A Brief Education in Card Magic

By Ricky Smith - Friday, September 13, 2019

In The Expert at the Card Table, under the heading “Importance of Details”, Erdnase writes, *“The finished card expert considers nothing too trivial that in any way contributes to his success, whether in avoiding or allaying suspicion, or in the particular manner of carrying out each detail; or in leading up to, or executing, each artifice.”*Learning things the right way means learning every aspect of a move or routine. You need to know how to get in and get out of a move, where and how to direct your audience’s attention so that you present the audience with a fluid picture that looks whole to them but leaves plenty of room for you to hide the method, all while presenting the effect in an entertaining manner. The secret is in the details and, for the most part, the best way to acquire the knowledge of these details is through books. In the following couple of paragraphs we will look at a variety of books: those that will prove helpful to the beginner and provide a firm grounding in the art, those that will provide further instruction and a thorough understanding of the art, and, finally, books for the accomplished card handler.

Starting off right can be done in a variety of ways depending on your desires and how much you are willing to invest to start out. A cost-effective and proven book for beginners is the Royal Road to Card Magic, which will teach a variety of techniques, flourishes, and effects, while setting up the beginner with a thorough grounding in the theory of the art. This book will teach you valuable lessons in a straight forward manner that will be beneficial and prove valuable throughout your studies, even at the highest levels of understanding. It is a bit antiquated in some aspects, like writing style, but the study will contribute greatly towards your ability to comprehend other books further on in your career. As a bonus, R. Paul Wilson, an excellent magician and thinker, has a superb DVD set that focuses on this book which will aid in your understanding of the work and magic in general immensely. Another path one could take which is more modern and thorough, in my opinion, is Roberto Giobbi’s* Card College*. These books represent a greater investment than the Royal Road but are absolutely fantastic. There are five books in the series and purchasing all of them to start out with may be a little extravagant, so I would recommend getting the first two to start if you are hesitant. The first book is an excellent starting point and will get your hands accustomed to some of the commoner sleights and build your dexterity, while the second book will take you into some more advanced techniques and tricks putting you well on your way to becoming an adept in the art. The next volumes feature many more techniques and theory that will really round out anyone’s education in the art, and they are highly recommended. The whole series really represents a practically complete understanding of the art consolidated within its covers, and one could easily be considered an expert with just the knowledge contained in these books. Regardless of the path you choose, omitting the study of some form of basic text is ill advised; it is likely that your study of more advanced books will be hindered without a good base knowledge of the art.

After acquiring a good knowledge of the common methods and gaining some understanding of the principles involved, there are several branches of books that will prove helpful and round out your knowledge base while giving you a look at some of the more interesting and clever applications our art has thus far created. One group of books that will prove immensely helpful, give you a sense of the history, and teach you about some of the more prominent practitioners we have had are, what we might term, the classics. These books have been the high water marks throughout the years and each one has many excellent features. I will provide a short list and then point out a couple I think are necessities:

  • Memoirs of Robert-Houdin by Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin
  • Secrets of Conjuring and Magic by Jean EugeneRobert-Houdin
  • Sleight of Hand by Edwin Sachs
  • The Art of Magic by T. Nelson Downs
  • The Modern Conjurer by C. Lang Neil
  • Hofzinser’s Card Conjuring by Ottokar Fischer
  • Magician’s Tricks and How They are Done by Henry Hatton and Adrian Plate
  • Our Magic by Maskelyne and Devant
  • Greater Magic by John Northern Hilliard
  • …and a Pack of Cards by Jack Merlin
  • Card Manipulations by Jean Hugard
  • Expert Card Technique by Hugard and Braue
  • Effective Card Magic by Bill Simon
  • The Fine Art of Magic by George Kaplan
  • Professional Card Magic by Cliff Green
  • Encylopedia of Card Magic by Jean Hugard
  • Magic by Misdirection by Dariel Fitzkee
  • Showmanship for Magicians by Dariel Fitzkee
  • Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms
  • Close Up Card Magic by Harry Lorayne
  • Card Control by Arthur Buckley
  • Stars of Magic
  • Dai Vernon’s Inner Card Trilogy by Lewis Ganson
  • Dai Vernon’s Ultimate Secrets of Card Magic by Lewis Ganson
  • The Dai Vernon Book of Magic by Lewis Ganson
  • The Cardician by Ed Marlo
  • Revolutionary Card Technique by Ed Marlo
  • Magic and Methods of Ross Bertram by Ross Bertram
  • Bertram on Sleight of Hand by Ross Bertram

