To Prepare

As previously stated, you'll require three (3) pistols. Because the pistols are not gimmicked, they do not have to be starter pistols (which have plugged or solid barrels and will not fire a projectile). You can actually use genuine double-action revolvers. However, to lessen the possibility of trouble with local law enforcement officials, starter pistols are recommended. It is vitally important that they be the finest quality revolvers you can obtain. The reason? Your life will depend on their reliability.

The method employed is based upon the workings of a double-action revolver. Double-action means that the hammer does not have to be in the cocked position to fire the pistol. The pistol can also be fired by simply pulling the trigger; an action which cocks the hammer automatically. Once again, the need for obtaining fine quality firearms is absolutely essential for the safe performance of this effect. Almost as important is the need for constant care and cleaning to ensure that the pistols operate perfectly.

As for the caliber of pistol, I recommend a minimum .22 caliber and a maximum of 9 mm. Using extra loud blank ammunition in the larger sizes produces a deafening sound, especially in a small room. Even in a theater or club setting, I always warn the audience in advance that the pistols are quite loud and perhaps they should cover their ears. This is always appreciated by the audience members, in particular those who are in the first few rows. To safeguard against a "sound" problem I have .22 caliber, .32 caliber pistols as well as the 9mm pistols which I purchased in Berlin. These are perhaps the loudest I have ever used. In fact, I have experienced a 20% hearing loss in my right ear from performing this effect so often. I tried using ear plugs, but they were unsightly and inconvenient. Now, I wish that I had used them.

After you've acquired the proper firearms, you'll also need a revolving stand. While the stand is also not gimmicked, it's important that it be properly constructed to hold the three pistols, revolve smoothly and look professional. Mine was fabricated by Wellington Enterprises, a well known illusion builder in New York. It's constructed to revolve on ball bearings like a "lazy susan" and is designed to hold the three revolvers in an upright position.The stand is designed to hold either my .22 or .32 caliber pistols in upright, 90 degree positions.

Instead of allowing the audience to select which pistols were to be used, I leave the decision to the spectator on stage, and detect the deadly pistols through the use of clairvoyance. The stand is sized to sit on a thin, plain-top side table with a telescoping base. The only other props required are an opaque black cloth large enough to fully cover the pistols and revolving stand and a styrofoam coffee cup. Naturally, you'll also need the proper blank ammunition for the the pistol you decide to use. Incidentally, after the three pistols are placed on the revolving stand prior to the performance, I always place the styrofoam cup over the barrel of the demonstrator pistol. This enables me to know immediately which pistol I should use to demonstrate the destructive force of a blank cartridge without having to look for the small white identifying dot on the barrel (see the description below).

Begin by loading the three revolvers. If the pistols you're using will accommodate six shells, then only load them with five. If the pistols hold five shells, then load them with four. In other words, you always leave one chamber empty in each pistol. It is the positioning of the cylinders that enables you to perform this unique and original version of Russian Roulette. In other words, the positioning of the empty chamber permits you to demonstrate any of the three pistols as being empty or fully loaded. You'll also have to master the move which is used in combination with the positioning of the empty chamber to make the pistols fire, or not fire. I call it the "double clutch" move, but before I describe it, let's complete the advance preparation.

After you've inserted blank cartridges in all but one of the chambers in each of the three pistols, you must properly position each cylinder. This is extremely important! To mess this up will cost you your life. Let's assume that you're using three six-shot revolvers. Each now contains five cartridges and one chamber is empty in each cylinder. One of the pistols must be designated as the demonstrator. This is the pistol you'll use to demonstrate the destructive force of a blank cartridge when you place a styrofoam cup over the barrel of the demonstrator pistol and discharge the pistol.

The force of the resulting explosion will blow the cup to pieces. Believe me, if anyone in your audience thought that blank cartridges were safe, this little demonstration will definitely change his mind! Mark the demonstrator pistol with a white dot applied to the barrel, near the muzzle. I use white letraset transfer lettering that comes in sheets from an art supply store, using one of the small dots at the bottom of the sheet. Burnish it down well. It won't mar the finish of the pistol and, since it's so small, no one will notice it but you.

To properly load and position the revolving cylinders in each pistol, please consult the illustration which depicts the cylinders of the pistols. Before you position the cylinders, you must first determine the direction in which the cylinder revolves when the pistol is fired. The cylinder in most revolvers turns clockwise as viewed from the rear. Check your guns to ensure that this is the case.

You must also understand the workings of a double-action revolver and what happens when you cock and ch pistol. If you pull back the hammer of the stol until it is locked in the firing position, the cylinder revolves, bringing a fresh chamber in line with the barrel. In other words, each chamber has moved forward one position. This same movement would result from the trigger being squeezed without first pulling the hammer back. That's why these are called double-action revolvers. You can fire the pistol either way. When the hammer is pulled back, either by your thumb or the trigger pull, the cylinder will revolve.

