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Easy Does It: Fantastic Five Flushed
Learn a simple card location with an impressive, poker-themed surprise kicker.
Greetings and welcome to Easy Does It, a column dedicated to showcasing magic tricks that are simple to execute from a technical perspective, giving you more time to focus on the presentation of the trick. Most of the tricks featured in the column will be self-working or use minimal sleight of hand to keep them in the easy-to-do category.
I thought I’d start with a simple card trick based on an effect called “The Fantastic Five”, which can be found in many beginner’s magic books, including Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic.1 Unfortunately, the trick’s inventor is unknown as no credit is given in any of these sources. In a video download from theory11 called “Invisible Reverse”, which also teaches the same effect, Chris Kenner mentions that he was taught the trick by legendary Chicago magician Jim Ryan (he didn’t say that Jim invented the trick, though). This suggests that the trick is much older than its inclusion in Mark Wilson’s book would imply (the book was first published in 1975).
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Here’s a description of “The Fantastic Five”, in case you are unfamiliar with it:
First, a spectator freely selects a card from the deck and returns it to the pack. Next, the magician confidently declares that they will make one card do somethign amazing. After performing a magical gesture, the performer spreads the cards, and a Five-spot is revealed to be face up in the pack.
However, the spectator denies that this is their card. The magician reveals that the Five is actually an “indicator card,” indicating that they’ve made a mistake! But the magician doesn’t give up that easily! They cut the Five to the top of the pack and deal it to the table.
Next, the magician deals out four cards, then dramatically deals a fifth face up to reveal the chosen card. And the magic doesn’t stop there! As a stunning finale,the four cards that were between the face-up Five and the selected card are revealed to be none other than the four Aces!
The method is simplicity itself: a five-card setup on the bottom of the deck. Before the trick begins, any face-up Five is placed on the bottom of the pack, followed by the four face-down Aces. Next, a card is selected, and when it is returned, the cards are cut, and the secret setup is dropped on top of the selection.
I’ve been performing this trick for a long time, but with a slight modification: I use a Hindu shuffle technique to make it seem like the chosen card is returned to a random spot in the deck. Begin by shuffling the cards in the traditional Hindu way and ask your participant to say “Stop” whenever they want to return their card. Next, extend the lower portion of the pack towards them, and let them place their card on top. Then, slap the remaining cards in your right hand on top, losing the chosen card somewhere in the deck at a spot chosen by your volunteer. Because of the Hindu shuffle’s nature, the selected card will always end up below the five-card setup, no matter when your participant decides to shout stop.
A Refinement From Dai Vernon
I also sometimes use a Vernon key card placement subtlety when having the card returned. First, perform a kick-cut to transfer a few cards from the top to the bottom of the pack. As you reassemble the pack, maintain a break between the two portions with your left little finger. Next, cut small packets of cards to the table until your participant says stop. After they replace their card, cut all the cards above the break to the table, secretly dropping the five-card setup on top of the selection. Finally, drop small packets of cards onto the table until you have none left (I usually have enough cards to make two or three final cuts). This is a lovely refinement, but it comes with one risk; if you’re not careful, you can cut into your five-card setup and ruin the trick. To avoid this, practise cutting small packets from the deck.
You can turn this key card replacement into the selection process, too. Rather than having a card selected beforehand, start cutting small packets to the table as previously described. When the participant says stop, tell them to look at the pile's top card and then replace it. Cut to the break, then continue cutting cards until you have none left.
Flushed with Success
Although I’ve always enjoyed performing this trick, I was bothered by the fact that the surprise production of the four Aces didn’t have any connection to the location effect. While this isn’t necessarily a problem, I felt the trick could be even more impressive if the kicker had a stronger thematic link to the rest of the routine.
Fortunately, the solution was simple. Instead of using the four Aces, you can use a Royal Flush in Hearts as the kicker. To set this up, arrange the cards in the following order: Five-Ace-King-Queen-Jack-Ten, with the Five facing up.
To begin, rather than having a card freely selected, force the Ten of Hearts2 on a spectator using the Hindu Shuffle Force. This allows you to reveal the chosen card as the Ten of Hearts and say, “Not only did I find your selected card, I also found four more cards to make up a five-card hand of draw poker. Look! The Jack of Hearts, the Queen of Hearts, the King of Hearts and, last but not least, the Ace of Hearts. A Royal Flush in Hearts, the strongest hand in poker!”
By incorporating the Royal Flush in Hearts as the kicker, you create a stronger thematic connection between the location effect and the surprise production of the cards. This makes the trick even more impressive and memorable for your audience. The only downside is that the chosen card is no longer freely selected. However, the selection should feel reasonably fair if the Hindu Shuffle Force is completed confidently.
