Monday, May 09, 2005

"The Expert at the Card Table"

This 1902 classic is probably the most closely-studied treatise on cheating technique ever written. The author, one S.W. Erdnase (a pseudonym; his true identity is the subject of intense speculation), was a professional cheat, and this book is the source of much heavy-duty card work still in use today by card magicians and, probably, by cheats as well.

"The Expert at the Card Table," which is subtitled "A Treatise on the Science and Art of Manipulating Cards," has seen numerous editions through the years, including annotated versions by the legendary Dai Vernon and noted card magician Darwin Ortiz. It is no stretch to call this the single most influential book of card technique ever written. The section headings -- "Blind Riffles," "Bottom Dealing," "Cull Shuffles," "The Diagonal Palm Shift" -- sound like they come right out of "The Sting" or a Ricky Jay performance.

I somehow managed to avoid ever owning a copy of the book, although I used to study it in the Magic Castle library. I finally broke down and bought a copy on The Preface cracked me up; I had forgotten how spicily the book is written!

In offering this book to the public the writer uses no sophistry as an excuse for its existence. The hypocritical cant of reformed (?) gamblers, or whining, mealy-mouthed pretensions of piety, are not foisted as a justification for imparting the knowledge it contains. To all lovers of card games it should prove interesting, and as a basis of card entertainment it is practically inexhaustible. It may caution the unwary who are innocent of guile, and it may inspire the crafty by enlightenment on artifice. It may demonstrate to the tyro that he cannot beat a man at his own game, and it may enable the skilled in deception to take a post-graduate course in the highest and most artistic branches of his vocation. But it will not make the innocent vicious, or transform the pastime player into a professional; or make the fool wise, or crutail the annual crop of suckers; but whatever the result may be, if it sells it will accomplish the primary motive of the author, as he needs the money.


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