Richard Turner, Cheat

Richard Turner is a master with the pasteboards. He is not a magician; he does not do tricks. He does demonstrations of card cheating techniques. What he does looks an awful lot like magic – assistants chosen from the audience help him by shuffling, cutting, and re-arranging the deck, and he deals out perfect poker hands, cuts to the Aces, and pulls off minor and major miracles.

Turner is what is called a card mechanic. He specializes in moves used by professional card sharps to cheat others out of their money at the table. And he is probably better at it than anyone else alive. And perhaps anyone dead.

The distinction between a mechanic and a card magician is subtle. Both do the impossible with a deck of cards. Magicians will study the moves used by mechanics in order to use as sleights in their magic tricks. But a magician wants the audience to know something miraculous has happened; the mechanic spends all their energy making sure their marks never do. Magicians will often devise methods of making it appear as if they are doing things that mechanics actually do in secret.

Mechanics use many moves to fool their marks. False shuffles and cuts keep a stacked deck in the same order even when appearing to be mixed up. Controls move desired cards to specific locations in the deck. Steals remove cards from the deck to be used later. And then there are the deals. Turner can deal just about any card from the deck and make it look like the top card was dealt. He’s so good at at his bottom deal that even when he tells you he’s doing it – even when he tells you how he’s doing it – and he does it in slow motion, you can’t see it happen.

Turner puts the audience in the role of confederate, never the sucker. His aim is to educate about card cheats, but also to entertain and amaze.

Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Turner made a living both as a performer and a working card mechanic. Over the last 35 years, he has worked in bars and casinos, appeared on TV, the stage, and in movies. He is semi-retired now, but at his peak, he was practicing 14 hours a day. He is so obsessed with cards that he noticed when the U.S. Playing Card Company (USPCC), maker of Bee and Bicycle playing cards, outsourced their cardstock manufacturing in the 1980’s and convinced them to switch back. More recently, he noticed when they began cutting their cards differently, so that they do not shuffle correctly, and had them manufacture him a lifetime supply of cards that are traditionally cut. (Casinos also get the traditionally cut cards, but retail cards are still cut incorrectly.)

I was aware of Turner mostly by reputation, but thanks to a few videos of his performance knew he was amazaing card worker. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing him perform up close. He performed and lectured for almost three hours, and everyone present (myself included) was amazed from start to finish. It was over a half hour into the evening that I thought to myself, “Can he see?”

He doesn’t draw attention to it, and refuses to let TV crews even mention it, but the greatest card mechanic in the world is blind. Card work is a matter of touch, so it mostly isn’t relevant. But he is able to one thing that fools even the best magicians, and he isn’t telling how he does it.

You can hand Richard Turner a deck of cards, shuffled and arranged any way you want. Your cards. Cards that he has never touched before. And after just a few moments of shuffling and cutting, without being able to sneak a peek, he can cut to or deal himself the four Aces. Or a royal flush. Or any other group of cards he wants. It’s an impressive display that can be done by an experienced card magician in several different ways, but the greated card mechanic in the world is almost certainly not doing it the way anyone else does. Partly because he can’t (all of the methods I know require sight), partly because he has never read a magic book or watched a magic video, and has had to figure out how to do everything on his own.

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