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The Expert at the Card Table

by S. W. Erdnase
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(2 reviews, 13 customer ratings) ★★★★★

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The Expert at the Card Table by S. W. Erdnase

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Originally entitled Artifice Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table, is probably the most cited and referenced book about card gambling moves - a classic in the history of magic literature. A must read for any card magician or aspiring gambling expert and an indespensable reference book. While the authorship of this book is hotly debated we are convinced it was Edward Gallaway. (For a detailed work on the search for Erdnase see Hurt McDermott's Artifice, Ruse & Erdnase.)

[A copy of this book is also included in Michael McDougall's Card Mastery. This ebook is also available in a German translation.]

Paul Fleming wrote:

The information contained in this book is the very basis of modern card conjuring. When first published in 1902, its effect was little short of revolutionary. Magicians who had been dependent upon the old-fashioned "pass" and "palm" were initiated into the mysteries of new and more subtle versions of these sleights, and introduced to a series of "shuffles" which enabled them to obtain, with perfectly natural moves, many effects that had previously required greater skill in the execution of standard sleights than most card conjurers ever attained.

It was not so much a matter of the new methods being easier to master than those which had long been common property though in a few instances this was actually the case - but rather that, for some purposes at least, they were far more deceptive. The author made available to the legitimate performer of card tricks many new sleights that had been used profitably by professional gamblers at the card-table, where stakes are often high, eyes are watchful, and half-measures lead to exposure and ruin. So important were these contributions that, within a couple of decades, the name "Erdnase" came to mean to the well-posted card conjurer as much as "Blackstone" had long meant to the lawyer. The situation remains virtually unchanged today; for it is a commonplace among card experts that no one can properly claim to know card magic unless he has studied The Expert at the Card Table.

In the original edition, the book was divided into two parts, one dealing with card-table artifice and the other with legerdemain. Both parts are reproduced without change in the present, enlarged edition. Most of the material that was new to magicians when the book was published is in the first part, to which the author devoted 112 pages of text with 64 illustrations. This section consists of a pretty stiff course in "blind shuffles," "blind riffles and cuts," "blind cuts," "bottom dealing," "second dealing," "stock shuffling," "cull shuffling," "palming," "shifting" (that is, making the pass), and other sleights employed by card players who do not believe in depending upon chance to bring them fortune. The explanations of shuffling, palming, and shifting that are given here have proved very useful to card conjures.

In the second section of the book (81 pages, 36 illustrations) are sleights (some old, but many new) which were specifically and exclusively designed for card magic. There are, for example, five shifts (or methods of making the pass), including a beautifully devised "diagonal palm shift" which, if perfectly executed, enables the performer to replace a chosen card unmistakably in the pack, merely square the cards, and yet extract the selected card and palm it in the left hand, instantaneously and without fumbling. There are, also, a blind shuffle for securing a selected card; explanations of card-forcing and card palming (with an inadequate description of the "back palm"); four methods of "changing" and eight of "transforming" cards; five ways of "blind shuffling" while retaining the whole pack in its original order; four devices for discovering a card that has merely been thought of; and several other sleights. Finally, the author explains seventeen card tricks, which have little of novelty about them and are, we feel, described with undue brevity. We should note, however, the unusually good patter that is provided for The Cards Up the Sleeve and three or four other tricks. It is vastly superior to the patter, found in most of the current "patter books."

What we have said thus far relates to the contents of the original book, to which has been added, in the present edition, a small section of critical comments by the late Professor Hoffmann. These criticisms, which cover slightly more than a dozen pages in all, were written by this noted author some thirty-five years ago. It is evident that Professor Hoffmann thought highly of the contributions Mr. Erdnase had made to the technique of card conjuring; but his observant eye detected several errors in that writer's explanations, and his thorough knowledge of the subject enabled him to offer suggestions for the improvement of certain sleights. These comments were originally published in The Magic Wand, and have had but limited circulation. No doubt Professor Hoffmann's host of admirers will welcome what will be, for many of them, their first opportunity to read these essays.