In order to round out your education and get a good history of the art it is recommended that you acquire several of the classic texts. These would include the Robert-Houdin books (he is considered the father of modern magic), Sach’s Sleight of Hand, and The Art of Magic by Downs. Generally these can be found quite cheaply in paperback and are good to have in one’s library, although they are not card magic specific, the Memoirs of Robert-Houdin is in fact an autobiography, but is highly entertaining and motivational while providing a picture of the kind of effort required to become a master and the shenanigans one can become involved with while practicing the art.

Another classic that is great to have, if you can find it, is the Modern Conjurer by C. Lang Niel. In addition to some excellent descriptions and photographs, this book contains an excellent description of the pass which was regarded highly by the Professor, Dai Vernon. Other noted descriptions are in Erdnase, the Tarbell Course, andThe Card Classics of Ken Krenzel. Some of Dai Vernon’s work on the pass can be found in Ultimate Card Secretsand Revelations. Finally I would recommend reading the description in Card College and the one in John Carney’s the Book of Secrets.

On a more card magic specific note, Greater Magic, Expert Card Technique, Stars of Magic, Effective Card Magic,…and a Pack of Cards, Card Control,* The Fine Art of Magic*, Card Manipulations, and Professional Card Magicare true classics of the genre. Most of them can be acquired very cheaply as paperbacks and are considered some of the best books card magic literature has to offer. Greater Magic is quite an investment even when it is in print, so you may try looking for Card Magic by Hilliard which is a reprint of just the card magic material from Greater Magic. Also, Effective Card Magic is in paperback under the title Card Tricks for Amateurs and Professionals. Out of the books mentioned above Greater Magic, Expert Card Technique,and Stars of Magic are some of the most seminal and best texts extant. Expert Card Technique can be had in paperback for a reasonable price and features many excellent sleights, thoughts, and routines by some of the best in magic. Although hard to come by, the third edition of Expert Card Technique features two additional chapters featuring the work of Dai Vernon and Dr. Jacob Daley that is not in the other editions, so this is recommended if you can find it. Stars of Magic is probably one of the most valuable books in the entire lexicon as it consists of a number of truly talented masters of the art (John Scarne, Francis Carlyle, Dr. Jacob Daley, Ross Bertram, and Dai Vernon, among others) going into great detail on some of their greatest effects, all illustrated with numerous photos. It is here that you will find some of Dai Vernon’s classic effects explained, including Triumph, Cutting the Aces, the Slow Motion Ace Assembly, and the Travelers, all classic effects and worthy of careful study.

Our Magic, the Fitzkee books, and Magic and Showmanship are the classic books on theory of performance and misdirection. They are a necessary and insightful read for those looking to perform and should be studied no matter what branch of magic you are working on. If these are interesting to you, it would also be good to study theBooks of Wonder by Tommy Wonder and Stephen Minch. These books contain some of the brightest and most insightful essays into the magic art ever produced and are highly recommended. Other notable works in this genre include: Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz, Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz, and Magic and Meaning by Eugene Burger and Robert Neale. Also, for the study of misdirection, it would behoove the reader to search out the works on John Ramsay written by Andrew Galloway.

