THE VERY thought strikes fear in the hearts of many. It is a dreaded act for too many magicians but it is among the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of any card manipulator. It is not at all surprising that the great majority of magicians do not palm cards, nor that many who do have mixed feelings about doing so. I'm convinced that the palming of cards is the most feared technique magicians employ. The reason is simple, but the logic is flawed. Magicians fear being caught with a card in their hand, but I believe a great deal can be learned by examining this fear.
During the course of a performance, many things can go wrong. Most of them do at one time or another: the Double spreads, the Pass explodes, the Bottom Deal pulls out half the deck, the Second doesn't come out at all. These all happen and we survive one way or another. Why then this enormous fear of palming cards? I submit that the fundamental reason is that we feel out of our element. As long as we have the deck in our hands, we tell ourselves we can cover a mistake, any mistake. When we palm, we have no place to unload should the Palm be suspected. We feel that Palming could leave us stranded with no way out. Add to that the fact that most moves are executed and over in a fairly short period while a Palm leaves the performer "exposed," "vulnerable" to detection for the entire time the card is held, and you have some understanding of the basis for the fear.
To my way of thinking the fear is based on a fallacy. There are innumerable things one can do if a Palm is suspected, just as there are in other situations. They're not the same types of things, but they'll get you out of a tight spot should you find yourself in one. Lapping, Sleeving, Vesting, Pocketing and Palm
Transfers are just a few of the techniques available. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself under suspicion after you have palmed a card, use one of them. It requires only that you think through the situation before it actually occurs—a wise practice for all moves, in all situations. Ultimately, the solution lies not in what to do if suspected but in eliminating the suspicion.
I'd like to offer another perspective on Palming. This alternate view of the dynamic may be helpful to you. It may set your mind at ease. Any time the performer holds the deck, the hands are the center of attention. Certainly we can and should apply Misdirection when we are about to perform certain types of moves but we cannot use Misdirection frivolously. Further, many moves are constructed to call specific attention to the cards (Counts and Lifts are examples). These moves are done under the direct scrutiny of our spectators. Beyond this, at times any effort to misdirect will only serve to confirm that the performer needs to accomplish some secret move, arousing suspicion rather than allaying it. Finally, no one I know of has found a sure way to prevent spectators from being aware that they have been misdirected. We've all heard spectators say, "While I wasn't looking you..." A Palm is not subject to these problems. Once the actual steal is completed, the performer can relinquish the deck, thereby removing his hands from the tight scrutiny they normally experience. Thus, not only has the performer stolen a card but he has reduced the burden of scrutiny as well. This can afford one an opportunity for picking up loads, cleaning up unwanted cards from the deck, etc. So, you see, Palming is in many ways safer than other moves.
In my experience, it is rare that a spectator actually sees a card being palmed. If they do, it is caused by a faultily executed technique and it happens during the period when the hands are still in contact with the deck. At such times, all the normal Outs one might use to cover other failed or fumbled moves are operative. Performers who get caught palming usually get caught by giving the spectators reason to scrutinize the hands. This need not be so. It is the performer's sense of guilt and vulnerability that will likely draw the spectators' suspicion, and it is the stiffness with which the hand is too often held that confirms that suspicion. I know the classic wisdom is to allow your hand to drop "casually" to your side. It is my firmly held position that this is wrong! The worst thing you can do is let your hand cease activity. Nothing arouses suspicion more quickly than not using the hands, yet that is the thing magicians are most likely to do. If the hands are kept moving, occupied with activity, they will be viewed cursorily and deemed unimportant. Magicians must, therefore, learn to move their hands while cards are palmed. How do you learn to move with a card palmed? This answer may shock you. You move with a palmed card. Practice, think about the actions your hands can perform after a card has been stolen, then practice them. Work out little movement patterns and sequences of actions. This section is not intended to discuss specific Palming techniques, but I will say that the two Palms employed in my "Named Travelers" routine (coming up next) are the ones I use most often. Both techniques leave you in the Palm position that Vernon discusses in everything he has contributed on Palming (see Select Secrets). Most other techniques leave you in the same Palm. What do you do from there? Ed Mario suggested that the grip within the hand be changed so that the curl of the first finger holds the card (New Palm Position, New Tops, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 1966, page 16; or M.I.N.T„ Volume I, 1988, page 203). As usual, Ed was right on the money, but switching intermittently between the two positions (Figure 93) is even better and absolutely cannot be detected by a person viewing the hand no matter how closely they look.
Others have suggested transferring the grip to a Thumb Palm of sorts (Figure 94) This idea is also fine in certain situations, but not nearly so many. The third Palm position that should be explored much more by magicians is the Gambler's Flat Palm (Figure 95). In this position the fingers are less constrained and the angles are almost exactly the same as for the standard Palm positions. At the table one can convert fairly freely between Gambler's Flat Palm and standard Palm positions. (When you're standing this is more difficult.) The more important thing is not where in the palm the card is held, but what you do with the hand after the card or cards have been palmed. Bruce Cervon, Derek Dingle and I, among many others, have used the hand containing the palmed card to pantomime the action of an Overhand Shuffle while instructing a spectator to shuffle the cards. I am told this was a Vernon stratagem. Tony Gorgio has a complete choreography worked out. He folds his hands in front of him, then moves to a position with his hands holding his head while his elbows rest on the
table. Mixed with these actions, he does change-overs between his hands. Some, myself included, have adopted the act of grabbing the wrist of the left hand to look at their watch. There are as many actions as there are people but you must work out your own. Palm cards! Try both hands at different times. Move around and observe what you do with your hands. Think about what actions can be performed while a card is palmed and choose appropriate ones for various situations. You can eliminate many a Double Lift, False Shuffle and Packet Switch if you will just learn to become fluent in Palming technique. In the process, you will streamline your magic tremendously.
I've saved the best tip for last. One of the most useful things you can do by Palming, and one of the safest from the standpoint of construction, is setting up. Over the years, effects have continually required more complex set-ups. How many times have you read something like "Set the indifferent card face up third from the top of the deck with the three Jacks above it and the fourth Jack below..."? Too many times, I'm sure. It isn't always easy to get into that set-up with a table full of spectators waiting for you to begin the next miracle. Palming comes to the rescue. It's easy enough to set up in advance and palm the cards in when needed, yet I can't remember the last time I saw a close-up worker do so. You can argue that if you remove the cards required for the set-up, the deck will be short; I assure you, no one, magicians included, will notice unless you have them handle your cards. I don't know about you, but I'm not in the habit of allowing spectators to handle my cards much. They have a tendency to mess them up. Sure, I'll have a spectator shuffle and cut; but not all that often because it slows down the show. Think about it. If you open your mind to the uses of Palming, you'll find yourself motivated to learn to be good at it. If you learn to be good at it, you'll think of all sorts of uses for this powerful tool.
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