Inexpert Card Technique

Every time I write a post I think, "I'm going to be so clear and precise with my wording no one is going to possibly misinterpret what I'm trying to say with this post." And then, after every post, I get emails that are like, "I think this is wrong!" and they go on to argue with me about something I never said. There seems to be no getting around this. You might say, "You need to be a better writer." Maybe, but 99% of the people who read it seem to get what I'm saying.

So if you're new to this site, let me reiterate something I've mentioned before: This blog is not about giving advice. It is, in part, about my journey with magic and developing a more audience-centric/experience-centric style of performing magic (as opposed to the traditional magician-centric style). But I'm not trying to convince anyone else to adopt this style. 

In regards to last Monday's post, I wasn't suggesting anyone else needs to, or should want to, do a double turnover as a non-card-handler would. I was just wondering how such a person would—and after getting a sampling of that—I decided to use that technique in certain situations. 


In general, I like to keep my overt card handling at the same level as that of the person for whom I'm performing. Why? Well, because in close-up magic that involves cards, the easiest "non-explanation" for a person to use to deflect the impact of the effect is to say, "Ah, it was just sleight-of-hand." Sometimes you'll even get people who say, "I know how you did that... sleight-of-hand," as if that's a full explanation. 

However, if nothing in your handling strikes them consciously or subconsciously as something they couldn't (or wouldn't) do, then that undercuts the idea that the explanation behind what just happened was you manually handling the deck in a way they can't. 

To give you another example, if I'm with someone who can't do a riffle shuffle, then I generally won't do a riffle shuffle around them during a trick. On some level (and again, this might not be consciously) I believe they think, "Well, he can do that thing with a deck of cards that I can't do, so he can probably do other things with a deck of cards I can't do either." 

Perceived skill undermines that intangible "magic" quality. I'll prove it to you. If you went to a magic convention and a famous close-up magician showed you a really hard-hitting trick and you didn't know how it was done, you might be impressed, but you wouldn't be, like, "enchanted" by the experience. However, if your wife or your 8-year-old nephew (or someone else who you know has no skill with a deck of cards) showed you the same trick, it would create genuine awe.

I'm not saying anything controversial here. We all know that if you're going to handle cards like the Buck Twins, then people are going to very easily attribute most anything you do with cards to manual dexterity. Recognizing this, a lot of magicians choose to not do anything too flourishy with a deck of cards. All I'm saying is that I personally choose to dial it back even further and (ideally) I don't do anything outside of their own abilities.

Obviously, if the people you regularly perform for already know you're proficient with a deck of cards, you can't really use this technique unless you pretend you had a coconut dropped on your head and forgot how to handle cards. However, if you end up meeting and performing for new people regularly, this can be very powerful.


Here's one of the most disarming ways I use this technique. I meet someone new and we get to talking. It comes out that one of my interests is reading up on these bizarre old card games and rituals. Later I offer to "show them something interesting" and take out a deck and give it a real basic overhand shuffle. "Can you shuffle?" I ask. They take the deck and give it a good riffle-shuffle with a bridge. And I'm all like, "Damn... look at you!" With suitable admiration of their technique. Or maybe I'll playfully act with mock annoyance towards them for showing me up and I'll be like:


I don't make a big deal about it, it's just a brief moment where I'm acknowledging their skill. Now, during the course of whatever transpires next, in the back of their mind, their understanding of the situation is that while I have an interest in cards games/tricks/experiments, they are actually the one who is more adept at handling a deck of cards. So they are unlikely to think that anything that happens is due to my skill with cards. And the idea that maybe I pretended to not be good with cards to implant that idea in their mind so what happened after would be more impressive... that's just not a conclusion they're going to jump to. It's too many steps removed from the types of solutions people gravitate towards. So they see this amazing thing and I've given them no easy answers.

So yes, sometimes I'll even act less skillful than my audience. 

But Andy, aren't you afraid that's going to reflect poorly on you? Like you have this interest in cards and these little games you can do with them... but you can't even do a riffle shuffle?

No. I could not possibly give less of a fuck about that. In fact, if they truly believe that, then I have them exactly where I want them.

So going back to last Monday's post... handling a double turnover like a non-card-handler, is a very small—potentially imperceptible—gesture, but it's part of an overall approach of mine to keep my handling within the boundaries of their abilities (whenever possible). I've never isolated this "dumbing down" of handing in any testing to determine how much of an effect it may have on people's reactions to the tricks I show them. However, it's definitely been one of the techniques I've employed in recent years that I think has helped transform the response to the things I do from "that's impressive" to "that's impossible."


Let me be clear: This is just my personal preference in regards to the approach I take to performing magic. I'm not saying it's the "right" approach. In fact, it's probably the wrong approach given that it's the opposite of the approach taken by 99% of magicians. I want to remove "skill" as being a potential explanation for the weird thing that's going to take place. (Not just skill with cards, but skill in general.) When skill is demonstrated implicitly (being very smooth with a deck of cards, rolling coins down your knuckles) or proclaimed explicitly ("I can memorize this deck in under 10 seconds," "I can read your micro-expressions to know what word you're thinking of," "I can deal from the center of the deck") it provides at least a partial explanation for what occurred. And whatever weight the audience gives to skill gets pulled away from "the mystery." It's a zero sum game.

The tricks I find the most fun to perform, and the ones that I get the most intense reactions from, are the ones that are unrelentingly mysterious. I don't want to hear, "You're good!" or, "That's very clever." I want to hear, "Wait... hold on...what in the fuck is going on?"

Do I really think they have no idea I'm behind what's happening? It all depends on the person I'm performing for, the time and place, the trick I'm performing, and a bunch of other variables. My goal is to have it feel that way in the moment. To do that, I want to emphasize the weirdness, the unknown, and the mystery. And I want to de-emphasize skill and technique and my role in the process. I don't want the story of what happens to be about me.

More mystery, less "me story."

Fuck, I have a way with words!