit (pictured right). You simply ask them the following question:
“I want to eat one of these biscuits, which would you prefer?”.
Outcome 1: They respond “The creamy one”:
In this instance, you immediately pick up the creamy one, clarifying that the creamy one is the one they preferred you to eat.
Outcome 2: They respond “The non-creamy one”:
In this instance, you immediately pick up the creamy one, clarifying that they just said they preferred to eat the non-creamy biscuit.
The quicker you take a bite of your preferred biscuit, the less chance your loaded question will be challenged.
The One-Handed Multi-Hold
With all the props and flourishes used in tricks these days, magicians tend to get quite strong and flexible hands. This versatility and dexterity has previously only been used to shift card packets or sleeve coins. Using these same skills on your coffee break brings a whole new angle to the simple acts of lifting and holding.
One simple example is pictured below:
With one hand I am able to hold my biscuit (the creamy one I conned someone out of earlier), my coffee cup and a handy saucer to catch drips and crumbs. I invite all those practicing sleight of hand to hold items in non-standard ways like this – being careful of hot liquids or sharp edges.
This way of holding my cuppa and bikkie may seem a little over the top to some, but with my other hand now free, I am able to lift more delicious items. Theoretically, at any given time, I could have my coffee, saucer and current biscuit in my right hand, while palming multiple future biscuits (or other communal foods of choice) in my left.
The goal with this experiment is to utilise sleight of hand in common, non-magical and non-harmful ways. To make use of the unused skills earned by magicians and card sharps. Being creative with every part of your day can only help make you a stronger performer!
If only there were some real magic around that could make the extra weight gained from eating all the additional biscuits disappear!
A habit I have when entering any creative area is “how would I do it?” Often before learning the method to a trick, I try to achieve the outcome by composing my own method.
The results of my experiments will be categorised on this website under “Creations“. The ideas will range from moves, tricks, decks and accessories.
Magic / Card Surfaces
I practice cards every day in all environments. It’s easy to have a deck in your pocket and practice your standing or in-the-hands sleights whenever there is a quiet moment.
A lot of the moves I work on are based at the card table. This requires a felt mat to enable access underneath cards and packets when lifting them. Neoprene & Rubber roll up mats are most common and are available at many magic stores. These are great for your desk or table but I enjoy practising in other locations – like while travelling or even on the couch.
I have since created a way for those entering into card or magic work to create a surface that will suit their needs and their budget, until they can buy the real deal.
It may even eliminate the need for a more expensive option!
You will need the following 5 items:
1: An 11 x 14″ (28 x 36cm) frame with an 8 x 10″ Mount.
The sizes can vary slightly so long as:
It has a strong backing that isn’t just cardboard
The back is clipped in place from the frame (and doesn’t slide in)
There is an included frame “mount” made of firm card
The felt you use is larger in size
2: A 16x 11″ (42 x 30cm) A3 Size thin Card Felt
This is readily available from eBay and many online stores and the thin ones required cost well under $10. Search for “Magic Close Up Trick Mat“. Be mindful that these are imported and may take a while to ship but I have found the quality of even the cheaper options to be more than fine for practise.
3: Flat Cardboard (greater than A3 Size) 4: Strong Scissors 5: Large Roll of GAFFA (Cloth) Tape
STEP 1: Cut the Cardboard
Draw around the frame on the flat piece of card board and cut it out to that size. This will initially be too large but will enable more precise trimming later.
STEP 2: Prepare the Back
Remove any stands, clips or mounts directly attached to the rear board of the frame. This part needs to be flat so the surface is sturdy. Carefully remove the glass front and dispose of it. Tape it securely to ensure it won’t crack and become dangerous.
STEP 3: Trim the Cardboard
With the back board removed, lay the cardboard piece from step one over the back of the frame and trim to a size that fits inside.
STEP 4: Attach the Felt
Lay the felt face down on the table and place the cardboard on top. Ensure it is evenly centred.
Pull the felt over from one of the short edges and tape in 3 locations (top middle and bottom). Do the same with the opposite short edge and ensure the felt is stretched flat.
Without placing tape in a visible place on the front of the felt, apply some long strips to the top and bottom long edges – securing them in place. These are not the main supports for the felt so don’t require too much.
STEP 5: Add the Mount
Place the 8″ x 10″ Mount firmly over the top of the taped area and tape the centre edges to the cardboard – ensuring everything is as flat as possible.
STEP 6: Insert into the Frame
Push the Felt, Cardboard and Mount (now stuck together) into the frame. The glass should have been removed in Step 2 so the felt should push through the front.
Ensure the clips that hold the back of the frame in place are all sticking out and aren’t bending under the structure as you insert it.
