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Card College Volume Two by Roberto Giobbi

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii April, 1996)


In the Genii , April 1995, I reviewed Volume One of Card College. Therein, I wrote that "...the right book can truly guide a student, as would a good teacher—gently but securely—toward a future rich with appreciation, insight, and ability. Roberto Giobbi has now provided us with such a book." A year later, the author has presented us with Volume Two: precisely such a book, only more so.

If you heeded my advice and read the previous volume, then you will doubtless be waiting on the doorstep of the magic shop—or pacing near your mailbox—for the arrival of Volume Two. If you took a pass on the first volume—perhaps noting my caution that "The advanced cardician will have little to gain from this work," then rest assured that such caution no longer applies. As I wrote then, "I strongly suspect that even the experts will stand to benefit from Mr. Giobbi's continuing efforts." My anticipation has now been unreservedly fulfilled.

Dai Vernon often commented that seven years of study was required to reasonably— not completely, but reasonably—understand a deck of cards as an effective conjuring tool. Mr. Giobbi's careful and thoughtful approach is in some ways a good reminder. Not that Mr. Giobbi attempts in any way to make the task any more difficult than it needs to be; quite the contrary, as his ability to present complex ideas and techniques with clarity and brevity is impressive. Rather, as an experienced cardician reads this work he or she will be reminded, no doubt fondly, of both the pleasure and the pain of struggling to learn these techniques and ideas; of the fear of failure and the joy of achieving mastery; of the premature delusion of understanding and the time it took to reach genuine insight. One can only surmise that the beginner will also quickly intuit that while one might read a chapter in an hour, understanding the material may require days and months, and to gain total insight and mastery might well take years.

In the first volume, the student was introduced to basic terminology and fundamental technology, including elemental controls, sleights and flourishes; a number of quite good tricks were taught as well, and much cogent advice on the presentation of same was conveyed along the way. The process continues in this volume, with eleven chapters, paginated continuously from the first volume (that is, this volume begins, following the Table of Contents, with page 251). Here you will find follow-up chapters on the overhand shuffle, the double lift, false cuts and flourishes, along with freshly broken ground concerning palming, the pass, false display counts, crimps, glimpses and reverses. Finally, an in-depth section of 80 pages, entitled simply "Theory," concludes the book in a suitably thoughtful, challenging, and substantive manner.

As before, the author describes a well-selected catalog of sleights with singular efficiency, superbly assisted by the precise illustrations of Barbara Giobbi-Ebnöther (conveniently, the author's spouse). In this volume, to a substantially greater degree than its predecessor, much of the material provides valuable service for both beginning and advanced students. For example, considering that most information on the subject of crimps is scattered throughout the literature, the pertinent chapter herein will be a valuable resource for most any student Similarly, the chapter on counts will serve well as a general reference, with descriptions of the Elmsley, Jordan, Hamman, buckle and push-off counts included. A small schematic diagram of the counts is included within the frame of each illustration, and this is a clever and effective teaching aid and graphical display device. (Although I will caution that a careless reader might get the impression that the Elmsley Count begins by withdrawing the lower three cards with the right hand, rather than counting the first card into the left hand; this is not the author's intention, but such an approach is a common mistake and risks a potentially unfortunate misunderstanding.) The author presents an interesting double-lift, along with some valuable advice on displaying cards to the audience in different performing conditions. This version is certainly a sleight worth using, as opposed to the distinctly remedial approach provided in the first volume; I am curious to see what other examples of this sleight the author will choose to describe as the course of study continues to advance.

The chapter on palming is a particularly good introduction to the subject. I agree wholeheartedly with the author that Vernon's Topping the Deck "remains the best method for palming a card off the top of the deck," one of the few cases in the annals of sleight of hand that such an example can be confidently singled out above all others. Included in the author's description is the suggestion that the action of the sleight begin from an unsquared deck, a finesse suggested to me many years ago by sleight-of-hand master Howard Schwarzman. There is also some excellent advice on angles: "...imagine that your right index finger forms a line, and direct this line toward the right ear of the leftmost spectator." However, perhaps in attempting to balance brevity with thoroughness, Mr. Giobbi has avoided emphasizing the all-important positionings of the left thumb—potentially the very essence of the Vernon sleight—in the course of the action; while there is an accurate illustration, my own years of instructing students through the maze of potential errors this sleight can present tells me that this description is ripe for misinterpretation. Frankly, this is a case where the original description, by Vernon himself in Select Secrets, is probably impossible to improve upon.

More exciting still is the section of 17 distinct covering strategies for the holding out of palmed cards, each individually described and illustrated. This is a bonanza for the beginning student. Unfortunately, there is no discussion of breaking the wrist, a critically important element which, among others, Mike Close has so usefully elaborated upon in Workers Volume Three. Yet in fairness to Mr. Giobbi, these lapses may simply serve as a reminder that no single reference can ever achieve definitive status, and multiple descriptions available in the literature are often worth investigating for a comparison of their various strengths.

A chapter on the pass may serve more as an introduction to this most difficult of sleights, for example, rather than as a complete instructional guide. Two sentences on the Dribble Pass, sans illustration, cannot truly be regarded as instruction so much as merely a noting that such a technique exists.

In fact, the very inclusion of this sleight in this volume is perhaps of questionable purpose, much like the description of the classic force in Volume One. While certainly the shift has undergone renewed popularity today, the sleight has not suddenly become any easier to master. Should a student attempt to attack the shift before the side steal, for example? And if so, should he or she be presented with the classic two-handed shift prior to learning a simpler variant such as the Hermann version or a turnover shift? While there may well be no definitive answer to these and similar questions, they are worthy of any reader's consideration. I wouldn't be in a hurry—as I so often see—to ruin the two-handed shift, before one has achieved a deep level of mastery with a substantial catalog of other techniques.

