Book: Card Concepts

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Book: Card Concepts

Postby Tomo » Nov 14th, '05, 02:51

Title: “Card Concepts: An Anthology of Numerical and Sequential Principles Within Card Magic.” By Arthur F MacTier.

Supplier: Davenport’s Magic (

Cost: £16

Difficulty: Full benefit requires some study.


There are those who say card magic should be only about one’s skill and control. That’s great, but I started in mentalism, so for me, a broader “how did you do that?!” reaction is better for the mystery that caused it than knowing that reactions are coming from an underlying appreciation of manual dexterity. The effect, not the cause, is important to me because, done well, the cause is supposed to be invisible anyway.

I like making up my own tricks, but just like the author, I don’t have all day every day to practice (he’s a banker, I’m a freelance writer). Because of that, I’m on a vague quest to show how mathematics has a place in card magic. Hence my review of “The Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Numbers” a while back. I see using mathematical principles as freeing me to concentrate on building effects, and it makes performance more controllable than my dexterity alone will allow.

I think this book is worth the money not only because it proves that maths and magic can mix very well, but for its inclusion of the almost legendary work of Norman L. Gilbreath. That’s just one aspect of a deeply researched volume. MacTier references 49 books, 14 magazine articles and the work of 66 other magicians dating back to the 19th century. It’s worth mentioning quickly that the hardback binding of its 301 pages is A4 and sturdy like an annual, but lies open and flat like all good “doing” books should.

Each of the 31 chapters describes a different principle demonstrable using a standard deck of playing cards (sometimes stacked, sometimes stacked but can be shuffled, sometimes random), explained (sometimes with proofs and diagrams!) and ready for exploit in your own work. Each chapter has a full, in-depth description of the object of study and its history, as well as an itemised method for producing it “in vitro” for study, at least one example of a presentation idea, and concludes with full credits for the originator. There are some strange sounding chapters here, like “Penelope’s Principle”, “C.S Pierce’s Second” and the “Rusduck Staystack”. There are, however, three chapters towards the back detailing something that crops up regularly on internet discussion forums.

MacTier says the book sprung from his study of the Gilbreath Principle, and it’s clear he knows his stuff. Imagine challenging a spectator that if he can deal two consecutive cards of the same colour from a shuffled deck, he wins £100, whereas if he can’t he loses 10p. It sounds like easy money, but he loses every time. How about mixing a deck into face up/down, shuffling it, turning your back and using “telepathy” to read the thoughts of the person dealing successive cards to identify them? Not only is Gilbreath’s Principle covered in depth, but also “Gilbreath’s Second” and the “Quasi-Gilbreath Principle”, which handles triples of cards instead of the usual pairs.


This isn’t really a book of off-the-shelf magic tricks, even though it contains 72 of them (enough for over 2.5 hours of 3-minute tricks, including 29 based on Gilbreath’s First Principle alone). Nor is it simply a collection of other people’s work. It is one man’s interpretation of what he’s learned form years of study of each of the principles he describes, written from his understanding of each and bringing his own knowledge and experience to bear. He knows an awful lot, and that’s well worth having, especially for 16 quid.

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