Anything written by or about the Professor, Dai Vernon, is considered, by this author, a classic and must have text. The previously mentioned Stars of Magic is one of the best introductions to the Professor’s magic and philosophy and will encourage further study of this past master. His classic works on card magic are the Inner Secrets Trilogyand Ultimate Secrets of Card Magic, both by Lewis Ganson.* The Dai Vernon Book of Magic* features a couple of excellent card tricks but is more important for its writings on practice and the Vernon Touch, a philosophy for naturally performing and handling magic that truly elevates the art. You will also encounter a lot of his ideas in almost any book you decide to study, including Expert Card Technique and Greater Magic. Further study of the Professor should include Select Secrets and the Vernon Chronicles, four excellent books featuring magic collected near the end of the Professor’s life as well as reminisces about the various exploits he lived and experienced during his 98 year life span. The Professor was also instrumental in writing two books on two of his heroes, Nate Leipzigand Max Malini. These are titled *Dai Vernon’s Tribute to Nate Leipzig *and Malini and His Magic, and both are highly recommended because of the fascinating talents of their subjects as well as their association with the Professor. Also, a study of the professor would not be complete without reading Dai Vernon: a Biography by David Ben or the Vernon Touch, a collection of all of the Professor’s columns from Genii Magazine.

Another true master is the cardician, Ed Marlo. He contributed more to card magic literature than anyone in the history of the universe probably, and, as a result, I will just focus on a couple of things and leave his massive oeuvre for you to seek out and enjoy as your inclinations desire. Marlo’s most notable work must be the massiveRevolutionary Card Technique. The chapters were first published individually, but the text has recently been consolidated into one big hard bound book, and it is certainly a worthwhile investment. The chapters run the gamut from card switches, changes, controls, steals, faro shuffles, false deals, estimation, etc, and each of the topics is thoroughly covered with numerous techniques and tricks. In addition to the latter book, I would look into purchasing the Cardician or Marlo in Spades in order to get a look at some of Marlo’s effects and ideas outside ofRevolutionary Card Technique, as it will give you a better perspective on his work in general. Marlo has numerous other books should you be so inclined, and he also published numerous privately circulated manuscripts which are sometimes difficult to find, but generally contain thinking of a very high degree so lookout for those as you advance.

One final past master, who has books available, I would like to mention is Ross Bertram. He produced two excellent classic works, the Magic and Methods of Ross Bertram and Bertram on Sleight of Hand, which are indeed highly recommended. David Ben, Ross Bertram’s sole student, mentions that one of the important achievements while learning magic is that of teaching the hands to work together. This is indeed a true and necessary lesson, and, as Mr. Ben related, one of the best ways to go about it is by studying the two Bertram books, as well as Erdnase, of course.

Having looked at classic works, another avenue for study is that of the contemporary. We will look at some contemporary masters and their contributions as well as a list of excellent books.

One of the Professor’s greatest students was Larry Jennings, and he has a number of excellent books available which represent some of the best thinking card magic has to offer. The classic Jennings text is the Classic Magic of Larry Jennings by Mike Maxwell, and it features many of his finest originations. His other works are all recommended including Neoclassics by Stephen Minch, *The Cardwright *by Mike Maxwell, Jennings ’67 by Richard Kaufman, and Up in Smoke by Bill Goodwin. Every one of these is a treat, and it is very exciting to note that Mr. Kaufman is working on two new works, one called Mr. Jennings Takes it Easy and one called Mr. Jennings Takes it Tough, which are certain to be instant classics and a fitting tribute to this late master.

A contemporary of Mr. Jennings and also a student of Dai Vernon, Bruce Cervon was another great master of the art. His works are quite good, worth having in your library, and include: The Cervon File, Ultra Cervon, and Hard Boiled Mysteries. He also has some earlier works if you desire to look them up and recently his Castle Notebooks have started to become available. Although expensive, these will represent a great value to the student.

Another student of the Professor’s, who I feel exemplifies the Professor’s thinking to a rare degree, is John Carney. He is absolutely exceptional and one of the greatest magician’s extant. His two hard bound books,Carneycopia by Stephen Minch and the Book of Secrets, are some of the finest treatises magic has to offer and two of the best tools for learning sleight of hand in existence.

One of magic’s true inventive geniuses was Alex Elmsley, and he left us with two extraordinary books. These are the two volumes of the Collected Works of Alex Elmsley by Stephen Minch. Their contents are to be dazzled at and are unreservedly praised. The effects and sleights are exceptionally clever, inventive, and profoundly devious. Study these for a look at the output of a true giant in the field.

