It may come as a surprise to learn that collectors are not the biggest consumers of playing cards. In actual fact, the biggest market share of playing cards goes to magicians. That's because a deck of playing cards is an essential tool of the trade for most magicians. And sometimes they will go through a new deck each time they perform, which may be several times a day. Little wonder that magicians tend to buy their playing cards in bulk by the brick (a box of 12), and will usually order multiple bricks of their favourite worker deck, to ensure a ready and plentiful supply.
Certainly magic with playing cards enjoys a long and storied tradition. An argument can be made that it is one of the most entertaining ways in which a deck of playing cards can be used. There are other art forms that use playing cards, such as cardistry. But few things can rival the sense of astonishment and wonder that is produced by a world class magician doing his thing.
I've been writing some Top 10 lists to help celebrate the 5th anniversary of PlayingCardDecks earlier this year. So I figured that it's time to have you join me while we sit back, and see some of the world's best magicians do their thing. I've deliberately not included performances from TV shows like Fool Us or America's Got Talent. Although those videos tend to have the advantage of high production quality, I'll save those for another list. Instead I first want to focus on some signature routines and classic tricks performed by some of the world's best magicians.
You may not even have heard of some of these names before. But the people featured on this list really are some of the very best in the world at what they do. In some instances the quality of the videos may be somewhat lacking, but in some cases it's the best we have. Believe me, it's still worth it. You are going to meet some master magicians, and see some card magic like you've never seen before. In each case I'll briefly introduce the magician, tell you something about the trick in question, and then show you the video, finally pointing you to some other video clips featuring the same performer.
1. Eric Chien - Ribbon Act
This particular routine is known as his "Ribbon" act, because one of the key props is a white ribbon, which separates a table into two halves. Depending on which side Eric places cards, they turn blue or red. His vest also changes colour a couple of times, and there's some final twists where the cards transform into coins. There's no words, but a beautiful soundtrack accompanies the performance, and helps create a real sense of story. It's an outstanding performance which turns magic into theater, and is reminiscent of some of the style of Shin Lim's best work. Eric combines superb sleight of hand with an exceptional presentation, and the result is a true masterpiece of magic. It doesn't get much better than this - ever.
2. Shin Lim - Dream Act
In his Dream Act routine, two spectators select and sign cards, which change places, and visually disappear and reappear multiple times. One of the highlights of the routine is when the cards switch places despite one being inside a plastic bag. In the end, even the deck box visually vanishes. The routine is brilliantly choreographed to music, and is enhanced with smoke, and of course, stunning sleight of hand. His "52 Shades of Red" routine is equally stunning.
3. Horret Wu - FISM Act
In his winning FISM Act, Wu begins with a deck of oversized cards, and a regular sized deck into which they of course can't fit. The routine then sees him flourishing the cards, producing four-a-kinds that impossibly switch with one another, with multiple magical moments. But the real highlight is in the final stage of the routine, where the oversized cards are magically changed into regular sized poker cards, so that they can fit inside the box. The act tells a wonderful story, and we have the sense that Wu is just as much a spectator to the power of magic as we are. In this video clip there is some non-English commentary which distracts from the performance, but it's still stunning. Also check out his "Memory Fading" ace assembly, and you'll find yourself wondering if this is pure sleight of hand, or just plain sorcery or witchcraft.
4. Tommy Wonder - Tamed Cards
This routine is a variation of the well known "Wild Card" plot, but Tommy's presentation and acting skills are superb. He begins with the idea of a spectator needing to select a card at a very precise time, because he apparently has a collection of cards that have been selected by people around the world at that exact time, all the Four of Clubs. But when his spectator selects a different card, Tommy finds himself with a problem, because it doesn't match his collection. Not to worry, he changes his entire collection to match, with some very visual magic. It's a gorgeous performance that is highly entertaining.
For another terrific Tommy Wonder card trick, see Deja Reverse and Elizabeth IV.
