Chips and Aces

Gamblers Risked Their Life When They Performed This Magic Trick

Performing magic tricks becomes quite a different occupation when your life is on the line. No, we are not referring to so-called “death-defying acts.” Many of those have carefully-implemented failsafes, and despite the skill needed to perform them, no one will threaten to shoot you if they catch you palming a hairpin. Likewise, no one will drag a mentalist in Miami into the street if they found out that they were merely skilled at making lucky guesses. Instead, truly dangerous magic is the type that has to look like it is no magic at all.

This type of flawless performance was born in the gambling halls and casinos at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, many migrant laborers realized that their calloused hands could make them more money playing cards instead of tilling soil. Some realized that they could make even more money if they rigged the odds by cheating. Their only rule: don’t get caught.

The Quest for the Perfect Crooked Deal

A brilliant book titled The Magician and the Cardsharp chronicles magician Dai Vernon’s quest for the “holy grail” of card tricks. In an era where Victorian-style showmanship carried over to Vaudeville magician acts that emphasized spectacle and glitz, Vernon sought a more subtle form a magic that was almost undetectable by the human eye — even at close distances.

In order to learn this type of magic, Vernon had to solicit a different sort of crowd than the typical tuxedo-wearing, hand-flourishing show business types common in his profession during his day. Instead, he went to the jails. There, he could find people who made their living by playing cards, throwing dice and often cheating to win. These types could not afford to be flashy with their “magic tricks” when they hid aces to ensure that they were dealt a winning hand every time. If they were caught cheating, they could easily be killed on the spot by an angry fellow gambler.

It was while visiting a Wichita jail that Vernon asked a young gambler, “You’ve played cards all your life, have you ever seen anything you don’t understand?” To this, the gambler replied, “In Kansas City. I see a fella. He deals cards from the center of the pack….” This utterance ignited Vernon’s hunt for the man who could supposedly execute this crooked deal “perfectly.”

The House Always Wins… Any Way It Can

The man Vernon was looking for was named Allen Kennedy. An unassuming and quiet fellow, Kennedy performed his tricks with an authenticity reserved for those who risked their own skin if they got caught.

His claim to fame was a deal that looked legitimate from all angles and even close-up. However, instead of pulling from the top of the deck, he dealt from cards he had hidden in the middle of the deck. This strategy could be used to give his opponents bad hands and him a clear winner.

What interested Vernon was the “honest” way this man cheated. Kennedy’s fingers moved so deftly that no one could detect the ruse. Learning the trick would probably earn Vernon far less money than it did for Kennedy, but Vernon’s desire to perform magic with nonchalant perfection was an ideal match for Kennedy’s unannounced grace.

Trying to perform tricks like this is the next level of skill for magicians, indicated by Vernon’s ability to fool even the Great Houdini with his card tricks. A gifted mentalist in Miami may not have quite this level of pressure given that his audience knows what to expect, but just be glad that someone like Mio is using his powers to entertain and not guess your poker hand or your bank account number. You can watch videos of Mio in action to see how uncanny a mentalist in Miami can truly be.