The Joy of the Self Worker

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The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby Poppadom » Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:52 pm



This is an article/essay that I wrote recently about self-working magic and the advantages it can have over conjuring with more complex methods. I've also sent it off to Rick Carruth, who runs the online Magic Roadshow magazine, so apologies if anyone comes across it there as well. I hope you find it interesting...


Let’s face it: self-working card tricks aren’t exactly the most popular things in the world. All too often they are neglected by ‘serious’ magicians who regard them as the little brothers of proper magic tricks. Self-workers are things that you learn as a kid when you’re just starting out and can’t do any better. Then when you reach a certain level of maturity you move into the big boy world of sleights, and leave such childish things behind. After all, self-working tricks are boring anyway – most of them consist entirely of the spectator dealing out endless piles of cards and adhering to poorly-disguised mathematical formulae that bear no resemblance to real magic. Such tricks are childish. They’re dull. They’re useless.
Or are they?

I must confess that until recently I too had developed such a bias against self-workers. It wasn’t something that happened consciously, for I never made a definite decision to shun them, but nevertheless when faced with a choice I would always go for the sleight of hand option. It was just the obvious thing to do. Sleights give us the most powerful card magic, so why would I settle for anything inferior?

Then, after a little time spent studying some books of self-workers, everything changed. I discovered that they can be not just as good as more complex magic, but often a lot better. Now I am a convert. I’m no longer ashamed to use things that supposedly require no skill. Let me tell you why.

Before I do that, however, let me first try and define the subject. At first this may seem like a simple task, but there is a surprising amount of disagreement among magicians as to what the term ‘self-working’ actually means. I think it’s fair to say that if a trick is genuinely self-working then it should be possible for the spectator to do everything themselves and still be fooled, as the magician plays no real part in the method itself. Such tricks do exist (have a look at ‘Impuzzibilities’ by Jim Steinmeyer for a taster) but instinct will tell us that there aren’t huge numbers of them, and so we must broaden our definition a little.

If we broaden it too far, though, we end up at the other end of the scale with tricks that are labelled as self-working but are clearly anything but. I’m referring here particularly to chapter 14 of Hugard and Braue’s Expert Card Technique, whose title promises ‘Self-Working Tricks’ but whose contents deliver quite the opposite, requiring many advanced pieces of sleight of hand. Although there are some parts of the tricks that can be done by the spectator, it is nevertheless difficult to tell what the authors were thinking when titling that particular chapter.

The definition that I propose is a happy medium between the two. I suggest that a self-working trick is generally one that uses no sleight of hand. Any movements on the part of the magician are simple and can be done without excessive training of the fingers. Whilst the method may necessitate some hidden manoeuvres, they are not complex and can be accomplished easily without arousing the suspicion of the spectator. In other words they require little to no misdirection. For the time being I will be dealing specifically with card tricks.

So is it true that self-workers require no skill? Not really, no. Perhaps they require a minimum of manual dexterity, but any competent conjuror will know that that only represents a tiny part of magic. These tricks still need all the most important skills of plotting, audience management, acting and so on, and for that reason it is a mistake to dismiss them as requiring no effort at all. The most challenging aspects of magic are still there.
It is also a mistake to think that such tricks are not approved of by serious grown-up magicians. Dai Vernon, widely regarded as one of the greatest magicians of all time and a master of sleight of hand, often emphasised how much time he spent trying to simplify methods and eliminate the need for sleights. Then there’s John Scarne, another expert in prestidigitation, whose seminal book Scarne on Card Tricks consists mainly of self-workers. The list could go on, but you see my point. Many of the greatest conjurors know the value that these tricks can bring.

I believe that the real problem holding back self-workers in the eyes of the magic community is actually that there are a proliferation of bad ones. When I spoke at the beginning about dealing endless piles of cards I was only half-joking, for there are far too many tricks that rely on such dreary practises. But it is important to look beyond this unappealing façade and seek out the truly great self-workers. I recently acquired a copy of More Self-Working Card Tricks by Karl Fulves and was astonished at the variety of strong effects contained within its pages. If you look in the right places then you will find plenty of these tricks that you will not be ashamed to show your audience. They are definitely out there, if you take a little time to look for them.

