My Favourite Subject – CARD MAGIC


The Poetry of Conjuring

The subject of card magic has reached the point of critical mass – so much has been published on this one topic, it has become oversaturated to the degree that new students coming into the craft are completely overwhelmed as to where to begin.

I started my journey in 1974; I was 10 years old at the time. I wasn’t even aware of magic shops, however, I am truly grateful for my local library. It was here that I was able to source copies of some wonderful and influential books on the subject.

Studying card magic, practicing it and performing is a great joy in my life. It represents a big challenge at times and comes with a big breakthrough when I have solved a problem with a particular routine. It is even more liberating when my solution has been well received by my audience.

The performance of classical card magic is like listening to a piece of classical music. It really can and does lift the spirit to new dimensions.

The first book on card magic I read was The Royal Road to Card Magic by Jean Hugard. This book set out to teach the subject in a structured way so that the student could build on his or her skills exponentially. I have a lot of fondness for this book because I found it very encouraging. The basic techniques were taught in a careful manner, and each chapter in the book built on the one before and came with specific tricks to consolidate the learning process.

The Magic Book written by Harry Lorayne would be the book that transformed my relationship to card magic and Close-up Magic in general. I became a big fan of Harry Lorayne, so much so I was able to source many of Harry’s other books on card magic. His classic, Close-up Card Magic is without doubt one of the finest books on the subject ever written.

Having taught to numerous students over the last 15 years I have formulated a strategy and pedagogy of teaching that has produce wonderful results for my students.

It is my firmly held belief that to be a master of card magic, a foundation of integrity must be laid in order for future success to be guaranteed. What I am about outline is not original with me, I absorbed it from Jean Hugard’s wonderful book. All I have done is internalized and reformatted it in such a way that I can communicate it to my students in an accessible language.

To present card magic in an effective and entertaining manner there are only a handful of techniques, which I feel are required, and essential learning.

The foundation of mastery is built on:

·      Learning to handle a deck of cards

·      The Control of the Card

·      The DL

·      The Palm

·      The Top Change

·      The False Shuffle

·      The Cull

·      The Elmsley Count +Jordon Count

This list of techniques, if learnt to an impeccable standard, is all that the student will need in order to present effective and powerful card magic. All other techniques in card magic are just variations on this list.

There are many ways to skin a cat, or to put it another way, many variations of achieving the same results. Nevertheless, this lists represents the absolute cornerstone of sleight of hand mastery with a deck of cards. Now, when I say absolute mastery and impeccable handling, I am also referring to being absolutely deceptive with these techniques, to such a degree, that the audience will not suspect let alone detect the action. In fact, when properly executed, to the audience, nothing has apparently happened except the experience of magic. It has taken me 35 years to fully understand the psychology of deception and how to make these techniques look natural and deceptive.

It is been my great privilege to have studied with one of the greatest magicians who ever lived, Tony Slydini. In the short time that I spent with him, he impressed upon me the importance of technical mastery combined with understanding the psychologically correct moment when to execute my techniques. Slydini’s method was to teach his students his routines and tricks. Fortunately for me, I only spent four days in his company and yet I got everything I needed to be deceptive magician. I came away asking myself one important question, “how can I use Slydini’s teachings in the area of magic that most appeal to me – pure sleight of hand card and coin magic?”

When coaching my own students, I place a heavy emphasis on impeccable technique, elegant handling and a comprehensive understanding of the “moment” – that magical moment when any of the techniques should be executed and yet, not even felt by the audience.

You will notice in my list above that I’ve placed first and foremost, great emphasis on learning to handle a deck of cards. What I mean by this is, learning the correct way to hold a deck of cards, shuffle a deck of cards in the hands and on the table. Learning to cut the deck in the hands and on the table – the ribbon spread, dealing cards and generally developing an internal confidence in handling 52 loose pieces of paper – cardboard – and developing the required energy, and pressure around the deck so that a deck of cards becomes an extension of your hands

This process can take several months, however, I have developed a number of practice drills that can ensure success in a very short space of time. 

The subject of magic is the only craft where there is no real curriculum for learning. One of the things I am creating through The Vincent Academy is the actual design and implementation of said curriculum – the building blocks that can teach magic to students in a structured way. Just like in music, there are practice scales and practice drills.

Once these techniques have been mastered, I feel it is important for the students to have a context in which these techniques can be actualized – create an effect. This is why classic books like Close-Up Card Magic and The Royal Road to Card Magic were so important to me in my education. These books featured many routines, which I still perform to this very day.

Some of the best routines in card magic feature many of the techniques I’ve outlined and as a result producing truly stunning effects, which produce a fantastic reaction from my audience. One of the things that is important for new students to appreciate and fully understand early on, is the difference between the effect and how it impacts on audience. This realisation can support the student in his choice of material and also conditioned the student for how a given effect can potentially impact an audience.

When you listen to a laypersons description of a magical effect they saw, you may think they had seen the world’s greatest magician.  Not only that, the description of the effect in no way conforms to any method we as magicians may have mentally filed away in our database of knowledge.

What I have just outlined is a very important distinction, which we magicians must fully understand and appreciate if we are going to create the illusion of impossibility for our audience.

How laypeople experience magic is vastly different from what we think is going on in the mind of a layperson. My dear mentor Slydini once said to me“Magic can happen in only one place, and that is in the mind of the spectator”. 

This evaluation from Slydini started a train of thought in my own mind about what actually happens to a layperson when they have experienced a really extra ordinary moment when witnessing a magical effect.

First things first, let’s distinguish the Effect Vs The Affect:

The Effect:

The effect of a magic trick can be as simple as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat or David Copperfield floating a beautiful lady in the air.

