NEWSLETTER 16 - POKER WITH STEBBINS

New Thoughts on an Old Trick

MASTER POKER DEALING

He can do some stunts that will puzzle any kind of magician. It is all worked with a set deck, but unless you have seen him, you have never in your wildest moments imagined what is possible with this idea - just get him in a quiet corner and let him put a few over. That remark was made in The Sphinx (December, 1911) about card manipulator Si Stebbins.

Stebbins was by all accounts a superb entertainer with cards though his name today is mostly associated with a stacked deck system. The system didn’t originate with Stebbins but he made a name pitching it to the public as a booklet as far back as 1898. Alongside the Eight Queens set-up, it must be one of the most published stacks in magic.

One of the many magicians who explored it further was Jack Merlin, another vaudeville performer with cards, who created a trick he called Master Poker Dealing. You’ll find it in his booklet And a Pack of Cards (1927). It’s the kind of trick I love. Maximum effect, minimum effort, clever method. I’ve been playing around with it recently, added a few things, and devised the following.

If you perform the trick as a demonstration of skill, you don’t have to be great at second dealing. Doesn’t matter if the spectators suspect the false deals since you can tell them that’s exactly what you are doing.

The above routine involves a selected card but you can go straight into the poker demonstration. In this case, have the spectator cut the deck, complete the cut, and without further ado you pick up the deck and start dealing. The following video shows what it looks like when you use an all over back design.

Stebbins later marketed another system, Men-Telo-Card-Ology (1939), saying that this was the stack he actually used. They were very similar and so too were the tricks that could be performed with it but Stebbins is worth further study. The system has been neglected of late and yet it is simple to use and delivers excellent effects. If you are interested in Stebbins, you can read Men-Telo-Card-Ology here.

BLACK RED

Last year I posted a trick on Instagram called Double Dealing Dr Daley’s Last Trick. More recently I explained it in Genii magazine. Jerry Sadowitz emailed to say he’d described the same effect back in 2008. You can check out Jerry’s Daley’s Last Breath in The Crimp (issue 73). Jerry’s used the same method of double dealing, a technique favoured by the aforementioned Jack Merlin and described in Expert Card Technique.

According to Jean Hugard, Merlin had deliberately left the sleight out of And a Pack of Cards, presumably to keep it exclusive. Which meant Hugard had to figure out the handling. It’s a tremendously useful sleight, particularly when applied to packet tricks and probably has more uses today than it did when Merlin came up with it. In an upcoming issue of Genii I’ll be publishing another trick I devised that made use of it, a version of The Universal Card plot.

If the double deal is not for you, you might like the following take on Dr Daley’s Last Trick. It’s much easier to do but the handling is still very clean.

You could use a triple lift and just one Quick Three Way move to do the trick. But I prefer to use the same move twice for consistency.

CYCLIC ACES

David Solomon also emailed, enquiring about another trick of mine. The trick in question is Cyclic Aces. I’ve published it several times in various places but it still doesn’t seem well known. So here’s a video. It looks skilful but is virtually self-working. If you handle the cards well, it’ll get you far more credit than you deserve.

You can find more variations of the basic routine on my Cardopolis blog, which you will find here. Oh dear, I must change the photo on that blog banner!

JACK MERLIN

Last year Jeff Connor sent me a video I hadn’t seen before. The footage had been discovered by Derrick Chung in the Will Alma Conjuring Collection and consisted of outtakes from a film depicting gambling sleights. The catalogue notes don’t identify the performer but do say the film was made around the 5th November, 1923. Derrick identified the performer as Jack Merlin. I didn’t recall seeing a photo of Jack Merlin but Derrick had found one in the same collection. In fact, the collection has quite a few Jack Merlin items. You can view the photo online here.

The film was made a few years before Merlin began publishing his booklets, and while it shows some false dealing and a snap colour change, it conveys nothing of Merlin as a performer. He was sometimes billed at the ‘Talkative Magician’ and reviews praised the entertainment value of his shows.

The grips for the deals are interesting and are presumably the ones he described in his book, And a Deck of Cards. Enthusiasts who seek perfection will not be keen on that very visible movement of the left third finger during the bottom deal. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see footage of these performers from the past. It helps us understand how sleight of hand magic has developed over the years. You can watch the footage here. Thank you to Derrick and Jeff for sharing. And do take a look at the rest of the Will Alma Conjuring Collection. It is a great resource for magicians.

That’s all for this newsletter. Don’t forget, you can catch up with all the Cardopolis Newsletters online by visiting the Cardopolis.Substack.com webpage.

The Comments section is always open. Feel free to share this newsletter with those similarly afflicted with an interest in card magic, new and old.

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