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Why Are There So Many Card Tricks?

Magicians and playing cards go hand in hand. (Play on words not intended, but noticed and enjoyed!) It’s gotten to the point that it’s an almost sad cliche. In fact, I don’t know a magician who leaves the house without a deck of cards. Personally, I’ve usually got one in my coat, a few in my glove box and one or two in my sling pack, which is with me more often than not.

As a magician, I think this is fine. I’ve met people who can perform absolute miracles with playing cards. It’s incredible. The reason it seems so odd to so many people though, is that the average person thinks all card tricks are the same. And most card tricks that people have seen in their lives are quite dull.

You pick a card. Put it back in the deck. I’ll tell you what it was. Who cares?

Why then are magicians so into these things?

The reason is that they are one of the most versatile prop a magician can own. You can do everything with them, and this goes far beyond that simple plot just described. In fact, there are so many things you can do with a deck of cards that it’s nearly impossible to find a book about magic that doesn’t include card tricks. Sure, but how many books on magic are there? There is actually more published on magic every year than any other art form. By far. Houdini owned enough magic books to fill a couple moving trucks, and he died almost a hundred years ago. The volumes have increased dramatically since then.

What makes them so versatile? What makes them so special? Let’s start with the obvious: Everyone knows what they are. Not everyone can identify the suits, and not everyone can play the games, but they are recognized as being a stack of unique designs. 52 in each pack to be exact — plus jokers and advertising cards.

They also are quite finite, but not to a small degree. To a large degree, while still being compact. Here’s the thing: If I said “Think of any number”, and I then told you the number you were thinking of… that would be a miracle. Unfortunately there would be no entertainment value there. I mean, that would be pure magic. And to be entertaining, I think for the most part, magicians need to present something that is “seemingly impossible” and not truly impossible.

Hence playing cards. There are 52 possibilities. Guessing your card could just be luck. Or maybe I peeked. Or maybe I tricked you into taking the card I wanted you to take. Of course, you don’t believe I can be that lucky that often, and you know you didn’t see me peek, and you could swear you had a free choice.

Like that, playing cards breed dramatic magic. And then they continue: Cards can appear, disappear, travel mysteriously from one place to the next and transform from one into the other. They can be torn and put back together, they can fly and they can hover. Combining those possibilities with a diverse range of plots and you can put together hours worth of entertainment with a pack of cards, without once saying “I’m going to guess your card”.

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