Dealing Centers Two Hands

Well, darn it all, we're back to another one of those useless deals again! A center deal is a prestige thing, plain and simple. More of the top card men spend more hours of their lives on this sleight than any other and fewer card men anywhere spend time using this sleight from a practical standpoint than any other. The reality is that in gambling it is simply too easy to perform a pass and beat the cut to make a center deal worthwhile. I remember a discussion with someone on the subject since he was in the process of learning and he mentioned that of course a center deal is for when you can't do a pass. Well, a quick reality check for you here, if things are so tight that you can't do a pass, you probably can't do a center deal either and in the time it will take you to master a center deal you could have mastered a pass that you could do to avoid the center deal. Thus, I'm staking my claim that a center deal is fundamentally useless, not that it can't be used, but that there are better methods of accomplishing the same thing. Mind you, I saw a Marlo "mock center deal" display, and frankly, for the trouble he went to not to do a center deal he might as well have just done one so there's that side of things as well. Guy Hollingworth stated he spent more time attempting to learn this deal than any other sleight and just when he was becoming proficient he realized it was pointless and quit. Now, I had somewhat more sagacity than Mr. Hollingworth, at least in this case, I realized from the beginning that the center deal was a pointless sleight and ultimately ended up working on center deal techniques in this knowledge. In fact, in many regards I would say what kept me from learning a center deal was not the pointlessness of the technique, but rather the absence of a good technique in my opinion. Honestly, I still feel that way, I'm not sure that the ideal center deal exists yet, but for those who are interested, I prefer the later methods in this section and favor the center deal from the Count's grip.

Now you may ask yourselves, if this is such a pointless sleight then why cover it? To which I must ask you, have you actually read the earlier sections of this book? I cover a lot of other pointless material, some of which I might add is less useful than the center deal. Thus, I'll state I'm including the sleight, partially out a desire for completeness and partially out of fascination and interest. Cards remain a hobby for me and I suspect this will always be the case. But, one of the reasons I enjoy the hobby is due to the inherent challenges, this is one of them, so without further ado, I give you the most mythical of deals and certainly the one that has robbed more magicians and card men of otherwise their time better spent on better ideas, the center deal.

Step Centers

This is an idea of Marlo's covered on the Cardician DVD and unfortunately so, in my opinion, because I consider it one of the worst center deals and would have much rather he devoted his time to something else. (It is also a technique original to Marlo from what I understand.) Basically, the idea is that you take the top half of the deck with the cards you want to deal off at the bottom of this half and place it on the deck in an angle jogged position. From here, you bevel this top half of the deck back towards the rest of the pack so the top card is square with the deck, and as you progress towards the middle, the cards become increasingly jogged. Then, you take the top card and bevel it slightly in the jogged manner in order to help disguise the fact that you have this step there. (See figure 588.)

Figure 588.

Now already you should see the problem here, the deck doesn't look natural, not from the front and not from the sides, thus I don't use this method and wouldn't recommend it. Essentially, you'll attempt to hold the deck in roughly a mechanics grip, with the jog protruding between your middle finger and ring finger, where your right hand middle finger will move to perform the take. Essentially, you're going to perform the take much as you would for a bottom deal, except instead of reaching under the deck, you'll reach under the jog and take the bottom card in the jog. Naturally, in order to facilitate this process and establish consistency, you must perform an apparently angle push-off of the top card.

I mention this deal not because I expect you to learn it, but because it gives you some ideas as to the challenges involved in dealing from the middle of the deck and how they may be addressed. In order to impress upon the you the challenges in center dealing I'll give a bit of the explanation of the theory as I've worked it out in my study. For a top deal, you control the deck and deal off the top card, while for a second deal, you control the top card and the deck. So far this is simple enough, then you have a bottom deal, where you must control the deck and gain access to the bottom card, again, fairly simple. A Greek deal is somewhat more complicated as you must control the deck, gain access to the second from bottom card and possibly control the bottom card. With a center deal this all changes adding a new level of complexity, you don't control the deck, you control the top half of the deck plus you control the bottom half of the deck, you maintain a division at the point where you wish to deal off the cards and you must somehow gain access to the cards in the middle of the deck. Logistically, this is a monumental jump and we'll see as we go along where this causes problems and how those problems are addressed, Marlo's step method (he wouldn't claim it was his best) provides a simple solution to this problem, unfortunately not the most elegant one. I'd also like to stress at this point that rules and ideas regarding center dealing simply aren't absolute. Someone mentioned that it takes ten years to learn or master a center deal, well that simply isn't true, it really depends a great deal on the technique they use, some techniques are easier (the step method) others are more difficult. As for making a center deal look exactly like a top.. .that's another matter.

