Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The following trick is the subject of an interesting thread on the Genii forum about a performance of Harry Lorayne’s that is currently on You Tube. The trick in question begins at 00.32 on the video.

The footage is from The Secret World of Magic, a show I helped develop with Objective Productions, in which magicians Ali Cook and Pete Firman toured the world in search of great magic. They certainly found it. Harry Lorayne is one of my favourite performers. I remember a sensational lecture he gave in Liverpool back in April of 1980. He did four hours of material and then many of us retired to Paul Stone’s house for even more. His energy is boundless. And he is one of the greatest showmen with a deck of cards you will ever see. His lecture included the trick you see performed on The Secret World of Magic. Lorayne published his handling as Numero Uno in his 1980 lecture notes. I thought it one of the highlights of the evening.

The premise of the trick and its wonderful kicker has caused much comment and yet has been in print for over 70 years, hidden in plain sight as is the case with many good things. It is Blackstone’s Card and Number described in Greater Magic. See page 461 in the section on Prepared Cards.

I’ll outline the trick the way the trick is described in Greater Magic and then talk about an added twist later that I described in the Not The Berglas Effect manuscript. To do the trick you need a key card that you can cut to. When you cut the cards the key card will be the face card (the lowest card) of the packet you have cut from the top of the deck.

Blackstone used a bellied card in a narrow pack but any key card you can cut to easily will work. A Will de Seive key card with the raised area on the face (Greater Magic) works well as does a bridged card or breather crimp. Harry describes his own impromptu handling in his lecture notes and, I believe, in his book Personal Collection. Place this key card seventeenth from the top of the deck and you are ready to begin.

False shuffle the deck, leaving the key card in position, and then spread the deck across the table and have a card selected from the lower two-thirds. This is easy to do if you spread those cards more widely than the upper portion of the deck.

Gather up the deck as the spectator remembers his card. Cut the deck at the key card and have the selection returned on top of the lower portion. Drop the cut packet back onto the deck ostensibly losing the selection but really placing it directly below your key. False shuffle again before placing the deck on the table. The selection is now the eighteenth card down in the deck.

Ask another spectator to call out a number between one and twenty, adding, ‘A large number, please, to make it difficult.’ Seventeen or eighteen are often called. I’ll describe what happens if they aren’t in a moment but let’s deal with the optimum outcome first.

If seventeen is chosen, say, ‘Seventeen. That is difficult. But I’m going to cut seventeen cards from the top and the very next card will be yours. Watch.’ Rub your fingers together as if preparing your fine tuned digits for work and then cut at the key card, so the key is at the face of the upper packet, and place the cut packet aside. ‘That’s it. What was your card? Queen of Spades? Look.’

Turn the top card of the talon over to reveal that you have cut to the selected card. ‘Queen of Spades. Seventeen cards from the top.’ As soon as the effect has sunk in the spectators will have some lingering doubts about your claim to have cut exactly seventeen cards. Make the most of this. This is where the kicker to the trick takes over and provides you with the most beautiful finish.

Look at the spectators as if sensing suspicion. ‘I can see some doubts. Let’s count them.’ Hand the cut packet to the spectator and ask him to count the cards one at a time to the table. Count along with him, controlling the tempo of the count so that it ends as dramatically as possible, ‘fifteen, sixteen, seventeen!’ It is hard to find a better finish for so little effort.

The reason the trick garners such strong reaction is that it delivers a result that the audience care about. The number of cards in the cut packet is a nagging question they would like answered but might be too polite to ask. It would play entirely differently if you just counted off those seventeen cards before revealing the selection. But if you wait until the audience start to wonder about the honesty of your claim and demand to count those seventeen cards themselves, well, this is an entirely different situation. It is a strong trick with a touch of humour and echoes Henning Nelms’ thoughts about good magic being that which delivers upon the expectations of the audience.

Let’s backtrack a moment and deal with the other numbers. If the spectator calls out eighteen you change your patter to, ‘Eighteen. Okay, I’m going to cut the cards and your card will be exactly eighteen cards from the top. The eighteenth card should be right about here.’ After you’ve revealed the card and sensed the audience’s doubts you say, ‘I know what you’re thinking. If this is the eighteenth card, then there must be seventeen cards over there.’ Play up to the suspicion about your claim and then have a spectator count the cards as before.

Now we come to the biggest stumbling block of the trick. What happens when a number other than seventeen or eighteen is called? If you’ve done your job right it’s unlikely that anyone will call out a number that is not in the teens but it still presents a situation that looks troublesome. Blackstone provided the simplest and best solution. If, for example, the spectator chooses fifteen, you say, ‘How do you count cards? Like this?’ And you demonstrate by dealing off two cards to the table. Pick them up and put them back below the deck, as you say, ‘That’s not what I’m going to do. Watch. Fifteen, coming off the top.’ Then cut to your key card in the most impressive manner you can. If you want to know how Harry Lorayne deals with all contingencies in Numero Uno, buy his books!


Here is the tiny twist on the routine that I mentioned earlier. It was inspired by the work of David Berglas. As described in The Mind and Magic of David Berglas, he uses the bridge to force a card on a spectator. He has a bridge half way down the tabled deck, invites the spectator to make a cut and almost unfailingly they will always cut to the bridge. My friend Chris Power uses the same forcing technique but holds the deck in his hand while the spectator makes the cut. It rarely misses.

This technique for forcing the cut is described in Expert at the Card Table as a crimp. Erdnase says, ‘…many an unsophisticated player has unconsciously cut into a crimp and aided in his undoing. If the deck is placed before an innocent player so that his hand naturally seizes the ends, the chances are in favor of his cutting to the opening.’

As described by Erdnase, put a bridge in the deck so that the spectator will lift off the top seventeen cards. The Will de Seive ridged card works just as well if you press the coin on the back of the card so that the impression is raised on the card’s face.

In performance you control the selected card to the eighteenth position as before. Now choose a spectator who looks like they might have a light touch. A number is named, let’s imagine it is fifteen, you deal some cards to the table to bring the selection to the correct number, saying, ‘Is this how you would normally count cards?’ When the spectator says yes, drop the deck on to the dealt cards and then place it on the table, saying, ‘Well, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to cut fifteen cards. Do you think you can cut exactly fifteen cards?’

Imagine you are Chan Canasta building up the impossibility of it all. ‘Because I think you can. But you have to be sure. You have to want to cut exactly fifteen cards, no less, no more. That’s a deck of fifty-two cards. Imagine what those fifteen will look like. Shall we give it a try?’

With the proper guidance from you the spectator will cut to the bridge. First reveal that she has cut to the selection and then, as in Blackstone’s presentation, reveal that she really did cut fifteen cards. You’ve created a mini miracle with a card and a number that will be long remembered.