Roger Klause: In Concert by Lance Pierce is a book of profound content and, no surprises here, features the work of none other than the master of the underground, Roger Klause. Mr. Klause is undeniably one of magic’s greatest thinkers, a true master, with a talent for subtlety and deception that belies an understanding of magic that must be unfathomably deep. In addition to the In Concert book, always be on the lookout for anything by Mr. Klause, as it is sure to represent thinking at a superlative degree.

The current master operating at the highest levels card magic has to offer and with an otherworldly sense of magic’s greatest secrets is undoubtedly the Spanish master, Juan Tamariz. Not all of his output has been translated into English but what has been is truly exceptional. A look at some of his books or the opportunity to bear witness to one of his performances is to glimpse uncanny thinking and design coupled with an unwavering dedication to performance. His books in English include Sonata, The Magic Way, The Five Points in Magic, andMnemonica, currently, and we look forward to any further installments with great anticipation.

Another Spanish master is Arturo de Ascanio, also known as the Maestro. His thinking and theories are of the highest order, and his work on the theory of palming and handling double cards is required study. His works are currently being published as the Magic of Ascanio by Jesus Etcheverry, in a four volume set, and two volumes have thus far been released.

Before I start listing books, I want to take the time to urge you to study one other contemporary master of the art, Roy Walton. Conveniently a lot of his work has been collected into a two volume set of books called the Complete Walton. These books are excellent and contain a vast quantity of practical effects. Most importantly, Mr. Walton has a unique talent for using sleights in a wide variety of ways that will increase your knowledge of these moves by leaps and bounds.

Here is a list of books that I think are uniformly excellent and will be a valuable addition to your library, as well as get you acquainted with the other masters of the art I neglected in the above:

  • Tangled Web by Eric Mead
  • The Paper Engine by Aaron Fisher
  • Drawing Room Deceptions by Guy Hollingworth
  • By Forces Unseen: the Innovative Magic of Earnest Earick by Stephen Minch
  • Secrets of an Escamoteur by Harry Riser
  • Workers 1-5 by Mike Close
  • Dear Mr. Fantasy by John Bannon
  • Close Up Elegance by David Costi
  • Classic Sampler by Michael Skinner
  • Phantoms of the Card Table by David Britland and Gazzo
  • Card Fictions by Pit Hartling
  • The Little Green Lecture Notes by Pit Hartling
  • Handcrafted Card Magic Vol. 1 by Denis Behr
  • Handcrafted Card Magic Vol. 2 by Denis Behr
  • Tricks by David Ben
  • Steranko on Cards by Jim Steranko
  • Versatile Card Magic Revisited by Frank Simon
  • Cardshark by Darwin Ortiz
  • At the Card Table by Darwin Ortiz
  • Scams and Fantasies with Cards by Darwin Ortiz
  • 52 Memories by Andi Gladwin
  • Diverting Card Magic by Andrew Galloway
  • F.A.S.D.I.U. by Paul Cummins
  • F.A.S.D.I.U. II by Paul Cummins
  • Don’t Blink by James Swain
  • Miracles with Cards by James Swain
  • 21st Century Card Magic by James Swain
  • Epilogue by Karl Fulves
  • The Collected Almanac by Richard Kaufman
  • Totally Out of Control by Chris Kenner
  • The Art of Astonishment by Paul Harris
  • Apocalypse by Harry Lorayne
  • The Feints and Temps of Harry Riser by Ed Brown
  • *Williamson’s Wonders *by Richard Kaufman
  • Andrus’ Card Control by Jerry Andrus
  • Andrus Deals You In by Jerry Andrus
  • The Secrets of Brother John Hamman by Richard Kaufman
  • The Secret Ways of Al Baker by Al Baker edited by Todd Karr
  • Roy Benson: By Starlight by Levent
  • Cardini: The Suave Deceiver by John Fisher
  • Impossibilia by John Bannon
  • Smoke and Mirrors by John Bannon
  • Imagication by T.G.Murphy
  • The Card Magic of Edward G. Brown by Trevor Hall
  • Bound to Please by Simon Aronson
  • Simply Simon by Simon Aronson
  • The Aronson Approach by Simon Aronson
  • Try the Impossible by Simon Aronson
  • Million Dollar Card Secrets by Frank Garcia
  • Super Subtle Card Miracles by Frank Garcia
  • Cy Endfield’s Entertaining Card Magic by Lewis Ganson
  • Fechter by Jerry Mentzer
  • The Magic of Rezvani translated by Dariel Fitzkee
  • But Not to Play by Wilfrid Johnson
  • The Complete Works of Derek Dingle by Richard Kaufman
  • Variations Revisited by Earl Nelson
  • Any Second Now by Stephen Minch
  • Sleight Unseen by Stephen Minch
  • Ever So Sleightly by Stephen Minch
  • Secrets of a Puerto Rican Gambler by Stephen Minch
  • For Your Entertainment Pleasure by Stephen Minch
  • *The Pallbearer’s Review *by Karl Fulves
  • Modus Operandi by Jack Carpenter
  • The Expert’s Portfolio Vol. 1 by Jack Carpenter
  • Down Under Deals by Andrew Wimhurst
  • The Legendary Hierophant by Jon Racherbaumer
  • The Legendary Kabbala by Jon Racherbaumer
  • Card Finesse by Jon Racherbaumer
  • Card Finesse II by Jon Racherbaumer
  • Penumbra edited by Bill Goodwin and Gordon Bean
  • At the Expense of Grey Matter by Bill Goodwin
  • Lecture 1988 by Bill Goodwin
  • Notes from the Batcave by Bill Goodwin
  • Picking the Carcass Clean by Bill Goodwin
  • The Ancient Empty Street by Bill Goodwin
  • Solomon’s Mind by Eugene Burger
  • The Wisdom of Solomon by David Solomon & Jeff Siegfried
  • The Card Classics of Ken Krenzel by Harry Lorayne

