Saturday, January 31, 2009

STEVE FORTE GAMBLING PROTECTION SERIES DVD - REVIEW


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.

POSTSCRIPT

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.

NEWMAN MOND CUTS THE ACES


Jon Racherbaumer emailed to say that the previous post about Newman Mond reminded him of an Eddie Field’s stunt. Eddie would shoot a ball across the pool table so that it hit a deck of cards, cutting it into two packets right at the selection. This was a version of Sleight of Foot, the trick in which a few grains of salt are secretly placed above the selected card so that the deck will separate at that point when kicked. It is the first trick in The Encyclopedia of Card Tricks and the originator was Herbert Milton.

Well, on the British Pathe website there is footage of Newman Mond doing a similar trick. He shuffles a deck of cards before placing it in the middle of the billiard table. Then he shoots a cue ball across the table so that it strikes the deck. The impact separates the deck in to four piles, each with an ace at the face. It’s an impressive looking trick.



One notable aspect is the shuffling of the deck. It makes me think that perhaps Newman Mond wasn’t using the old salt method. He might have used slick cards, Will de Sieve gimmicks or, as Racherbaumer suggests, breather crimps to ensure that the packets separate. Any pool players out there might want to try a few experiments.

Using Ask Alexander at the Conjuring Arts Research Center I discovered that Newman Mond was the pseudonym of A N Redmond, described in The World’s Fair as ‘the originator of magic on the billiards table.’ In 1937 he was secretary of The Bolton Magic Circle in England. If anyone has any other information about A N Redmond aka Newman Bond, please get in touch.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

POOL CARDSHARK


This is an odd trick. You are at the pool table and decide to show a card trick. A pack of cards is spread over the table and one is chosen. It is replaced and the deck stood on a small block of wood, held there by a bulldog clip. The deck is then placed at one end of the table and you stand at the other, pool cue in hand. You aim the cue at one of the balls on the table then, POW! The ball shoots across the baize, strikes the deck and a card jumps right out. And yes, it is the selected card.

I saw this trick on an old piece of archive film when searching for footage of magic acts for a TV series. At that time I had no idea who the performer was but I’ve since discovered he was a trickshot billiards player by the name of Newman Mond. He wrote a booklet on trickshots entitled Tricks on the Billiard Table. You can see archive of this particular trick at the British Pathe website. Just search for Newman Mond. It’s a great trick and one that shouldn’t be forgotten.

The method is merely my supposition of what happened. Newman Mond had a gimmicked pair of cards in the deck with a piece of elastic stretched between them. This is an old gimmick used to work the rising card effect. David Devant described it in one of his books for the public and also an article in The Strand magazine in 1901.

When the selected card is replaced in the deck it goes into the gimmick and forces the elastic down around it. Usually you have to apply pressure to keep the card there but in this case the bulldog clip does the trick. It is of the large type, big enough to grip the narrow end of the deck in its jaws. And it is fixed to the top of a block of wood so that it will stand upright, jaws skyward and with the deck sitting in them. The handles of the jaws project at the front and rear of the wooden block.



When the cue ball is hit, it strikes the handle of the bulldog clip with enough force to momentarily open it. This releases pressure on the deck and the elastic causes the selected card to fly out. That’s pretty much it but it will take some experimenting to make up a gimmick that works well. If the bulldog clip is too strong, the jaws won’t open.

One of the things that struck me about the footage was the way Newman Mond casually spread the deck over the table so that a card could be selected. It seemed so open and without the usual telltale finesse of the magician. Of course, as television magicians know, an edit before the vital shot always helps.

If you are looking for a more subtle way of making the card rise from the deck, and one that will work with this routine, try my Angel Card Rise Plus.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

WHIPLASH - DVD REVIEW

Stephen Tucker is a friend and one of the most creative magicians on the planet. I’ve known him for years – we attended the same school - and have seen his inventive mind applied all manner of tricks. He has a knack of finding truly offbeat solutions to magical problems. At the core of every trick is a great idea, one that can be adapted to your individual handling. He is a prolific inventor and a collected works of Stephen Tucker is most definitely overdue. Meanwhile those looking for some original thinking can check out a new DVD, released by Full 52 Productions, entitled Whiplash.

I got it hoping to see some more of the inspired magic that Steve is famous for and I wasn’t disappointed. Let me list some of my favourites from the DVD. First up is Jumping Jack Flash which is a take on those largely ungaffed versions of the Haunted Deck in which a selected card eerily pivots out of the deck. A clever gimmick, supplied with the DVD, makes the trick possible and you’ll find it easy to ring in and out of the deck when required. It reminded me of an unpublished method of Gordon Bruce (Gordon is another creator whose book is long overdue) but what is special about this version is that two cards are revealed. The first card makes an appearance when the deck cuts itself in two. The second spins right out of the tabled deck and across the table. It will fool you. Uses no threads. No sleights. And the method is simplicity itself.

If you enjoy self-workers then Avalanche is a wonderful trick in which a thought of card is divined using nothing more than a deck of blank cards. Stephen credits a Ray Grismer routine as his inspiration but it put me in mind of Bob Hummer’s Mind Reader’s Dream. The procedure here is ridiculously simple and the effect all out of proportion to the method.

Another self-working card effect is Incredible, a twist on a Jim Steinmeyer idea, in which two thought of cards are spelled to. Paragon Monte is an advanced version of Joe Stuthard’s widely pirated Klip Trick monte but goes beyond the simple idea of the spectator being unable to put a paperclip on the Queen in the spread of cards. The finish in which two paper clips suddenly attach themselves to the Queen is very clever. This version was devised in a brainstorming session with Bob Driebeck and inspired by an effect that Bob had only previously shared with Fred Kaps, so the trick has a good pedigree. It’s always great to see an old trick taken a step or two further and this routine accomplishes that in the smartest of ways.

Signed Coin in Bottle is simple and bold and enables you to get a genuine signed coin into a genuinely sealed bottle. You’ll wonder why you fiddled around with folding coins for so long. I also like the quirky little principle used in Stroll On. It is an impromptu cup and ball routine using, of all things, a roll on deodorant. But I’m thinking what if that ball was signed? Maybe there is an impossible finale there just waiting to be exploited. Get your thinking caps on.

There are ten tricks on the DVD and I guarantee you’ll be hitting the rewind button more than once. These are foolers. The DVD also contains several extras including an interview with Steve by Dave Forrest and video footage of Steve’s mini-brainwave trick Omega. It is a performance only video but it will show you why this trick has been acclaimed by so many experts. It is tantalisingly close to being the perfect brainwave trick using ungimmicked cards.

Incidentally if you order the DVD direct from Stephen Tucker's website, he will throw in one of his own tricks for free. And yes, that trick is Omega. Or indeed any other trick you want to pick from his collection of ebooks. Click here to find out more.