The Ambitious Card

My favorite card trick starts off simple but becomes endlessly delightful.

Last year, I decided to finally learn some honest-to-goodness magic tricks. I’m certainly no master magician, but it’s been fun to learn the mechanics of simple sleight of hand moves and to see how easy it can be to make people look in the wrong place at the right time. But to my delight, I’ve found that knowing some of the secrets by no means diminishes my enjoyment of the tricks in question.

Take, for example, the ambitious card routine, which is quite possibly my favorite magic trick. (It’s certainly my favorite card trick.) The set-up is simple: an audience member freely selects a card from the deck and writes their name on it, thus marking it as their own. The card is then placed in the middle of the deck and, with a snap of the fingers, appears on the top of the deck. No matter how often the card is placed back in the middle of the deck, or how randomly the deck is shuffled and reordered, the signed card always makes its way back to the top.

The routine’s opening steps are usually the same, but what’s so great about the ambitious card routine is how easy it is — for good magicians, anyway — to riff on it and make it their own.

Below is one of my favorite ambitious card performances, by the late great Tommy Wonder. What’s so enjoyable about Wonder’s routine is how he constantly undermines the audience’s expectations, particularly in the latter stages, and draws them in even further. You can practically hear the audience’s minds exploding at the very final move, thanks to Wonder’s use of a jewelry box and some beautiful sleight of hand.

Michael Ammar’s performance is an excellent example of a pretty straightforward ambitious card routine, but it’s no less enjoyable thanks to his flawless moves.

Jason Ladanye shotguns his way through the routine, but spices it up with some nice card manipulation for that move at the end with the four tens.

This street magic performance works in some new twists to the routine thanks to impressive card manipulation that, if you blink, you’ll totally miss. But even when you know what’s being done, it’s darn near impossible to actually see it.

The best magic tricks start out small and simple, then get increasingly ridiculous, over the top, and unbelievable with each passing minute and variation. Such is the case with this ambitious card performance by Daryl, which piles on the impossibility (e.g., having audience members “perform” the trick) before ending with a mind-blowing finale that’s pulled off perfectly.

If you decide to be brave and read the comments on any of the above YouTube videos, you’ll find plenty of spoilers along with links to explanation videos and tutorials — some of which, I confess, I’ve watched. But knowing how a trick is done is one thing. Watching those same techniques be pulled off flawlessly, with panache and style to spare? That’s something else entirely.

Watching somebody like Tommy Wonder perform the ambitious card routine, I may know how some of the moves are performed, but I’m still laughing with delight every single time that card appears, once again, on the top of the deck.

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