Of course, as with The Royal Road to Card Magic, each chapter of sleights includes one or more tricks as a companion to the learning process. Good tricks abound here, including Aces Off the Cuff, a version of Al Leech's Two Hands: Four Aces, which includes ideas from Ed Marlo, Earl Nelson, Richard Vollmer and the author. There is an ungaffed Wild Card routine which includes ideas from Brother Hamman, Arturo de Ascanio, and Fred Kaps. Vanished Without a Trace is a great quickie by Juan Tamariz. And there is a fine Ambitious Card routine that incorporates classic and neo-classic sleights from diverse sources.

"It makes no difference whether you are a hobbyist, an amateur or a professional magician; you owe it to your audiences, your colleagues and the public image of magic to do what you do as well as it can be done."—Roberto Giobbi, Card College 2

One of the terrific strengths of this book is the eclectic range of influences that Mr. Giobbi has assembled for the student The author is both well informed and possessed of very good taste in making these selections, and so we gain the full benefit of the half century that has passed since Royal Road, standing as we might on the shoulders of such giants as Vernon, Slydini, Burger, Ascanio and Tamariz. For example, we learn Slydini's theory of weak and strong moments, Ascanio's six-phase analysis of palming, and Tamariz's techniques for using a video camcorder as a practice aid. This is a rich lode of advice, indeed. As well, while Tommy Wonder does not seem so present in this volume, one finds overlapping areas of that contemporary master's theoretical concepts, as in Mr. Giobbi's discussion of misdirection and "direction," an idea which will be elaborately considered in Mr. Wonder's forthcoming books.

Mr. Giobbi continues to serve as a balanced and nuanced escort, offering guidance that is both esoteric and pragmatic, technical and theoretical, concerned with the internal and external, with knowledge and performance. For a sample of the pragmatic, we learn tips such as the use of green markers for high visibility in the signing of playing cards, an idea from Carlhorst Meier.

The suggestion is made to remove a variety of everyday items from one's pocket when secretly depositing within, and before removing for display, a palmed card (an idea first taught to me by the great close-up magician Michael Skinner). Concerning performance, we are essentially (and wisely) told that presentation is ultimately responsibility of the student, when, after summarizing the concept of a presentation for a particular trick, the author states: "Of course, all this will be banal, unless you combine it with your own artistic expression."

The "Theory" chapter is required reading, not only for the amateur or professional performer of close-up card magic, but indeed for the performer of any type of close-up magic.

This lengthy chapter consists of seven sub-sections, entitled Presentation, Construction, Directing Attention, Technique, Handling and Management (these three terms comprise one sub-section of their own), Timing, Outs for Disasters and Disturbances, and finally, The Study of Card Conjuring. I doubt that there is a single student of close-up magic— and I presume that we are all students—who will not benefit from this wonderful body of material. We receive some superb advice, for example, about scripts, both written and unwritten, prepared and improvised—but all scripts just the same, as the author astutely counsels. Concerning practice, we are reminded, "Precision before speed," a bit of advice I never tire of repeating to my own students. Every subheading includes information that is either strewn piecemeal, far and wide throughout the literature, or in some cases has probably never been recorded. Other than in the pages of this volume, the only other place to learn some of this information is to open the phone book and look under, "Hard Knocks; see School of." And nowhere is this more clear than in the section addressing "Disturbances from the Audience" and strategies for dealing with them, wherein the author states: "This is the most important section of this chapter, for it contains the true secrets, that are not found in any other magic book." I concur. And even if you never use his proposed strategy for particularly difficult spectators—involving inducing the challenger to leave the room for a few minutes—even the most experienced professional will no doubt get a hearty chuckle from Mr. Giobbi's proposed scenario.

"A description in a book is sufficiently abstract to force you to give each phase of the handling your personal touch. On a videotape, you can see exactly what to do—and unfortunately all too many do exactly that!"—Roberto Giobbi, Card College 2

In my review of Volume One, I noted that "a thorough concluding bibliography, referenced by footnotes throughout the text, would have served as a better chart for the student wishing to navigate deeper waters." I am also pleased to note that the author and publisher have decided to provide just such an in-depth bibliography, complete with citations in the text footnoting reference to various bibliographic entries (including some helpful rides in the areas of communication skills and interpersonal relationships). This is a significant improvement, enabling the interested student to more easily pursue areas of further study. That I do not endorse certain recommended reading that includes work on such pseudoscience as Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or the author's taste for a catalog of psychotherapies and even the use of Qi Gong balls for practice; that I might disagree occasionally with the author's specific recommendations, such as the suggestion that the best response to the layman's query, "How do you do that?" is still the hackneyed phrase, "Very well, thank you;" that I might not agree with the inclusion of the chapter on the pass— none of these disputes go far in diluting my endorsement of this fine book. For aficionados of sleight of hand with cards, this book is a must. And for those who merely wish to be certain that their limited use of cards is skillfully and effectively executed, this book will be equally invaluable. Indeed, students who approach this book with the intention of limiting their study of card magic may well find themselves falling prey to the passion for the pasteboards that some of us already share.

"Quality is not the exclusive domain of the professional." —Roberto Giobbi,Card College 2

7" X 10" hardcover, full-cloth binding with laminated multicolor dust jacket; 243 pages; hundreds of line drawings; 1996; Publisher: Hermetic Press