Faro Fundamentals by Greg Chapman

When I hear from Greg Chapman that he’s working on a new book, my ears perk up like a rabbit hearing about a new cabbage patch. His first two books, Details of Deception and The Devil’s Staircase were advanced explorations of gambling style card material with methods that leave the audience in the dust. When I heard what Greg was up to this time, I was filled with joy in a completely different way. What he had in mind was a small book, 52 pages to be exact—a monograph, for the more precise among us—on the faro shuffle. And I’m happy to say that book has now come to fruition, Faro Fundamentals. (Full disclosure: I gladly did some proofreading on this as well as the earlier books.)

It was a brilliant idea. First, because Greg was the man to do it, and second, because it was such an obvious gap in the literature that it was startling that no one had thought about it before. Those starting the journey of learning the faro shuffle have always had to be like mosaic quilters taking patches from here and patches from there, piecing together the knowledge. Some of the sources were easily available and some of the sources were not. You didn’t know where it was going to turn up. The knowledge consisted of three categories: a) the mechanical information necessary to actually accomplish the shuffle, b) the properties of the shuffle that make it useful, and c) how to put those properties to work in magic effects. Although there are some wonderful chapters about the faro in Marlo, Elmsley, and Expert Card Technique, to my knowledge there was no one exclusive resource that covered all three aspects. Greg’s book can help in all three areas.

Let’s start off with just learning how to do the damn thing. I have to admit I am skeptical of those who claim to have learned the shuffle from the few sentences in a certain famous book about close-up card magic. If you did, my hat’s off to you, and you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Let’s face it, for most,  there will be cursing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the beginning without proper instruction. Fortunately, Greg’s book addresses several issues that beginners to the shuffle come up against. If listened to, Greg’s helpful advice can significantly cut down on the wrong approaches that only serve to frustrate. Greg has the knowledge and the chops to describe and to illustrate excellently what an approach to the faro could be. He isn’t dogmatic about how to approach it—he openly admits that if you’ve already got an approach that works for you, fine, then go with it; he isn’t trying to proselytize for one particular method. What he does do, though, is to lay out a path to achieve the faro. I especially enjoyed the line drawings made from photos to emphasize the key placements of the fingers of each hand. I also learned some very surprising properties of straddle faros.

As Jeremy Griffin says spot on in his foreword to the book, when it comes to the faro shuffle, people tend to overestimate its difficulty or underestimate its usefulness. In ancient Greece, at a certain point, students of Euclidean geometry advanced to a theorem known as the “Bridge of Asses.” The student had learned all the proofs of previous theorems, but now it was time to join the big boys: the crossing of that bridge signaled something special. It meant that if you could now prove that theorem you had enough tools under your belt to tackle the larger problems. So it is with the faro. I can’t say that I use the faro everyday, but the learning of the faro is what convinced me that I could actually progress further with card sleights. Once you have the faro under your belt, nothing seems too difficult to accomplish. I mean it’s absurd on the face of it: to perfectly split the cards in half and then to perfectly interlace them while no one suspects that that is what you are doing? And moreover, even if they do understand what you are doing, they don’t understand the implications of such an action? That’s powerful.

And that’s something that Greg has expressed to me as a prime motivation for writing the book: “If only I could get folks to climb this mountain with me, because from up here you can see what’s on the other side. Sometimes you can’t know what’s possible until you actually experience something.” Jeremy Griffin in the introduction puts it perfectly: there is the balance of learning something along with all its difficulty, but also balancing the knowledge of its potential on the other side.

And so Greg’s teaching of the faro has a not-so-hidden agenda: he wants to teach you the fundamentals because he wants to grab you and take you up the mountain so that you can see what he sees. And what’s up there? Well, of course, some wonderful effects like Paul Gertner’s Unshuffled (which he doesn’t teach here) and the two bonus routines Greg does teach from his two previous books. But also more than tricks; once you know the faro shuffle you have a very effective way of controlling cards to any position while doing a very fair shuffle, and when combined with a memdeck, it’s an especially powerful tool.

There are those who are skeptical of the audience acceptance of the faro shuffle, and feel like that’s why they wouldn’t want to spend time to learn it. But Greg definitely holds another view. He gives persuasive arguments and advice on how to condition the spectator to accept the shuffle’s fairness and naturalness. Yes, another magician will often recognize an in-the-hands faro—but even then, Greg suggests ways that can throw the wise guys off course. Of course, if one can master the table faro, then that objection disappears completely; and while not claiming to be the last word on the table faro, and acknowledging its difficulty, Greg also gives some tips for achieving it. I don’t pretend that I am willing to put in the time, or that reading Greg’s book will make me a master of the table faro, no book can do that, but I know that if ever one day I wanted to start that journey, this would be the first place I would look to begin my instruction.

The two effects that Greg includes from his previous two books are “Searchers Undone” which is an almost self–working (aside from the faro) version of Larry Jennings “Searchers” effect, where two black kings trap two known cards; and a real magician fooler, “One Card Missing”: a card is chosen, the deck shuffled, cut by the spec, and then shuffled, cut again by the spec, spread for an instant and the performer names the card. (Think about those spectator cuts, even if you’re familiar with the faro!) Greg also streamlines a Marlo location: a card is taken by a spec from the center of the deck, replaced, shuffled, one cut, and the card is on top. The strong parts here are that no breaks are held after the card is replaced, and the shuffle happens immediately afterwards. There’s nothing to see.