I’ve written up a detailed explanation of “Fantastic Five Flushed” on my blog. I’ve also included an alternative force for people who do not want to use the Hindu Shuffle Force:
Of course, if you don’t want to incorporate a force into the routine, you can still keep the Royal Flush ending by replacing the Five with a Six-spot. Then, when you reveal the chosen card, say, “And that’s one of the reasons why people never want to play poker with me. The other reason is that I cheat.” Then reveal the Royal Flush. A line like this helps connect the two effects together without having to sacrifice the freely selected chosen card.
Hickok’s Hole Card
To combine the location and production aspects more effectively in this trick, a better approach might be to incorporate them through the presentation rather than changing the method of “The Fantastic Five”. As I was composing this article, I realised that featuring the Dead Man's Hand in a presentation could serve this purpose well.
James Butler Hickok, better known as “Wild Bill” Hickok, was a famous folk hero of the old American West. During his youth, he was a soldier, scout, lawman, cattle rustler, and gunslinger. In his later years, he was a professional gambler, showman, and actor. However, he is remembered more for the way he died rather than the way he lived.
During the year 1876, Hickok met his unfortunate demise while engaged in a game of poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory. His assassin was Jack McCall, a drunk who had failed to make a name for himself as a gambler. The cards that Hickok was holding at the time of his death have come to be known as the "dead man's hand," consisting of two pairs—black aces and eights.
To use Wild Bill’s story in the trick, you need to alter the setup as follows: Five-AC-8S-8C-AS (although the order only matters for aesthetic reasons). Start by telling your audience about Wild Bill Hickok and his tragic death. Explain that no one seems to know what hand he was holding at the time of his death. As you shuffle the cards, say, “According to popular belief, he had a hand consisting of two black Aces and two black Eights, which has now been dubbed the ‘dead man's hand’. However, the identity of the unknown hole card remains a mystery.”
When you reveal the chosen card, say, “Maybe this was Wild Bill’s unknown hole card?” Then, as you turn the four face-down cards over to reveal the Aces and Eights, say, “If so, then these four cards should be… the two black Aces and the two black Eights!”
For the sake of completeness, I’ve written up the trick on my blog:
If you do decide to use this Wild West presentation, I would encourage you to try and find a Wild West-themed deck of playing cards. The best deck that I know of is the Wild West (Deadwood) Deck, designed and produced by Randy Butterfield of Midnight Cards. Randy is one of my favourite playing card designers, and his Wild West Deck perfectly captures the spirit of Deadwood in the late nineteenth century.
The cards feature hand-drawn illustrations of some of the colourful characters from Deadwood and the surrounding Black Hills area. The back design is based on the elaborate engravings often found on leather items and weapons from the American Old West era.
The King of Spades and the Joker both showcase an accurate illustration of Wild Bill Hickok, as depicted in the photo below. For this reason, the deck is ideal for performing "Hickok's Hole Card".
Unfortunately, these cards are difficult to find. They were originally released by Randy as part of a Kickstarter campaign in 2019. However, they occasionally pop up on eBay for sale from time to time, so you might be able to find a pack for a reasonable price if you’re lucky.
If you're fond of these cards, I suggest you follow Randy on Facebook to keep yourself updated with his other releases. He’s an extremely talented designer and deserves the support of the magic community.
A more readily available deck that could serve as an alternative is the Dead Man’s Deck from Vanishing Inc. Magic. It comes in two variations: one has a musket ball and a bullet hole in the centre of each card, while the other, called the "Unharmed Edition," has neither.
While the original Dead Man’s Deck is very cool, it is historically inaccurate in two ways: Bill Hickok was shot in the back of his head. The bullet exited through his right cheek and struck another player, riverboat captain William Massie, in his left wrist. The bullet did not, however, enter the deck that was being used at the time. In addition, Jack McCall shot Hickok with a single-action .45-caliber revolver, which fires cartridges, not musket balls. Consequently, I think it is better to perform this trick with the “Unharmed Edition”, which resembles the style of playing cards used at the time Wild Bill was murdered and allows for a more accurate retelling of the historic event.
If you’re interested in this deck, it is a good idea to watch this very entertaining review video from YouTuber and purveyor of luxury playing Cards, Omar, better known as The Gentleman Wake.
The more I think about this way of presenting the trick, the more I like it. Both effects are strongly connected through the Wild Bill theme of the trick, and the card is still freely selected. This would be a fantastic trick to perform as part of a Wild West-themed magic show. I hope you enjoy these tricks.
Mark Wilson. Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic, (Leicester: Blitz Edition, 1988), 32-34.
My preferred force card is the Ten of Hearts because it has a memorable design and is symmetrical. This means that it can be read accurately regardless of its orientation.