Before explaining the trick itself, the Elmsley count must be taught. I will describe the exact technique Mr. Elmsley detailed in his 1959 manuscript. Though many readers may be familiar with the actions of the Elmsley count, it is urged that the following description be studied, as it contains several fine points of handling that are not widely known.
You will require four cards. Three are blue-backed and blank-faced. The fourth is a red-backed joker. With the packet held facedown, position the joker third from the top. As the cards are counted from hand to hand, the joker will be concealed, yet four cards are seemingly displayed.
Hold the face-down packet by its left edge, near center, pinched between the left thumb, above, and fingertips, below. Approach the packet with the palm-up right hand and bring the thumb down onto the top card, contacting it at midpoint near the outer end (Figure 3). The relaxed right fingers pass below the packet and the left fingertips.
Curl the right forefinger comfortably around the outer right corner of the packet and press this comer lightly into the llcsh of the finger's middle phalanx. Simultaneously, with the right thumb, pull the Lop card Lo Lhe righL. One of the difficulties commonly experienced with the Elmsley count is ensuring that only one card moves off the packet when the first card is taken. If the right forefinger is positioned as explained, it aeLs as a brace Lo block Lhe lower cards, keeping Lhem squared, while the right thumb pulls just the top card Lo the right and over the forefinger.
Move the right hand to the righL, drawing Lhe Lop card free of Lhe packeL and onLo the right fingers. (While if was not mentioned in Lhe original descripLion, Mr. Elmsley later made clear in his lectures thaL he prefers to draw the card forward and rightward, off the front righL corner of the packet. He believes that this aids the illusion of Lhe counL and is superior to a straight rightward action.) Curl the second, third and fourth fingers slightly under the card, the fingertips contacting its face just inward of the left side (Figure 4). They should not project beyond Lhe edge of Lhe card. However, Lhe forefinger should remain curled around Lhe ouLer right corner of the card and along the front edge, in this position the forefinger acts as a guide for the alignment of the cards during the subsequent actions, and aids in concealing the impending switch of cards.
Using the left thumb at the very edge of the packet, push the upper pair of cards, aligned as one, approximately half an inch to the right. Given a light pressure of the thumb and fingers, you will find the two cards are easily moved rightward in register. Any tiny misalignment that might occur can be covered by the larger motion of the hands.
Simultaneously bring the right hand back to the left and lower the right thumb onto the back of the next card. As the right hand moves to take the second card, the first card naturally passes close to the face of the packet, perhaps even grazing it. Halt the right hand's leftward motion when the left edge of its card hits the left fingertips. Without an instant's hesitation, straighten the right fingers slightly, thrusting the card between the face of the packet and the left fingertips. The left fingers relax their pressure a bit to allow the card to slip into place, (it will now be understood why the right fingers are curled under the card. This enables them to push it home and at the same time keeps them from obstructing the left edge, which must slip smoothly between the packet and left fingertips.)
Leave the first card on the bottom of the packet and clip the top pair of cards, by the outer right corner, between the tip of the right thumb and the base of the right forefinger (Figure 5). Draw the pair to the right and away from the packet. At this point, if you wish, you can extend your right fingers and press their tips lightly to the left edge of the cards, holding the two in a sort of relaxed dealing grip.
Thus, as you apparently take the second card onto the first, you actually steal the first card back and come away with the top two cards of the packet. The lower card of the right hand's pair is concealed by this maneuver.
Return the right hand to the packet to take the third card onto the two already there. The actions used are indistinguishable from the previous ones, but this time are honest. With the left thumb, push over the top card of the left hand's pair and draw it onto the right hand's cards. Move the right hand away, then bring it back and Lake the fourth card (actually the first, counted a second time) onto the others. Four cards have been counted, yet the red-backed joker, now on the bottom of the packet, was not seen.
While the description has been long and detailed, the sleight is not particularly difficult to learn. The actions are quickly mastered, but further practice will be necessary to gain the proper timing and rhythm. There must be no hesitation on the second count, when the steal is executed. The full four-card count should proceed to an even one-two-three-four rhythm, as if counting to music—and the tempo is adagio, not allegro.
When Mr. Elmsley published his count, he cited Edward Victor's E-Y-E count and a false count devised by Eric de la Mare (see p. 232) as important sources for elements of the sequence (the block push-off and the under-the-packet return respectively). Earlier sources exist for these ideas: Charles Jordan and Laurie Ireland for the block push-off, and Ellis Stanyon for the under-the-packet return. It was years later that Mr. Elmsley's friend Francis Haxton unearthed a clearly related sleight by Charles Jordan in a 1919 trick, "The Phantom Aces" (ref. 30 Card Mysteries, pp. 37-38). Mr. Jordan's sleight, now known as the Jordan count, though used originally as a displacement only, also concealed the bottom card of a four-card packet. It's similar handling made it perfectly suited for combination with the Elmsley count, as has been amply demonstrated during the past few decades by Edward Mario and others after him.
The description of the Elmsley count given above is faithful to that written by Mr. Elmsley in 1959. It will surprise many that the cards were counted onto the right fingers and eventually ended in a dealing grip, as it is commonly believed that the original method of counting used a fingertip-pinch grip by both hands, as taught in Dai Vernon's "Twisting the Aces". It was Jack Avis, Mr. Elmsley believes, who first suggested this fingertip taking grip. Mr. Avis originally made the change in grips to adapt the Elmsley count to the use of jumbo cards. When using normal cards, Mr. Elmsley has always preferred the right-hand dealing grip, as he believes the fingertip grip often tends to resemble a mixing of the cards between the hands (which, in a sense, it is) rather than a simple reverse count (the desired illusion), it should be noted that Edward Mario, working independently in the United States, published the idea of using a dealing grip (which is assumed by the right hand from the very beginning) with the Ellis Stanyon false count (ref. M.U.M., Vol. 49, No. 7, Dec. 1959, p. 290291), and Mr. Mario recalls that Bill Simon applied this idea in 1957 to "an Alex Elmsley innovation"—i.e., the then unpublished ghost count (ibid.), Mr. Mario believes that Bill Simon knew of only the Avis ghost count variant when he derived this handling. This information should help to clarify certain discussions that have occasionally arisen about who first applied the "deep" or dealing grip take-action to the Elmsley count. With all this said, let's proceed to Mr. Elmsley's trick.
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