Are Playing Cards Bad To Use In Mentalism

tl;dr : No.

Let’s start off by asking one simple question:

What Is Mentalism?

Wikipedia says: “Mentalism is a performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities.”

So therefore, you can use anything you jolly well want to demonstrate these mental or intuitive abilities. Bananas, socks, spoons or playing cards. The important thing is to work out your performing persona and ascertain if playing cards would “fit” your character.

HIT by Luke Jermay

If we take a look at “HIT” by Luke Jermay it can be presented as a mentalism routine, and it uses playing cards. It’s just a simple game of Blackjack that the performer can decide to win or lose. Every single time. It has a strong advantage over other displays of mental skill, because everyone understands the rules of Blackjack.

The Oracle System by Ben Seidman

If you stretch the definition of playing cards to include tarot, then a whole new field of mental effects is suddenly made possile. Take Ben Seidman’s “The Oracle System” as an example. On the face of it, it’s just matching five cards, but with Ben’s presentation it elevates what is - really - a fairly simple card trick into some of the hardest hitting, personal and emotional mentalism to have been released for years.

So many mentalism routines are you showing a “win” on very narrow choices. A Which Hand routine is a 50/50 chance of success. ESP cards give you one in five. Putting a one in 52 chance into the mix surely is more interesting and impressive that a simple 50/50? Many people seem to think so.

Whatever You Believe Is Right Is Right

This is the simple truth. If you think using playing cards is right, then it is. If you think it is wrong, it is. It’s personal. It’s your choice to make. But let’s consider why some people think it is inherently bad…

Playing cards are associated with card magic. Therefore, if you are trying to display mental skills, your audience could dismiss your presentation as merely sleight of hand. If you do bring cards out, we would certainly advise against using clearly skillful shuffling or flourishes as they would only add fuel to the “they’re just clever with their hands” solution your audience may come to. Additionally, try to be as hands off as you possibly can in the effect. With an ACAAN for example, let them shuffle and deal and handle the cards as much as you can for the method to work.

Are All These People Wrong?

Going back, Anneman, T.A. Walters, , Chan Canasta, David Hoy, Larry Becker, Max Maven and more have all used playing cards in mentalism. There are effects using cards in Practical Mental Effects and 13 Steps To Mentalism. Today, people like Derren Brown, Luke Jermay, Pete Turner and Fraser Parker all have performed mentalism effects with playing cards. Really, if you think they’re making a mistake doing so, we’d advocate thinking long and hard about why you think that!

Doug Dyment, author of the incredible Calculated Thoughts book has this to say on the matter: “when you stand in front of audiences doing amazing things with playing cards, they’re quite apt to remember previous entertainers who have done amazing things with playing cards … and odds are that your predecessors were magicians!

This is a fair point, and really backs up the previous statement that how you introduce the cards and explain why you are using them is the important aspect.

Stephen Long, AKA Hector Chadwick had this to say:

I think the only restrictions we really have in performance are those we impose on ourselves. The selection of material—and use of playing cards—is a matter of persona and taste.

Here at Vanishing Inc. we believe it is perfectly acceptable to use playing cards in a mentalism set, as long as their use is justified. Some kind of memory display, or reading body language in a gambling demonstration can work perfectly well. And of course the hugely popular ACAAN plot would be hard to do without a deck of cards!

What reasons can you come up with to introduce some playing cards?