I got my first deck of cards when I was seven years old. I was instantly fascinated with cards and wanted to know everything I could about them. I learned to play every card game I could from blackjack and five-card stud to a half-dozen kinds of solitaire. I got books from the public library on card puzzles and the history of playing cards.
Before long, I became aware that there was such a thing as sleight of hand with cards. That became my new fixation. If I had grown up in a middle-class neighborhood, that interest would probably have been channeled into magic. However, in the South Bronx neighborhood in New York where I grew up, sleight of hand meant only one thing: card cheating. The first sleights I learned were taught to me by cheats in my neighborhood. It was only as a teenager that I discovered card magic. Since then, my interest in sleight of hand has followed those two parallel courses.
At nineteen I decided to investigate magic shops. I found two in the telephone directory that seemed promising. First, I went to Flosso’s. Al Flosso made me feel so unwelcome that I might have given up magic at that point. Instead I decided to give the other shop a chance. Fortunately, Tannen’s had a completely different atmosphere.
My modus operandi was to buy a magic book at Tannen’s and study it until I felt I’d gotten what I could from it. Then I’d go back and buy another book. I always went to Tannen’s on Thursday evenings, the one night they stayed open late. It was also the one time when the shop was almost deserted. So I didn’t meet any magicians for the first couple of years. (In retrospect, I think that was a good thing.)
One day when I was about twenty-one, Irv Tannen–who had become my book buying advisor–suggested that I go down to the Governor Cafeteria where the magicians hung out on Saturdays after Tannen’s closed.
On my first visit I met David Roth and we’ve been good friends ever since. In subsequent visits I met and became friends with Derek Dingle, Harry Lorayne, Herb Zarrow, Ken Krenzel, Gene Maze, and Frank Garcia. Each had an influence on my development as a magician. Most influential were Gene Maze and Derek Dingle.
At that time, almost every famous magician who came to New York stayed at Derek’s home. Through him David Roth and I were able to meet and session with Mike Skinner, Fred Kaps, Jerry Andrus, Scotty York, Alex Elmsley, and others while still in our twenties.
I confess that I couldn’t narrow it down to three effects. So I cheated and chose three magic premises instead. I’ve also excluded mental effects and gambling routines. Both can be incredibly strong and memorable. But they play sufficiently differently from magic that they should be considered separately.
Card-to-Impossible-Location: After decades of performing many different effects with many different plots, I’m convinced that this is the strongest plot in card magic. Of course, not all card-to-impossible location effects are equally strong. It depends on the stringency of the conditions (including the impregnability of the target location), the presentational premise, and other factors. The strongest effect in my repertoire is The Showdown. Among other things, it’s a multiple-cards-to-multiple-impossible-locations effect.
Order Out of Chaos: The most obvious example of this plot is the shuffled deck that ends in new-deck order. I do several such effects. All are strong, but the strongest is 52 Pick-up.
Triumph effects also fall into this category. (In fact, 52 Pick-up is also a Triumph.) Fast Company is a very commercial Triumph effect from my repertoire. I’ve been doing Marlo’s Topsy-Turvy Ace Control since I was about twenty and I still use it frequently.
I would also put full-deck red/black separations in this category. I don’t mean psychic effects like Out of this World, but rather effects where the separation occurs as a result of card control. Examples from my own repertoire include The Vegas Shuffle, Ultimate Oil & Water, Blockbuster, and my version of Out of this Universe.
Dream-Like Effects: These effects are difficult to define but easy to recognize. They feel like dreams and follow the logic of dreams. They don’t make sense logically but they do make sense psychologically. They have an impact similar to viewing Surrealist art. Prime examples from my repertoire are The Dream Card, Appointment in Samarra, Museum Piece, and Ultimate Fusion. Such effects tend to linger long in people’s memories.
What is your intention and goal with every performance you give?
I want to leave people feeling that they’ve met an extraordinary person who did extraordinary things that they would previously have never thought possible. I want them to feel that the experience is different from any other they’ve had. I want them to remember it for a long time.