It is likely, too, that card conjurers in general will welcome a really good edition of this standard work. Except for a few cloth-bound copies that were distributed in the year of publication, and a small edition in cloth covers that came out in 1905, The Expert at the Card Table has been obtainable only in cheap, paper-covered form. The present edition has a larger page than the old (one inch greater in each dimension), and has 218 in place of 205 pages; it is printed on antique-finish paper of substantial weight; it is thread-sewn in small sections (not wire-stapled through the whole book), and consequently opens flat; and it is bound in blue cloth of good quality, and gold-stamped from special dies on both front cover and "spine." The printing was done by the offset process from an early copy of the first edition, and thus avoids many defects (such as broken type-faces) which have marred recent printings of the book. The comments of Professor Hoffmann were set up in type which matches as nearly as possible the type used in the body of the book, and a new title page, preface, and table of contents have replaced the old. The result (as the present reviewer says in the preface) is as good an edition of this famous book as could be published "within the limitations of wartime book-making."

This book was rated one of the ten basic books for a working library of conjuring by H. Adrian Smith, historian, collector and owner of the largest private magic library in his time. Other books in this top 10 list are:

You might also be interested in The Erdnase Notebook edition.

first published 1902; 218 pages; with critical comments by Prof. Hoffmann

  1. Introduction
  2. CARD TABLE ARTIFICE
  3. Professional Secrets
  4. Hold-outs
  5. Prepared Cards
  6. Confederacy
  7. Two Methods of Shuffling
  8. Primary Accomplishments
  9. Possibilities of the Blind
  10. Uniformity of the Action
  11. Deportment
  12. Display of Ability
  13. Greatest Single Accomplishment
  14. Effect of Suspicion
  15. Acquiring the Art
  16. Importance of Details
  17. TECHNICAL TERMS, Definition of
  18. POSITION FOR SHUFFLE
  19. BLIND SHUFFLES, ERDNASE SYSTEM OF
  20. I. To Retain Top Stock
  21. II. To Retain Top Stock and Shuffle Whole Deck
  22. III. To Retain Bottom Stock and Shuffle Whole Deck
  23. BLIND RIFFLES AND CUTS. ERDNASE SYSTEM OF
  24. I. To Retain Top Stock
  25. II. To Retain Bottom Stock
  26. BLIND CUTS
  27. I. To Retain Bottom Stock. Top Losing One Card
  28. II. To Retain Complete Stock
  29. III. To Retain Top Stock
  30. IV. To Retain Bottom Stock
  31. V. Combination Riffle and Cuts
  32. FANCY BLIND CUTS
  33. I. To Retain Complete Stock
  34. II. To Retain Complete Stock
  35. FANCY TRUE CUT. ONE-HANDED
  36. TO INDICATE THE LOCATION FOR THE CUT
  37. I. By Crimp
  38. II. By Jog
  39. III. By Crimp
  40. IV. By Jog
  41. BOTTOM DEALING
  42. Top and Bottom Dealing. One Hand
  43. SECOND DEALING
  44. ORDINARY METHODS OF STOCKING, LOCATING AND SECURING
  45. STOCK SHUFFLE
  46. STOCK SHUFFLING. ERDNASE SYSTEM OF
  47. Two Card Stock
  48. Three Card Stock
  49. Four Card Stock
  50. Five Card Stock
  51. Twelve Card Stock
  52. Euchre Stock
  53. CULL SHUFFLING. ERDNASE SYSTEM OF
  54. To Cull Two Cards
  55. To Cull Three Cards
  56. To Cull Four Cards
  57. To Cull Nine Cards
  58. PALMING. ERDNASE SYSTEM OF
  59. Top Palm, First Method
  60. Top Palm, Second Method
  61. Bottom Palm, First Method
  62. Bottom Palm, Second Method
