Does Your Shuffle Look Suspicious? - Part 2

A week or two ago, I broached the subject of wanting to find a new up-the-ladder style running cut. A false one, no less. Remembering several, my mind turned immediately towards the description of a running cut in Principia, a book by Harapan Ong.

If you're interested, the cut description begins on page 141 in the section that is suitably titled Routines with a Tabled False Cut: Rapid Fire Benzais & That Escalated Quickly. The routines are super visual and fast, and this false cut is very suited for them. It's also not a difficult cut to learn, especially if you aren't too worried about how large of a step your packets have. And this topic led me to the thought of, is it okay for a false shuffle or cut to appear "suspicious"?

False Cuts, An Overview

There are many types of false cuts but breaking them down into categories you have an in-the-hands false cut and an on-the-table false cut. If multiple spectators are involved, they would still cut the deck in their hands or on a table too, so I think that these two categories are solid. Ah, and we can't forget the in-the-hands cuts that go to the table...

In The Hands

A lot of cuts that are performed in your hands have a hint of flourish to them. A tiny hint, or an over the top "hey ma, look what I can do" one. The fanciest I've seen in a professional show is a Sybil Cut, but typically the performer will use more minimal cuts like a Double Undercut or a Swing Cut. The Swing Cut is a very basic cut but is just flourishy enough to make your card handling skills appear that much smoother.

The thing is, with the three cuts that I just named, the least flourishy one (Double Undercut) and the most flourishy one (Sybil Cut) are false. The Swing Cut is, if done naturally, a real cut. Yes, I know, a Double Undercut could be a real cut -- but it looks so unnatural to me that I really don't know any reason why a person would use it as a real cut.

And therein lies the problem. To make the Swing Cut false, you have to bump up the flourish factor in it. The more "handling" you use, the more suspicious the cut will appear. Or the more skill you're believed to have which leads to the diminishing "magic" factor. If you're standing and doing everything in your hands, you're likely not performing a gambling routine or something that would benefit from non-flourished cuts, so maybe that's not a terrible thing?

Table Cuts

Let's talk about tabled cuts. We have the simple, regular cut, where you take a packet off the top of the deck and table it and then the remaining packet goes on top. Expanding this we then have multi-packet cuts where instead of a single packet off the top, you take multiple. So far, so good.

Bumping up the fun-to-watch factor, enter in running cuts. These are where packets are pulled from the bottom of the deck to the top in a continuous fashion making several smooth and rapid cuts of the deck. There are variations that change this description slightly, but that's the gist of it really. To me, this is a flourishy cut. I've never seen it performed by a non-magician either, but all the magicians that I do see it with always say that that's how it's done in casinos. Given that I've never sat at a card table in a casino, I can't vouch for the truth to the statement.

Speaking of casinos though, cuts on the table are often seen to have less ability for false-ness because there is less room for your hands to be able to conceal the deck, less room to perform any sleight of hand. As magicians, we know that that's just not true. A regular cut can be undone or worked with as-is. Multi-packet cuts can prove to be a disaster if they're done by the spectator but done by a magician it's actually easy to make them false (and to look more real than a real one!). And running cuts, sheesh. I have a hard time believing that even honest ones aren't sometimes accidentally false.

A Thought About False Shuffles

I've always loved false shuffles. A good push-through, a nice Zarrow, even the Triumph Shuffle -- solid choices. In the hands, on a table, on your knee if you really need to. Why would you ever want to do a real shuffle when you have so many good, and bad, choices for false shuffles?!

There are a lot of discrepancy similarities between different shuffles and cuts, specifically around the flourish-factor and ones that naturally look suspicious. But does it matter?

