by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame
What is Cardistry?
Cardistry can best be described as "the performance art of card flourishing", and it's what happens when you manipulate a deck of playing cards to create a visually pleasing display by cuts, pivots, spins, twirls, and other moves. If you're new to cardistry, check out this great freestyle cardistry demonstration by Andrei Jikh;
and this amazing Fontaine Fam video;
While there is a long history of card flourishes having a close connection with card magic, over the last decade cardistry has really developed into its own independent art-form, and is now riding a growing wave of popularity that is completely separate from magic altogether. There is some cross-over, but the only real thing that cardistry and magic have in common is the tool of choice: a deck of playing cards. But even that is changing, because recent years have seen a growing number of custom decks being produced purely for cardistry, with attention to visual designs and colours that look great in fans or cuts. Many of these new decks are altogether unsuitable for card magic or card games, but really do help bring card flourishing to the next level.
Our digital age means that cardists around the world can easily share videos, and this has really helped cardistry grow and evolve rapidly. New moves and ideas are constantly emerging, and there's a large number of exciting talent that shares their skills and teaches their moves online on youtube and instagram. The cardist community is vibrant and active, and in recent years an international cardistry convention has quickly become an annual and important event on the cardistry calendar. The support of big names like magicians Dan & Dave Buck has contributed to its growing success, and it typically is a meeting point for the world's best cardists and the world's best cardistry decks.
So how can you get started in cardistry, and where should a newbie begin? This article aims to help get the complete novice going on a journey into this exciting new world, with some tips and suggestions.
1. Use a quality deck that handles well. Any worker needs good tools to get the job done, and the same is true with cardistry. You will see lots of videos with flashy decks, and we'll get to talking about those in a moment. But the most important thing you need is a quality deck that handles well. You can always improve the looks later, but as a beginner, what's most important is good handling. Don't use an inferior knock-off deck from a dollar store, because the cards won't slide smoothly and consistently, and it will only cause frustration and disappointment. The next points on this list will help you identify what kind of deck you should get.
2. Use an embossed (air cushion) deck. Cheap doesn't always mean bad, because you can buy quality decks at a relatively low price. But you want to avoid cheap and nasty decks that are touristy souvenirs, or budget items from a dollar store or corner shop. Playing cards are made out of paper, and what you want is paper that has embossing. This means that it has tiny bumps with little air pockets between them, which will make your cards flow smoothly and evenly over each other - essential. Playing cards with a completely smooth finish won't fan or spread evenly, and their handling will be very inconsistent. Most quality playing cards will be embossed with an air cushion style finish.
3. Use a Poker sized deck. A lot of souvenir decks are bridge sized, and these are also the type of cards many people will have in their home. But they're called bridge sized cards for a reason. It's because they have been optimized for the traditional card game of bridge, which requires players to hold a hand of 13 cards. As a result, bridge cards are narrower than Poker sized cards. While you can do cardistry with bridge sized cards, it is much better to do card flourishes with wider Poker sized cards. These larger width cards will handle more consistently and allow you to do things that you simply can't do with bridge sized cards.
4. Use a Bicycle deck. The best place for a beginner to start is with a standard Bicycle rider-back deck produced by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC). Alternatively get a Tally Ho Fan back deck, which is also produced by USPCC, handles exactly the same, and is a top choice for many cardists. These decks meet all the above criteria, and will handle just beautifully, without breaking the bank. The only real difference between these decks and the fancier higher end cardistry decks is the artwork on the cards, more exotic tuck boxes, and sometimes the brand name. But there's no need for you to start learning with a higher end expensive deck that only differs in looks. If you are just looking to explore card flourishing, almost any Bicycle deck will do just fine. Even many experienced cardists will save their expensive decks for special occasions, and practice with a Bicycle or Tally Ho deck. A standard Bicycle rider-back deck will typically only cost a few bucks, and handles just as well as any customized deck designed purely for cardistry.
6. Use a newer deck. You don't need to have a brand new deck to do cardistry. In fact some cardistry moves (e.g. cuts) will actually be slightly easier that a deck that has been worn in slightly, and where the cards aren't too slippery. But you should avoid using a deck that is completely worn, because an old, tattered, and miserable looking deck is just going to make your life as a cardist a whole lot harder. The cards won't handle consistently, and instead of sliding over each other smoothly and evenly, they'll catch or clump together. Do expect your cards to wear out over time, and that's the reason many cardists buy decks in "bricks" (a dozen at a time). For cuts and combos you'll usually want something a little more worn, but newer decks will make things like faro shuffles and fans easier and more even.