And when you do come across these gems you will have discovered some of the most versatile, powerful and useful effects in magic. The best ones are basically foolproof, so you need not worry about getting caught or about people figuring out the method. In a lot of cases the mathematical principles involved are far from intuitive and so there is no danger of them being worked out by the audience. In fact there are a lot of tricks that are able to fool the performer just as much as his spectators, and I’m sure you realise what a satisfying thing it is for the magician to be deceived by his own magic and experience that sense of wonder that he never catches a glimpse of when performing sleights.

Because their secrets are so impenetrable these tricks are ideal for use at the start of a routine. When the conjuror begins his act the audience immediately start to size him up. Subconsciously they want to know if he’s really as good as he thinks he is and if he can actually fool them. During this initial period of assessment the audience are particularly attentive and on the lookout for anything that may give a clue to the magician’s methods. It is important that the magician genuinely impresses them from the beginning if they are to gain his trust and enjoy the rest of the performance. But because they have not started to fully relax yet, misdirection is very difficult. How can the magician be one hundred per cent certain to amaze them when they are so alert?

The answer, of course, comes from self-workers. Show them a self-working trick that astounds them and they will start to relax. They will not see any suspicious moves or sleights, and consequently will give up looking for such things so closely. This opens the door for the rest of the performance, allowing misdirection to be properly effective and enhancing later tricks.

The other large barrier that the performer must overcome at the start of his act is that of self-confidence. This often manifests itself in the form of nerves, and the problem is only worsened by the uncertainty around whether the audience will genuinely be fooled. But by opening with a self-worker the magician doesn’t need to worry because it is guaranteed to be effective. He doesn’t need to be concerned about his pass not working properly or his DL being detected. So starting with a self-worker does not just relax the audience but the performer as well, and he is able to go on to present a better show as a result.

What’s more, the fact that self-workers need so little effort in terms of method and technique means that they free up the performer to concentrate on the most important aspects of presentation. This can allow them to give a much stronger and more entertaining performance than if half their mind were distracted by complicated sleights. And in realising this we recognise that we’ve come a long way from considering self-workers as inferior in the eyes of the audience. In many cases they can be better, simply because of the freedom afforded to the magician.
On top of all this, many self-workers are angle-proof, making them incredibly versatile and useful in those situations where the conjuror is surrounded or has little control over the positioning of his spectators. Yet another reason to take these tricks seriously.

Of course, I don’t deny that sleight of hand has its place. If we got rid of sleights then the magical world would be considerably impoverished and many wonderful tricks that rely on them would be made truly impossible. But sleight of hand can’t do everything. There are many occasions for which self-working tricks are perfect, and therefore I urge you to seek them out and uncover these wonderful neglected miracles. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby Mandrake » Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:08 pm

Excellent post - now a Sticky.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby 3 ♣ » Mon Mar 18, 2013 4:50 pm

The first self-working trick I learned was exactly one of those, sit-here-and-yawn-whilst-I-deal-cards-into-piles tricks. I do shy away from doing this because it is hard to get a reaction at the reveal after they've sat through me laboriously dealing cards into piles. I guess though that even these kinds of tricks require skill... And that skill would be to keep the spectator's interest and attention through the boring bits so that the reveal is spectacular rather than 'oh thank God that's over'.

I recently learnt another self-working trick from Paul Gordon's Card Marvels called Brothel K(r)eepers - which does not rely on the kinds of things that put most people off self-working tricks. It uses the "Gemini" principle, and does not have that obvious mathematical feel because the spectator decides where the pack is cut. But the trick works regardless of that. I think it's a brilliant trick, and it really allows for one to inject a good story and some humour. I certainly wouldn't shy away from learning more like it.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby mr invisible » Mon Mar 18, 2013 5:42 pm

3 ♣ wrote:The first self-working trick I learned was exactly one of those, sit-here-and-yawn-whilst-I-deal-cards-into-piles tricks. I do shy away from doing this because it is hard to get a reaction at the reveal after they've sat through me laboriously dealing cards into piles. I guess though that even these kinds of tricks require skill... And that skill would be to keep the spectator's interest and attention through the boring bits so that the reveal is spectacular rather than 'oh thank God that's over'.

