Realizing Magic | Some Classic Advice That Might Be Wrong

By Pete McCabe - Thursday, September 24, 2020

I was watching Curtis Kam over on reelmagicmagazine. It was Curtis who turned me on to reelmagic, which—unsolicited plug—for $5 a month has quite a lot of watchable and downloadable content. This includes Curtis working his way through Bobo’s Modern Coin Magic, chapter by chapter, move by move. Not every move is covered, but most are, and the whole thing is a fascinating and useful project.

At one point, Curtis was talking about the Bobo Switch, which, it turns out, is not such a good move. A quick reminder; you have a coin held at the right fingers, with another coin secretly in finger palm. You are going to toss the coin into the left hand, and in the process you palm the first coin and secretly drop/toss the second coin from finger palm.

Curtis points out that this action of throwing the coin is not really natural or justified, and he’s right. And so we get to a very common piece of advice: do two or three genuine tosses, first, to condition the audience to the action, so it will seem less suspicious, then do the move.

I’m pretty sure this is bad advice.

The challenge with the Bobo switch, as with all moves that simulate a genuine action, is to make the simulation as accurate as possible. This is why I practice my false transfer by alternating real and false transfers. With some moves, you can make them look effectively identical.

Not the Bobo switch. Curtis is one of the best coin men in the world, and when he does the Bobo switch, it looks like a natural and genuine toss. When he does it for real, it looks like a natural and genuine toss.

But, although they both look natural, they do not look the same. And he’s Curtis freaking Kam. The differences are small, but if you see them back to back, you can tell they are different.

Now we see the problem with this advice. By doing two or three genuine tosses first, you establish a baseline of fair activity for the audience that highlights any differences when you do the fake toss. You want to minimize these differences, not highlight them.

This advice comes up with some regularity in sleight-of-hand magic. It’s based on a sound idea of conditioning the audience. But it should only be used with moves where the real and the fake version look very much the same. The bigger the difference between the real action and the move, the more time you need between the demo and the move.

In cases like the Bobo switch, you’re probably better off doing one real demo, then break the action with some presentational element or other (roll up your sleeves, say), and then repeat the action doing the move. That way people will only remember the basic action of the real version, not the small details of the move that can give it away.

Late Note

The Steve Forte books arrived at my house while I was writing this, and lo and behold, he says the following, with the emphasis from the original:

“In a series of similar actions, does the move come first, in the middle, or last in the series? When possible, it’s always best to start with the move followed by the true actions. If you start with the true action, you’re setting a higher standard because the false action must be a perfect match.”

Leave a comment

Log in or sign up to post a comment about Realizing Magic | Some Classic Advice That Might Be Wrong.

Back to blog homepage

Similar posts on the blog: