Popular Self-Working Card Tricks for Complete Beginners

Posted by Will Roya on

by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame

If you have a deck of playing cards, and are completely new to card magic, the first tricks you should learn are self-working tricks. No trick works completely automatically, of course, but this is a term that refer to tricks that don't rely on sleight of hand. That makes them super easy to learn and perform, so you'll be having fun showing these to your family and friends in no time!

Many magic teachers recommend starting with self-workers, because then you can focus entirely on your presentation, which is essential to make card magic entertaining. We'll kickstart your magic career by introducing you to a number of popular and simple self-working card tricks, and we'll even provide a direct link to a video performance and tutorial for each, to help get you going immediately!

10 Simple Card Tricks

These classics of card magic are easy tricks that almost every magician has learned early in their career. They will also introduce you to some important principles of card magic, like the "key card", and the "one ahead principle". There's one "classic" which I haven't included, and that's the "21 Card Trick". It's one that most people know already, and although there are ways to make this card trick interesting, the method primarily involves mindless dealing, and it can be quite boring for your spectators. You're more likely to have fun with the card tricks in the list below:

● Quick Two Card Catch

The effect: Your spectator inserts a black 9 and a black 10 anywhere into the middle of the deck. You toss the deck from one hand to another, rapidly pulling two cards out while doing so. Amazingly, the two cards that you've pulled out from the deck are your spectator's black 9s and 10s!

What's good about it: This requires a small set-up, but it's worth it for the big pay-off. It relies on the fact that because there are two cards that are quite similar, spectators will remember only the colour and the value of the cards, and they won't remember the suits other than that they were both black. It's a very simple method, and yet the impact can be very strong, because it is a remarkable feat that you appear to accomplish, by pulling out two cards that have been placed into the middle of the deck by a spectator!

Background: This trick is also known under other names including "Friction Toss", "Friction Production", or "Two Card Catch". If you use a simple cross-cut force (described later in this article) at the start of this trick, this trick can seem even more amazing. Any two cards will work, but it's best to use cards with a similar appearance of values, like black 9s and 10s, or black 9s and 6s, and refer to them as "black 9s and 6s" rather than mention the actual suits. You can also use this method to produce all four Aces, two at a time.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8fqwsQO_iY&t=21 (featuring Will Roya)



● The Four Robbers

The effect: You introduce the four Jacks, which are actually four robbers. You then tell a story about how they attempt to burgle a bank, doing their dirty work at different locations in the building. You place the Jacks in various parts of the deck while telling the story, corresponding to different floors of the building. When the police arrive unexpectedly, the four Jacks are able to escape in a helicopter, by magically appearing together at the top of the deck!

What's good about it: The strength of this trick is that it has a fun story to go with it. You aren't following the same-old story of having a card selected and finding it, but you are simply describing a story, and then something magical and impossible happens. The method is very simple, and how entertaining this trick turns out will depend entirely on how good you are at dramatizing the story, which you can have a lot of fun with!

Background: This is another common trick that many young magicians will start out with, and has been around since the 1850s. After a simple secret set-up, it's very easy to perform. It might not fool thoughtful adults, but it's an ideal trick for children to learn, and they can really fool others of their own age with it.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0Jxe9lilB8&t=52 (featuring Hester23BearsCH)



● The Piano Trick

The effect: From two piles of cards, you magically make a card move from one to another. A common way to do it is to get your spectator to stretch out both hands like he's playing the piano - hence the name of the trick - and place pairs of cards between his fingers, plus an "odd" card. These are distributed into two piles (e.g. between you and your spectator). Remarkably, although everything is shared out evenly, the odd card moves from one pile to the other pile!

What's good about it: Once again, how you present this makes all the difference. Nothing physically moves, and yet by clever misdirection and proper scripting, it will really seem to your spectator's mind that a card has been transferred from one pile to another.

Background: This trick is more than a hundred years old, but it can easily be given a modern twist - I've heard of magicians performing this with knives and forks, with different kinds of fruit, and even with socks! See a great variation by Alan Hudson performing the piano trick with cutlery here

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IICrrKEgWpo (featuring Peter McOwan)



● Spectator Cuts To The Aces

The effect: The spectator does all the work in cutting the deck into four piles. Amazingly, at the end of this process, the top card in each of the piles turns out to be an Ace!

What's good about it: It's always a good idea to turn the spectator into a magician, and that's what happens here. They are the ones doing the cutting, so the magic apparently happens right in their hands. It is important to find a way to perform this trick in a way that makes things entertaining, however. Like many self-working tricks, since there's a small set-up involved, the effect can be strengthened if you can precede the trick with a simple false cut or false shuffle.