6. Look after your deck. There's no point in throwing money away by being especially hard on a deck. Some basic rules about deck care will go a long way to ensuring that your playing cards go the distance. Some important tips include the following: Make sure you have clean and dry hands. Practice over a soft surface like carpet rather than over cement or the outdoors, which will cause cards to get bent and dirty. Avoid moisture and humidity, and don't leave your deck lying in the sun. Bend the cards both ways, and if they get warped put them under some heavy books or in a card clip.
7. Optional: Use a cardistry deck: Certainly you can buy specialized decks of playing cards that particularly lend themselves well to cardistry. One of the most well-known cardistry decks is the Virtuoso deck, which was the first deck created specifically for cardistry, and has come out in several versions. Decks like these have a visual design that automatically makes some of your basic moves look amazing. This can make the whole cardistry experience more enjoyable, and will help motivate you to stretch yourself and try new moves.
Social media and digital technology has not only helped cardistry to evolve and grow rapidly, but it also helps connect you with some great teachers online. A wide range of excellent instructional materials is readily available online. There are premium videos you can pay for, but there's more than enough free videos that will get you started, and using this material will give you a head-start in your new cardistry career. Here are some great resources that I'd suggest you begin with.
1. Cardistry Basics by Chris Ramsay. Chris Ramsay is a respected magician and cardist who has over a million subscribers on his youtube channel. In this video he teaches three very basic moves that are a great place to begin your cardistry journey: the swing cut, swivel cut, and rotation cut. You'll master the swing cut and swivel cut in no time, and be well on your way to enjoying cardistry! Chris also has several other great videos worth checking out, including his cardistry tips for beginners:
And don't miss one of the famous Buck twins who appears as a guest to teach a beginner tutorial on how to do the WERM:
2. Recommended Path of Moves by Reddit Cardistry. The cardistry community on Reddit has put together a very helpful "Resource and Beginners Guide", which includes a list of common core moves that are arguably the best place to start with. These moves are often key components of more complex flourishes, and represent an ideal place to begin learning. In their "Recommended Path" section, they offer a list to all these elementary flourishes, along with direct links to several video tutorials for each move. These moves include key flourishes that you'll almost certainly want to learn and enjoy, like the Spring, Charlier Cut, and Five Faces of Sybil.
3. Cardistry Tutorials by School of Cardistry. The School of Cardistry channel on youtube was started in 2013 by cardistry team New Deck Order. With professionally produced tutorials, it was designed to function as a centralized and structured platform for complete beginners to pick up the art of cardistry. It has over 100,000 subscribers and millions of views, and is a fantastic place for those new to cardistry to start. The School of Cardistry will give you the ability to start with the basics, and naturally progress to more advanced moves. Their progressive system of learning ensures a systematic approach in which you can build up skills, with the benefit of videos that are short and yet have clear verbal instructions. Start with the video that gives an overview of the basic moves they can teach you:
4. Cardistry Bootcamp Basics by Lotusinhand. This is a newer channel, but in the last year they have produced an excellent set of introductory tutorials which they have entitled Cardistry Bootcamp - Basics. These tutorials cover all the essentials you need to start with, like basic grips, cuts (Charlier Cut, Swing Cut, Hot Shot Cut), shuffles (Riffle Shuffle, Faro Shuffle), and fun moves like the Spring, Cascade, Waterfall, and many more.
5. Learn the Classics by Fontaine Cards. Fontaine is the brand and online home of famous cardist Zach Mueller, who is easily one of the biggest names in cardistry. In the "Learn The Classics" section of his website, Zach offers free tutorials that cover the basic grips in cardistry, as well as elementary moves like the One Card Twirl, Pirouette, Swing Cut, Charlier Cut, Thumb Fan, One Handed Fan, Spring, Dribble, and Waterfall.
Next steps? Many of the above channels will take you beyond the basics, especially the School of Cardistry, which also offers instruction for many intermediate flourishes. But if you do want to learn more, you might want to check out some of the excellent tutorials from Virtuoso and dealersgrip. Some of the tutorials from 52Kards are also worth a look. And if you are really serious about diving further into your cardistry, head to the giant list of cardistry moves and tutorials that was created by cardistry enthusiasts on Reddit.