When the time comes for the volunteer to select a pistol, the cylinders in all three firearms should be in the position shown in the first "performance" illustration. When the gun is cocked and fired, the cylinder will revolve and the hammer will land on an empty chamber.

In order to have one of the pistols (the demonstrator) fire a round in demonstration, the cylinder must be set as shown in the second "demonstrator" illustration. Cocking and firing will advance the cylinder firing the blank round, positioning the empty chamber for the next shot.

Study these illustrations thoroughly until they are forever etched in your memory. The precise positioning of the three cylinders is vital to your safety while performing this effect.

So, let's go back to cylinder illustration for the demonstrator pistol. Assume that you cock the pistol by pulling the hammer all the way back until it locks in the firing position. As a result of cocking the hammer, the cylinder will advance one position. A live cartridge will now be in line with the hammer which is locked in the "firing" position. Squeeze the trigger and the hammer will snap forward, striking the primer of the blank cartridge and discharging it.

That's exactly what happens when the performer cocks the demonstrator pistol, points it straight up in the air with the styrofoam cup over the end of the barrel and pulls the trigger. Most important, note that the empty chamber is now next in line for firing. If the hammer is fully cocked again, that chamber would move one position and be in line with the cocked hammer. Then if you squeeze the trigger, the hammer would come down on an empty chamber.

Look at the "performance" cylinder illustration again. This drawing represents the starting condition of the remaining two pistols. Note the location of the empty chamber. If the hammer on either of the two remaining pistols was fully cocked and the trigger squeezed, the hammer would strike an empty chamber. In other words, if either of the pistols were fired as described, each would appear to be an empty pistol. This is the illusion that enables you to successfully perform my version of Russian Roulette.

Think about it. After the styrofoam cup is destroyed by the firing of the demonstrator pistol, the position of the cylinders in all three revolvers will be identical! The cylinders will all be in the condition depicted in the top cylinder illustration. You could now freely select any one of the three pistols, cock the hammer, place it in your ear and pull the trigger (once) and it would appear that the pistol is empty. All you would hear is the "click" as the hammer strikes an empty chamber.

There's one more essential step to learn: The double-clutch move that permits you to make any one of the pistols fire when you wish. It's this move that has fooled everyone.You should understand that each "empty" pistol still contains live cartridges. Unfortunately, it also explains why this is such a dangerous effect. If for any reason, the spectator would pull the trigger more than once, you're dead! At best, you'll suffer a severe concussion and permanent deafness. There are several safeguards to prevent this from happening. We'll get to these later.


This is a lot more difficult to explain than to execute. Basically, the double-clutch move occurs between the time you cock the hammer and the time you pull the trigger. The first time you will execute this move is after the volunteer has randomly selected the first pistol. Read the description of the "effect" once again to refresh your memory.

The cylinders of all three pistols are positioned as shown in the "performance" illustration. Therefore, it doesn't make any difference which of the three revolvers the spectator selects. As he holds the cloth wrapped, randomly selected pistol beneath your outstretched palm, pretend to concentrate intently. Close your eyes. Repeatedly open and close your right hand. Dramatically exclaim that you sense that the hidden pistol the volunteer is holding is a loaded pistol.

After he's handed you the pistol and you've pattered as detailed under the description of the "effect," hold the pistol in your right hand (assuming that you are right handed). Have the volunteer move at least 10 or 12 feet away from you. Caution the audience to place their fingers in their ears.

With your right thumb, cock the pistol by pulling the hammer back as far as it will go, until it locks in position. Your right arm should be slightly bent at the elbow. Now, this is important! Keep your right thumb resting on the hammer. You are about to raise your arm and fire the pistol, twice. At least, that's what will appear to happen.

Actually, you will perform the double-clutch move and cause the cylinder of the pistol to skip over the next, empty, chamber and have the hammer strike the live cartridges in the next two chambers.

If you're familiar with firearms, you know that it's possible to lower the cocked hammer without firing a round. This is done by placing your thumb firmly on the hammer and applying just enough pressure on the trigger to release the hammer. Since your thumb is resting firmly on the hammer, the hammer is held in place. Holding pressure on the trigger, you can gently ease the hammer forward until it's fully seated in the down position. It's imperative that you practice this with an unloaded pistol. Once you've mastered releasing the cocked hammer and easing it down without striking the cartridge, you're ready to tackle the "double-clutch move." After you've cocked the pistol with the thumb, turn your left side towards the audience and simultaneously lower your right hand until the arm is down at your side and slightly bent. Keep your right thumb on the hammer (A).

