The Classic Pass – Another Approach

Tony Noice

Tony Noice strongly disagrees with my recent article on the importance of performing the pass under overt misdirection.

His writing demonstrates a highly specific approach to theatrical issues. His perspective on the proper use of the shift can only add to our discussion.

In this letter  he describes a view favored by many advanced sleight of hand practitioners.  It will give many of you new ideas to think about.


Hi Aaron,
I disagree. I believe that the classic pass is almost (although not completely) wasted UNLESS the spectators are burning your hands. Otherwise, why spend all those years on a pass? I rarely do it as a secret move, but rather save it for occasions when it does something no other move can do. For example, in an ambitious card routine, after a couple of phases, insert the card face up, invite the spectator to look at the top of the deck through the archway of the right hand. Riffle — and the card seems to melt through to the top. Other uses would include a sandwich effect where the two face up jacks are placed on the top and visibly vanish, apparently having traveled through the deck to trap a selection. Of course, this presupposes that one can do the pass undetectably with the hands still (i.e., no “rocking” covering move). The Professor once told me that I did as good a riffle pass as he had seen, so I assume mine is serviceable.


Thanks to Tony for an illuminating discussion. He’s describing the elegant, visual style of card magic that developed in California during the sixties and seventies. The California school developed thanks to the presence of masters Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller, and includes such notable members as Earl Nelson, Steve Freeman and Michael Skinner. When these incredible workers performed, softness and elegance were of chief importance.   I count myself among the converted – it was only after seeing these men, and a few more like them, that I was able to conceive of the magic in my first book, The Paper Engine.

Over time our ideas about magic change. So does our performance style. Unless I find myself in an intimate situation, where slow and visual magic seem appropriate, I seldom draw any focus to the deck during the execution of any sleight. Even so, one need only witness an artist such as John Carney or Bill Goodwin to appreciate the simple fact: in the hands of a master, this kind of magic can be breathtaking. 

Now it’s your turn. You’ve read my article, and Tony’s response. Perhaps you prefer his point of view to mine. Perhaps, like me, you think each approach has it’s proper time and place.  Drop a comment – let me know what you think!



Aaron Fisher



14 Responses to “The Classic Pass – Another Approach”

  1. 1 Keith Brown October 3, 2007 at 10:08 pm


    this is a very interesting topic. I would have to agree that a pass can be loose and casual which brings it to a beautiful and clean handling. If you misdirect and perform the shift the moment your hands come together, no one sees it. It’s quiet.

    If you depend on the pass for an effect where people burn your hands, you could try to slow the effect down and make it more interactive. Or you could do a fast shift that accomplishes things other sleights can’t do. If you used that people could burn your hands all you want for when you get into that type of situation. But you don’t want to be in that situation.

    Both of these situations and kinds of shifts work. But the one is cleaner, slower, more dramatic and stunning. The other is fast and visual and done with a cover. I would prefer to have situation one rather than number 2.

    Just some thoughts.


  2. 2 Jason Bomar October 3, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    I suppose that I should start by qualifying myself and saying that I am still fairly new to magic, and I do NOT use/do a pass at all. So I cannot speak within the context of the pass itself, but could we not look at the two approaches as they apply to sleight of hand in general? Aaron gave, in my opinion, a great talk on the DL a while back at the Castle. I think a lot of people who just “did” them without thinking, suddenly gave thought to how/when/why to do them … and anytime we stop to think about things like that, we are really taking a moment to improve ourselves. Even if the eventuality is to change NOTHING, we have improved in that we took the time to openly analyze what we are doing, and how else it MIGHT be done, and coming to the (hopefully honest) conclusion that “yup, this is the way for me still.”

    So with that in mind, I think both approaches are perfectly fine. Tony has a great point – the very reason HE has mastered this sleight to the degree he has – is to be able to perform it, WHEN he needs to perform it. That has at least two salient points; a) it is specific to his methodology and approach; and b) it sounds like something that is used in very specific circumstances, not just on a whim. He says as much in his note, that it is reserved for when it can accomplish something nothing else can accomplish as well. But just because he takes this path, does not invalidate another one. I cannot think of why it would be superior or inferior to use either method over the other, as long as you understand WHY the method YOU use is right for you.

    I believe that at the end of the day, great magic can be accomplished – and as importantly – presented while travelling either path. Just my thoughts.


  3. 3 Mike Vincent October 4, 2007 at 12:29 am

    Dear Aaron

    This is a very provocative issue.

    There was a time in my life when my ego got in the way of craft and art.
    I was very proud of my technique with the riffle pass. I saw Ken Krenzel, Derek Dingle and Howard Schwartzman all execute the Classic Pass impeccably. These fine gentlemen were my role models.

    With time my values changed; I decided that being deceptive and presenting elegant card magic become my top priority, consequently, my approach to stealth execution become very important to me.

    Routines like The Cavorting Aces and The Ladies Looking Glass and The Conus Aces have become trade marks for me because my attitude towards the execution of the Classic Pass and all its variant become much more covert.