What are you currently doing to leave the craft of magic a little better than you found it?
Through my books Darwin Ortiz at the Card Table, Cardshark, Scams & Fantasies with Cards, and Lessons in Card Mastery, I’ve attempted, not only to share high-caliber card effects, but to set a high standard for such effects in terms of plot, construction, and presentation. My DVDs are designed to supplement those books.
Through The Annotated Erdnase I tried to encourage study of a book that many talk about and few read I also tried to bring a level of scholarship to close-up magic seldom found before.
In Strong Magic and Designing Miracles, I tried to bring a level of rigorous thinking, based solidly on experience, to magic theory that wasn’t easy to find when I first became involved in magic.
I feel that even the two gambling books that I’ve written for the public, Gambling Scams and Darwin Ortiz on Casino Gambling can be of value to magicians who do gambling routines by providing patter and background material.
The one thing all my books have in common is that they are audience-centered. They always look at things from the lay audience’s perspective. If they succeed in promoting that mindset among magicians they’ll help to improve magic.
Having said that, I strongly believe that the most important thing any magician can do to benefit magic is to deliver an enjoyable, professional, and memorable performance every time he entertains laypeople. I try to remember that every show I do.
Mike’s Guest Blog Commentary
I have been a fan of Darwin and his brand of magic since 1979 when I purchased a copy of Harry Lorayne’s Afterthoughts, which incidentally is a terrific book on card magic. It featured Darwin’s stunning effect “Combination Aces” as it was called back then. I immediately felt this effect was different and that Darwin was someone I wanted to learn more about – I was fifteen years old at the time. Little did I know, many years later, I would become friends and mentored by a modern-day Hofzinser.
Like Dr J.N. Hofzinser, Darwin Ortiz is without question the finest creator of card magic we have seen in the last thirty years. Along with the world-class magic he has created, he has also given us an extraordinary approach and analysis in terms of how we can explore and think about magic and also, how we can actualize our own potential.
In reading through his Blog Contribution, I have picked out a number of points I would like to address and evaluate for your consideration:
Darwin’s love of playing cards and card games came long before card magic and card cheating. Playing cards as a central prop and the games that can be played with them featured first and foremost in his mind. What I find fascinating is how the environment in which a person lives and is brought up in can significantly contribute to an individual’s point of view, path and direction in life. If any of us were to grow up in a place like the South Bronx where card games and gambling are the norm, along with an intense interest in playing cards, I think we may have made the same connection Darwin made, “Here is something else I can do with playing cards”. As a consequence, a new direction and possibilities open up which can dramatically shape a person’s life – so it was for Darwin.
Imagine having the local card cheats as your first mentors in sleight of hand, WOW, what an education – not only in card techniques, I would assert also in the psychology of deception and advantage play. By the time he discovered card magic, another pathway opened up which would completely fuel his passion over the next 30-plus years. It is staggering to think that he has brought a level of mastery and perfection to two very demanding branches of our craft and also the cultivated academic insight to document his thoughts in the way that he has.
I got a great sense of his attitude back in his formative years; consider, in the 1970s, there was no Internet to speak of – the dawn of video cassette was just beginning to breakthrough so the best way to get information was through reading and personal coaching. Read the third and fourth paragraphs again in his Blog; you will see that his approach to learning was to study, one book at a time before moving onto the next. I can say from personal experience, the 1970s was a golden time to learn magic, simply because there were less distractions. There was plenty of time to read, study and absorb the classic books. Contrast this with learning today; DVDs, YouTube, Downloadable Tutorials, very little reading going on if any by our younger generation of magicians, regrettably, magical secrets have become far too accessible.
Another aspect of Darwin’s development, which I found interesting, is seeing the growth of magic through his eyes. The magicians he saw every Saturday was a gallery of superstars and stars in the making. Derek Dingle in particular came to my attention, again through Harry Lorayne. So it is fair to say that Harry was highly visible during Darwin’s early years. Speaking of Derek Dingle, he became a major force in Darwin’s magic. I have always felt that part of the secret of becoming a great magician is to be exposed to great magic very early.
