LOOKING AT False Riffle Shuffles analytically, all other considerations aside, they all must, at some point, deviate from legitimacy. While that statement might seem fatuous, the instant at which this deviation occurs determines the last moment the shuffle can be fully scrutinized by viewers. That is an often overlooked but fundamental consideration. From that perspective, the shuffle that deviates earliest is the Zarrow. A One-Shuffle Zarrow begins its deviation in the split before the shuffle. The point of deviation in a Two-Shuffle Zarrow is after the interlace but before the telescoping process. In the Strip-Out Shuffle, the point of deviation, while harder to pinpoint, is during the telescoping process and before the point of apparent coalescence, which I call the "moment of conjoin." Finally, the point of deviation for the Push-Through Shuffle is slightly before the "moment of conjoin" but later than in a Strip-Out. Three things can be reasoned based on the following observations:
(1) The Push-Through deviates later in the shuffle process than any other False Riffle Shuffle.
(2) There need not be a direct correlation between the point of deviation and the ultimate deceptiveness of a shuffle.
(3) You've probably never thought about False Riffle Shuffles in this way.
Addressing these points in reverse order will, I believe, be most productive to my agenda. False Riffle Shuffles break down into a series of discrete but contiguous steps, stages or phases. Each has a definable beginning and end. Each stage is associated with a dynamic, transitional procedure. In the hope that providing a nomenclature will facilitate discussion and refinement of these procedures, I define them as follows:
Every riffle shuffle begins with the Split. It then proceeds through the Interlace process to the Alignment phase. This is followed by a Telescoping action that ends in the Conjoin. In the case of a legitimate shuffle this is the point of coalescence. The shuffle proper concludes with the Square. Shuffles generally then continue with a Cut, Strip or Resplit, but such stages and their associated actions should be considered as separate from, though contiguous within, the shuffle. Each of these stages can benefit from analysis particular to the type of shuffle in which they are being performed.
Point Two above is opinion but important to keep in mind. It would be easy to mistakenly conclude that the later in a shuffle the point of deviation occurs the more deceptive the shuffle. Following that logic, the Push-Through would be the most deceptive shuffle. In practice, the point of deviation only dictates which stages of a shuffle the performer can emphasize, and therefore sell. In a Strip-Out the Alignment phase is strongest, while the Telescoping phase needs the most careful analytical attention. In a Push-Through the Telescoping phase has a stronger look than in the Strip-Out but requires attention to other intrinsic details. For the Zarrow the moment of conjoin should support the greatest scrutiny. (In practice, most practitioners emphasize the Interlace phase of the Zarrow and bull their way through the rest.) Let me hasten to say that emphasizing the correct phase of each shuffle is not common practice, nor is it necessarily easy. It requires careful thought to properly construct a shuffle technique that capitalizes on its strongest elements and hides its weaknesses. Clearly, if the critical areas cannot be identified, they cannot be specifically addressed. All that said, I should go on record with my bias. Unlike the late Ed Mario, Dai Vernon and currently Darwin Ortiz, among others, I am not fond of Strip-Out Shuffles. I recognize their strength for block transfers and that Strip-Outs permit presentational emphasis through an exaggerated Telescoping phase. I am not, however, persuaded of the strength of the Telescoping phase illusion, no matter how slowly it can be performed. Since I am not fond of Strip-Out Shuffles, I have invested considerable analysis, time and effort in both the Zarrow and Push-Through Shuffles. These preferences led me to the first point listed above.
Since the Push-Through deviates from legitimacy later than any other False Riffle Shuffle, one can sell the Shuffle longer than any other type. This can be extremely useful in some instances. When this sell is most critical to the application, I am inclined to use what I refer to as the Merlin Push-Through. It is an asymmetric technique that differs from the Dad Stevens approach that Vernon advocated (see The Vernon Chronicles, Volume 1, 1987, page 44) in that it is more open. This feature, which I will describe in detail, was first shown to me by the late Frank Garcia. He attributed it to Jack Merlin. I have checked the published record of Merlins work and none of it includes the point that distinguishes this shuffle; but as Merlin was reputed to withhold, if not actually mislead, in his writings, it may well be that this technique was in fact his but never saw print. To confuse matters further, in 1973 Garcia included a Top-Stock False Shuffle in his book, Super Subtle Card Miracles (1973, page 87). The technique he describes is a less effective application of Merlins concept. In the same book, Garcia seems to credit the idea to Joe Christ (see page 214). Of course Mario addresses the technique in his seminal, Riffle Shuffle Systems (1959, "New Push Thru-Second Method," page 83). More recendy, Steve Draun came very close to the same technique in his excellent book, Secrets Draun from Underground (1993, page 28). With its paternity unresolved, this may be the first time the full Merlin technique, as I understand it, has been published.
Sometimes any effort to emphasize the fairness of a shuffle serves to call it into question. In such instances, which are common, it is best merely to perform the shuffle as a Gestalt. Insouciance is the key to deceptiveness under these circumstances but the visual elements are no less demanding. The shuffles I use are the Zarrow and the Strike Push-Through. The Strike Push-Through is a shuffle I have developed and refined over the years. It includes a number of elements that have not seen print until now Some of these, though developed independently, parallel unpublished work of the late Frank Thompson. I learned this during one of the few sessions I had with him. We discussed my developments at the time and he asserted that he had similar work (which I don't dispute). I was then and am now pleased to know that my thinking guided me to the same ideas as a man as clever and knowledgeable as was Frank. May he rest in peace.
Truth to tell, my favorite False Shuffle is the Zarrow. I will admit to having spent as much time analyzing the Zarrow as any single move, with the exception of the Pass. During a two-year period I spent a chunk of every day analyzing, thinking about and practicing my Shuffle in front of a three-way mirror or video camera. I'm satisfied that it paid off, and I hope you will be too. My approach to the Zarrow shuffle is detailed at length, starting on the next page. Because the Zarrow is a deceptively easy move to do, however badly, the devil is in the details. Enjoy the details!
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