Full Step Centers

This is the first idea I had in regard to how I might deal centers and it was based on a video I saw of someone demonstrating the technique.. .I really doubt this is how he was doing it on reflection, but it was the idea that occurred to me at the time.it isn't a good one. Basically, you take the top half of the deck, with the cards you want to deal off on the bottom and stagger it a half or quarter inch to the right. (See figure 589.)

Figure 589.

Now, naturally, you're going to have to cover your setup here and so the way you hold the deck, is to place your thumb along the edge of that top packet covering the step. Then you hold the top half of the deck between your forefinger and base of the thumb, while you control the bottom half via inward pressure from your last three fingers. These fingers rest high on the right edge of the deck, helping to preserve the step, but also maintaining some control over the packets. (See figure 590.)

Figure 590.

You then perform the take at the back of the deck behind the fingers and pull the card around those fingers. The center deal occurs in the same manner, as you would perform a bottom deal. (See figure 591 for a top and figure 592 for a center.)

Figure 591.

Figure 591.

Again, this isn't the best method, nor even the easiest or most controlled, but it's another idea to think about.

Angle Separation Grip

After learning about Lennart Green's angle separation technique, (one I would definitely recommend to any serious magician or card worker for that matter) I immediately thought it would be interesting and effective to perform center deals in this manner. I played around with it briefly and decided there were a number of flaws. First, the grip seemed somewhat unnatural for a deal, and it remains so in my opinion. Second, at the time, I was trying to use a packet of cards collectively in the deck together and these created an odd look in the deck from the front, one that was unacceptable. Third, there was the issue of staggering the cards like this in the first place. I toyed with the idea further and decided it would be a nice method for dealing cards from multiple locations in the deck so long as they weren't together. Later, I read Drawing Room Deceptions and Guy Hollingworth had the same idea before I did, he states that apparently Martin A. Nash had the idea before him and Marlo also examined it, so certainly it is not novel, but it remains interesting. It isn't particularly practical from a gambling standpoint and finds it's application then in the world of magic. For my part, I used it by performing the angle separation technique while displaying the deck as random to the audience, effectively separating a particular hand, and then dealing the cards off. I understand Martin A. Nash applies it in a similar manner to Guy Hollingworth who performs an insertion and then demonstrates how the cards are dealt from various portions of the deck in an impressive gambling display. For those interested, Guy outlines the technique in his book, though I'd recommend in this case that you consult Lennart Green's work.

Pre-Emptive Centers

This goes back to the Greek deal method I described earlier, namely, the method under alternative pre-emptive Greeks. For those who skipped over the section, the concept is that you cop the bottom half of the deck prior to performing the deal and then simply bottom deal the cards, effectively performing a center deal without all the trouble. There is however, an added complication when center dealing, namely the need and difficulty in hiding this coped portion of the deck and so it is on this point that I'll focus.

Basically, there are two concerns, three really, but the third we won't worry about. The first, is that the coped packet is visible from the front. In order to avoid this I recommend coping the bottom half of the deck quite far back, between the ring finger and hand and holding the forefinger and middle finger in such a manner that they obstruct a view from the front. (See figure 593.)

Figure 593.

The second concern is that this protruding packet will become visible from the right side. Now there are some trade offs and ideas here. First, hopefully you can position yourself in such a manner that this angle is not a concern, much like holding a card in tenkai palm. Second, because you'll be dealing with your right hand, you can make use of that hand and even that arm to obstruct the view, it may benefit you then to bring your arms together much more than usual and perform a very tight dealing action. If you perform a decent toss of the card once it's taken from this deck your possibilities of expediting this process will increase substantially.

