Posts Tagged ‘playing cards’

NEED TO READ: ‘Magician and the Cardsharp’ shows Vernon’s dedication to sleight of hand

Monday, June 29th, 2015

There’s a reason Dai Vernon is regarded as “The Professor,” and is one of the most esteemed, legendary names in magic. Actually, there’s a myriad of reasons, from his attention to detail and dogged determination, to his willingness to share what he’d learned with deserving students.

“The Magician and the Cardsharp,” by Karl Johnson, shows another reason: His dedication to pursuing sleight of hand. As the title suggests, the book covers two people: Vernon and Allen Kennedy, a shifty gambler who dealt his trade at card tables in Pleasant Hill, Missouri.

We’ve written before about the lengths Daniel Madison went to learn the moves and skills needed to cheat against actual players. That pursuit led to Mechanic and fueled the devotion to deception behind Moves. Vernon’s path to learn many of those same moves, and apply them to magical presentations, is similar, and well documented in Johnson’s book — making it a perfect summer read.

Vernon’s hunt for Kennedy began in the ’30s, after the Great Depression had quelled America’s appetite for magic. Long known as a persistent, focused artist, he approached magic from an engineering standpoint. He was one of the first to expand the gambling lessons of S.W. Erdnase’s “Expert at the Card Table” — while other magicians relied on trick cards, gimmicks and gaffs, Vernon saw how sleight of hand could help him accomplish the same kinds of miracles, only with a more natural flow and feel. The moves of the gambler fueled him, and gave him the skill to fool Houdini.

He had to learn firsthand, however.

In order to learn more than what Erdnase could teach, Vernon sought out gambling rooms and pass himself off as a mechanic so that he could win the trust of crooked dealers and learn their techniques. Johnson does a brilliant job of telling how Vernon risked his life in order to steal the secrets of the crooked and use them for magical purposes. Bottom deals, second deals, stacks, deck replacements; he learned them all.

So when Vernon heard about Kennedy, who had allegedly mastered a deal from the center of the deck — a move that appears nowhere in Erdnase’s book — he had to hunt the secret down. Instantly understanding the value of such a move, he started a hunt to track down the creator.

And speaking of Kennedy: Johnson also details his life, and how the dealer drifted through gambling halls, learning a lot, practicing his trade and learning crucial lessons about timing. One of the most powerful lessons he learned was that there was no need to fully stack a deck, because all it took to swing a hand was one single card. That lesson stuck with Vernon, who repeated it often to anyone who would listen.

There are plenty of fantastic passages in “The Magician and the Cardsharp,” including how Houdini was affected by Vernon’s “fooling.” But the most compelling part of the book is how it demonstrates how all-encompassing the pursuit of magic can be. We can’t recommend everyone follow Vernon’s exact path, especially in these dangerous days. But Vernon’s efforts show exactly what it takes to blaze a trail.

Deep into Sleepers: Artist Oban Jones talks about how he designs a deck of cards

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Art needs to be free. Without borders or bounds. No rules, no regulations. An artist should be free to create whatever they want, in whatever form they believe it should take.

So when it comes to interpreting other works of art, there’s probably nothing more limiting than decks of playing cards. It’s an object that — depending on the buyer — carries a myriad of design expectations, from the colors of suits to the number of eyes on court cards.

But for Oban Jones, those expectations aren’t limiting. They are inspiring.

“I may be wrong in this belief, but to my knowledge, there is no other artifact that is so complex in its design and so quintessentially unchanged for so much of its history,” said Jones, designer of the Sleepers deck. “You could look at a deck of cards from 500 years ago, and yes, there would be differences, but their purpose and essential design would be immediately recognizable.”

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Let the cards do the talking: Flourishes can speak volumes without words

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” In a general sense, he’s right.

But that doesn’t exactly work for us magicians. At some point we have to speak — to introduce ourselves, deliver patter or respond to a spontaneous moment. But there’s ways we can speak less.

Better yet, we can let our cards do the talking for us.

During our recent podcast with Adam Wilber, the creator of Pyro, he proposed trying an experiment: The next time you perform, introduce yourself for one group with a good card spring, then for the next group, introduce yourself without the spring.

The results should be revealing, Wilber said, and skew toward the side of better reactions from the first group.

“The biggest thing for a crowd is to win them over quickly, so that you’re not the corny magician they have seen before. Something as simple as springing the cards from hand to hand can make you a professional in the audience’s eyes.”

