Exploring Dai Vernon's Five Card Mental Force

This past weekend as I was reading the latest issue of Genii, I learned of a new routine that, if it works, could be mind-blowing! Interestingly enough, I've already learned of the routine. A few times, in fact.

The routine, to kill the suspense, is Dai Vernon's Five Card Mental Force.

In Genii, the story was given as to how Jason England met a person who he had shown a trick to many years before. The person was still impressed to-this-day that just by thinking of a card, Jason was able to know what the card was, so confirming that he still knew what the card was Jason had him focus on it ... and bam! He guessed it right, after all these years!

Now that is an effect worth owning.

Luckily for me, because reading the description and hearing that it was the "four of hearts" didn't register, the article tipped that it was The Five Card Mental Force. Knowing this, I did a quick search to see what book it would appear in. One of the top results, and nearby on a shelf, was Expert Card Technique.

Flipping to page 271 I was presented with the short and apt description of Dai Vernon's Mental Force. Shortening the title is definitely one way to make it more difficult to find =P

Remove the KH, 7C, AD. 4H, and 9D and place them in a row on the table.

Sounds easy enough. And then, equivoque. Bam! You know what card they are thinking of. The trick itself is purely psychological, but you do have to help force it along. Not by pointing to the card to select, but by buying time.

"Buying time?! Why, whatever do you mean?"

I'm glad you asked. In this trick, you want the spectator to have time to think about the different cards. They know that you're going to guess what card they're thinking of, so they need a moment to think about the cards in front of them. Is the Ace too common? There's only a single black card... oh, and only a single face card. Hmm... what to pick, what to pick.

I was interested in a little more information about this routine, so I hopped into other books that I know have forces and psychology. And that brings me to Encyclopedia of Impromptu Card Forces. Tucked away on page 137, in the chapter of Probability Forces, without a section title, is an even smaller description of the routine. It starts with:

Place face-up on the table five cards such as these: QD, 4H, AD, 7S, 9H. They can be scattered about in no particular order.

Okay, cool, so I notice a theme. There's a court card, an Ace, a single black card. Then, a high-value spot card and a lower-value spot card. The book then goes on to confirm this with:

The exact cards you lay down are not important, but they should have certain characteristics.

However, and this is what I was really after, was the different explanations regarding why a person would be more likely to pick the 4 than the 9. In Expert Card Technique, it's said that people tend to avoid selecting the 9 because it's associated with bad luck. I... didn't know that. I've looked it up though and sure enough, The Curse of Scotland is real!

Bollocks, I say. I've never even been to Scotland. Even if I do perform for a Scot, should I expect them to be superstitious too? I don't know, that's a lot of chance to split a choice 50/50 on. But, Encyclopedia of Impromptu Card Forces gives a more modern explanation in that the 4 is humble, low-scoring, and less prominent than the 9. It's almost like we're forcing the spectator to select it.

Positional Force Addendum

In Encyclopedia of Impromptu Card Forces, still in the Probability Forces section and a routine or two after the original Five Card Mental Force description is another trick. It's almost the same trick, but with a little extra umph added to it. Or, rather, a little extra force-goodness. But it's still the same trick.

By leveraging a positional force along with the psychological force, we can double-load to help increase the chances of success. In other words, by completely ignoring the "they can be scattered about in no particular order" directive we received originally and laying them down in a very specific order, we can make it even-more certain they'll select our card.

The suggested order is QD, 4H, AD, 7S, 9H

Woody Aragón, you got me

On the cover of A Book in English, Woody is holding a fan of 5 cards. You already know where this is going if you read anything above. When I got A Book in English though, I didn't. It was my original introduction to this routine.

5 cards, in a fan.

ATTENTION!! Before opening this book, THINK one of these cards. Then go to page 3.
Woody Aragón - on the cover of A Book in English

I thought of a card and flipped to page 3. Page 3 makes sure I've thought of one, before I continue to the next page.

Now we see Aragón shuffling them and trying to pick one out. Clever man.

Woody holds up one card, with the back facing us, and shows the other 4 cards and says he removed our card! Whoa, my card's not there... wait just a minute -- those 4 cards aren't the original ones! Ah, you sly guy, you almost had me. I know that routine!

Smiling smugly, I turn the page once more and as if he's holding up a "lol, got ya!" sign, there's Woody holding up the 4H -- the card I thought of -- saying "no seriously, I removed your card".

You got me in layers, and I applaud you!

For real though, when I first saw this cover and page-after-page routine I jumped through the book to find it. As far as I could tell, through all my skimming, he never describes the effect or even mentions the reference. It was a harsh blow to get presented with this amazing effect -- in a magic book -- and not receive any information about it. From another angle though, perhaps I'm the one that's been "under a rock" and everyone else knows this routine already?

What I do want to point out is that the order of the cards in his fan are also different from the others. His is setup as: 7S, 9D, AH, 4H, KD


I really, really want this trick in my repertoire. I've tried performing it twice already using the Expert Card Technique explanation and, unfortunately, each time the 9D was selected and not the 4H. Bollocks.

I'm going to keep it though and give it a few more trials before giving up on it. Fortunately, it's a quick routine and it has to do with "mind reading" so if you miss, it's easy enough to say "and that's why I've never won the lottery" and move on.

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