All of this leaves you with one final concern, namely that a spectator may notice the deck is not as thick as it should be and honestly, I don't have a solution for you on this one except perhaps, misdirection. It also helps to use plastic cards so the natural thickness of the deck isn't as great and so neither is the disparity. Unfortunately, either way you are left with problems, for example what to do if you run out of cards in the top packet and need to continue dealing? Still, in the right circumstances this is a very easy center deal and one you may find effective, or may find you are able to adapt until it is effective.

Drawbridge Centers

Again, we have a deal based on a concept introduced as a Greek deal by the same name and again, not terribly practical, but perhaps interesting. The concept is that you'll hold a tiny break around the upper right corner of the deck with your middle finger and as you come to perform the take, under the cover if the right hand if possible, your middle finger will pull down the bottom half of the deck and allow access to the center cards. Basically, from this point on it's like a bottom deal. Again, I'm not sure of the practicality, I certainly wouldn't call it ideal, but interesting and certainly one of the easily center deal methods. (See figure 594 for an exposed view.)

Figure 594.

Note that I'd use the cigar bottom deal handling or at least a similar handling if performing this deal.

Side Strike Centers

From here, we progress away from the odd, though somewhat easier center deals and into the more practical center deals, what I would consider, the "real" center deals. Perhaps somewhat ironically, a side strike center deal actually works quite well and it relatively easy so I'll begin at that point for those who wish to use side strike dealing exclusively.

You begin with the deck in a rough mechanic's grip, with a few special notes based on the center deal theory I mentioned earlier. First of all, your pinky holds a break near the back of the deck just below the cards you wish to center deal. You actually don't really need to do anything with this pinky, if you use it to grip the lower half of the deck firmly and allow the tip to crest the edge of the bottom packet it will automatically maintain a break. Your ring finger and middle finger maintain a similar hold on the bottom packet, but extend up slightly higher in order to provide some stability and a slight squaring force to the top packet. Your thumb, while it wraps around the upper right corner of the deck is focused primarily on controlling the top packet by applying force on the upper right corner and driving the packet into the base of the thumb. Your thumb lays across the top of the deck pointing towards the upper right corner as is usual for the side strike deal. (See figure 595.)

Figure 595.

You should be careful that the break does not show in any way at the front of the deck; it is merely a break in the rear.

Now, if you examined the technique for dealing bottoms, you'll find this is similar, in a sense it is easier and yet in a sense it is more difficult due to the complication of controlling the top packet. You strike as per the normal procedure on the side of the deck between your pinky and ring finger with the middle finger of your right hand. In the process of this strike, your fingertip enters just slightly below the bottom edge of the top packet so that the whole top packet is pulled up in the back. (See figure 596.)

Figure 596.

From here, as your thumb "swoops" down from the left, your middle finger applies a slight outward and downward (toward you) force on the bottom card of the top packet. The downward portion of this force is important, as, due to the forefinger position of the left hand, a simple sideways take will create problems as the card catches on the forefinger. As your thumb "strikes" the deck, it actually pushes slightly left helping to separate the bottom card of the top packet from the rest of the packet. You'll find the greatest difficulty here is maintaining control of the top packet, which has a tendency to "pull out", you may find that adjusting the angle of the deck assists in this control.

This actually makes for quite an effective center deal if you take time to learn it and practice it sufficiently. The one other idea I might offer is that you consider lifting the top half of the deck regardless of whether you are dealing tops or centers for the sake of consistency, however, this may not prove the best method, so you shall have to ascertain that for yourself. I'm still working on a better method of controlling the top packet, but none has struck me as yet so we shall see how events progress in the future.

Some of you may find yourselves concerned about the left middle and ring fingers getting in the way. You should dismiss this fear as if performed quickly and at the correct moment, the lift of the top packet will allow the cards to pass over the two fingers in question.

