Saturday, January 31, 2009


Steve Forte has an almost supernatural ability with cards. It was at the Gambler’s Book Shop Shop in Las Vegas that I first heard his name. They were showing a series of four video tapes that Steve had produced. As I watched Steve’s incredible dice and card work on the monitor an old guy next to me said, ‘That’s the real deal.’ That old guy was Dai Vernon.

At that time I was researching material for The Secret Cabaret television series. Sebastian Cody, the executive producer, and I spent a lot of time watching those tapes. They were the finest crooked gambling demonstrations we had ever seen. We wanted Steve to be part of the show but for one reason or another that never happened.

Those four video tapes, The Gambling Protection Series, have now been re-released on DVD and I have no hesitation in recommending them if you have any interest in how card cheats work. The first three episodes contain incredible material on false deals, shuffles, cuts, switches, gaffs, peeks, palms, holdouts and every other possible way of cheating at cards whether you are playing blackjack, rummy, bridge or poker. What makes them outstanding is not just the range of material covered but Steve Forte’s incredible skill. Every sleight is performed expertly and with the ease and nonchalance you would expect if you were trying to cheat at a game.

The fourth volume of the original set was the one that perhaps created the most comment from those who saw it. It focuses on dice cheating and contains the most extraordinary demonstrations of controlled dice shots that you will ever see. It’s breathtaking stuff and a far cry from the rather contained demonstrations that magicians had been used to seeing. Here Steve throws dice right through the air or bounces them off the sides of the craps table and still they come up sixes. Wonderful stuff.

If this DVD set contained just these four tapes I would recommend it. But there is an extra disc of material in this set. The first item on the disc was produced as a pilot show called Invisible Thieves. Once again you’ll be treated to some of the cleverest cheating methods ever put on tape. There is also a terrific tour of Steve’s Gambling Museum where he and Jason England talk us through some of the items he has on display there. It is a truly amazing collection. And Steve’s knowledge of crooked gambling is every bit as impressive as his skill with cards and dice.

Steve Forte isn’t a magician but he did once give a dealing demonstration on a TV show called Hidden Secrets of Magic, produced by Jim Steinmeyer and Frankie Glass, two of my friends from the production team on The Secret Cabaret. It was good to see that they finally managed to get Steve Forte on a show. That sequence is also included and it’s a great opportunity to see how Steve stages an entertaining crooked gambling demonstration and admire the ease with which he is able to execute the mechanics.

Finally, there is footage of fifty-two different gambling sleights that have never appeared before. These are drawn from Steve’s archive of material, an archive that was intended for future publication. The sleights aren’t explained but there is a commentary from Steve Forte and Jason England, and in some cases slow motion footage, that will have you pressing the rewind and pause button because you won’t believe your eyes when you see some of the material. The deck switches in particular are stunning. And the Elliott Second Deal has never looked better. I think it's one of the fairest looking seconds you could ever hope to use and, since Elliott was a magician, it should be of great interest to his fellow conjurors. This item alone is worth the price of the set.

The bottom line is that if you have a serious interesting in crooked gambling then this DVD set is absolutely indispensable. It is a three DVD set, jam packed with material and presented in a box designed by Dan and Dave Buck. For a hundred dollars it is a bargain. Buy it here.


It wasn’t until years later that I finally got to meet Steve Forte and see him work in person. My friend Gazzo made the introduction. Steve had kindly written an afterword for our book on Walter Scott, The Phantoms of the Card Table.

Steve still has that supernatural touch with cards and can still switch dice and bounce them off the backboard like a demon. He’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who can pick up a deck of cards, go straight into the most difficult of moves and not break a sweat while doing it. He is very serious about his studies. His knowledge is extensive. His collection of gambling paraphernalia is inspiring. But more than that he is an extremely nice and likable guy as passionate now about his subject area as he has ever been.

I asked him whether he, like most of the crooked gambling experts around, began as a magician. But he never was. He studied gambling not magic. He is the one of the very few contacts that magicians have with the real work of crooked gamblers. Which makes what he has to say all the more important for those interested in real scams and contemporary gambling hustles. I told him the story about Vernon and what he said in the Gambler’s Book Shop. And was surprised to find that the two of them never met. I thought that a great shame. I think Vernon would have loved his company.