Dear Jerxy: The Audience-Centric Gambler

Dear Jerxy: Are you still doing these? I agree with much of what you say about an approach to magic that lessens the emphasis on the performer, but I prefer gambling demonstrations to typical "magic" tricks. Any way to apply your lessons to the gambler? And how would you assemble the 100 trick repertoire you talk about in AATKT for a gambler? 

Knows When To Hold 'Em

Dear KWTHE: It's a good question, and one I have some thoughts on.

The first question to ask yourself is if you're really into gambling effects. The reason I ask that is because I've known a couple of people who were drawn to that type of performance only because they didn't want to be thought of as some weirdo doing...

So presenting magic effects under the guise of gambling demonstrations gives you that distance from the "mystical" that a lot of people are looking for. In fact, I think that's often why many of us prefer to perform for other magicians. It removes much of the awkwardness a lot of us sense when performing tricks for normal folks. (If you don't sense that awkwardness you might not be great at reading social queues.) The performance styles I detailed last week go a long way in removing that awkwardness by distancing yourself from the mystical elements or ramping them up to the point where it's clear they're not supposed to be taken seriously. So if you're drawn towards gambling material because you dislike the supernatural stuff, then you might want to try other types of effects, starting off in the Peek Backstage style which undercuts the awkward magician stereotype you see in pop-culture.

But maybe you're really into gambling and that's what you want to focus on. That's valid. If that's the case, I still don't think, "Look at my prodigious skill," is a great presentation. I think that's still somewhat off-putting, even in the context of gambling as opposed to magic. So I would similarly present it as a peek behind the scenes as you work on some skill related to a game they're interested in. That, for me, would be the most audience-centric approach:

Step 1. Find out the game they play.
Step 2. Ask them to assist or observe while you show them something you're working on related to that game.

This also goes to the 100 trick repertoire for someone who is strictly into gambling material. There's really no reason to have a half dozen poker tricks that are indistinguishable to your spectator. Instead I would try to have a different trick mastered for every potential game a spectator might name. That would be the start and the heart of my repertoire. 

My full repertoire would probably be constructed something like this if I wanted to come across as the guy who was into gambling:

20 tricks that are directly related to actual card games (poker, blackjack, bridge, gin rummy)

20 traditional magic tricks that I can couch in a gambling presentation. For instance, a color changing deck could be presented as a deck switch. I sometimes present an ambitious card routine as a demonstration of "middle palming" (palming a card out of the middle of the deck). I don't actually show it on top. I place it in the middle then palm it off the top, if that makes sense.

20 gambling effects with things other than cards.

40 Proposition bets

Here's the thing, if you try to seriously imply you're some shady underground gambler type it's going to come off as totally phony. You might be able to convince the 13-year-olds at Ellusionist, but real underground gamblers are as likely to expose their skills as serial rapists are. Instead I would look to people like Titanic Thompson and Amarillo Slim as your influences. Guys who were always trying to think of different ways to win a buck. This is, I think, a more broadly interesting approach than trying to come off as just a card mechanic. In this way you can not only be the guy who wins at poker, but the guy who can control the flip of a coin, the guy who knows how to beat all the carnival games, the guy who hustles a little pool, and the guy who makes and wins the most inconceivable bets. That's a much more interesting character than the guy practicing his bottom deal for hours on end (you know, like the loser you really are).