The Affect: 
In my mind, the affect of magic is the emotional experience the audience has before, during and after the effect has taken place.  

Read that sentence again and then pause:


If you the magician present really strong magic, it stands to reasons that the impact/affect of your magic will be very strong and memorable to your audience.

Let’s evaluate some other words that might be used that may have affected our audience after a memorable performance. 

Emotive words:

Astonishment – David Copperfield Flying

Amazed – David Blaine’s Street Magic

Baffled – Malini’s Block of Ice Production

Extraordinary – Rene Lavand Oil and Water

Squeamish – (After watching the Richardi’s Buzz Saw illusion)

As magicians, we tend to get bogged down with the description of magical effects with a lot of procedure. Lay people have a much simpler way of describing magic and their description is very often exaggerated. The exaggeration is another way for laypeople to communicate how much they were affected by the experience. Or in other words, they are attempting to communicate how the experience made them feel.

From The Vincent files:
Whenever a layperson tells me about an experience they had watching another magician, I always ask the magic question, “How did it make you feel”. I listen very carefully to their description so that I can get a reading of their emotional state; this tells me more about the magician they saw than the description of said magicians tricks.

The Final Analysis:

To conclude, we as magicians present the tricks/effect; the audience has the emotional experience of magic, if we do our jobs rights.

Let’s not lose sight of this simple fact; magic happens in the mind our audience, our job is to trigger the emotional state and response of astonishment through impeccable sleight of hand, intelligent use of gimmicks and a comprehensive understanding of the psychology of deception.

Before leaving this subject, I would like to share with you what I believe are the most important books on card magic ever written. I believe if you have these books in your library, you will never get bored studying card magic. As a matter of fact, I am still studying these books today. I love nothing better than to revisiting these old books. 

As I mature in years, I am finding that my methods are becoming a lot simpler, as I place more emphasis on psychology and theatrical delivery in order to provide my audience with that rear thrill of astonishment.

Classic Books:

Recommended Reading List
For your consideration, the following books are titles that will support you in your education. They will provide you with a lifetime of quality magic and most importantly, inspiration. Students today get a lot of information from DVDs and the Internet. I believe a classic book on card magic will nourish you in a way that DVDs can’t. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t watch DVDs; all I am saying is that there is a wealth of material waiting to be discovered in the pages of a book.

The Expert at the Card Table by S W Erdnase:
This is an important book because it lays a foundation of expert card handling, workability and integrity which all-good card men live by. It is written in a style of English which is a little outdated, but don’t let that put you off – the material is as significant today as it was when published in 1902. The philosophy outlined by the author is directed to the card cheat, but magicians can benefit a great deal when this information is applied to the performance of card magic. The book also features a section on card magic and teaches a number of outstanding routines.

 The Royal Road to Card Magic and Expert Card Technique by Jean Hugard and Fredrick Braue:
These two books form an important continuation after The Expert at the Card Table. The techniques and routines in both books show an immediate application and important lessons for the student. Expert Card Technique also features an important chapter on Misdirection and Presentation. Subsequent editions featured additional chapters by Dai Vernon and Dr Daley. The chapter by Dr Daley features some exquisite work on The Side Steal and is well worth studying.

Revolutionary Card Technique by Edward Marlo:
This outstanding work and magnum opus of Edward Marlo is very important because it takes card magic into a whole new world. Don’t be fooled – reading Marlo is like studying quantum physics; it will take commitment and dedication to master this unique approach. It is well worth it because Marlo’s attitude towards technique and routines will challenge you and reward you more than you can imagine.  Some have criticized his approach to card magic – I disagree. Marlo’s early manuscripts feature many wonderful routines that are commercial and entertaining for a lay audience. For your reference, also check out Cardially Yours, it is a bound collection featuring all of Marlo’s early booklets.

The Stars of Magic:
In my opinion, this is the greatest book on close-up magic ever written. The material is solid gold, the lessons are first class and the quality of the magic really sparkles with power and energy. Classic routines like “Triumph”, “Cutting the Aces”, “The Homing Card”, “The Cavorting Aces” and “The Travelers” have become the standard by which all card men have been judged. This is an important book to study because all of the routines set the template for clarity, precision handling and directness of effect. These are important lessons to learn for your future development.

Close-up Card Magic by Harry Lorayne:
This is another important collection in the literature of card magic. It features a stunning array of material. Original copies may be hard to track down. Don’t worry, because Harry has re-written this book along with his other classics on card magic in three bound volumes called “The Classic Collection Volumes 1, 2, 3 & 4” for today’s generation of magicians. This collection is required studying because many of the effects have become classics.

Dai Vernon’s Inner Secrets of Card Magic – Trilogy, (the bound collection of Inner Secrets of Card Magic, More Inner Secrets, and Further Inner Secrets), plus Dai Vernon’s Ultimate Card Secrets, and The Vernon Chronicles in 4 Volumes:
Dai Vernon’s contribution to the evolution of card magic, since the publication of The Expert at The Card Table, cannot be overstated. His relentless pursuit for mastery, naturalness and directness of effect has given magicians a benchmark for excellence. Dai Vernon’s mantra was the total elimination of any action that cluttered the effect. This collection of card magic will focus your attention on keeping your card magic direct and to the point. 

One more thing…

Card College Volumes 1,2,3,4,5 by Roberto Giobbi:
I consider this series The Royal Road to Card Magic for the 21st Century. It collates the very finest card magic, techniques and routines into one amazing resource. The routines are all fantastic. Most importantly, it will greatly support your education. Roberto Giobbi has done an excellent job in his researching of the best methods and routines. I am continually astonished when I peruse these books and find so much of value. One of the routines in this series greatly inspired my handling for “The Ultimate Travelers”.

©Michael Vincent Magic 2014

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