There is a strange history to the Side Steal. For many years it was considered an essential move; it then fell into relative disuse. Still more recently, it is again enjoying a resurgence of interest and popularity. I believe the reason for its fickle past is, at least in part, that few people do it well or invisibly. This is due in large measure to the considerable exertion of force required to squeeze the deck, as part of the extraction. The exertion of force, biophysics being as they are, always involves muscle tension, which can be (and too often is) communicated to the audience, albeit subliminally. My discovery of a new, tension-free extraction method, combined with its other inherent benefits, make my Side Steal as efficient a card control as one could require. I have read numerous descriptions of Side Steal techniques, and while mine is related to many of these, it nevertheless differs from them. The closest relative is Marios Bold Steal from his Side Steal book (Revolutionary Card Technique, Chapter 4, 1957, page 9). The Bold Steal is a reasonably workable Side Steal but I believe my Side Steal has notable advantages: It is very quick in execution; it is sure, regardless of the condition of the deck and it is totally invisible and indetectable if properly applied. Try it a few times until you get it working; I predict you'll use it.
I usually hold the deck in Peek Position and have a card sighted in the usual way. I, of course, form a fourth-finger flesh break after the peek as per standard practice. (Alternately, as in the case of this routine, the card can be above a fourth-finger break arrived at through your chosen method.)
While still holding the break with your left fourth finger, also pick up the break with your right thumb as your right hand takes the deck into Overhand Grip. The thumb should hold the break at the extreme left near corner of the deck (Figure 142). The right second, third and fourth fingers cover the front end of the deck. Your right first finger should be curled lightly on the deck. The deck is held by the left hand in dealing position but with two alterations:
(a) The left thumb extends straight along the left side of the deck, completely screening that side.
(b) The left first finger sits on the front right corner of the bottom of the deck, touching the right fourth finger.
Because the break is being held by both the right thumb and left fourth finger, if you apply pressure with the heel of the left thumb against the side of the deck, with some assistance X ""¡43
from the right thumb, the upper packet can be made to pivot against the right second finger, which pro- / , vides counterpressure. Without your hands appreciably moving, the near end of the upper packet swings to the right, producing a step (Figure 143).
Depending on the size of your fourth fingertip and the condition of the deck, you may need to move the lower packet slightly one direction or the other; typically two white-border-widths is sufficient. The left thumb hides this step from the top and left side.
Note that only the left hand moves to produce the step. The right hand is not significantly involved. Its primary task at this point is to hold the upper packet. What little motion there may be in the right hand, which may occur as a by-product of the leftward pressure, should pass for squaring.
As the step forms, the tip of the left fourth finger will contact the card at the face of the upper packet. This is the card to be stolen. It may, depending on your hand, require that you lower the near end of the lower packet slightly, to find a comfortable position.
the fourth fingertip maintains contact with the bottom card of the upper packet. The card will pivot out the near right side of the deck (Figure 144).
The right fourth fingertip and thumb come into contact with the card as it pivots, and both grip the card with a pressure across the diagonal corners (see Figure 145, in which the right hand is made transparent).
The left thumb moves to the upper left corner of the deck, just forward and to the left of the curled right first finger, and applies downward pressure to hold the deck in place, without putting pressure on the portion of the deck through which the card being stolen will travel.
NOTE: Should you feel any resistance to the extraction or if you sense more than one card is coming out, pull inward with the right fourth finger and thumb, applying counterpressure from the left thumb to keep the deck stationary. This will allow you to break the friction or stickiness that is hanging up the extraction. You won't need to do this very often, but because of this extra touch you should be able to use this Side Steal even with decks in the worst condition.
The left hand next moves the deck away from the right, leaving the card to be held by the right hand (Figure 146). As long as the tip of your right second finger aims at a point farther left than the left eye of the spectator farthest to your left, the right hand's card should not be seen.
