Popular Bicycle Gaffed Cards
This is a super-fun, super-informative, and HIGHLY exciting article about gaffed cards. I LOVE using gaffs and I LOVE talking in superlatives, so consider this a high-energy thrill ride into the wide world of gaffs. Through this article I’m going to be quite bold in speaking about ways I think gaffs are best used and best NOT used. It’s just my opinion and your mileage may vary. But here we go…
What are gaffed cards?
Let’s start at the beginning. Gaffed cards are non-standard playing cards that assist in magic tricks. The gaffs we’ll mostly cover in this article are printed, standard gaffs, meaning that they are gaffs readily available from good online magic shops. Later, we’ll cover more specialty gaffs or how to make your own gaffs.
The standard gaffs are:
Double-faced cards: these are cards that have faces on both sides. There are two kinds of double-faced decks: some decks have the same face on both sides, like a Jack of Spades printed on each face of the card. The other kind of double-faced cards have DIFFERENT cards on each face, and these are usually of more use to magicians.
Double-backed cards: these are cards with two backs printed on their surfaces. Red/Red double-backed cards have a red back on each surface. Red/Blue double-backed cards have one of each printed on their surfaces, and are almost always used for color-changing deck routines or effects with two packs.
Blank cards: blank cards come in several varietals. The most common and useful are blank-faced cards. But blank-backed cards provide interesting opportunities, and blank/blank decks have no face or backs.
Mis-Indexed Cards: These are cards that have non-matching pips. For example, a card might read as the Two of Hearts in the upper left corner but as the Ace of Diamonds in the lower right corner.
Overlap cards: First envisioned by Thedore DeLand, I’m proud to say I coined the name that now emcompasses all gaffed cards with fans of cards across their faces. There are infinite combinations of overlap cards, some with spreads of faces, and some with spreads of backs.
Let’s now explore the uses of each of these gaffs:
Double-faced cards can be used for all sorts of card effects.
One of the greatest uses is for what has become known as McDonald’s Aces. In this effect, you do an Assembly of Aces by separating four Aces in four different piles and then causing each Ace to appear in a leader packet. By using double-faced cards you allow for pristine vanishes and appearances. All the cards are normal except for, usually, three gaffed cards called McDonald’s Aces.
Double-faced cards can also be used for a SENSATIONAL effect that I perform every time I do walkaround magic. It’s a “fusion” effect in which two selections are caused to permanently fuse together in one card. There are many versions, the most popular being “Anniversary Waltz” by Chris Carter and popularized by Doc Eason.
My issue with this effect was always that it was tough from a practicality standpoint. I never liked the idea of having a gaffed card floating in the deck (and the best routines use both a double-facer, which is given away each time, and a double-backer that is not perceived by the audience).
One solution is “Waltzing Cheek to Cheek,” which is a special deck you assemble using normal cards, double-faced cards, and one single double-backer. This deck allows you to perform the effect over and over without resetting except once every couple of gigs. It’s a combination of the Fusion plot and Waltzing Cheek to Cheek.
Incidentally, before we move on to the next kind of gaff, I’ll share with you a common joke magicians like to pull on each other. If you go to a magic shop, ask the proprietor if you can get a double-faced deck but that you MUST have it in blue. The storekeeper will often do a double take before realizing that what you’re asking for doesn’t come in red or blue because it has no backs!
The most famous and subtle application using double-backed cards is widely considered “Cheek to Cheek,” which is an effect in which cards are CLEARLY shuffled face up and face down and immediately straighten out. The method is that half the cards are normal and half the cards are double-backed. When you apparently shuffle face-up cards into face-down cards, you’re actually shuffling the normal cards face up into the double-backed cards. You can then SHOW the cards are mixed face up and face down. By simply turning the pack over and spreading, you can show the entire deck has straightened out.
Double-backed cards are also great for two-deck effects. The best Cards Across that I’ve encountered is Simon Aronson’s “Red-See Passover”, in which ten red cards from a red deck and ten blue cards from a blue deck are used. Three freely selected cards travel from the red packet into the blue packet. It’s INCREDIBLY clean and move-free.
The effect relies on a series of gaffs, some of which are red/blue double-backed cards. You can find the trick explained in Simon’s book, Bound to Please.
Peter Pelikaan is a name you should know if you are interested in gaffed card magic, and much of his magic requires some standard gaffs. My favorite of his effects is called “Turn” and it uses a double-backed card, which is included in the set.
There was a time in magic when ALL gaffs were needed in Bicycle because this was the industry standard. Now, magicians are using all sorts of back designs, and because of this, double-backed cards now come in a variety of designs and colors.
Now things get REALLY interesting. One of the things professional magicians are always striving for is ways to personalize their magic, or to convert a card trick into something more special. Blank cards are a great way to do this.
