Even if you’re not big on magic, you have to admit there’s something undeniably awesome about someone who can flawlessly shuffle, fan, and deal out cards. Don’t believe us? Break out a deck at your next party. Not only will the “best shuffler” in the house be identified in a matter of 10 seconds, but they will be the center of attention for at least another 60 as they deal everyone in.
Demonstrating your craft with flair is a crucial skill, especially as a performer. But as many newcomers will quickly learn, flashy presentation is meaningless without proper techniques. To be truly great at anything, you have to learn the basics, cultivate the discipline to master them, expand upon your new skills, then learn to execute them in a way that’s fun to watch. So, congrats on taking the first step- let’s go over the main foundations of card tricks!
Key Card Method
The key card trick is a perfect jumping off point for beginners- it’s inconspicuous and doesn’t require sleight of hand!
Simply shuffle the deck and ask a spectator to pick a card without showing you. With the deck still in your hand, turn your back as they look and/or show the audience. Glance at the bottom card, this will be your “key card”.
Turn around and have them place their card on top of the deck. Then, have them cut the deck in half. No matter where they cut it, this will place their card right beneath your key card. Now, they can cut as many times as they like without compromising your knowledge of the card’s position. (Don’t let them shuffle, though!)
Go through the deck and flip the cards one by one. Once you reach the key card, that’s your cue to tell them you bet the next card is theirs! Tip: Have a different line ready in case the first one you pull happens to be their card. It happens!
Double lifting refers to the act of lifting two cards at once to make them appear as a single card, and is often utilized in tricks where one “magically” finds a spectator’s card in the deck.
First, practice lifting a single card off of your deck over and over. The point is not to change anything about the way you do it, but to notice how it feels when you do something naturally. This is exactly how you’ll want it to look when you double lift.
Next, you’ll need to train your fingers to “break”. Breaking is using the pads of your fingers to inconspicuously grip cards; creating a break in the deck without the audience’s knowledge. In this case, you’ll keep your finger break under two cards at once. Practice by using different fingers and holding the deck at different angles to see what creates the most fluid, realistic looking motion. If you’ve got some experience under your belt already, patter is also a great way to draw attention away from your hands!
Once you’ve got the break down, you can practice turning both cards over at once without sliding one over/under the other. The easiest way is to grip the top and bottom of the cards and turn it over, but this might arouse suspicion. Practice gripping the cards in the middle instead for a more natural looking movement.
Crimping is when you alter the texture of your card in a way that’s invisible to the audience. The most basic version is creating a tiny fold, but it’s also the one a spectator is most likely to notice. Instead, try methods that aren’t as obvious to those who don’t know what to look for, such as slight indents in the center, scratch marks, invisible tape, wax, etc. This trick works best if you can do it surreptitiously in the moment, so fingernails are your friend!
Palming is your gateway to vanishing, reappearing, and transforming objects before a spectator’s eyes. Like most illusions, the key is to practice until you can do it without thinking or looking at your hand; making the action imperceptible to others. To palm a card, place it in your hand and practice gripping it only with the heel of your hand and the inner folds of your fingers. From the other side, it should appear as though nothing is in your hand. (If you have smaller hands, use the sides of your fingers to keep it steady.) Keep practicing until you can pick up a card by palming it without using your fingers.
Backpalming: secure one corner of the card in the space between your pinky and ring finger, and the other corner between your middle and index finger The card will bend slightly- that’s fine. This creates the appearance of having nothing in your palm, with the card hidden against your knuckles on the other side. With enough practice, you’ll be able to switch seamlessly from palming to backpalming- even with multiple cards!
Forcing A Card
Forcing is when you fool someone into thinking they’ve “freely” selected a predetermined card. There are a few different versions of forcing a card, so here are a few of the best ones for beginners to learn!
Riffle Force: Hold the deck in one palm while keeping a finger on the top card- this is your force card, so have it memorized! Tell your spectator to call “stop” as you use a thumb to riffle through the deck, top to bottom. Once they stop you, cut the deck in half at that point, keeping a grip on the top card so that the rest of the top half peels out underneath it as you pull. The goal is to have the top card land on the bottom half of the cut deck as you draw the top half out from between without anyone noticing.
Equivocation: The principle here is to change the progression of the trick based on which card your spectator picks. For example, say you place two cards on a table and ask someone to pick one. If they pick your force card, let them keep it. If they pick the other, take the card, leaving them with the force card. Since each choice creates a unique outcome, there are countless ways to execute this trick, so get creative! (But remember, the more cards in the deck, the more memorization and planning required.)
One Way Force: This one is pretty straightforward- simply use a trick deck with only one type of card, making every card the force card! For this one to work, you’ll either need to conceal the full contents of the deck or secretly swap it for a real deck at some point during the trick.
The false shuffle (AKA the Zarrow shuffle) is a little tough to explain and WAY tougher to master, but being able to pull it off will serve you well for a number of card tricks.
Begin with an unshuffled deck, making sure you know the order of the cards going in. First, start with a standard Faro shuffle: Cut the deck in half and lift the tops of the cards with your thumbs, then release them so that the tops of the cards weave together.
Lifting the top card off of only one of the two decks, tilt it towards the audience as you grab the other deck and quickly slide it back on top of the first deck behind your lifted card. To the audience, it should appear as though you pushed the woven cards together, when you’ve really disconnected the weave and stacked the decks. The cards will now be in the same order you started with no one the wiser!
With these basic techniques, you’ll be able to utilize each one and/or combinations to learn a plethora of different card tricks!
BLIND SHUFFLE/BLIND CUT: An illusion where the cards appear to be mixed up, but the order remains unchanged.
BOTTOM DEAL: Discretely dealing from the bottom of the deck while making it appear to be a normal deal.
DEAL: Cards are dealt from the top of the deck.
DOUBLE BACK: A trick card with no value; the back of the card is printed on both sides.
FARO SHUFFLE: Cutting the deck, then riffling both sets of cards together so that the tops weave together once the thumb releases. A perfect Faro shuffle occurs when each deck alternates one by one in the shuffle.
GAFF: A trick card that serves a secret function or purpose.
JOG: A card or group of cards that protrudes from the rest of the deck, only visible to the performer.
LOCATOR: A gaff card that functions as a key card- it may be marked, crimped, slightly longer than the rest of the deck, etc.
MARKING: Altering a card to make it identifiable. Similar to crimping.
MECHANIC’S GRIP: Holding the deck in one hand with the forefinger in front to square the cards.
OVERHAND SHUFFLE: Vertically shuffling cards by dropping small groups from one hand into the other while simultaneously pulling small groups of cards from the lower hand.
PASS: To secretly cut the deck or insert a predetermined card into the deck.
TOP CHANGE: Secretly switching the top card of the deck with a predetermined card.
Feel like you understand the deal now? Grab some cards and get practicing