Card College Light by Roberto Giobbi
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 2007)
What more can be said of Roberto Giobbi's ever influential contributions to the library of conjuring? Had he simply written five volumes of Card College and then ridden off into the sunset, he would have merely left behind the most widely translated work in the history of magic, a series of books now regarded virtually without objection as the standard in the instructional literature of conjuring with cards. And you may have also noticed that Mr. Giobbi's column in Genii is a great favorite of students of card magic around the world, offering a steady stream of insightful and original commentary on the art and craft of card magic.
But now comes Card College Light, which, while a new contribution for English-language readers, is actually an updated translation of what was in fact the author's second book, first published in German in 1988. Now subtitled "Professional Card Magic Without Sleight-of-Hand," there is a world of ideas in that phrase that potential readers are strongly encouraged to stop and consider.
Let's get right to it: Can one really per-form professional caliber card magic with-out the use of sleight of hand?
The previous evidence is mixed. Karl Fulves has provided popular volumes of "self-working" magic done with cards, coins, paper, math, handkerchiefs, ropes, and more, widely marketed to the public. Another author gave magicians a volume of effortless magic some years ago that included tricks requiring a variety of sleights, such as the use of multiple lifts (among many other challenging sleights), a technique which many find far from effort-less. Ken Krenzel has made thoughtful contributions to his notion of "sleight-free" magic. Steve Beam has done yeoman service providing five volumes of "semi-automatic card tricks," in whose popular pages are regularly provided tricks which are accompanied by useful notes on presentation and performance, resulting in tricks that can often fool magicians and entertain layman. Then again, countless video dealer demonstrations of tricks claimed to be "easy to master" clearly, quite simply, are not.
But such hits, misses, and middling attempts aside, Roberto Giobbi is, among other things, truly the com-pleat conjuror, and he brings his breadth of expertise, and passion for performance, to the table in Card College Light and proves, I think it fair to say, that yes, you can actually do professional caliber card magic with-out the use of sleights. No double-talk, no equivocation: just plain without.
Let us not get carried away no one is suggesting you are likely to make a career of such an approach. But that is besides the point. What is being presented here is a volume of material that thanks to a detailed and thorough approach to all aspects of magical performance, including method, misdirection, presentation, and performance can, in careful and studious hands, produce professional caliber results without the use of sleights.
Given that fact, this is a marvelous book for virtually any performer of card magic, because there is likely something instructive here for everyone. Advanced students can pluck out one or two session tricks that, properly managed, might just fool the hell out of well-posted conjuring colleagues. Intermediate students will be able to break up their repertoires with the kind of sleight-free material that can serve to add great power and impact to an overall performance, thanks to the absolutely baffling cleanliness such tricks can provide. Judiciously mixed in with effects requiring other methods, including mechanical methods, prepared props, and sleight of hand, the total result achieved can and should be vastly greater than the sum of the parts.
And for students who have not mastered the techniques of sleight of hand be they beginners, or longtime veterans who have simply chosen, for whatever reason, to not pursue this methodology
this is not merely a book you will enjoy it is a book that you need.
I am often frankly appalled when I meet veteran hobbyists who simply cannot create an entertaining and mystifying performance performance of impromptu magic, sometimes after decades of attending meetings of the local magic club. Be honest with yourself and your colleagues: if you think any of you fit this category, then this is the book for you!
Because this is not just a book of self-working tricks far from it. It is a manual of magic that is focused on performance. The 21 tricks described have been organized into seven distinct routines, most (but not all) consisting of three tricks each. The tricks are routined together for purposes both presentational and methodological, in that thematic plots are used to tie tricks together presentationally, and methods are sometimes built on one another in order to achieve the most diabolic result. This kind of routining is an approach that yields many benefits. Michael Skinner was fond of learning tricks in sets of three, not only for the benefits of presentation (beginning, middle, end), but also for management (how to get in, how to get out), and also because he said that by mastering the material in sets, he felt he didn't have to "remember" three distinct tricks by remembering the first one, it would automatically lead him through the complete routine of three.
In Mr. Giobbi's Routine #3, the effects are thematically connected in that the first trick is apparently a feat of "fingertip sensitivity," the second an example of muscle reading (used here as a presentation, not as a method), and the final trick demonstrates the magician's apparent skill as a detector of lies.
In Routine #5, on the other hand, the three feats are drawn together more by contrasting presentational themes than by variation on a theme. Hence the first trick is accomplished by the magician's apparent lie detection abilities; the second trick is achieved by a feat of incredible dexterity; and the third effect involves a mystifying bit of mental thought-reading.
Doubtless some of these tricks will be familiar to some students, depending on their level of expertise. For example, Routine 41 consists of a slightly simplified handling of Juan Tamariz's "Neither Blind Nor Silly," and indeed I have seen that master magician perform this trick with astounding and entertaining results. A version of Paul Curry's "Out Of This World" follows, but in a clever but little-known variation of John Kennedy's that requires no switch of the packets! And this routine closes with a version of the venerable telephone "Wizard" trick something I used extensively in my late teens with a variety of methods provided to appeal to any practitioner.
Just as I have routinely recommended the previous volumes of the Card College series to advanced practitioners as well as beginners and intermediate students, an experienced but careful reader will doubtless find some-thing in these pages of use and value. In his lie detector routine, for example, a subtle psychological touch on how to procedurally misdirect the use of the forced selection, for example, caught my attention, and likely my future use. And one of the routines is designed specifically so that it can, if necessary, be performed with "suboptimal cards," meaning an incomplete or damaged deck.
But above all, this is the ultimate beginner's book of card magic. Forget books that pretend to introduce students to sleight of hand with minimal explanations that make moves even more difficult to decipher than advanced books. If you know anyone, young or old, who might be interested in magic, this is the book there is nothing else out there quite like this thoughtful, readable manual. Note too that these are commercial and appealing effects, many of the "pick-a-card" variety, a plot which only magicians tire of but laymen rarely do, providing they are well presented. The author advises us that he has "consciously avoided anything that smacks of endless counting, adding of digits and other such abominable mathematical practices." This is not a book of deal-and-duck procedures! In fact, Mr. Giobbi points out that most of the material comes from his "active repertoire." And he invokes the Chinese proverb that "When a strong man uses weak methods, then weak methods can become strong but when a weak man uses strong methods, then strong methods become weak!" We need more "strong" books like this and there are very few of us who cannot learn from this delightful and instructive volume.