The latter books and notes have served me well, although I am still learning of course, and will cover the gamut of card magic technique from basic simple tricks to the most difficult imaginable (for example By Forces Unseen or the Bill Goodwin notes mentioned above). At this point I would like to get into the study of truly advanced sleight of hand, and it is here that I will need to switch from recommending good books to recommending a method of study. This is a result of the difficulty in learning some of the more particularly intricate sleights such as false dealing, riffle shuffle work, shifts, and palming among other things. The best way to learn these things in my experience is to seek out as many references as possible, as there are avariety of ways to accomplish these things, so that you can try out a number of methods and find the ones that are right for you to learn. Most things will be covered in the books mentioned above, and you will be able to go through looking for descriptions of the move you desire to learn, find a number of references, decide which ones you will attempt to practice, and hence arrive at a suitable solution. Sometimes, however, the answers will be found in some obscure text, so it is a good idea to not limit yourself only to the references mentioned and to look for recommendations on each individual sleight as you come to them. For example, when learning the Zarrow Shuffle, it might be a good idea to look up Gary Plants’ handling, Karl Fulves’ write up in Riffle Shuffle Technique, David Ben’s description in Genii Magazine, and, even, the original description in the New Phoenix, in addition to the description in Card College, etc. The process of learning many of the advanced sleight of hand maneuvers can take years, and it is best to learn correctly the first time, rather than un-learning years of wasted practice.

Finally we come to what is probably the most important bookin the entire lexicon, the Expert at the Card Table by S. W. Erdnase. This book is the cardman’s bible and should be studied as such. It is recommended by the best of the best and was highly regarded by the Professor, Dai Vernon. There are also annotated editions which can be studied along with the original text. These include the Professor’s annotated editions Revelations and Revelation, as well as a very scholarly look entitled the Annotated Erdnase by Darwin Ortiz. If you decide to get one of the annotated editions, make sure to also get a cheap paperback copy for your own notes or one of the pocket editions from the Conjuring Arts Research Center. These will help your study and allow you access to the book at all times. The knowledge you receive from careful study of this work applied to your card handling will put you at the upper echelon of card handlers.

This list is by no means complete and there are many other books worthy of study. However, I think it will represent a valuable guide.

Reader comments:


Wednesday, 18 September 2019 18:40 PM - Reply to this comment

This is great, thanks so much. Interestingly, Giobbi mentions in interviews that he really wrote volume 1 & 2 as one book, so I think it's very much worth getting them together.

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