As I mentioned before, Greg’s hope is to open up a can of worms. He tantalizing gives you a glimpse of what in practice the ability to faro nonchalantly can mean for stack work. The positioning of cards as they are shuffled means that one can work not with just one kind of stack but different stacks throughout a set for different purposes. Imagine various effects depending on the deck being stacked first by color, then by suit, then by four of a kind. The faro becomes a powerful tool to cycle from one stack to another with relatively little effort.

Is there everything here about the faro? No; in this 52-page book there’s not going to be everything, nor is it meant to be encyclopedic, though there is a short bibliography of major works concerning the faro. Greg’s last two books were eagerly snatched up by aficionados, but they were clearly for a limited audience. But I predict that Faro Fundamentals will be one of those relatively rare perennial sellers in the magic literature. Because there can be no question now: if someone asks, “Where should I go to learn about the faro shuffle?” Greg’s book is it.

If you’ve been putting off learning the faro, or you’ve tried but just couldn’t get it, or if you can faro, but want to understand more about what the faro can achieve, I urge you to pick up a copy of Faro Fundamentals. It fills a huge gap in the magical literature and you will be glad to have this as your faro companion.

USPCC NDO to Si Stebbins


If the title seems cryptic, that’s because this post is another one for the magic geeks. So if you’re not a magic fan, this post may not be that interesting to you.

One of the many pleasant contributions to magic of the esteemed card magician Darwin Ortiz  is his way of opening up a new deck of US Playing Card Company cards (Bicycles, Tallys) and rapidly shuffling them into Si Stebbins order. He described his method in a book that is long out of print and expensive to find, even on eBay.

So, some time ago, I tried to reverse engineer the Ortiz method. In so doing, I didn’t discover his method, but I did come up with my own. After finally finding out what the Ortiz method actually was, I realized just how inferior my own attempt was. But here it is, my own (clunky) method for free, just for fun. Perhaps someone can make use of it.

For USPCC NDO to Si Stebbins
1) Run 10 cards, throw deck on top.
2) Run 3 cards, throw deck on top.
3) Say “Oh I forgot about the jokers,” and turn deck face up. Cut the hearts to the top of the deck.
4) Take out the jokers. Say, “I don’t know if there are any more.” Spread the spades, cut at the 7 (that is, the 7 is now the card closest to your palm in the right hand), put the rest of the spades on top of these (without reversing them), then cut all the spades to the top of the deck.
5) Spread the diamonds, cut at the 4, put the rest of the diamonds on top of these, then cut all the diamonds to the top of the deck.
6) Reverse count the clubs into your right hand, stop at the 2 in your right hand, put the Ace under those cards, then cut all the clubs to the top of the deck.
7) Two out faros –keys are 5D and then 8S. You are now in Si Stebbins with the AC on top, JH on the bottom, in CoDfiSH order.

So now for the real value in this post. Last year I was at a magic convention where Gene Anderson slayed a large roomful of magicians with his Si Stebbins routine. He sells the manuscript describing the routine for a laughably small amount on his website.

Are Your Lessons Done?

I’m going to talk about something that I don’t think I am able to talk about directly. So let me tell some stories.

When I was in college, I had a very strange and seminal experience with my acting teacher.  During his office hours, I asked him an acting question. He told me to stop and try an exercise. He told me to focus my attention on exactly what I could sense with my senses, one by one, at that moment.  And as I did so, I sensed his aura grew stronger and stronger. My teacher was a short heavy African-American man. From the cloud of that aura, he transformed into a tall, thin, Russian man, who I recognized as Stanislavski.

I was not under the influence of any drugs at the time.

I was somewhat alarmed and told my teacher why; he was calm, and said, just remember what brought you to this place.

Sometime later, I performed a scene in his class, and as was his custom, after the scene was over, he said to me and my scene partner, “What were you working for, and how did it go?” I forget what the scene was, but it was always a little nerve-wracking to have to speak about my work, and I muttered something. Then he pointed to my foot which was jiggling up and down. “When,” he asked, “will we see that in your acting?”

From a different field: magicians have a way of shuffling a deck of cards that they call a faro shuffle. I’m not going to go into why magicians like to shuffle this way, but suffice it to say that there are certain properties of the shuffle that are inherently useful to a card magician.

Now the faro shuffle is not simple to acquire. For better or for worse, once you can faro shuffle, you generally are not considered a beginner at cards anymore. You can read a number of descriptions in the magic literature about learning this shuffle; how to place each finger, what the action of the left pinky and right forefinger are, how to adjust for the varying qualities of card stock and brands, and so on. But one thing almost all the books agree on is this: the way to learn how to do the faro is to find someone who already knows how to do it. Then you ask them to teach you.

American actors classify themselves into the Strasberg, Adler, Meisner, or Spolin camps. Magicians trace their lineage to Vernon or Marlo.

There is the written law, and there is the oral tradition. Furthermore, every religion has its exoteric and the esoteric traditions. Actors and magicians too.

Another time, I did a scene where I played a character who uses racist language. Afterwards, my teacher asked me to take a moment, and think back to when I–not the character–first saw my first Black person. My thoughts raced back to my childhood. He looked at me for a few seconds: “That.” My mind jumped at the indication. How did he know I was thinking that, then?

What book? What text? How is it preserved? What, exactly, is transmitted? Can the thread be lost? How far from me to you?