Shuffles, in my opinion, are less likely to be burned than a cut though. I've sat at a table with a dozen guys playing poker and every one of them shuffled the deck in a different way. One was skilled enough to do a riffle shuffle in his hands, finished with a nice bend-the-cards bridge. Others rocked different variations of overhand shuffles. I even watched one guy, the first non-magician I've ever seen even know what it was, do a Hindu shuffle. And I've been near even more folks who just don't know how to shuffle. The point being, with so many common ways to shuffle and the spectator crowd not an expert on any, shuffling the deck is just a transparent action that's done while the magician rambles on.

Yes, I'm oversimplifying everything and ignoring half (or more) use cases. However, thinking about it, nobody has ever paid attention to my shuffling. It's always the cuts. The cuts that aren't the simple "take half of the deck off and put the other half on top of it." Anything different from that has eyes glued to it, and that's a problem.

Coincidentally, The Jerx recently did a Zarrow vs. Push-Through test with audiences and came up with some neat info about which one looks more fake. His takeaway vibes very well with what I'm trying to get across here too in that, most of the time it doesn't matter what shuffle you use -- but if you need focus on the shuffle, then it matters a lot.

Is There an "It Depends" Answer?

Okay, so, bringing everything back to the topic here, let's ignore false shuffles and talk about false cuts. The big question on my mind is whether it's okay for your false cut to look "suspicious."

Part of me, the perfectionist, wants to say that it's never okay -- it always has to be flawless. The realist in me, however, makes me think at a larger scale.

Going back to Ong's Rapid Fire Benzais routine with his new running cut, I see the case where it doesn't matter. The cut itself looks suspicious by default as the steps are shifting from left-to-right. I thought that it was just me at first, so I tried to make them smaller and do the cut more smoothly. Doing that though, I wasn't able to do the routine very well. I referenced the performance video that comes along with Principia and believe it or not, Ong's handling looks the same. The steps in the cuts are wide; as a magician, my first thought when watching is that he's controlling the deck. However, it didn't take away from the routine at all! If it were a single cut, sure, I would have jumped to a "false cut, nice handling" kind of reaction but no. This persisted and Ace after Ace comes spinning out of the deck. The appearance of the cuts didn't matter one bit.

The next trick in the book, That Escalated Quickly, was similar. It utilized the same running cut, but also added in multiple packet cuts one after another. There was so much going on in the routine that it was impossible to notice whether the running cut looked suspicious. Hot damn!

So, the answer is that it's perfectly okay for a cut to look suspicious, right? Well, let's think of another popular routine -- Sam the Bellhop, as performed by Bill Malone.

This is, in my opinion, one of the best routines utilizing false shuffles and cuts. There are several of both throughout the entire performance, and multiple times he has a spectator cut the deck too. And yet, he maintains complete control over the order of the entire deck. The caveat is though, if there is ever a tell that this is the case -- i.e., if it appears that it's a false shuffle or cut -- the trick's effect is far less impressive. It would change from an impressive way of controlling the exact cards you need during shuffling the deck to an "oh, you just told us a 5-minute story and laid down cards to line up with it" one. Fun, but meh.

I know, I know... gambling routines. I can hear you screaming at your screen right now that any good gambling routine also needs a flawless false shuffle and cut. However, I disagree. Do you need to be able to perform them? Yes. Do they need to be perfect? No, I don't think they do. When you're performing a gambling routine, you're telling the spectator that it's a gambling routine (normally). It's not magic that you can produce a Royal Flush, or a perfect hand in Bridge. No, you're explicitly showing them that by using sleight of hand you can control the cards. You're demonstrating that it's possible. If your shuffle looks a little suspicious, that doesn't mean that the spectator knows how you did it -- only that you did it. And that's what you're showing them anyways, so it doesn't lessen the effect. That doesn't mean that it's okay to suck; try to make it look great and flawless. But if you're still new, use it as an angle!

I could go on and on, finding examples of both sides. Sometimes it's a bad idea for the cut you're using to look suspicious so make sure to use a simple, non-flourishy one that does exactly what you need. Other times, well, it's okay. Or, even called for! All in all, it depends on the situation, performance and, you.


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