Fast-forward to me in my early twenties, and I’m sitting around with some friends at college playing rummy. In between hands, someone says, “Hey, you wanna see a card trick?” and proceeds to dazzle the group with some card trick involving cards dealt into piles over and over. At that point, I’d not touched a magic book in about a decade and had long since chucked out my magic drawer. I only remembered two card tricks, and I did both of them for the group. Everyone was extremely impressed and baffled. And afterwards, they didn’t seem interested in playing cards with me anymore.
That rekindled my interest in sleight-of-hand, particularly card magic. David Blaine had just started appearing on television, so magic was starting to get kind of cool again. The real inspiration for me came on the TV special The World’s Greatest Magic II, when I saw Rene Lavand. He had the look, the presence, the skill, and the mystery, all at once. That’s what I wanted to be.
A lot of people ask how in the world I learned all of these mysterious techniques. The weirdly honest answer was, I studied them in college. While attending Brown University I discovered that the library system had (at the time) over 880 hits on card tricks. It turned out that they were all in the H. Adrian Smith Collection of Magic and Memorabilia in the special collections. So I ended up spending most of my free time between classes (and sometimes instead of) poring over all those old books—if the library didn’t close at 5PM or allowed you to take the books out, I doubt I’d have had any social life at all.
I still love watching all kinds of magic, but my specialty is card magic and card cheating—for entertainment purposes ONLY, of course. One thing that stuck with me from studying those old books was their emphasis on gamblers’ techniques as the serious end of serious sleight-of-hand. That lead me to to work of performers like Darwin Ortiz and Martin Nash, and that’s how I became a “cardshark.”
One of the greatest things about being a sleight-of-hand magician for me has been the pleasure and privilege of meeting and befriending the people who’ve inspired me and whose books are on my shelf. These include Darwin Ortiz, Lance Pierce, Jack Carpenter, Michael Vincent, and Andrew Wimhurst, and new friends and colleagues like Jason Ladanye and Jared Kopf. I write reviews and now a column for M-U-M, the magazine for the Society of American Magicians, and I’ve had the tremendous pleasure for the past year of entertaining audiences behind the bar at Legal’s Test Kitchen here in Boston. There’s no better feeling in the world than meeting new people and showing them how powerful, mysterious, and just plain fun sleight-of-hand card shenanigans can be.
“What is your intention and goal with every performance you give?”
I wrote an essay for my first set of lecture notes titled “Groucho & Me,” which details my approach to my character. The short version is that I want to come across as a likable rogue, in the same way that people would flock to Marx Brothers films to watch them get away with their shenanigans. Because I wear the fact that I’m a cheat like a badge of honor, people know on some level that I’m doing underhanded things, and they know not to trust me. And I’m fine with them distrusting me, just so long as they like me.
At the same time, I’m not a magician unless I can show my audience something mysterious or downright impossible. So I strive to construct my tricks and presentations so as to leave my audience with no question in their minds that they saw A, and B, and now they’re staring at Q when they ought to be looking at C. And when they ask me “How!?!?” and I say, “Oh, sleight-of-hand,” they look at me like I’m nuts. I’m used to it.
“What are your top 3 effects in magic and why?”
I don’t know if I have an objective “top 3.” Every routine in my current repertoire is something I take tremendous pleasure in performing, whether it’s an original creation, something of a friend’s, or one of the classics. I can, however, talk a little about some current favorites of mine.
I have an original routine which is a version of Hofzinser’s Everywhere & Nowhere dressed up as a poker deal. I sell it as a demonstration of card cheating skill, and it uses genuine card cheating techniques, but the effect is comedic and surreal enough to call “magical.” It’s one of a few routines of mine that serve equally well to establish me as both a card cheating expert and a “magical” entertainer.
Peter Kane’s Jazz Aces is an acknowledged classic of card magic. A lot of card magicians bad mouth ace assemblies as “magic for magicians,” but when you have a really good one, a lay audience (or “normal people”) will appreciate it just as well if not more than an audience of magicians will. (In fact, I find magicians get more bored with this trick than normal people do.) My handling was inspired by Darwin Ortiz and Bob White, and lets my audiences see how beautiful and powerful refined sleight-of-hand can be. The responses have been strong and tremendously satisfying.
If I had to pick one general effect that qualifies as a “top” in card magic, it would have to be taking a shuffled deck (seen to be well-mixed, or actually shuffled by the audience) and making all the cards go back in order, all the suits, Ace to King. Juan Tamariz has called this “the strongest possible ending to a program of card material,” and he’s right. Right now, I have no less than six routines that end this way, and they never fail to stun an audience.
“What are currently doing to leave the craft of magic a little better than you found it?”
In the reviews I write for M-U-M, the highest praise I can give a book or DVD is that “it will make you a better magician.” To that end, the thoughts and advice I offer in my reviews and in my column, Cheats & Deceptions (For Entertainment Purposes ONLY), are my attempt to share some thinking that have helped make me a better magician.
Aside from that, I do the one thing any performer can, and that every performer should—perform the best card magic I can, the best as I can.”
Mike’s Guest Blog Commentary
I have been a fan of his work for quite a few years and let me tell you, his card work “rocks”. I first met Tony in 2010 in his hometown of Boston. If you haven’t been to Boston it is an amazing place to visit – I loved it. I was attending the magic convention organised by Steve Rogers.
Tony was one of the attendees of the convention and we just got on so well. During lunch with Steve, I got to see Tony’s card work; I remember his first effect being his take on Edward Marlo’s “Miracle Aces”. During his performance I remember thinking, this is probably the best handling I had seen. “Miracle Aces” is one of those routines which you expect any card man to perform so any variation isn’t going to set the world alight, Tony’s handling did for me.
I am really happy that I started this weekday Guest Blog series because it helps me to learn more about the magicians I admire – Tony is no exception. In reading through his contribution, I can see how he started to embrace his passion for card magic specifically quite late. Like myself, magic books proved to be the constant source of inspiration and education. His mentors include Jack Carpenter and Darwin Ortiz so it is easy to see the why his card work has been hailed and appreciated over the last few years.
Read through Tony’s favorite effects and you can see an appreciation for the classical elements that make for powerful card magic. Many ignored the elegance and simplicity of Jazz Aces until Darwin Ortiz released his handling in Apocalypse back in the 1980s (where I first learnt it). Tony’s appreciation of this effect is evident as well as designing a wonderful handling which I had the pleasure to experience. It has become customary for card men to finish a set routine with all the cards back in new deck order. One of the versions Tony shared with me is simply STUNNING. I am very proud of my own interpretation “The One Shuffle Finale”. His version was brilliant and fooled me.
If you would like to experience Tony’s card work for yourself, take a look at the video performance below. It comes from his DVD “THE USUAL SUSPECT“. I reviewed this DVD on my website The London Card Expert and I highly recommend that you check it out.
His final words echo loudly – leaving the craft a little better than we found it is all about striving to be the best that we can be and offering our audience the absolute best in magical entertainment. If we can all take that on then our craft will endure. Tony is the living embodiment of that, thank you T.
and his DVD can be purchased at The Magic Warehouse here.