Friday, October 15, 2010

Basic? Fundamental? Or both?

The Double Lift

The double turnover (an extension of the double-lift concept) has without a doubt become one of the most used, abused, and exposed sleights in all of card magic. The double-lift concept is surprisingly old, having first appeared in the literature in 1716, in Richard Neve’s ‘The Merry Companion’. The idea never seemed to catch on, as it didn’t see print again (at least in English) for almost 200 years, when it was re-published in August Roterberg’s 1897 classic ‘New Era Card Tricks’. And then, again, it wasn’t really until Vernon started using more natural looking double-turnover techniques in New York (in the 1920s, I believe) that the move began to gain real popularity.

Unfortunately, like other things that Vernon created and/or popularized (such as the double-undercut) the move became abused by many.

It is a common opinion today that the double-lift/turnover is a beginner’s move, especially amongst the younger generation in magic. Some in the older generation seem to agree, as it can be found in many books on magic geared toward beginners (usually with descriptions that leave much to be desired). I believe this opinion exists because of the fact that the double-lift/turnover became a FUNDAMENTAL technique in 20th century card magic. It has dominated sleight of hand since it gained popularity, being so versatile as to switch, change, and control cards, for starters.

‘Fundamental’ unfortunately does not necessarily equate with ‘easy’. The double-lift/turnover, is, in my opinion, an intermediate-level move, and can be mastered only with an advanced understanding of both sleight-of-hand and the psychology behind deception (including misdirection).

There are, of course, a plethora of techniques, finesses, subtleties, and other nuances that have been developed for the double-lift/turnover. There are also debates as to which techniques are the ‘most natural’ and therefore the most deceptive. My personal belief is that as long as the double-lift/ turnover accurately emulates the execution of a single-lift, and does so without displaying any excess tension, the actual mechanics are not of great importance. There is no consensus amongst people (laymen) on how to turn a card over, so stud-style, book-style, or other, it’s your choice.

Now, making your singles and doubles look identical is paramount to your doubles being deceptive. Not only must the physical turning of the double appear identical to a single, but the tension must also be the same. This means that any get-ready (if you use one) must be done prior to the lift/turnover sequence, so as to not enable the audience to distinguish a single from a double (a single does not have a get-ready, so a double should not be perceived to have one either). The amount of pressure and precaution used in the turnover must also be equal from singles to doubles. And, since singles use little pressure and precaution (since neither are necessary) your doubles should look and feel the same.

At this point, you may be wondering if there’s an advantage to using a ‘no get-ready’ double. I think the answer is yes, with a caveat. While ‘no get-ready’ lifts are great (and I use one frequently) I also believe it’s necessary to have get-ready double techniques in your arsenal as well. This is because you may at some time be requested to perform something, and the deck being used at the time (perhaps borrowed) may not be in a condition conducive to ‘no get-ready’ techniques. Having a back-up plan (and a large arsenal of tools) prepares you for almost any situation and environment you may have to perform in.

Lastly, increasing the deceptiveness of your double can be accomplished by a careful examination of the material you perform. Look carefully at pieces in your repertoire that require double-lift/turnovers, and ask yourself ‘are there too many doubles in this routine?’ or ‘are these doubles occurring at good moments, or is there a lot of heat when they occur?’ as you may be surprised. Many routines, in my opinion, suffer from the above two problems. Doubles are performed at the wrong time, or too often (or in some cases, both). Sometimes a little restructuring is all that’s needed. In some cases, alternative methods may be best.

This has been very brief, but I hope you find it useful food for thought. If you enjoyed these thoughts, and would like me to go into more depth on any of them, please let me know, either by leaving a comment or through e-mail.

Until next time,



  1. I'd be interested to hear what your go-to double turnovers are. It sounds like you use a variety, but is there a standard no-get ready and standard get ready double for your repertoire?

  2. Great article, Jeff. I agree with what you said. Using doubles too frequently and at the wrong times was something that I found myself doing when I was first starting out.

    I heard an interview with Eugene Burger where he commented that this was the problem with the Chicago Opener: the double takes place when all heat is on the odd backed card. In theory, he may be right, but I think the plot has become a classic for a reason. In the real world, it just works.

    Any thoughts on this?