Card College by Roberto Giobbi

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 1999)

Readers will already be aware of the two earlier volumes in this superb series, reviewed in the April 1995 and April 1996 issues of Genii. This is the third volume in a planned four-volume set, and if you liked the two previous installments as I did, then you will love this one. No doubt some advanced cardicians believed that the first and/or second volumes, aimed primarily at beginning and intermediate practioners, contained material too simple or well-known to be worth investigating. If that was your thinking— probably mistaken in most cases, as there was still much of value to be found for virtually any enthusiast—then this is the volume you will want to purchase no matter your level of expertise. I find it hard to imagine any card expert going through this volume without learning some new touch or finesse, correcting some bad habit on an old sleight, or without picking up a deck of cards to enjoy comparing notes with his or her own approach and the descriptions provided by master cardician Roberto Giobbi. This is a book for every lover of card magic.

Reading it was a pleasure and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment within its pages. Despite the fact that this series is purely instructional in nature, the contents are far from limited to purely technical material, and each volume also includes excellent theoretical content. The present book is no exception, and although it does not contain as much as the lengthy performance theory section of Volume 2, the eight introductory pages to this book are among the most elegant that I have ever read in a conjuring text. As the author notes in these opening pages, "The entire book is a theory." Following a foreword by the late Arturo de Ascanio—(if a master of this caliber ever wrote such words about me, I would probably lay down my cards and just die happy on the spot)— Mr. Giobbi offers up what amounts to nothing less than a love letter from a besotted author—a worshipful paean to card magic, to the learning process, to practice, and above all to the reading and study of magic books. There really are few experiences in the world more thoroughly enriching and rewarding than time spent immersed in an intimate relationship with a good magic book, and this author clearly knows that experience well. If you have a shelf of magic videos and too few books; if you have a shelf of books that are too little read; if you have ever whined to someone that it is hard to learn from books or that you are one of those people who learn so much better through firsthand demonstration; if you have to ask yet again why books are so far superior to video and why video is such a poor pedagogical tool; if any or all of these ideas have crossed your mind or continue to puzzle you, then I urge you, I implore you to buy this book and read the first eight pages over and over and over again if you have to until you finally discover why books are the pathway not merely to information, but to knowledge, to insight, to deep understanding, and ultimately to mastery of the skills of thinking.

I just reread those eight pages for the pure pleasure of it, and they thrilled and soothed me yet again and reminded me that all is still right in at least a few remaining corners of the world of conjuring. But despite the rich purity of these introductory thoughts, there is in fact much, much more in the pages to come. In eleven chapters we are taken on a course of study that guides us through a chapter on breaks, steps, and injogs; a follow- up (to a previous volume's segment) chapter on card controls that includes the spread cull control; a follow-up chapter on double-lifts that finally presents some expert techniques, along with some all-important double-lift replacements (although somewhat surprisingly still fails to describe the strike or hit lift); a follow-up chapter on false display counts that includes, unsurprisingly, excellent descriptions of the Ascanio Spread and other related Ascanio finesses; a follow-up chapter on riffle shuffles that includes a fine explanation of what the author has interestingly dubbed the "Zarrow Dynamic," along with a number of useful and expert variations and cut-and-false-shuffle combinations; a chapter on the Multiple Shift; a chapter on the Faro Shuffle; a chapter on advanced palming techniques; a chapter on color changes; and finally a chapter on the Side-Steal and the Diagonal Palm Shift. That is quite a mountain of material, and the author's impeccably detailed descriptions may result in this not only amounting to nothing less than the finest course of study of card conjuring extant, but also the definitive reference guide to many of these sleights and techniques. The chapter on the Zarrow "Dynamic," as one such example, is a superb examination of an all too often misunderstood, misused, and abused technique that has even seen woefully incorrect executions in some instructional videos and has been occasionally mangled by even the best-known card workers.

Even if you are an expert on every family of technique itemized above—and that seems unlikely—there are finesses and handling details throughout, the kind that the expert not only thrives on but which in truth defines his work and differentiates it from the merely competent. Also there are cutting-edge ideas that in some cases have never seen print before, notably in a number of entries contributed by John Carney, for example, and many unpublished finesses, such as Christian Scherer's rhythm change for the Olram Subtlety or Aurelio Paviatto's approach to subtly compelling a spectator to cut a tabled deck at a bridge. In the area of tricks, while there are neo-classic effects, like the Walton/Freeman Time Trick, which any contemporary expert should know, there are also interesting composite handlings by the author of such plots, like the Cannibal Cards, which many students will find of interest, no matter whether they already perform a version or not.

Although this book offers many sleight descriptions that can safely be considered definitive, the overall work should not be considered a definitive encyclopedia, and does not claim to be such. The brief description of the Flushtration Count is, as an example, accurate and sufficient, but only independent study will lead the student to Larry Jennings' alternative grip for this sleight or to J. C. Wagner's change in direction and rhythm. No expert will agree with every opinion that Mr. Giobbi offers—I would respectfully dispute his approach to "Triumph," for example—but this too is of little consequence, since the author's choices are born of reason and experience, and not the lack of both, as is so often the case these days (especially in the on-line world, where the value of one's opinion is apparently thought by some to be in direct proportion to the speed of one's modem). Then again, the author's well-informed and clearly stated opinions are often a source of delight; I was tickled when, despite the fact that he testifies to his own success and effectiveness with the Cannibal Cards plot, he also calmly observes that "the effect is fairly trivial and just barely convincing." This is a difficult conundrum for some to grasp, yet the notion seems clearly indisputable to me.

As with previous volumes, the author's approach to crediting, mostly provided in an appended section of footnotes, is impeccable. The level of instruction is simply superb, provided by a thoughtful and insightful teacher with a passion for his subject that all but glows from within every page. The smooth blend of illustration and economical prose, the careful and wise choices of "check points," which follow many entries—anticipating errors, avoiding mistakes, correcting misinterpretations before they take hold—and above all the deceptively simple readability of this book, all create a totality that must be considered a complete and quite remarkable success. That a volume of such potentially dry and dreary insructional material can in fact be so readable is an achievement of which all the participants should be justly proud and to which any author of similar material should strive. This is a glorious book, filled with the love of card magic and a gift of sorts to others who share that love. We owe a debt of gratitude to the likes of Roberto Giobbi, Barbara Giobbi-Ebnöther, Richard Hatch, and Stephen Minch. Long live the wonders of card magic and of its greatest literature!

Hermetic Press, Inc. 1500 S.W. Trenton St., Seattle, WA 98106 7" x 10" hardbound with laminated dustjacket 351 pages