5. Michael Vincent - Invisible Palm Aces
This routine was filmed by Michael at the height of the pandemic, so it begins with some personal reflections about that context. The actual trick begins around 1:30 in. He introduces the concept of an "invisible palm", which he uses to explain the premise that after many years of practice you can force a card beneath your skin. It's truly an astonishing routine with four aces, and the sleight of hand technique is impeccable. This is what magic would look like if it was real. Immediately following the trick in the video, there's some fantastic advice that Michael offers magicians.
Direct link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6pLTlDxcnE&t=90s
6. Denis Behr - Herbert the Trained Rubber Band
The idea of a magician finding a spectator's selected card is an old one, but in this routine Denis lets his assistant do all the work: Herbert, a rubber band that has been trained to find any card. A spectator chooses a card which is then lost visibly in the middle of the deck - while Herbert is temporarily "blindfolded" beneath another spectator's hand, so he can't cheat. The rubber band is then wrapped around the deck, and in an instant the rubber band appears wrapped around a single card in the middle of the deck, which is of course the spectator's selection. The routine ends with Herbert performing another remarkable stunt, where he lifts more than his bodyweight.
7. Bill Malone - Three Card Monte
The Three Card Monte is an infamous routine due to its popularity with street hustlers. The hustler typically displays three cards, two black and one red, and with money on the line, you simply have to follow and identify where the red card is. The version performed by Bill Malone is especially stunning because it isn't done with fast moves, but very slowly, and is combined with the usual Bill Malone humour.
8. Harry Lorayne - Magician vs Gambler
Lorayne's classic Magician vs Gambler routine does a great job of showcasing his skill in sleight of hand, as well as his larger-than-life charismatic persona that was typical of his performances. A true story-teller and entertainer, Lorayne tells the story of a bet between a magician and a gambler, in which the magician is challenged to produce a four-of-a-kind after multiple cuts. He almost succeeds, but when the final card turns out to be a miss, only magic can save the day. And the result is truly magical, as cards not only mysteriously change, but then prove to have been in his pockets all along.
9. Juan Tamariz - Neither Blind Nor Stupid
In Neither Blind Nor Stupid, Tamariz has two spectators cut a deck multiple times, and then each select a card and return it to the deck. Could he possibly know anything about their cards? The obvious answer is no, but time and again Juan will say "Yes!" After all, he knows they are on top of the deck. Never touching the cards himself, he has the spectators go through a series of moves to ensure that both cards are impossible lost in two piles, each shuffled by the spectators. And yet in this impossible situation he of course produces the selected cards. But the real beauty of this trick is Juan Tamariz's presentation, which will make you laugh out loud as well as be amazed.
THE T.V. MAGICIANS
10. David Copperfield - Grandpa's Aces
His Grandpa's Aces is an ace assembly routine, where three aces vanish from three piles, and reappear in another pile with a fourth ace. The concept is familiar, but Copperfield is known for his sense of storytelling and of the dramatic. With this trick he achieves that with a stirring sound-track, and by setting the tone for the effect by drawing on heartstrings by connecting his performance to his departed grandfather, who is shown in a black-and-white home movie with the young David Copperfield. The performance begins with some pop-out moves to produce the four Aces, which relies on pure sleight of hand. Next come some amazing colour changes, as each of the three aces disappears one-by-one visually in front of your eyes. Then comes the final revelation, as all the three aces reappear to join the final ace - where they apparently were all along.
The version shown above omits the sentimental montage of clips showing Copperfield with his grandfather, and goes straight into the routine itself. You can see the full routine with Copperfield's own commentary, here: Grandpa's Aces (with audio commentary by Copperfield).
But hopefully by watching the performances shown in these videos, in seeing some of the world's best at the top of their game, you'll already have experienced a sense of real astonishment and wonder.
If you enjoyed the performances shown here, do check out some of the other videos I've linked to for each magician. Their genius will shine even when the video quality doesn't, because these magicians are among the best in the world. Enjoy!
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.
Last update date: 11/16/22