Background: Numerous versions of this trick exist, including more complicated variations, but the basic version is very easy and can be performed by a complete beginner. It goes under various names, including "Poker Player's Picnic" (The Royal Road to Card Magic) and "Belchou Aces" (Roberto Giobbi's Introduction to Card Magic). One of the finest versions of this trick is Chad Long's "Shuffling Lesson". This takes it to the next level, as both you and the spectator use half the deck, and you deal four Kings while the spectator deals four Aces - an apparently impossible finish! Chad's version is so good that some magicians even use it as a closer in their professional magic act.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2NjS5bDFh4&t=21 (featuring Will Roya)



● The Circus Card Trick

The effect: After your spectator has selected and remembered a card from a shuffled deck, and returned it to the deck, you start dealing through the deck, claiming that you can find it. You deal several cards past their chosen card, and then propose a bet that the next card you turn over will be their card. Thinking that this is a safe bet since you've already gone past their card, most spectators will agree - at which you point you proceed to turn over the already-dealt card that is theirs!

What's good about it: Usually a trick presented as a "challenge" for your spectator isn't the best idea, because it can turn magic into a contest rather than something entertaining and magical. This trick is a good exception to that rule, because it's super light and quick, and is ideal for a casual setting. Don't use it to actually swindle people of anything valuable, but when performing it as a fun gag effect, you'll usually have the whole room laughing at the result - even the person who has become the butt of the joke.

Background: This trick relies on a common method known as the "key card" principle, and you'll find a variation of it in almost every introductory card magic book. The basic principle can be used for many other tricks, like the next one in this list. The real appeal of the Circus Card Trick is the humorous presentation; it also goes under many other names, and is often presented as a bar bet or con.

Watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t_3jOZ6Fjs (featuring Daryl)
Learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU_K3k-lr1E&t=90 (featuring WonderPhil)





● The Pulse Trick

The effect: Your spectator selects a random card which is returned to the deck. But can you find it? Of course, you're a magician! You feel their pulse while they move their hand across a face-up spread, and by the picking up subtle changes to their heart beat as their finger moves over their selected card, you're able to identify it!

What's good about it: What makes card magic interesting is when it has a good presentation, and while this is a very easy trick to perform, it has a very entertaining presentation. You just need to do a lot of acting to make it convincing, and since the method is so straight-forward, you can really focus on your showmanship. The method here is basically the same as the Circus Card Trick, but with a different presentation it feels like an entirely different trick.

Background: Another interesting presentation that relies on the same secret, is to have your spectator put their fingerprint on their card, and you then identify their chosen card by `finding' the card which has their matching finger-print. Yet another presentation is to frame it as a lie-detector test, getting your spectator to point at each card one at a time while saying "That's not my card", while you `detect' when they are lying by looking into their eyes or identifying subtle signals from their body language. Pick whatever presentation suits you best - either way it can be quite impressive and believable, especially for children witnessing this trick.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tpm6rVLM3s&t=50 (featuring Sean O)



● Do As I Do

The effect: Both you and your spectator each have a deck. After shuffling your decks, you both select a card, which you remember, and return to your deck. You then trade decks, and each find your selected card in the other person's deck. Because you've been in sync with each other, the two cards are revealed to be ... exactly the same!

What's good about it: This trick appears completely baffling to someone who has never seen it, because the odds of two people selecting exactly the same card is 1 in 52. The method is easy, yet well-disguised by the concept of "Do As I Do", where you and the spectator have to synchronize your moves and do exactly the same thing. This also gives opportunity to have some fun as well, so it lends itself to enjoying the presentation. Because the spectator is part of the magic, it is engaging for them as well.

Background: Early versions of this trick were already performed in the mid-1800s, under titles like "The Sympathetic Cards" and "Marvellous Coincidence". This now common trick has been around in its current form since the early 1900s.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOnrhGrr9Aw (featuring Brian Brushwood)



● X-Ray Vision

The effect: The cards are all laid face-down on the table in a spread or in a shuffled mess. In a demonstration of x-ray vision, three people (including you) point to a random face-down card, and you correctly identify all of the selected cards.

What's good about it: There are various ways of presenting this trick, and you can also perform it by naming a card that your spectator then has to try to find at random. But it packs a punch far greater than you might think, because to actually be able to correctly identify three face-down cards - some of which are genuinely selected by your spectators at random - would be a true miracle!