We’ve talked about the balance between either showing or hiding proficiency with cards. Some magicians lean more toward Dai Vernon’s Erdnase-inspired philosophy of casual, non-flashy movement, others lean toward Paul LePaul’s idea that expert manipulation could generate magical reactions from spectators. Starting off with a flourish definitely puts you on the LePaul side of that line.

But think about what a flourish says, without speaking a word:

  • • Not everyone can do a flourish. Heck, not everyone gets to SEE flourishes very often. It’s easy for magicians to forget that, because we watch performance videos and cardistry displays like they are Super Bowl commercials. But most people rarely get to see such a thing live. That rarity is compelling, and is a tremendous advantage.
  • • Some magician’s disapproval of flourishes rests in the idea that a spectator, upon seeing a flourish, would instantly recognize it as a display of skill, then go on a Fezzini-inspired rant of logic to deduce that any of the magic they see from you CLEARLY isn’t magic, because you’re capable of such precise manipulations, etc. In our experience, a flourish wakes up an interest in spectators. They make the deduction that you are good at cards, but instead of discounting what’s to come, THEY CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT COMES NEXT. Like Adam said, they recognize you are a professional, and build interest in seeing what you can do.
  • • Flourishes can speak from across a room. We’ve been out in public, just fanning cards, then been approached by people who are curious about what we’re doing. Eight times out of 10, it takes less than a minute for them to ask, “Are you a magician?” In those cases, all the hard work of introducing yourself has been done by them.
  • • Flourishes aren’t limited to just cards. There are rolls and walks you can perform with coins or rings. Or maybe you have a favorite object, such as a lighter, cellphone, money clip, etc. Play with it. Manipulate it. Figure out a trick. Those are basically the same thing as a fan or spring, and can have the same effect.

There are even more ways that a flourish can speak for you, but we’ll let you discover those on your own. Adam and Peter McKinnon teach a series of basic flourishes in How to Do Miracle Card Tricks, and Daniel Madison goes next level with hardcore hand candy in Cardistry.

FOUR POINTS: These are the biggest hazards that threaten your new cards

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

So, you got some cards for the holidays. And not just any cards, but some of the custom playing cards designed by Ellusionist. You were awed over the art and amazed at how they glided and snapped — definitely a step up over those cards you bought at the big-box retail store.

Whether you spoiled yourself or got a thoughtful gift, chances are you’re going to be packing a deck with you everywhere you go — if you weren’t already. Who are we kidding — OF COURSE you’ve been packing a pack. You’ve been carrying around those boring red-backed cards for weeks, and now you have some world-class design to show off. Besides, you know you need to practice, and you take every chance you get to do so. You’ve already learned some incredible things, and that practice can be thrilling and addictive in the pursuit of a new move.

That means you’ve likely learned some hard lessons about taking care of cards.

How did you lose your first card? Did you drop it in some liquid? Get food on it? Did some goobsmack bend it like Beckham trying to keep you from spying its identity, leaving it looking like an Ozarks hillside? Whatever that was, you learned an important lesson about keeping decks together. You learned that even the best cards are still made of paper, and that there is much more deck-buying in your future.

Don’t fret: There’s plenty of things you can do with an incomplete deck, and we’ll cover that in a future blog post. For now, you’re probably interested in keeping your new deck alive as long as you can, while carrying it as long as you can out in the field. It’s a noble goal: You can get so much more out of our decks when you care for them properly. And the best way to do that is to always keep an eye out for these four hazards to playing cards. Spotting these red flags will keep your deck golden.

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Shoot like Kings: Instagram users make incredible art with latest deck

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

It’s not long now. The Kings deck, a collaboration between Daniel Madison and Peter McKinnon, will soon be available to Black Club members, and then the rest of the world.

But a handful of people, who are close friends and associates with DM and p:m, have already had some quality time with the Kings. And the artistic work they have posted to Instagram is simply breath-taking.

From the impossible flotations of Jeremy Griffith to the subtle shadows of Benoit Pervier, from the inspired etchings of Tomas Hlavaty to the devious destruction of Praxis Control creator Chris Ramsay — these artists, magicians and creators have taken this incredible new deck and transformed it into works of art.

Some of our favorites are below, others can be found on Instagram. Each one deserves your follow and many likes. While you’re there, make sure to follow us.

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