I had the privilege of seeing Derek Dingle work at The Cobblestone Bar in Greenwich Village in 1982 and it ranks as one of the greatest experiences of my life. I can only imagine how Dingle must have impacted the young Darwin Ortiz in the early 1970s.
I imagine that many of you reading this blog posting will have Darwin’s books on your shelves, so reading through his three favorite plots in card magic should prove insightful:
“The Showdown” is the ultimate version for the classic effect “The Magician vs. Gambler”. It was first published in his book Cardshark. This is a monster routine to learn and perform well. When you look at this effect through the eyes of a layman, it is truly impossible and inexplicable. Why? The secret can be found in Darwin’s evaluation of what needs to happen in order for the card-to-impossible-location to be a profound miracle.
“It depends on the stringency of the conditions (including the impregnability of the target location), the presentational premise, and other factors”.
Keep these points in mind when you re-visit this effect in Cardshark and ask yourself if he succeeded in his quest to create the perfect illusion of impossibility.
My personal favorite plot in card magic is the Order Out of Chaos Plot:
Look at the routines Darwin has created around this plot and you will see a collection which has transformed and pushed the boundaries of contemporary card magic. The finest version of “Triumph” I have seen him perform for a lay-audience is his masterpiece “52 Pick-up”. In 1988, when he published his first book, Darwin Ortiz at The Card Table, he shared with us a marvelous routine called “The Vegas Shuffle”. This impromptu routine will convince any audience that you have supernatural control of playing cards.
Dream-Like Effects falls into a very special category of card magic: “The Appointment in Samarra” is his interpretation of Guy Hollingworth’s “The Cassandra Quandary”. The effect is extraordinary and to describe it as a card trick is to undermine the effect, the experience and the theatre of the event. There aren’t many effects in card magic that you can describe as a theatrical experience – this one is fully merited.
The effects outlined indeed provide an audience with an extraordinary experience. From my performances I can attest to the fact that these effects are much bigger than the prop of a deck of cards. I ask all my students two simple questions to consider at all times; what do you want the audience to say when your performance is over? And how do you want them to feel? Darwin’s material is a great step in the right direction for creating an atmosphere of magic.
As you can see, Darwin’s intention for his brand of magic is to create an experience that is so far above what an audience may encounter in life. I also sense that his performance is all about dramatically impacting people’s point of view about magic, playing cards and that wish-fulfillment fantasy of gambling and cheating; it is a very seductive and potent force.
Finally, I personally think, feel and believe that Darwin’s contribution to magic has been outstanding. As an author and performer, he has presented us with the nuts and bolts of his creations and how he has evolved as a performer through his DVD presentations.
When I as very young, in my early teens, I came across a book called Close-up Presentation by John Mendoza. This book set out to provide a working template for creative showmanship for close-up magicians. It was a very good attempt at documenting theoretical concepts specifically for close-up magic and magicians. I got a lot of value from this book and in many respects it laid the foundation for Eugene Burger’s book Secrets and Mysteries for the Close-up Entertainer. When Strong Magic was published it changed everything. While this book received some press, which could be considered less than favorable, it has become a best seller and a much sought-after classic on this subject of showmanship. Designing Miracles, a personal favorite of mine, is a most glorious book, which allows us to experience the creation of strong magic through Darwin’s eyes and mind.
There is no doubt in my mind that Darwin’s books and DVDs have set the barometer for excellence in our craft. My personal philosophy is always to set out with the intention of delivering an experience, which is “magical”, “meaningful” and “memorable” for my audience and many of the routines in my professional repertoire, ideas and strategies have come from studying the work of Darwin Ortiz.
In reading the final paragraph in the guest blog, it is great to see someone of Darwin’s prestige and caliber committed to the experience his audience is left with. Putting his audience first is the mark of his professionalism and humanity.
Thank you Darwin for an inspired vision and template for how magic can be presented – with superb talent, style, class and a portrait of dignity.