Fully Booked | Focus

By Harapan Ong - Sunday, October 6, 2019

Magic books can generally be categorised into two different types: the first type of book is what I call the compilation book. It is simply a large collection of different types of magic from either one or various creators - there may be a cohesive theme, such as being a compilation of only card magic or coin magic, but the types of tricks are generally very varied. The second type of book is what I call the themed book. These types of books are rarer, but they are basically centered around a particular type of trick, and usually show different versions of the same trick from either one creator or from many creators.

Each type of book has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of a compilation book is that they are great for magicians who are just looking to cast a wide net and learn a lot of different types of tricks. This could either be to get inspiration, or to simply learn more about the magic of different magicians. The themed book, however, allows the reader to have a focused style of learning. They are for the magicians who know exactly what they want to work on, and learn about the current literature already published on the topic. For example, books compiling the various versions of Out Of This World would fall under this category.

The book we are looking at today is a fantastic compilation of packet tricks from one of magic’s most prolific creators - Max Maven. This book is published under his birth name Phil Goldstein, and contains 60 card tricks of the packet variety. In other words, each trick only requires a small packet of cards, usually eight or less.

There are a few things I really like about this book, and why I would recommend everyone to get this book, even if you’re not interested in packet tricks:

As mentioned previously, this is a themed book centered about packet tricks. These 60 tricks contain an extremely wide range of different plots in card magic that can be done with a packet of cards. It’s not just 60 versions of Twisting the Aces; there are variations of Oil and Water, Cards Across, Small Packet Triumphs, minimalistic Ace Assemblies and Poker Hand Transformations. It really is like a masterclass in card magic, especially on packet trick. Reading through this book will give you a very broad overview of the different plots and effects possible with cards. This book is also great if you want to learn the different sleights possible with a packet of cards. The sleights in here are very well organised (even having a sleight index at the back of the book for easy reference to each sleight taught in the book), and I think I learnt so many new false counts and displays and moves just from reading through this book. Hence, it serves as a great reference book on these invaluable card sleights.

As mentioned previously, the plots contained in Focus generally are the classic card plots, and even the methods are also not particularly novel or new. However, I actually find that to be a strength of the book because it’s really amazing to see how classic sleights can be used to create some pretty great versions of the classics.

Some highlights for me are;

Immediate Aces: I love quick, short Ace Assemblies. I can’t see myself performing those Ace Assemblies that require you to vanish each Ace one by one, which is why I love this minimalistic Ace Assembly. Four Aces, three spot cards, and the transposition is instantaneous. No filler, no fluff.

Overture: At the start of the book, Max explains that Stephen Minch thinks this trick is terrible, and advises against putting the trick in the book. I’m happy that Max has gone against the wishes of Stephen, because I actually really like the simplicity of this routine, both in effect and method. In essence, two red Kings placed face up between two face down black Kings change places.

Masque: Another minimalistic take on a classic - in this case, the Universal Card plot. Only four cards are used - the Joker and three selected cards. One by one, the Joker changes back forth between the three selections. Really lovely routine.

As the name of the book suggests, the writing style of this book is pretty succinct and “focused”. Based on how slim the book is and the staggering number of tricks in it, you are absolutely right if you guess that the description text is quite dense. My guess is that Max has also purposely left out the details on how he presents each trick in the description, prefering to only focus on describing the sleights such that the text is more focused. Part of me wishes that the book will go into more detail explaining how the timing of certain sleights are executed, because there are quite a few routines that require you to (for example) execute a Half Pass but they don’t explain where the required misdirection will come from.

However, this remains one of my favourite books in card magic and I can always count on flipping through these pages to get some inspiration for creating my own routines. I highly recommend anyone interested in good, solid card magic to check out Focus by Phil Goldstein.

Reader comments:


Saturday, 12 October 2019 08:50 AM - Reply to this comment

I agree. This is one of my favorite magic books.. Lots of great packet tricks and, from the ones that I've tried, AND if memory serves me correctly, all (or most) of the tricks in the book can be performed using cards from a regular deck of cards.

I particularly love the "Index of Sleights" (pages 139-140 in the book) where Phil directs you to the particular card trick in the book where a particular sleight is first encountered and then explained. What an efficient manner of exposition.

Too bad the book is OOP and not re-released as a physical book nor as a PDF. If you want my copy, you'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands. (grin)

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