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The Six-Hour Memorized Deck by Martin Joyal

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 1997)


The current preoccupation with memorized stacks continues with this unexpected and remarkable entry. The author has devised a stack, the essential elements of which can, following the explicit instructions provided, be functionally mastered in four 90-minute study sessions. The claim seems extraordinary, but the evidence is here. I have little doubt that most readers will be able to begin to put this to use within the predicted time parameters.

This differs from the currently popular Aronson Stack in a number of significant ways. In order to learn a full-deck stack, a mnemonic approach is typically relied upon. The student first learns a "phonetic alphabet" of sounds and numbers. Two lists of 52 words must then be completely memorized, one list corresponding to the numbers one through 52, and one to the identities of 52 playing cards. Finally, these sets are paired together, using mental imagery, and the result is studied until facility with the stack is achieved.

It's a process that is not as difficult as it sounds, but neither is it easy or quick. While Mr. Aronson optimistically posits a 30-day learning curve, I don't consider that a terribly realistic expectation if you plan to have much of a life that month. Three months is probably about average for most students, and six months would certainly be a reasonable time frame for those taking the process at a leisurely pace. You had also better keep practicing to keep up your familiarity. Take a couple of months off and not only are you likely to lose mastery of the stack, but there is no quick road back; you may find yourself having to repeat much of the same process to relearn it.

By contrast, the Six-Hour Stack depends on a handful—fourteen to be exact—of built-in, highly intuitive rules. The study program is designed to thoroughly teach those rules to the student, which results in a functional utilization of the stack. What you do not get is the built-in tricks of the Aronson or other similar stacks. What you see is what you get: knowledge of the position of every card in the deck, along with its position in relation to any other.

You also get something else: Even if you don't have the chance to use the stack often, you will probably tend to recall the rules with a minimum of usage. Put it aside for a couple of months, and how long can it take to regain proficiency? Well, probably not more than six hours! This is a substantial benefit to amateurs without steady performance opportunities. One cardician friend, raving about this, spoke ruefully of how he had found himself compelled to completely relearn the Aronson stack from scratch. Ouch! Of course, one obvious question is, how important are the built-in elements of a stack like the Aronson? The answer:

It depends on who you ask. If you like Mike Close's ideas of jazz improvisation with the Aronson stack, as described in Workers 5 [page 239], you will note that the element he perhaps relies upon most is the built-in spelling of no more than half a dozen cards. But I bet he wouldn't want to give that up anytime soon.

"The magician must make his spectators like him, charming them with smile, voice, expressions, and personality. Once he has sold himself successfully, the trick is done, he has won the game. He can then tell all the lies he wishes as he performs the wonders of his choice." —Martin Joyal, The Six-Hour Memorized Deck

What seems unmistakably clear is this: If you are curious about memorized deck work, and would like to dabble for awhile in the shallows before taking the plunge, then the Six-Hour Stack is the way to go. You will be able to do many memorized deck tricks, including in fact much of Mr. Aronson's excellent and varied material. If the style of work doesn't appeal to you, you haven't lost much time. If it does, you might decide to remain with this stack, or you might choose, after gaining a deeper understanding of what this kind of work entails and delivers, to commit further to a more ambitious stack like the Aronson (or perhaps the much talked-about Tamariz, which has now been briefly described on video, but so far without the still eagerly awaited explication of its built-in features).

The book begins with a thorough analysis of the "Differences Between a Stack, a System, and a Memorized Stack." Each chapter clarifies the defining features, and provides full discussion of the various examples available in the literature. From a bibliographic and academic standpoint alone, this portion of the book comprises a magnificent reference source. The same can also be said of its concluding material, including an appendix on how the stack was developed, and a fascinating thought experiment entitled "The Shuffle Meter," an exercise in denning what it might truly mean for a deck of cards to be well shuffled.

Eventually the actual stack is taught in lesson format. The instructional chapters are effectively designed and efficiently written; a great deal of complex and potentially confusing information is clearly communicated. The charts are superb and abundant. Some excellent practice techniques are described, applicable to the learning of any memorized stack. Two different suit versions are taught, including the CHaSeD order, popular in the United States, and the SHoCkeD, popular in Europe and, according to the author, among French Canadians.

After teaching the stack, a number of tricks and routines are provided. Much of this material is along the lines of perfect locations fitted to a cursory mentalism presentation; I frankly find this kind of memorized stack application to be rather bland. After all, I can achieve essentially similar effects via sleight-of-hand methods, often with more flexible conditions and equally if not more deceptive results. This is where the kind of plot applications of Simon Aronson and Michael Close shine by contrast.

But even if there were no tricks at all in this volume, it would be a must-have for anyone possessed of even a passing interest in the memorized deck. When I first heard the claim intrinsic in the title of this book, I found it too incredible to believe. But in the time it took simply to read the few instructional chapters, I was convinced that the impossible is now true: You can learn a functional memorized stack in four 90-minute sessions.

7" X 10" hardcover with dustjacket; 240 pages; illustrated with charts and diagrams; 1997; Publisher: Hermetic Press