The left hand, which has moved ahead of the right, is followed by the right hand, which adds the card to the top of the deck. (If the card is to be removed from the deck completely, it is a simple matter to convert to Tenkai or Mario Palm Positions [see New Tops, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 1966, page 16], particularly if you can rest your hand on the table. It is not as easy to convert directly to other palm positions without returning to the deck, so I don't try. The nature of a Side Steal, even one as rapid as this—and I assure you this is as quick a Side Steal as you could ever require—is that both hands must remain in contact with the deck for a period of time with nothing to do other than the squaring that is supposed to cover nearly every move. This is a questionably unnatural thing to do. Since your hands have been together for a slightly extended period, there is a moment when the hand leaving the deck is suspect. It is, therefore, a bad time to palm a card. It is better to add the card back to the deck, pause, patter, etc. Let it become evident that you are not holding a card and then, when the hands do come together, briefly, at a later point, palm the card.)
NOTE: Some may feel that this Side Steal is exactly like Mario's Bold Steal. Let me point out that while the grip on the card being extracted is certainly the same, the means of positioning the card for that grip is quite different. The most notable difference between my technique and every other that had seen print to the time I developed it or in the thirty years after, until the Roberto Giobbi description in Card College, Volume 3 (1998, page 759), is the use of a step to facilitate extraction. It is this step that makes contact with the left fourth finger easy and sure. Every other Side Steal technique requires either that you buckle the bottom portion of the deck or, as in Mario's Side Steal, that the fourth finger curls into the gap formed by a break. Neither is true of my steal and, as a result, the steal is light, fast and sure, regardless of the condition of the deck.
I have one other important tip on the Side Steal. This tip applies to many other techniques that share the same issues. Notable among these are the Zingone Pass, the Hofcinser Bottom Slide control and its progeny, the Spread Pass and a number of variations of Direct Insertion steals. In sum, any sleight that benefits from pivoting your body during its execution. The tendency among many—it's fair to say most—magicians when performing these types of techniques is to pivot at the waist or hips. This causes them to move from a relaxed, unrotated, position to a less relaxed, if not quite tense, rotated position. Moreover, doing so causes tension to increase during the technique. This is precisely the opposite of what should occur. Spectators have amazing sensitivity to this type of body language. This subliminal awareness gives rise to unarticulated suspicion. They sense something untoward has happened, without knowing why they feel that way.
In addition, the mind-muscle connection must be engaged when increasing the amount of torque, while only the neuro-spinal link is called into play in relaxation movements. The result of all this bio-kinetic processing is that your timing is far more likely to be wrong if your body is competing with your hands and mental processes. Why confront all these problems when there is an easy solution, albeit one that has not been explored by most magical thinkers? Here it is:
Orient your body to the position in which you will end, rather than the one from which you start. This is most easily understood when you're working standing, but it applies when seated too. Since we're discussing the Side Steal, we'll use it as an example. The angles are best served when you're facing the leftmost viewer, because the card is held in Bold Steal Position. Your audience will, perforce, be to your right. If you oriented your body, through the rotation of your hips and the planting of your feet, to face the spectator who will peek at a card, as most performers do, you would then move to a twisted and, therefore, more tense position as you perform the Steal. (The alternative is to adjust your body orientation just before you begin, an approach that extends the period the hands are together without justification.) If, however, you follow my recommendation, you will orient your body toward the left and twist right as you have the card peeked. Afterward, all you have to do is relax and your body will rotate naturally into its more relaxed position. The rotation will be smoother, more natural and more naturally timed. Moreover, your hands won't have to compete with your body for brain power. I realize this may all sound like theoretical gobbledygook. Try it three times at home, by yourself, with any move that meets the criteria; your choice. I'm sure you'll become convinced. If not, re-read what I've written or decide I'm full of bull. The kinesiology is undeniable; it must work.
Finally, I wish to refer anyone who does learn my Steal to Mario's excellent work on the Side Steal. He has contributed a great deal of fine thinking to the move and many, if not all, of the techniques he discusses can be adapted to my Steal technique. They present a formidable combination.
