The Expert at the Card Table by S. W. Erdnase
“Read this, and you’ll never think of card games the same way again.
This book is amazing, whether you want to cheat at Poker or perform the most astonishing card magic.
Now, don’t cheat at Poker. Instead, study this book and learn to cheat at cards, because it will help you become a better magician.”
This book is based on card magic and sleights and amazingly has been in continuous publication since 1902!
It has a small but diehard following in the magic community (perhaps attributed to the fact that Dai Vernon was such a fan of its contents.)
Although many consider it a bit contrived and archaic the magicians who form the core following are immensely loyal to the book and spend hours studying it with care and attention.
A Magic Mystery
The author’s identity was never really discovered. The credited author, S.W. Erdnase, is believed by the majority of people to have been an East coast gambler, James Andrews… (I guess we know how he went on such on so many winning streaks if that’s true.)
The Mystery Author admits at the beginning of the book that he wrote it purely for financial gain and adopted Erdnase as a pen name.
(if you chop off the “jam” and spell James Andrews better you might realize why so many people think Erdnase is in fact, Andrews)
The pen name was probably a good idea… Because he managed to annoy a whole lot of professional gamblers of his day in making their moves so freely accessible.
I guess the quote rings true: “Gambling isn’t about winning, it’s about cheating better than your opponent can”
What is Expert at the Card Table about?
(Book Description on Amazon and Good reads):
“The Expert at the Card Table is the most famous, the most carefully studied book ever published on the art of manipulating cards at gaming tables.” —from the Foreword by Martin Gardner.
For almost a century, this book has been considered indispensable to attaining the highest level of card mastery. In it, S. W. Erdnase, a supreme master of card manipulation, teaches card enthusiasts how to perform the dazzling tricks and sleights — many of them his own creations — that made him famous.
The first section of the book deals with card table artifice, or, to put it more bluntly, cheating at cards. Step by step, Mr. Erdnase demonstrates his own systems of false shuffling, false riffling and cutting, dealing from the bottom, and such slick moves as palming cards, “skinning the hand” — even three-card monte.
The second section covers legerdemain: the art of forcing a card, one- and two-hand transformations, the devious “slide” and more. Card handlers will love Erdnase’s selection of dazzling card tricks, including The Acrobatic Jacks, The Exclusive Coterie, The Divining Rod, The Invisible Flights, A Mind Reading Trick, and many others.
In an informative Foreword to this edition, Martin Gardner relates the unhappy details of the author’s personal life, and recounts the history of this famous book, whose methods, Mr. Gardner asserts, “are as useful today by magicians and card hustlers as they were in 1902. This book is still the bible of card ‘mechanics,’ and as much a delight to read as it was in the early years of this century.”
And if you want a briefer version of all that:
Erdnase starts with a treatise on gambling cons to be performed at the gamblers the gambler’s table (the Artifice section.)
He then moves on to some pretty great sleights which he calls (the Legerdemain section.)
He then wraps it all up with a short card routine that uses some of the techniques he just explained.
Darwin Ortiz, Dai Vernon, and The Expert at the Card Table
One of the reasons that Expert at the Card Table has become so widely read and garnered so much praise from the magic community is due I believe in large part to the legends Darwin Ortiz and of course… Dai Vernon.
Dai Vernon actually produced a copy of the book with his own personal notes, which are I can tell you: Expensive…
And at well past ninety years of age, Vernon still found himself quoting from it, even using specific page numbers, when discussing card techniques with his colleagues at the Magic Castle.
A Brief ‘Taster’ Of The Expert at the Card Table
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, mealymouthed 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 curtail 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.
The passion for play is probably as old, and will be as enduring, as the race of man. Some of us are too timid to risk a dollar, but the percentage of people in this feverish nation who would not enjoy winning one is very small. The passion culminates in the professional. He would rather play than eat. Winning is not his sole delight. Some one has remarked that there is but one pleasure in life greater than winning, that is, in making the hazard. To be successful at play is as difficult as to succeed in any other pursuit. The laws of chance are as immutable as the laws of nature. Were all gamblers to depend on luck they would break about even in the end. The professional card player may enjoy the average luck, but it is difficult to find one who thinks he does, and it is indeed wonderful how mere chance will at times defeat the strongest combination of wit and skill. It is almost an axiom that a novice will win his first stake. A colored attendant of a “club-room.” overhearing a discussion about running up two hands at poker, ventured the following interpolation: “Don’t trouble ’bout no two hen’s, Boss. Get yo’ own hen’. De suckah, he’ll get a han’ all right, suah!” And many old players believe the same thing. However, the vagaries of luck, or chance, have impressed the professional card player with a certain knowledge that his more respected brother of the stock exchange possesses, viz.–manipulation is more profitable than speculation; so to make both ends meet, and incidentally a good living, he also performs his part with the shears when the lambs come to market.
Hazard at play carries sensations that once enjoyed are rarely forgotten. The winnings are known as “pretty money,” and it is generally spent as freely as water. The average professional who is successful at his own game will, with the sublimest unconcern, stake his money on that of another’s, though fully aware the odds are against him. He knows little of the real value of money, and as a rule is generous, careless and improvident. He loves the hazard rather than the stakes. As a matter of fact the principal difference between the professional gambler and the occasional gambler, is that the former is actuated by his love of the game and the latter by cupidity. A professional rarely “squeals” when he gets the worst of it; the man who has other means of livelihood is the hardest loser.
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