Background: This trick is found in many books with beginner card tricks, and goes under names like "Seeing Through the Deck" (Scarne on Card Tricks), "The Three-Card Pick by Touch Test" (Magic for Dummies) and "One Ahead" (Joshua Jay's Amazing Book of Cards). It's a good introduction to the one ahead principle which is used more often in card magic.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAjVh69bD_o&t=15 (featuring Exit707)



● Mutus Nomen Cocis Dedit

The effect: Twenty random cards are divided into pairs, and several spectators secretly select and remember any pair of their choice, which are then put together in any order. You lay out the cards in grid with four rows of five cards. Each spectator merely tells you the row(s) that their two cards are in, and you can miraculously identify their chosen cards!

What's good about it: This trick becomes most entertaining when you incorporate a fun presentation, for example when you pretend to use muscle-reading to identify the chosen cards (as described in "The Pulse Trick"), or use a lie detector presentation. Of course the true method is much simpler, and although you'll need to memorize some words (only four!) to make it work, the effect seems truly impossible! Involving multiple spectators makes it even more engaging, and seem more astounding!

Background: This is a very old trick that goes under various titles, like "Houdini's Double-Talk Card Trick" (Scarne on Card Tricks). and fortunately you don't have to use the Latin words in the title used here, because there are simpler English-language mnemonic aids that do the same thing.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1Qk8ymwSFw&t=40 (featuring Brian Brushwood)



● The Slop Shuffle

The effect: The deck is mixed up completely in small packets of face-up and face-down cards. After a final cut, all the cards are magically corrected, and now face the same way!

What's good about it: This is a nice change from the usual "pick-a-card" type of trick, since the magic happens with the entire deck. Even though it is basically self-working, the illusion is very natural and convincing, and the deck really does seem to instantly change from something that is completely mixed up, with cards haphazardly face-up and face-down, into all the cards being the right way.

Background: This trick is a common beginner trick that can be found in many magic videos and videos, and while most commonly known as "The Slop Shuffle" (Complete Idiot's Guide to Magic), it's also called other names like "Self-Reversing Pack" (Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic). There are ways to take this trick to the next level by having a card selected by a spectator, and all the cards are face-down after the "slop shuffle" except the chosen card.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fotDfIwoHGM&t=21 (featuring Will Roya)



2 Simple Card Forces

The concept of a "forced card" is a very useful technique in magic. Once you master it, you can perform all sorts of miracles very easily, with many options for how you reveal the card that you have `forced'. There are ways to force a card with sleight of hand, but here are two very simple ways to accomplish this in a self-working manner.

● The Ten-Twenty Force

The effect: You write a prediction for a card to be selected, then get your spectator to freely choose any number between ten and twenty. They deal some cards based on their chosen number, thereby selecting a random card which they reveal. Then your prediction is shown, and it matches the selected card perfectly!

What's good about it: Being able to correctly predict a card apparently chosen at random by a spectator is a very powerful technique in magic. In fact the selected card has been predetermined in advance, but by presenting it as a feat of prediction, you really give the impression of being able to tell the future. You can even give the paper with your prediction to a spectator to look after, to prove that nothing is written after the fact, making the prediction feat seem even more convincing.

Background: The principle underlying this is a simple mathematical one, and yet it can be surprisingly deceptive, especially for the average person who has never come across this before. Besides using a card force as a prediction, magician Jay Sankey offers various ways to reveal a forced card in his video here.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMOEznBLBMQ&t=3 (featuring Malik Haddadi)



● The Cross Cut Force

The effect: You write a prediction for a card to be selected, and get your spectator to cut anywhere in the center of the deck that they like. The prediction is revealed, and remarkably it turns out that the your spectator has cut to exactly the card that was predicted!

What's good about it: Having a `hands off' approach where you put the cards in the hands of your spectator always makes a magic trick seem more convincing. You couldn't have possibly done anything to the cards, because you didn't even touch them! This makes your magic seem all the more like a miracle. And yet this trick will work every single time, and produce the predicted card!

Background: The "Cross Cut Force" is sometimes underestimated by magicians, but it can be extremely effective when done well. It works best when you pay attention to subtle details, especially by introducing some time delay before revealing the cut card. You'll find some excellent tips for using this force, and some great tricks that utilize it, in John Bannon's excellent "Move Zero" series of DVDs. A related and similar method that takes the Cross Cut Force a step further is the "Cut Deeper Force". You will easily find information about it online, and it can be used as an alternative way to accomplish the same effect.

Watch it and learn it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysInSl0-AYY&t=63 (featuring Xavior Spade)



So there you go - ten simple card tricks, and two simple forces! So what are you waiting for? Grab some playing cards, check out some of the videos, and you'll be amazing people in no time! And no matter how much they ask, keep the secret to yourself, and don't repeat a trick to the same audience!

About the writerEndersGame 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.

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Last update date: 1/20/20

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