Your Attitude1. Feel welcome. Watching the highly skilled performances of experts can be very motivating, but it can also be somewhat daunting and intimidating. Don't let this dampen your enthusiasm, or make you think that cardistry is only for the elite or for professionals. Card flourishing is an art-form that is well within the reach of beginners, because all you need to try it is a good deck of cards. From there you are limited only by your imagination, creativity, and manual dexterity. Learning some basic cardistry moves is really not very difficult, and can be very rewarding and enjoyable.
2. Master the basics. It's a good idea to learn some basic swing cuts and swivel cuts, because these will get you familiar with rotations that are foundational to a lot of other cardistry. The Five Faces of Sybil or the Sybil Cut is another good move to learn early in the piece, because it also offers a lot of possibilities. Other moves you'll have fun learning include the Charlier Cut, Revolution Cut, Spring, and WERM.
3. Have a graduated approach. Don't start with moves that are too difficult. Many card moves are built on other moves as a basis, so it makes sense to have a graduated approach to your learning, by mastering some of the foundational moves that more difficult flourishes are based on, and working upwards from that. Some of the channels that offer systematic learning materials will structure their tutorials along a path, and even list basic moves that are prerequisites to their more advanced flourishes.
4. Learn what you like. There's no rules for what cardists must or must not do. It's an art form, much like music or dance, so that means that you have complete freedom to explore whatever suits your taste. Some people like cuts while others prefer isolations, and there's many other styles and areas of interest. By all means stick to what you prefer and what interests you.
5. Practice often. Cardistry is a skill that anyone can learn, but it does require practice. It's an exercise in manipulating your fingers and working your muscle memory. Some moves will seem awkward at first, but with practice, they'll become second nature, and you'll surprise yourself how easy something will become over time, even though it initially seemed completely impossible! There's lots of times where you can practice - when you're watching TV or a movie, or waiting around for a friend. So get used to carrying around a deck with you and filling in those empty gaps where you're just killing time with some card moves.
6. Focus on being smooth, not fast. Good card flourishing is all about flow and smoothness. Rather than rush through your flourishes, really make an effort to perform your moves smoothly and cleanly.
7. Wait with creating moves. It can be tempting to want to create your own moves and flourishes. This can be part of the fun of cardistry, but isn't something you should be doing too early in your journey into cardistry. First get yourself familiar with some of the existing and basic flourishes out there. Knowing the basics and having a mastery of the more well known intermediate cuts and flourishes will only put you in a better position to create your own moves later.
8. Don't give up. If something isn't working, or if you're getting frustrated, just put your cards away for a bit, and come back to it later. Sometimes moves can be very knacky and seem impossible to master, and if something isn't working for you, just leave it for now. That's okay - you won't conquer Mount Everest on your first attempt!
9. Ask for help. If you're getting stuck with learning something, don't be afraid to ask for help. The best way to get help is to have another cardist walk you through a move in person. For most people that's not realistic, so go ahead and post in a cardistry forum and ask for some tips. You'll find that most cardists are only too happy to help others and give good advice.
10. Have fun. Cardistry is all about having fun with cards, so if you're not having fun, move onto something else that you do enjoy.
Other Ideas1. Learn the language. Cardistry does have its own language, although it's something you'll learn very quickly as you immerse yourself in cardistry tutorials and videos. Words like cuts and packets are ones you'll pick up soon enough, whereas terms like poop deck and squids will be a little less obvious.
2. Use social media. Social media is one of the biggest ways that cardists connect in our digital age. Instagram is one of the top sites for cardists to share videos of moves. Following some of your favourite cardists can be a terrific way to keep yourself fresh, get new ideas, and see what others are doing. Lots of cardists also share their work on youtube, and several channels are especially dedicated to teaching tutorials and moves.
3. Join an online community. You'll find plenty of places online where cardists hang out to exchange ideas, talk about their favourite decks, or share videos of their latest moves and accomplishments. A great place to start is the cardistry community over on Reddit, which has around 50,000 subscribers, and is growing rapidly.
Want to give cardistry a whirl - literally? Why not treat yourself to a nice cardistry deck from PlayingCardDecks, and give cardistry a go for yourself? The Virtuoso FW17 deck created by The Virts is an ideal place to begin your search for a high end cardistry deck. But you will find many other creative and colourful decks that are ideal for cardistry by checking the range of cardistry decks at PlayingCardDecks here.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and highly 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.