STEP 7: Clip on the Frame’s Back Board
Pushing everything down as far as possible, clip on the backboard in the same way the frame had originally. There is more mass to fit in so it will be more difficult to lock in than before.
Tape over the clips to ensure they don’t scratch when placed face down. This will also help to hold everything in place.
STEP 8: Tape up the Back
This step is optional, but seeing as I used a black frame with black felt, I opted to completely tape up the wood style back with Black GAFFA (cloth) tape. This makes it sturdier to hold and creates an over-all better look
STEP 9: Adjust as needed.
At this stage, or any stage during the setup process, don’t be afraid to pull off the tape and try again for better results. Using GAFFA (cloth) tape, instead of screws and nails, isn’t as permanent and allows for easy adjustments that won’t damage the structure.
STEP 10: Practise!
Enjoy your new budget card surface anywhere and everywhere.
It is hard for card fanatics like myself to limit yourself to one deck. I stay away from cheaper brands and those sold at souvenir shops. They are fine for fun but they lack the quality required for effective sleight of hand.
As I mentioned in my previous article “I am not a collector“, I only purchase cards that I will open and use. If I do buy a deck with the intention of keeping it sealed, it is usually included in a bulk purchase.
Often I’ll buy a brick where I’ll open some and sell the rest. Due to the limited supply in Australia, I can end up recouping a lot of the initial cost. These days, for me to consider purchasing any single decks to store, the investment would have to be significant.
One of my Favourite Decks
One of my favourite decks of cards (for both performance and practice) are the “Bicycle Gold Standards”. They are also known as “Gold Seal”. They come in RED and BLUE and I cannot recommend these highly enough.
These were designed in collaboration with the renowned card cheat Richard Turner and are printed at USPCC.
Each deck of Gold Seal Bicycle Cards is constructed using Bee stock, world renowned for its flexibility, yet long-lasting durability. They are stamped to a caliper/thickness that facilitates classic moves like bottom and center dealing and are embossed to a depth that does not break down the structural integrity of the card, yet still allows each card to breathe properly, thereby reducing the gum-up and hangers often caused by finger moisture. But, most importantly, since these cards were manufactured to Richard Turner’s demanding personal specifications, they are Traditionally Cut!
For me, these cards bring all of the advantages of my preferred casino style decks to the standard “magic” design of Bicycles. Much of my work is focused on gambling demonstrations and cheating, so I find casino card stock is much better for shuffle and dealing.
They also seem to last a lot longer than standard USPCC decks. I would destroy standard Bicycles in a day or 2 but could use one of these decks for up to a week. When you consider their resilience vs their cost they end up being quite good value.
Buy In Bulk
As always, down here in Australia, there isn’t a steady supply available in stores. If you want to try these awesome decks, you’ll most likely have to get them imported.
eBay is reasonably affordable for 1 or 2 decks but I recommend saving up to buy in bulk and avoid those excessive shipping costs!
“I am not a collector!” … This is what I have to tell myself whenever I browse my usual vendors for playing cards. USPCC standards, ex-casino, cardistry patterns, boutique designs, original artwork, brand names, celebrities, speciality finishes, magic reveals, private reserves, red, blue, black … the list goes on! There are just so many variations out there! Too many!
I used to have a substantial collection of rare, out-of-print, limited release decks that decorated the inside of my cupboards and drawers. It was an investment? No … for me, it was a waste of time, money and space. Especially here in Australia where the shipping cost for decent cards is often higher than the cards themselves! I am not against card collecting by any means – I really enjoyed it. I still think it is worth holding on to one or two valuable gems as trophies. I’ve just recognised that my personal goal of collecting everything ever made by everyone was a tad futile.
Unfortunately here down under, I don’t have the luxury of walking into any shop and purchasing some everyday USPCC “Bicycle” or “Bee” decks so readily available in the northern hemisphere. For me the standard retail cost is well and truly above the currency conversion rate. They are often cheaper online but then we are slugged with that dreaded shipping cost!
For a steady supply I have found that Cosco (still fairly new and limited in Australia) supply the best value bulk playing cards for general use. Their AU$30 brick of USPCC “Standard” Rider Back cards are more than good enough for magic or gambling demonstrations and are sturdy enough to last a while. $3 per deck is a lot better than the alternatives (so long as you have a $60 annual membership or know someone who does).
Outside of that I have discovered a few online stores offer free shipping when you purchase over a certain amount in one transaction. This is usually expensive, but it is a great way to buy speciality bricks (boxes of 12 decks) in bulk.
Over all, my recommendation is to simply have a decent stockpile on hand of great cards you intend to use. I would rather invest my money and time into my skills – only purchasing items that I intend on opening and using.