The zarrow shuffle

1971-1988

IN MY years of doing magic I have seen many people perform many different False Riffle Shuffles. Of all I've seen, as done by both magicians and cheats, none have been as deceptive as the Zarrow Shuffle {The New Phoenix, No. 346, July 20, 1957, page 210; and Dai Vernon's More Inner Secrets of Card Magic, 1960, page 49). No Push-Through or Strip-Out, no matter how fine the brief or how smooth the action, can compare, and for riffle stacking the Zarrow Shuffle is nearly ideal. Having written this, let me hasten to add that I had not, until recently, seen a Zarrow that was completely indetectable, though many were invisible. (The recent exception is Gary Plants' work on the Zarrow, publication of which is planned for the near future.) The distinction I'm making here is, I believe, an important one. It is very possible for a sleight to show no visible sign of its execution yet be detectable because of the actions associated with it, what are called "tells," a term borrowed from card mechanics. An obvious example may help you to understand the distinction. Let us suppose that you saw someone take a card in Overhand Grip. If he then rotated his hand palm up to show the face of the card, then placed the card on top of the deck, you might suspect that he had done a bad Double Lift. You didn't see him set the break for the Lift, nor did the Double spread, so this form of Double Lift would have to be considered invisible. People, however, don't normally handle cards in the manner I've described. You would therefore suspect that something untoward was being done. What has been done need not be discernable; the simple arousal of suspicion flags the move. Thus a move can be invisible but not indetectable.

Back to the matter at hand, I have been fortunate in meeting, on a number of occasions, with Herb Zarrow, a fine and intelligent gendeman. He has done his shuffle for me and it is totally invisible and as nearly indetectable as any I have seen. Until recently, no one had come any closer to indetectability than Herb, though others have reached his level in this area. (Fuller details on Herb's method appeared in Karl Fulves' Riffle Shuffle Technique, Part 1, 1974, page 24.) I sensed that a Zarrow Shuffle that was both invisible and indetectable was possible and I elected to attempt to create such a technique. If others, trusted brothers in the fraternity, are to be believed, I have succeeded.

THE PROBLEMS

There are at least four visible clues that a Zarrow Shuffle is being executed. As it turns out, there are also significant kinetic problems that are not so much seen as subconsciously registered. If the kinetic factors were the sole problems, they would probably be insufficient to tip off the Shuffle, but they act as subliminal flags that alert the mind. As a consequence, the eye looks more critically at other aspects of the Shuffle in which they occur and at each subsequent shuffle. When this happens, something is almost certain to be seen. The visible problems to which I refer have, to some degree, been identified by others as well, and solutions have been published. My treatments of these visible problems might equally be replaced by other published treatments. My approaches are included here only for the sake of completeness. I make no special claim for their efficacy. I do, however, believe I was the first to identify and solve the two kinetic problems—as I choose to term them—discussed below. The problems are as follows:

VISIBLE:

(1)The lifting of the right hand's packet as the packets move toward each other has been identified by others. It is caused by efforts to aid the clearance of the right-hand packet subsequent to the unmeshing.

(2) The visibility from the front edge of the right-hand block moving through the space under the top block. This problem, also recognized by others, is caused by an incorrect choice of entry angle for the block or incorrect finger positions at the front edge.

(3) Excessive spreading of the top "shade" cards, principally of the left-hand packet. This is caused by fear of Problem 2 and the mistaken belief that this shade is needed for deceptiveness.

(4) Too large a right-hand action as the packet is unweaved and pushed into the left-hand packet. This is caused by general apprehension that the packets won't unmesh, or a mistaken understanding of the correct mechanics of the technique. In addition to the "suspect actions" just defined, I have identified two kinetic problems, which are more subliminal than visual.

KINETIC:

(a) The deck should bind as it is pushed together (telescoped), as it does in every legitimate shuffle. Since no bind occurs, the viewer is subliminally tipped off to the unmeshing and, as the bind would take place before the completion of the Shuffle, the viewer is likely to notice any discrepancies later in that Shuffle or in subsequent ones. It makes Problem (B), which I'm about to discuss, more acute. (Roberto Giobbi does mention the binding problem in "The Zarrow Dynamic" section of Card College, Volume 3, 1998, page 630, and, assumedly, his 1994 Crosse Kartenschule, Band 3; but this comes more than twenty years after I first identified and addressed this problem.)

(b) In a legitimate shuffle, because the cards interweave, the edges of the deck, when the hands move away to square, show the effect of that meshing in the form of cards at close intervals being minutely out of alignment. I call this phenomenon "edge break-up." No Zarrow Shuffle I have ever seen pays the slightest attention to the lack of such break-up—until now.

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