12 Essential Sleight of Hand Moves

What is sleight of hand? What is a sleight? It's a secret move. Sleight of hand refers to the manual dexterity that magicians use to deceive their audiences. In the world of card magic, it's things like palming cards, false cuts, double turnovers, a false overhand shuffle with playing cards and other legerdemain. Card magicians or sleight of hand artists like Alex Elmsley had moves named after them, like the Elmsley Count. Sure, there are easy card tricks you can learn, but after that, you want to step up your magic tricks that's when learning sleight of hand comes into play. For some of these, like the Cross Cut Force (below) you'll need a card table, but for most you just need a deck of playing cards and your hands. Learning sleight of hand moves takes a lot of work and practice, but can pay off in the long run with amazing tricks. “Sleights” are the individual moves that are used to deceive the audience. Starting to learn sleight of hand can be pretty overwhelming, and it can be hard to know where to start.

There are thousands of different moves in magic. Some are hard, some are easy, some are knacky, some are self-working. Which ones should you learn? Well… There’s no one answer. There is no “best” move. Sleights are tools, and it’s important to have the right tool for the job. If you wanted to hang a painting, you probably wouldn’t use a jackhammer. (At least we hope not!) All that being said, here is a good list of tools that we believe should be in your tool belt. This is not a meant to be a comprehensive list, but instead should be a thought of as a list of essentials that you can always come back to. It may not be the best way to start leaning magic tricks, but it's a great start.

Card Fan
Card Fan
While not really a sleight, this is definitely an important move to learn. How you have a spectator pick a card is important, as it is one of the first impressions you give when approaching a group.

Double Undercut
The Double Undercut
Dai Vernon
This is one of the first controls a lot of people use, and due to this a lot of magicians write it off as a beginner move. This is a very natural looking control that can be used as a false cut or to move cards from one place to another.

Topping The Deck
A Top Palm (Topping The Deck)
Dai Vernon
While there are a lot of different palms, every magician should have a good top palm in their arsenal. The top two (pun intended) palms that most magicians use are Vernon’s Topping The Deck and The One Handed Top Palm.

Top Change
The Top Change
If you don’t know a top change, you need to change that. Whole books have been written on this one move. You can learn a lot by performing the top change, including the basics of misdirection and timing.

Double Lift
The Double Lift
Richard Neve
This move is somehow both overused and underestimated. There are tons of variations, get readies, and subtleties, to learn, so dive in.

Side Steal
The Side Steal
F. W. Conradi
A fantastic and versatile control that is often overlooked. The great thing about the side steal is that it only moves one card, making it perfect for card peek routines.

The Peek or Glimpse
Peeks are a fantastic way to have a card selected, as it can seem very hands off. It's also a great way to add a little mentalism into a card routine.

Cross Cut Force
The Cross Cut Force
Max Holden
An easily overlooked force that is hands off and very powerful.

The Classic Force
The Classic Force
As Obi-Wan once said, “Use the (classic) force, Luke.” (Ok maybe he didn’t say that, but the point still stands.

Hofzinser Spread Force
Hofzinser Spread Force
A fantastic alternative to the classic force, but many people recommend learning both. This is more surefire than the classic force, though that's not to say it doesn’t have its downsides.

The Jog Shuffle
The Jog Shuffle
Hugard and Braue
Straight out of Royal Road, this overhand false shuffle is a hidden gem. There are many false shuffles, but a casual jog shuffle can go a long way.

Tilt/Depth Illusion
The Tilt: Or is it Vernon’s depth illusion? Either way, it's a fantastic move that has found a place into many ambitious card routines

If you want to learn magic tricks, all of these moves as well as plenty more can be found in classic magic books like the Card College series, The Royal Road To Card Magic, and Revolutionary Card Technique. The important thing is to understand which sleight to do in which situation. This means understanding things like angles and timing, as well things that are harder to describe, like the feel of the move or the context its used in.

False Transfer
False Transfer
Lastly, while it may not be a card move, we highly recommend you learn how to do a false transfer as well. A simple false transfer can be a miracle to a layman. You never know when you’ll want to do magic with a borrowed object, and knowing a simple false transfer can make that happen.