I recently learnt another self-working trick from Paul Gordon's Card Marvels called Brothel K(r)eepers - which does not rely on the kinds of things that put most people off self-working tricks. It uses the "Gemini" principle, and does not have that obvious mathematical feel because the spectator decides where the pack is cut. But the trick works regardless of that. I think it's a brilliant trick, and it really allows for one to inject a good story and some humour. I certainly wouldn't shy away from learning more like it.
Overall how did you find the book? I think it has lots of ideas for all aspects of card magic, a real gem.. I was also lucky enough to meet Paul in London 2 years ago, and found him to be a really nice guy.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby 3 ♣ » Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:02 pm

mr invisible wrote:
3 ♣ wrote:The first self-working trick I learned was exactly one of those, sit-here-and-yawn-whilst-I-deal-cards-into-piles tricks. I do shy away from doing this because it is hard to get a reaction at the reveal after they've sat through me laboriously dealing cards into piles. I guess though that even these kinds of tricks require skill... And that skill would be to keep the spectator's interest and attention through the boring bits so that the reveal is spectacular rather than 'oh thank God that's over'.

I recently learnt another self-working trick from Paul Gordon's Card Marvels called Brothel K(r)eepers - which does not rely on the kinds of things that put most people off self-working tricks. It uses the "Gemini" principle, and does not have that obvious mathematical feel because the spectator decides where the pack is cut. But the trick works regardless of that. I think it's a brilliant trick, and it really allows for one to inject a good story and some humour. I certainly wouldn't shy away from learning more like it.
Overall how did you find the book? I think it has lots of ideas for all aspects of card magic, a real gem.. I was also lucky enough to meet Paul in London 2 years ago, and found him to be a really nice guy.


I haven't got all the way through it yet, due to my habit of tending to read about 5 books at once. What I have read so far has been really useful, and the tricks are great.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby Art Vanderlay » Sat Mar 30, 2013 12:33 pm

For my own preference i will only perform effects that are either self working or have very little work involved (Unless it is memory work or some form of hidden work)

This enables me to focus entirely on presentaion. Now as a mentalist i can get away with this since i do not need an extravagant ammount of slighets and moves under my belt however i can see my way of thinking would be useless to a card magician!

I guess its all about what you perform and who you perform for.

My fav self working effect at this current time is probably an impromptu card mind reading effect. Not 100% self working since i have to do a wee bit of fishing but borrowed and shuffled deck with no sleights. Might as well be self working!

As ,long as they dont fall into the trap of the 21 card trick then i dont see any problem with self working effects

:)

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby FTHO » Sat Mar 30, 2013 11:00 pm

Art Vanderlay wrote:This enables me to focus entirely on presentation. Now as a mentalist i can get away with this since i do not need an extravagant ammount of slighets and moves under my belt however i can see my way of thinking would be useless to a card magician!


I disagree with that. Check out the Act Series by Mick Ayres*, 100% card material, the majority of which is fantastic (each book forms a complete show) material, it is all (or maybe almost all) semi automatic.

Also with technical material we should aim to achieve a level of competency that we don't need to focus on our technique, leaving us to concentrate on "presentation".
So i don't think your way of thinking is useless to card magicians.

I also think we shouldn't have to concentrate on presentation. We should aim to achieve a level of presentational competency that means we no longer need to concentrate on presenting.

I used to work in telesales (selling insurance), and i remember several occasions where i was concentrating so hard on my sales script/presentation when i asked someone how they were, and they answered that they were terrible, I responded with "thats wonderful, the reason i called today..." (or something similar). I bet most of you have received a call where this has happened to you?
Once my presentation was second nature i could easily concentrate on talking to the customers. So i think, in an ideal/dream world, all we should have to concentrate on is our conversation and interactions with the audience.

Thats a tall order, i know that i am so far off of reaching that level of performance ability, but its a goal.







*All of Mick Ayres Act Series is mentalism with cards - so maybe that is an argument against my point...

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby AidanH » Thu Oct 03, 2013 5:12 pm

Certainly any trick needs to allow you to focus on the presentation - so self workers score there. They can also be very convincing - check out the two self working card trick DVD's from Big Blind Media for examples - I'm using a "gemini" type self worker regularly myself, and Richard Pinner taught me an "almost" self working anniversary waltz version which goes well (you need to be able to do a DL, apart from that, self working!)

