Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Nelson Downs described this in The Art of Magic (1909). It’s a fascinating idea. Imagine a totally impromptu poker deal with a brand new unopened borrowed deck. You shuffle the cards and deal out seven hands of poker. Everyone gets a full house, except you, you get a winning straight flush.

There’s a little more to it than that (isn’t there always?) but it’s great idea all the same. Here’s the working as described in The Art of Magic. All you need is a deck that is in new deck order: Each suit separated, Ace to King from the bottom upwards.

The performer removes the pack from the wrapper, calling attention to the fact that the cards are fresh from the manufacturer. He throws away the joker and gives the pack a false shuffle, using whatever method he is most adept at. If versed in fancy blind cuts he may indulge in a series of manipulations of this kind; but for the purpose of the trick it is sufficient to give the cards a false shuffle. Then allow the spectators to cut the cards. They may cut as many times as they wish without destroying the order of the cards, as the halves simply revolve around each other. This is, in fact the strongest feature of the trick; for most persons believe that the conventional cut completely disarranges any prearranged order of the pack.

Now deal the cards out to six persons, giving the top card to No. 1; the second to No. 2; the third card to No. 3; the fourth card to No. 4; the fifth card to No. 5; and the sixth card to No. 6. Begin the round again, dealing the seventh card to No. 1, and so on to No. 6. As soon as the twelfth card is dealt, shift the next card (the thirteenth) to the bottom of the deck, and continue dealing two more rounds. As soon as the twenty-fourth card is dealt, shift the twenty-fifth card to the bottom of the pack, and then deal around once more, handing one card to each player. Now deal five cards from the top of the pack for your own hand. Ask the spectators to turn over their hands, and each one will be astonished to find that he holds a full house. The performer then turns over his own hand, exhibiting a straight flush.

CAUTION – If the order of the pack is Ace, two, three, four etc., up to king, the performer must take note of the bottom card of the deck after the cut; for should the bottom card be a jack, the trick will not come out as described. Another cut will obviate this difficulty.

Downs suggested that the trick is best performed standing if the shifts are to be covered. Not a problem in his day, especially after his retirement from the stage, when a stand up performance at the Elks was a typical gig. He would deal the cards onto the spectators’ hands, which gave him enough cover to make the pass.

Were it not for the shifts, this would be an almost self-working trick. All you have to do is get rid of two cards during the deal. It wouldn’t be too difficult to work in a line about the other players suddenly becoming suspicious and asking you to “burn a card.” So you openly take the top card off the deck, turn it over and place it on the bottom. This happens twice during the routine and obviates the need for the pass. Another observation is that at the end of the trick you practically have four-of-a-kind together, three at the bottom and one at the top of the deck. Must be useful for something.

The trick wasn’t original with Downs. He said it was a favourite of Adrian Plate. Tom Boyer published his version, Klondike Poker, in 1926 in The Linking Ring (Vol IV, No. 1). He dealt seven hands, dealing a bottom card on the 14th and 28th cards. This gave everyone a full house. The performer than draws four cards to win with a straight flush. Ross Bertram resurrected it, publishing it under his own name as Exhibition Poker Deal, in The Linking Ring (July 1930). Leslie Guest spotted that it was a variation of the Downs trick and added some notes of his own, including a story about throwing the unlucky thirteenth card away and the fact that the trick will not work if certain cards are showing on the bottom of the deck. Downs referred only to the Jack, but in fact there are more cards to look out for than that.

In August of 1942 The Linking Ring magazine presented yet another version, Klondyke Poker, this time by W. C. Fownes Jr and E. F. W. Salisbury. They credited Tom Bowyer with the notion of dealing out seven hands and added that if the card on the bottom of the deck is a Nine to King, you won’t get the straight flush. They also incorporated a Colour Monte style patter story about gambling Dan McGrew who bet everything he had against all the players at the table. An open bottom deal was made to accompany the story of McGrew’s cheating. He is spotted and the other players demand he draw a new hand. He does, the straight flush of course, and still manages to win. It’s a great trick, one step away from a self-working miracle.