Hold'Em Magic by Tom Frame
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 2012)
Ever wonder why and how the current poker craze came about? Think about it for a few moments—poker has long been around us, and even Texas Hold 'em, as Jason England informs us in his brief history of the game (provided as one of several useful appendixes to the book at hand). has been around for some half a century by now. The World Series of Poker began at Binion's Horseshoe in 1970.
Here's another hint: the answer has something to do with technology. And no, it's not the Internet. The net has certainly contributed to the boom times of the game, but Internet popularity is more an effect than a cause. Once Chris Moneymaker was able to take a 2003 bracelet having played the game entirely online until that tournament (which he also qualified for online), every amateur with dreams of glory took to the web, that much is true, and if the government ever figures out that legislating morality is a waste of, well, everything it touches (lessons from Prohibition, anybody?), online poker might provide a serious stream of tax revenue.
Okay, give up? It's the tiny video camera, sometimes dubbed a lipstick camera (due to its similarity in size and shape), which was first used in 1999 to reveal the players' hole cards to the home audience. At that instant, poker became a game for commentators, and commentators means television, and television means advertising and money and audience and ... well, and the World Series of Poker now attracts thousands of players, along with top prizes in the many millions of dollars.
The impact on magic is double-edged. On the one hand, many more people understand the basics of poker today than once did, hence rendering gambling and cheating demonstrations more commercial and accessible to a wider audience, who increasingly even know something about obscure concepts like "tells." On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of poker demos and routines depend on games like Draw Poker, games that, ironically, countless contemporary amateur Hold 'em players actually know little if anything about!
The obvious solution is to develop material that focuses on the game of the day, Texas Hold 'em—a game that exploits the most appealing elements of poker, in its mix of chance and skill and multiple strategic betting opportunities in exemplary fashion, as does its sister "hi-lo" game, generally known as Omaha. But the problem is more simply stated than accomplished, since the complexity of Hold 'em does not lend itself to readily apprehended and therefore entertaining plots; as well, popularity is a relative thing, and many people don't know the first thing about how Hold 'em is played, and it's not a game that is readily explained in a shorthand description.
Hence, as Jason England relates in his introduction to Tom Frame's Hold 'em Magic, when first informed of Mr. Frame's idea to fill an entire book with card tricks and routines based solely on Hold 'em, Mr. England was skeptical. He "would have bet," he writes, "that the number of really worthwhile hold 'em effects could be counted easily on the fingers of one hand."
Well, color Mr. England and this writer as well surprised. Mr. Frame has managed to fill an entire book with routines themed around Hold 'em. He's had a little help, of course, with contributions from a remarkable group of colleagues, including the aforementioned Mr. England, along with Michael Weber, R. Paul Wilson, Don England, Bob Farmer, J.K. Hartman, among many more, along with substantial contributions from Mr. Frame himself.
As might be guessed, many of these routines fall more closely to the magic genre, with cards magically transposing and transforming, and relying on procedures that fall far outside those of genuine Hold 'em poker. This is not a bad thing there is a long tradition of such approaches to gambling-themed routines—but it does raise a challenging question for performers. On the one hand, if you're going to break procedure in the extreme, average audiences that don't care about or even know the difference would likely be just as happy with a more traditional routine that depends on Draw Poker or Five-Card Stud, along with the many commercial possibilities available in such routines; on the other hand, fast company that cares about the arcana of Hold 'em might be quite likely to bust the performer who breaks radically with procedure.
That caution having been raised, if you find yourself interested in the basic premise at work here, then there is truly something for everyone within the pages of Mr. Frame's new book. The opening piece by Michael Weber requires a simple and traditional card gaff, conveniently provided with the book, that is applied in a way that exploits the procedure of stud poker games, and with some thought should find further application by users prone to experimentation. Ben Harris provides a routine with an interesting precognitive plot, in which the magician predicts the card required for a spectator who is destined to lose a very close game. Norman Beck provides a routine in which you effectively read the tells of a spectator/player, revealing her cards in intriguing fashion (with a nice addition by the author). Sal Piacente offers a fascinating technique for controlling the three "flop" cards in a 10-handed game; while applied here to a demonstration routine, those familiar with this contributor's name will not be surprised to learn that his technique might also be applied to "larcenous purposes."
Some of the routines here have been brainstormed among the various contributors, and the results are often good. Aaron Shields takes a magical idea from a routine by Ashford and turns it into a convincing cheating demo that looks and feels like the real thing (and indeed will require some of the real work to achieve it). Paul Wilson provides a similarly convincing stacking demo with "Duke 'Em Out," which begins with any two hole cards of the spectator's preference. Jay Jayaraman offers "Best...Hand...Eved," demonstrating that the timeless "Marto/Gardner Poker Routine" can still be brought up to date with typically commercial results.
There's plenty more where those came from, and the book concludes with a number of valuable appendixes, including not only Jason England's aforementioned "Brief History of Poker and Hold 'Em," but also a list of Hole Card Nicknames (useful presentational fodder to be sure), some amusing quotes about poker, a bibliography, and an interesting "creative timeline" of the various contributions in the book. Looking for a routine about Texas Hold 'em? I'm willing to bet you'll get the nuts in Tom Frame's clever collection.