  63. Bottom Palm when Cards are Riffled
  64. TO MAINTAIN THE BOTTOM PALM WHILE DEALING
  65. TO HOLD THE LOCATION OF CUT WHILE DEALING
  66. SHIFTS
  67. Two-Handed Shift
  68. Erdnase Shift, One Hand
  69. Erdnase Shift, Two Hands
  70. TO ASCERTAIN THE TOP CARDS WHILE RIFFLING AND RESERVE THEM AT BOTTOM
  71. MODE OF HOLDING THE HAND
  72. SKINNING THE HAND
  73. THE PLAYER WITHOUT AN ALLY
  74. Dealing Without the Cut
  75. Replacing the Cut as Before
  76. Holding Out for the Cut
  77. Shifting the Cut
  78. Dealing Too Many
  79. Crimping for the Cut
  80. Replacing Palm when Cutting
  81. The Short Deck
  82. THREE CARD MONTE
  83. Mexican Monte
  84. LEGEDERMAIN
  85. SHIFTS
  86. Single-Handed Shift
  87. The Longitudinal Shift
  88. The Open Shift
  89. The S. W. E. Shift
  90. The Diagonal Palm Shift
  91. THE BLIND SHUFFLE FOR SECURING SELECTED CARD
  92. FORCING
  93. PALMING
  94. The Back Palm
  95. CHANGES
  96. The Top Change
  97. The Bottom Change
  98. The Palm Change
  99. The Double Palm Change
  100. TRANSFORMATIONS, TWO HANDS
  101. TRANSFORMATIONS, ONE HAND
  102. BLIND SHUFFLES. RETAINING ENTIRE ORDER
  103. METHODS FOR DETERMINING A CARD THOUGHT OF
  104. A. By the Riffle
  105. B. By Springing Flourish
  106. C. By the Cut
  107. D. By the Gaze
  108. TO GET SIGHT OF SELECTED CARD
  109. THE SLIDE
  110. FAVORITE SLEIGHTS FOR TERMINATING TRICKS
  111. Catching Two Cards at Finger-ends
  112. Leaving Selected Card in Hand of Spectator
  113. The Revolution
  114. Cards Rising from the Hand
  115. CARD TRICKS
  116. EXPLANATORY
  117. THE EXCLUSIVE COTERIE
  118. THE DIVINING ROD
  119. THE INVISIBLE FLIGHT
  120. TRICKS WITH PRE-ARRANGED DECK
  121. THE TRAVELING CARDS
  122. THE ROW OF TEN CARDS
  123. THE ACROBATIC JACKS
  124. A MIND-READING TRICK
  125. POWER OF CONCENTRATED THOUGHT
  126. THE ACME OF CONTROL
  127. THE CARD AND HANDKERCHIEF
  128. THE TOP AND BOTTOM PRODUCTION
  129. THE THREE ACES
  130. THE CARD AND HAT
  131. CRITICAL COMMENTS
  132. EDITORIAL NOTE
  133. INTRODUCTION
  134. THE ERDNASE SHIFT (ONE HAND)
  135. THE ERDNASE SHIFT (TWO HANDS)
  136. THE ERDNASE "LONGITUDINAL" SHIFT
  137. THE S. W. E. SHIFT
  138. THE ERDNASE "OPEN" SHIFT
  139. THE ERDNASE "TOP PALM"
  140. THE ERDNASE "BOTTOM PALM"

word count: 56503 which is equivalent to 226 standard pages of text

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Voice Review
★★★★★   Date Added: Monday 14 May, 2012


Reviewed by Josh
★★★★★   Date Added: Friday 17 February, 2006

This book is a great introduction to the world of card manipulation. Before you purchase this, make sure to realize that it is over 100 years old, and the prose of the writer reflects this. Also, some people have criticized it for how complicated some of the instructions are. This is fairly unavoidable. If you know nothing about card manipulation then yo will not be able to read through an explanation of retaining the top stock while shuffling. Reread the explanations several times and make sure to read the glossary of terms provided. That being said, there are some errors in the book that make doing the manipulations as described impossible. All of these become self explanitory if you keep reading.

Overall, this book is a wonderful tool to anyone interested in card tricks (or cheating at a card table...).

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Magic / Cards

Gambling / Cheating, Scams & Protection

Magic / Theory, Articles & Reviews