"V" Style Strike Centers

This is one of the techniques that has yielded me the best results though it remains flawed and does not display the elegance I'm pursuing it is nevertheless interesting and perhaps for some, satisfactory. The idea behind the deal is that I found a great number of problems were arising due to my attempts at maintain a break at the back of the deck and not at the front. The thing is that based on this handling, the best portion of the deck from which to deal is the back, but I also consider dealing from the back of the deck somewhat unnatural. Thus, the following idea was put into practice and it exists in two conceptions, of which you may determine your own favorite.

You begin with a sort of high master's grip again, forefinger at the upper right corner and the last three fingers at the right side with the thumb on top. The significant difference in this case is that rather than having the pinky hold the break, the forefinger holds the break. This is significantly better than the side strike method because there are not two opposing forces on the top packet, it also renders the break more accessible near the front. The last three fingers of the hand then control only the bottom half of the deck, though the pinky may assist in providing stability. (See figure 597.)

Figure 597.

You'll notice that the first major concern arising at this point is that the break may become visible from the front. In order to reduce this problem, we first resort to minimizing the break as much as possible, however, the break requires sufficient size that one is able to perform a take. The second concept then is to ensure the forefinger is wrapped as much as possible around the front edge of the deck. (See figure 598.)

Figure 598.

Third, you can apply pressure from above with your thumb, buckling the top portion so the break only forms on the right side of the deck where you will hopefully cover it with either angles, or your dealing hand. (See figure 598a.)

Figure 598a.

While this is helpful, it does not cover the break fully, thus we move to the next concept and variation of this deal, namely shifting to a more Erdnase styled grip where the middle finger applies the pressure on the upper right corner of the deck and holds the break, thus providing a much better screen from the front. (See figure 599.)

Figure 599.

Now regardless of which variant you prefer, we progress to the take, which is identical in either case. You use your right hand and approach the deck from the right, your middle and fore fingers are extended, ring finger and pinky curled in. Your thumb is tip down, while the middle finger and forefinger are tip up allowing you to use the fingers as pincers. When you reach the deck, your forefinger moves out of the way and in front of the deck, while your middle finger gets inserted into the break and your thumb moves above the deck. Now, if you wanted to perform a top, you'd perform the take with your thumb, if you want to perform a center, you perform a mock take with your thumb while really performing the take with your middle finger. (See figure 600.)

Figure 600.

This works surprisingly well, though it requires some measure of practice. You'll find that because of the nature of the break the fingers at the right side of the deck down get in the way and generally this process is somewhat easy. There remains then one problem, namely the fact that the break is a bulging eye sore from the right. I have two suggestions on how to eliminate or at least reduce this problem. The first, is to tilt your left hand slightly so the break is directed more towards the table whenever possible, this is however somewhat of a cheap attempt at covering the problem and not the most natural one. The second option then is the one I use and I feel addresses the problem reasonably well, that is, when you aren't dealing centers, you close the break. This occurs by simply lowering the top portion onto the bottom portion as much as possible and maintaining a tiny break at the upper right corner of the deck (this break is forgivable and shouldn't cause you any trouble). Now as you go to perform the take for a top, your middle finger moves under the deck instead of into the break. Then, when you want to perform a center (which should be rare compared with tops), you lift up slightly at the break and allow your middle finger to insert itself for the take, then close it up immediately thereafter. This action is not nearly as obvious as it may sound when performed well and comes fairly naturally, you may find that it also helps to manipulate the lower packet accordingly in order to expedite the process.