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby Magical_Trevor » Tue Mar 25, 2014 3:04 am

Was just about to say that Anniversary Waltz is an example of a trick (if done in a certain way) is self working bar the use of 2 DL's ... the spec can select each card and sign them AND (appear to) loose them in the deck.

I think its more in the idea of protecting the magician from having to do all of the hard work and letting the specs do it for them ... and allows you to focus ALL on the presentation of the effect

Dan

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby mark lewis » Tue Mar 25, 2014 4:13 am

I am pretty skilled with sleight of hand but I know perfectly well that it is only a means to an end. If a self working trick gets me the same reaction as a technically difficult trick I will be quite happy to use it. I am quite ruthless over methods. I will use what works whether it be difficult manipulation, a stacked deck, gaffed cards or coins, mathematical principles or psychological manipulation. What is important is as Billy McComb once termed it "what comes out of the sausage machine".

Presentation is VERY important and in fact the most important part of the trick. Without showmanship and good presentation you are done for and in fact you might as well not bother. Alas this means that 90% of so called "magicians" really shouldn't bother. Not that I wish to be cynical of course.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby Vidar » Thu May 08, 2014 7:47 pm

YES! Self-working effects are great! It's so nice to be able to perform without difficult sleights sometimes. I use Untouched by Daryl and Free Will (although Free Will is not completely self-working, it's very easy and without any sleights). Free Will: http://www.lybrary.com/free-will-p-476988.html :)

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby Razzo » Sat May 14, 2016 7:36 pm

I can do quite a lot of tricks that need sleights but find myself time and time again going back to self working tricks. Ther are some absolute foolers that require very little in the way of effort. Two of the best in my opinion are Shuffle Lesson and Gemini Twins. They knock the spectators for six also Triple Coincidence is a brilliant self worker if you don't mind working with two decks. Poker players picnic from Royal road needs a glide but it isn't hard to do and was one of the first tricks I learnt as a beginner. It can be a killer if performed with some good patter.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby paul1665 » Sat Jun 11, 2016 5:05 pm

While self workers are being discussed, Ryan Matney has some great ones in a little booklet of his called "The Self Working Project". This is not a collection of old ideas as on some of the DVD's. I think in the UK Vanishing inc might have stocked this. Other dealers might have it, though I know some books don't manage to cross the pond these days.

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Re: The Joy of the Self Worker

Postby DaveWise » Mon Aug 29, 2016 9:00 pm

I don't do many self-working tricks at all, but I did recently come upon one that -- with a little massaging -- is stunning. It's sort of an ACAAN that uses 27 cards.

My version goes like this: You hand the spectator 27 cards and, with your back turned, ask them to shuffle, choose a card in their mind with their eyes only, and then re-shuffle if they want. You take the cards and begin dealing them one-by-one into 3 piles. "As I'm dealing these out, keep any eye out for your card... oh and, there are 27 cards here-- name any number between 1 and 27." [Let's say they choose 16.]

You finish dealing the cards and tell them to point to the pile that contains their card. You then collect the cards and begin dealing them back into three piles. "Great. As I'm dealing these out, I'm trying to keep track of where I put every one of these cards. If I can keep track of all the cards, I'll be able to figure out your card by following its path." After dealing out the cards, you ask again which pile their card is in. You collect the cards and deal them out one last time. "I'm close -- I think I'll have it this time."

You finish dealing the cards, they tell you which pile, and you collect the cards and put them on the table.

With that, you say -- "Let's recap. You shuffled the cards, picked one without even touching it, and shuffled again. I dealt out all of the cards into three piles, and you told me which pile it was in. It would be impressive if I told you your card now ... wouldn't it? But, you also chose a number-- what was it? 16? I'm going to do you one better..." You count off the first 16 cards from the top of the pack, and reveal their card is #16.

Here is the mathematical explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7lP9y7Bb5g. It requires some simple math, and a particular order in which you collect the three packets each time. I worked out a way to collect the packets so that it appears the same each time -- that's key.

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