Blank cards can be easily customized. For example, if you obtain a blank-faced deck, you can turn it into a “movies” deck by writing a different film on each one. You can turn it into a “travel” deck by writing a different city or country from around the world. Now people don’t pick cards. They pick CITIES or MOVIES or CELEBRITIES or FOODS or anything you want.
This comes in handy particularly if you ever need to pre-show someone and force them to take a force object. In my show, I need to force a food item, so I’ve created a deck with all different food items, and before the show I approach a spectator and show her all the foods in the deck are different. I then allow her to touch any food item, and switch it using a familiar force. Then I ask her to “think of this food item, and during the show when I call on you, keep it in your mind.” In this way, I can have someone merely “think” of a food item and know in advance what it is.
There is also an intriguing presentation possible in which you “create a deck” with your spectators by having them select a card and draw on it any card they like. You can then (through use of a switched deck) make this card appear as a proper card, by switching out the one they drew for the real iteration.
Seth Kramer, the corporate magician, does an Ambitious Card with a blank-faced deck in which he asks a person to write their name across the face of a blank card. In this way, the PERSON jumps to the top of the deck, and it makes a stark, unusual visual to show all blank cards except for the one the spectator signed.
Double blank cards provide even more possibilities because these cards don’t immediately resemble playing cards at all. You can treat them like “notecards” or pieces of paper, and have various audience members write down things or thoughts on these cards. What the audience won’t perceive is that this double-blank deck is VERY easy to manipulate, do double or triple lifts with, and palm away.
The best use of mis-indexed cards is to cause a thought-of card to vanish. This is most often packaged as “The Princess Card Trick” and we carry a jumbo version.
In this effect, you show a packet of cards to the audience and ask someone (or everyone) to think of a card. You turn the cards toward yourself and mix them again. You remove one and respread to show that you successfully removed the thought-of card.
The working is simple: all the cards are mis-indexed, so they show two identities depending on how they are spread. This means that you can show a spread of cards and ask everyone to think of a card. You turn the cards toward yourself and mix them around, and then respread showing the opposite index...and this causes ALL the cards to change. Because the mis-indexed cards are subtly different but close in value and suit, nobody perceives the changes;
With poker-sized cards, you can use mis-indexed cards to accomplish all sorts of things. The most potent use I’m aware of is John Kennedy’s Mind Power Deck.
This deck allows you to show a pack of 52 different cards. Then, when you spread it the other way, it shows a repeating pattern of just a few cards. This allows you to have one just looked at, and with a few simple questions, you can nail whichever card they thought of.
Another fantastic effect with mis-indexed cards is one of the most overlooked on our site: Pedro Morillo’s “Reshuffled.” It starts like Paul Gertner’s “Unshuffled,” which is, itself an amazing trick. Markings on the side of a deck slowly appear to divine a selected card. But with this deck, you can then cause EVERY card in the deck to change INTO the selected card. It’s a showstopper.
These cards open up all SORTS of possibilities. Imagine being able to make four Jacks assemble and then IMMEDIATELY jump back to their original packets. Imagine three Jacks and a Joker, and REPEATEDLY throwing away the Joker only to have it come back again. Imagine doing a collectors in which you cause three selections to appear between four Kings...and then causing the four Kings to just disappear, leaving only the three selections. These effects and SO much more are possible...with Overlap.
I published this book years ago, and it remains something I think many people aren’t aware of. It comes with the book, jumbo gaffs, poker gaffs, and a DVD demonstrating all the material. It explores a “locking” overlap gaff that can be shown normal on BOTH sides, as well as overlap gaffs with faces and backs.
Using Gaffs Subtly
The most important tip I can give you is to use gaffs sparingly and subtly. There are a lot of effects in which you cause cards to morph or print weird messages on the faces, but these make VERY plain the idea that you are using special cards. Instead, for the most part I encourage you to use gaffs that never display odd-looking cards. The one exception to this is the “Fusion” plot, which despite my preference for subtle use, has an UNDENIABLE strength and power for laypeople. It’s one of the strongest things you can do.
One of the things few people think about when using gaffs is where to store them. A lot of magicians place them in Rookie Card holders or collector’s sleeves. I don’t love this idea because while this physically protects the gaff, they’re all still loose. Some magicians use wallets with sleeves typically used for credit cards or photos. These are easier to label and you have the advantage of keeping everything together.
Packet trick wallets usually come in ugly plastic, but we love this leather packet trick wallet.
The best way to carry gaffs with you, however, is the Pro Carrier Deluxe. I designed the first iteration of this wallet twenty years ago, and I keep making small refinements. This version holds two decks of cards, a coin purse, and THREE separate compartments for gaffs, duplicates, and packet tricks. This way, ALL of your magic is together in one place.
The final tip I’ll share with you is this: label your gaffs. Label your gaffed decks by writing in the tiny white border on the SIDE of the box, near the flap. This is an area that is rarely seen by anyone except you, and when your decks are aligned in your case on their side, you can clearly tell one deck from another.