Push-off Centers

I saved push-off centers for last because I consider them the most elegant, though I'm not entirely convinced they're the most effective, perhaps in part because they offer a new dimension of difficulty to the problem. Before I continue I'll try to present you with the trouble here, which really find's its roots elsewhere. First, there are all the problems previously associated with a center deal, especially the "V" style center deal. In addition to this, there are the problems found in a push-off bottom deal, such as knuckle flash and finger flare. There is one other point though, namely, when you push off the top card you create a certain instability by creating a change in the deck and so on top of everything else, you have this force to contend with. The three ideas I'll present here may not be the most sophisticated, though I really can't say having never been exposed to center deal technique aside from the aforementioned Marlo DVDs and Guy Holliingworth's book. Guy incidentally stated he found the best technique was the complete absence of technique so you may take that as you see fit. Nevertheless, these ideas work reasonably well for me and will hopefully provide some insights to you as well. I caution you that a great deal of practice is necessary, if it took you two weeks to learn the pass, you had best allocate more than that for a center deal, in fact I would suggest you allocate several hundred hours over a short period of time to dedicated practice. At the end of this time you may determine that I was wrong and that there is a better method, if so, excellent! Write to me and tell me what it is so I too can improve, or sell it or keep it to yourself as you see fit, but I will have been glad to at least offered you some thoughts on the subject.

I have three basic ideas I'm going to suggest to you here, the last being the most effective and the first, seemingly to me, the most natural.. .though neither being the best. You would do well to study the "V" style strike deal first because I'll refer to the grip and handling of those in the first two methods, which are based off those two handlings.

First, start with the deck held as per the original "V" style handling, with the top portion controlled by the forefinger. From here, you'll deal cards off normally by pushing them off sideways with the thumb. When you come to the point where you want to deal centers, you'll use your middle finger and ring finger to slide out a card from the bottom of the top packet, while the forefinger maintains control of the top packet at the front and the pinky maintains control of the bottom packet at the back. (See figure 601 for a view without the top card.)

Figure 601.

Naturally, you would need to perform the typical take and pullback action standard to a push-off shuffle. You may have problems getting the card out while maintaining control of the top packet, in order to avoid this I find it helps to pull the card downward slightly first so it comes from the jogged just slightly towards you to begin with.

I experimented trying to do this same thing with the second style "V" style handling, but found it was ineffective, you may have more luck than I depending on the deck, subtleties in the manner you are holding the cards and length of your fingers.

Another more elegant, but more difficult method is to simulate the handling addressed in buckle Greek deals, method three. In other words, the deck is held in the high master's grip between your forefinger and base of the thumb, your pinky holds a break at the back of the deck and your other two fingers are on the side of the deck with your thumb across the top. (See figure 602.)

Insert figure 602.

Now, when you want to deal off a center card, use your pinky to lever it out slightly (this isn't easy!). From this point, your middle finger and ring finger assist in performing a regular push-off from about the joints of the fingers under the cover of the top card. There is however one slight change to the normal procedure. In this case, before you are able to perform the take, you must curl your pinky back in and regain your break. (See figure 603, figure 604, and figure 605 for views of the process from the bottom.)

Figure 603.

Figure 604.

Figure 605.

This is a tough process, especially getting it up to speed, but I feel it's well worth the practice if you intend to perform a lot of center deals, and especially if you already use the earlier side push-off methods mirrored by this one.

Finally, there is a sort of odd front push-off where you step the top half of the deck forward slightly (a step seems, at least for me, a much easier way of maintaining the division between the two halves of the deck). In this case, the step is covered almost perfectly at the front by the position of your forefinger. (See figure 606.)

Figure 606.

From this point, you'll perform forward angled push-offs of the top cards when you wish to deal tops (as in the shifted grip push-off bottoms) and when you wish to deal a center, you'll push the card out with your forefinger. (See figure 607.)

Naturally, this is somewhat visible and causes both knuckle flash and potentially finger flare, but if you cover it sufficiently with your right hand and for an uninitiated audience it works well.

Stud Centers

The only method I'll offer here is the strike method mirroring the stud bottoms and stud Greeks. So then, you hold the deck in somewhat of a mechanic's grip with a break at the back (see earlier descriptions for the basic grip). Now, as you go to perform the deal, you insert your thumb into the break and if you wish to deal a center, you use your thumb to perform the take as in the previous deals. (See figure 608.)

Figure 608.

I find it helps to buckle the bottom card of the top packet as I'm inserting my thumb into the break, making it easier to pull out. The only concern here is that you must watch any angles where the break is visible in order to keep from exposing the break and thus your subterfuge.

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