What connects sleight of hand magicians and card cheaters? – Dai Vernon
Over the years, a few sleight of hand magicians have sought out card cheaters and shady players to share ideas and perhaps add new weapons to their arsenal.
In the 20th century, Dai Vernon was best known for wooing tricksters and adapting ideas to the art of close-quarters magic, but these two worlds aren’t nearly as alike as one might think.
What works perfectly for one rarely works as well for another.
It is often assumed that the methods of magicians can easily be shared with cheaters and vice versa but in truth, while both manipulate cards, dice and people in order to deceive; actual techniques created for either purpose rarely work outside of their intended context.
Very few tricks or strategies have successfully transitioned from magic to cheating as magicians tend to dictate the conditions under which they operate while cheaters must meet the conditions dictated by the games they are playing.
A sleight of hand that controls a card at the bottom of the deck in a magic show might never be possible in a card game if it requires the performer to look through the deck or manipulate the cards of a unacceptable way in a game.
Likewise, a cheating move that adds an extra card to a player’s hand may depend entirely on a common situation on a gaming table but unusual or suspicious in a magickal performance where the cards are not naturally set so that the movement works.
To be useful, a sleight of hand must be suited to its new purpose.
It often requires too many adjustments to be practical or deceptive, so magicians with a real interest in sleight of hand tend to recreate the context of the game as a way to practice or perform (demonstrate) techniques of cheating.
It can be an art in itself and very entertaining if you are lucky enough to catch a live performance from a true expert, but card magic has also evolved to create impossible effects around the idea of cheating, and these can be truly amazing despite their execution. under test conditions.
Watch R. Paul Wilson’s video on card mucking to see an expert sleight of hand in action:
“The Vernon Touch”
Dai Vernon’s approach to card magic was inspired by S. W. Erdnase’s book “The Expert at the Card Table” which taught two approaches to sleight of hand with ordinary playing cards; the first half being dedicated to cheating methods and the second half to teaching methods for conjurers.
This combination inspired Vernon to keep searching for new techniques in the dark corners of the gaming world to give him new ideas for his card magic.
In fact, Vernon’s best effect was inspired by a cheating technique that was conspicuously absent from Erdnase’s book but is now part of the repertoire of card magicians everywhere.
Of course, it wasn’t always a one-sided exchange and Vernon was known to trade magical methods of cheating secrets with a particular sleight of hand widely adopted by the conjuring fraternity and used in countless games of twisted cards, but such transitions remain rare because unless a move fits naturally into a context of magic or cheating, it tends to feel forced or unnatural.
From his time with rogue gamblers, Vernon learned to analyze and improve magic and playing techniques and this knack for making sleights more deceptive became known as “The Vernon Touch”.
Vernon could watch a fellow magician demonstrate a new move idea and immediately suggest a more elegant solution or devise a new take on old techniques that would make them more deceptive or natural.
He championed this natural approach to card magic where intricate sleight of hand is hidden behind layers of subtlety to create the illusion that nothing happens except what the audience sees, despite covert actions performed under the area.
This reputation has made him a legend in the magical community, but it has also served him well when seeking out players and cheaters who are naturally wary of strangers asking questions.
After a few demonstrations and dropping names, Vernon was quickly gaining the trust of cheaters, but on one occasion found himself “on the spot” when a cheater refused to reveal the secret of a technique unless Vernon could. solve a problem that the cheater had. with a situation at the card table.
The card cheat problem
During a game, the cheater was able to steal an extra card from his left hand but had to transfer that card to his right hand in order to put it back into play and finish clean.
Stealing from the hand was beautiful and the addition to the deck was perfect but getting the card from hand to hand turned out to be a real hassle as the cheater felt the existing methods were too obvious or against nature.
The challenge was for Vernon to find a way to transfer the map without changing the position of the cards or any other adjustments that might seem strange or out of place to other players.
While there are many ways to move cards from hand to hand, they often require a hand-washing motion that some people find comfortable, but for others it looks (and feels) like an imitation of Fagan’s Oliver Twist!
That wasn’t the cheater’s only problem.
All existing handwashing methods flipped the card between the hands, but for the cheater’s purposes the card had to remain face down with the back of the card against the palm of the right hand.
But since it also started with the back of the card against the palm of the left hand, the transfer would be doubly difficult.
Worse, it might require extra action to prevent the card from flipping over and it would certainly attract unwanted attention.
All of this had to happen over the table, in an instant and without arousing suspicion!
So Vernon retired to his hotel, laid a napkin on the chest of drawers, and spent several hours trying to find a technique that would move a card from one hand to another without turning that card over and drawing attention to the action. .
Time to think: the solution
Vernon worked for hours without finding a solution until in the early morning he looked at his watch and decided to sleep on it.
Then he stopped and looked at his watch again.
Vernon’s natural action of looking at the watch on his left wrist was to rest his right hand on the back of his left, framing the right side of the watch as he looked at the time.
In fact, it was a common action when most people looked at their watch, and Vernon instantly recognized the solution he was looking for.
The position of both hands was perfect and allowed Vernon to swipe the card backwards from the left palm, pulled by the fingers of the right palm after checking the time; move the card invisibly without turning it over and under cover of a completely natural action!
The cheater didn’t just need a move, he needed a “shadow” to cover that move and avoid suspicion and was thrilled when Vernon shared the solution.
Vernon stumbled upon this solution after many hours of exploring everything that didn’t work and although the resulting technique seems obvious today, without this Vernon Touch I doubt anyone would have ever found it.
Whether or not the technique shared by the cheater in return was useful to magicians, I can’t say…