That completes the description of my Side Steal technique. In this application, I use, as I've mentioned, a Covered Side Steal, which is a Bill Simon idea (Effective Card Magic, 1952, page 112). To do a Covered WJ Side Steal, the extraction procedure is precisely the same, until the moment the card being stolen is free of but not yet extracted from the deck. At that point, the right second finger and thumb tighten sufficiently to assume control of the deck. This permits the left thumb to move inward, toward the near end, and leftward, in preparation for pushing the top card to the right for about half its width. The left thumb does this and the right second finger and thumb shift pressures to hold both the top card and the stolen one (Figure 147). The left hand reasserts control over the deck. The right hand moves rightward and turns clockwise at the wrist as it raises the top card toward your face. You can also move the hand closer to your body, to reduce angle problems. This action of removing the top card is coordinated with the line, "If it comes to the top, you'd see it..." You place both cards on top as you retake the deck and square it. Then continue the routine as described in Step 13, showing the card at the face of the deck and forming a break under the top two cards.
Execute the first step of the Two-Step Double Lift Hit Variation. We are about to perform a sequence I refer to as the "Peel Change." It is a variation of the Hofi-inser Change but with a different stroking action. The two cards (held as one) should be gripped by the right hand at the right near corner. Flick the double card by putting it under your left thumb and pulling up (Figure 148), causing it to snap from under the thumb. The card(s) should be moved toward the face of the assisting spectator. Repeat the snap a second time. The third time allow the left thumb to make firmer contact with the top card and drag it onto the deck (Figure 149). As you execute this snap, move the newly revealed face-up Ambitious Card closer to the spectator's face than you have previously. If you move the card close enough, the spectator will jump, even though your proximity causes him no real fear of being struck. The patter line that coincides with these actions is "If you watch closely, you can actually see it as it comes to the top." At the moment that sentence is completed, you should begin the first stroke; the change should occur on the third stroke. Continue the snapping action several more times, with each snap being lighter and closer together in time. There should be no patter during the actual stroking action, nor at the moment of the change; it would diminish the visual impact. If you perform this technique properly, you will be impressed with how strongly spectators respond to it. If your timing is wrong, the response won't be as good but it will still be strong.
As the audience is responding, flip the Ambitious Card face down onto the deck. You now secretly exchange this card for the one directly beneath it, using any Second Deal with which you are comfortable. For many years I used my WJ Front Bottom Deal here. (See The Magical Record and Thoughts of Wesley James, 1997, page 10.) During the last few years I have generally adopted the Mario Change for the purpose. It appears as part of "Two Card Passe Passe" in Alton's Sharpe's Expert Card Conjuring (1968, page 82). Very recently, however, I've switched to my Sure Theory Second Deal (see Pasteboard Perpensions, 1990, page 28). I suspect that these choices are more a matter of habit than anything else. All are equally acceptable. If you choose to use the Mario Change, you will need to obtain a break under the second card from the top of the deck. This is easily acquired, as you simply maintain a break under the peeled card when you execute the Peel Change in the previous Step. Whatever form of Second Deal you choose, place the card taken into your right hand, apparently fairly, into the middle of the deck, leaving it out-jogged for about a quarter of its length, as you say, "I'll convince you this time."
NOTE: In this context, I consider the Mario Change to be a type of
Hit Second Deal, related to those explained by him in Seconds, Centers,
Bottoms (1960, page 60).
Push the card square and execute Vernon's Topping the Deck (Select Secrets, 1941, page 7 or Dai Vernon's Further Inner Secrets of Card Magic, 1961, page 35). Other techniques might be equally workable, but the blocking I use is as follows: Take the deck into your right hand as you hold out your left hand, palm up and flat, saying, "Hold out your left hand like a table." Transfer the deck to your left hand as you say, "I'm going to give you the deck." Perform the Vernon Palm and move the deck to your left fingertips. Move your right hand away with the card palmed as you look to see that the spectator's hand is in position. Square the cards very briefly as your right hand retakes the deck and places it onto the spectator's left hand.
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