As you begin to raise your arm, press your forefinger against the trigger until you feel that the hammer has been released from its cocked position (B).

Immediately ease the hammer forward until it is fully seated (C). This entire action occurs while the arm is in motion. Since your left side is turned toward the audience, your body and the motion of your right arm provide ample cover. The motion of raising the right arm should be a smooth fluid action with no hesitation.

Once the hammer is now safely resting on the empty chamber, release your finger pressure on the trigger (D). This prepares the pistol for firing again. The double-action capability of the pistol comes into play when you pull the trigger at the top of the upward motion of the arm. The cylinder turns, bringing the live cartridge in the next chamber into firing position as the hammer comes back (E).

Remember, just as the right hand has reached an extended position over your head, pull the trigger, twice. The pistol will fire cartridges in the next two chambers proving to the audience that you have in fact correctly identified the pistol as being one of the loaded ones.

Place the pistol on the table, alongside the revolving stand. Ask the spectator to cover the remaining two pistols with the black cloth. Have him spin the stand and when it stops, select either of the two remaining pistols, lifting it from the stand beneath the black cloth. Since the cylinders of both pistols are positioned as shown in the "performance" illustration, either one can be shown to be a loaded or empty pistol. Once again, turn away from the spectator and extend your right hand behind your back. Have the spectator hold the wrapped pistol approximately six inches beneath your outstretched palm. Hesitate, then exclaim that you sense that the pistol the spectator is holding is empty - and you're willing to bet your life on it.

Instruct the volunteer to unwrap the pistol and place the cloth aside. Tell him to cock the pistol. Have him hold it in his right hand. He should be standing with his right side facing the audience. You should be facing the audience. Ask the spectator to extend his gun arm but not to place his finger on the trigger. With your right hand, grasp the spectator's gun wrist. Guide his gun hand forward. Instruct him to place the muzzle of the pistol in your right ear. (Note: the audience usually groans when you say this. They're beginning to become apprehensive. Usually, so does the volunteer holding the pistol. Even though you've prepped him beforehand, he'll begin to sweat about now. That's one of the reasons for gripping his right arm and guiding his gun hand forward).

Lean forward slightly to facilitate the placement of the pistol in your right ear. Caution the spectator that he should now place his finger lightly on the trigger but he is not to pull the trigger until you have counted to three. At this point, if you have a manned theatrical spotlight, you will have instructed the technician to tighten the spot until only the area framing your head is illuminated. This is a very dramatic moment. Every little bit helps.

Remove the microphone and hold it in your left hand. Loudly begin the countdown. One...two...(move the microphone held in the left hand, to a position just below the gun)...three! The spectator pulls the trigger. Because of the close proximity of the microphone to the pistol, the audience hears a loud click as the hammer strikes the empty chamber. Immediately move the spectator's gun hand away using your right hand grip on his wrist. This is another safety measure to prevent the spectator from accidentally pulling the trigger a second time. I then replace the microphone on its stand and with my left hand, I reach over and remove the pistol from his hand.

Extend your left hand (with the pistol) in the air as you gesture towards the spectator with your right hand. "What a way to make a living," you exclaim into the microphone. "Let's give Mr. Jones a big round of applause," As Mr. Jones departs the stage, you wait until the applause has subsided. Look at the audience. Wait a second, then state, "Ladies and gentlemen, if you're wondering what would have happened had Mr. Jones selected the other pistol - watch!" Walk over to the table.

Place the empty(?) pistol on the table alongside the revolving stand. Take the lone remaining pistol in your right hand. Turn your left side slightly towards the audience. Cock the pistol. This brings the empty chamber into firing position.

Begin the double-clutch action as the right hand begins to move upward. As previously detailed, the right thumb controls the hammer forward until it's fully seated, then the pressure of the right forefinger on the trigger is released. All this happens as the arm is raised over your head. At the top of the upward swing, the right forefinger can now pull the trigger three times, discharging three live cartridges in the air. You have clearly shown that the remaining pistol is fully loaded. Keep both hands in an upraised position as the audience begins to cheer and applaud.

Believe me, after ten years of performing this effect, the sight of you standing center stage, arms upraised, the clouds of smoke hanging above you is enough to bring any audience to its feet. Take a slow bow, turn and sprint briskly into the wings. If you're like me, this moment makes all the risk and practice worth while. What a thrill!

Needless to say, you'll have to spend some time practicing the double-clutch movement. It really is quite easy once you've got the hang of it.

The illustrations show exactly what happens during the move. Study them carefully, read the instructions over again, and again, and again and once more for good measure until it's all perfectly clear. Then practice, practice, practice! Remember, your life is at stake. You can't afford one mistake. Well, that it for the mechanics. Now for the details on the behind the scenes precautions that make it all work.

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