    I don’t have an issue with using the Classic Pass to control a card over using it to create an effect. What is important is the final outcome that is left with the audience. My final goal is simply to inspire my audience with the feeling of magic.

    My routines are all classical in structure and help me to achieve that goal. All of my sleights are executed on a total relaxation as Slydini taught me first hand.

    This debate will have to be judged by all card men in term of their own values and beliefs; it’s a voyage of discovery.

    There is no right or wrong way, only what is.


    Mike Vincent

  4. 4 Twozwozer October 4, 2007 at 12:39 am

    I use the pass in my ACR when my hands are being burnt, although, I use some slight misdirection. I say to the person who put the card in the middle. ” How many cards down the deck do you think you put your card?” I wait 2 seconds, and then EVERYONE looks up at my eyes. I don’t know why, but every time I say that, they all look into my eyes at the same time. As soon as I catch there eyes. BANG. Pass is done.

    I like to use the pass as a control its great, because to the spectators it looks like you haven’t done anything, where as if you did a double under cut, it looks like you controlled the card.

    Also I liked Tony’s idea of the jacks melting away, I never thought of that, and now I really need to try it.

    Cheers, Tom

  5. 5 aaronfishermagic October 4, 2007 at 12:58 am

    As far as I’m concerned, both of these approaches require misdirection.

    My classical approach, as Michael Vincent so effectively put it, requires “macro” misdirection. Tom’s idea above fits into this category.

    Tony’s approach also uses misdirection, but on a “micro” level. I wrote on this topic a great deal in The Paper Engine. I was specifically talking about the misdirection you can apply with one finger to make an audience, if only subconsciously, focus on another finger. The audience still has a sense that their attention has been focused on the pack. But even in looking at the pack itself, it’s possible to control which part of the deck will draw focus.

    With Thanks,
    Aaron Fisher

  6. 6 Ray Jaegers October 4, 2007 at 2:29 am

    I suppose an argument could be made that you are both right. Tony is correct that the riffle pass to apparently show a face-up card traveling to the top of the deck is a stunning, visual move. It presupposes that eyes are glued on the deck. However, you notice he said the spectator looks down at the top of the deck through the arch of the right hand. What about the other spectators? Are they at angles where they can get this same view? Probably not. Would they perhaps see the ‘tells’ that a pass occured? Maybe, maybe not. So what I take from Tony’s point is that for an individual or a small group, his approach works.

    I also believe that you are correct in saying that the classic pass needs misdirection. Any move benefits from misdirection. Since nothing should be seen and nothing suspected, why require that the audience look at the deck? Panering to one’s own vanity is a good answer.

    Finally, I have seen several top-flight card workers perform the pass and they all had ‘tells’. Whether a dip or a flash, there was some indication that the pass had taken place. To be fair, I’ve also seen some that were amazingly invisible. I knew a pass occured but did not see any evidence of the fact.

    This age-old debate will continue thoughout time. It is a healthy debate and the only winners are the ones who go into the real world and perform effectively–whatever method they choose.

    Thanks for the interesting topics!

    St. Louis, MO

  7. 7 Michael Kelley October 4, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Hi Aaron – I apologize as I never got the chance to post on the previous article. Anyway – I think Tony has a point. I think the Pass has it’s place in visual performance. An undetectable pass while someone is burning the deck making it truly seem as if the card just appeared face up on top of the deck, can be visually stunning. The problem lies here…how many people can REALLY do a pass that sweet? Completely undetectable, in someones face – CONSITANTLY. The answer? Not many – or at least not nearly as many who attempt it for people.

    The following is a comment I made to a discussion on an ACR and using the pass. The individual who’s name I’ve **** out believed their pass good enough to use as every move of their routine. Sadly, there are many youngsters out there that feel this is appropriate. Here is one of my comments.

    The pass is over rated, over attempted and over used – and generally not nearly as hot as the performer thinks. This isn’t to impune your pass *****. However an ACR consisting of nothing but passes can’t be that entertaining. The pass if used as *A* single part of the routine can make for a nice appearance…especially if face up. Any more than that means you are working too hard to achieve results better gained by other moves.

    The problem is how and when it is used. There’s a big judgement call. I tend to more agree with your original article, but as I noted – if and when it’s good enough, using it “visually” (if you get my drift) can be very magical.

    Great topic.

  8. 8 Dennis van den Hove October 4, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    I couldn’t disagree with Tony more. Inviting a spectator to watch closely as you do a sleight, comes close to the puzzle mentality that is frowned upon by many.

    We are supposed to do MAGIC. That implies we don’t use any trickery or sneakiness to accomplish the effects we do. Our audiences are, with a few exceptions, far from stupid; they KNOW magic is impossible. However, why would one not just downplay the magic, but actually ask them to try and catch you just as you are about to execute any technique? That completely dispells all magic!

    We’ve all heard the phrase “running when one isn’t being chased”. If I understand Tony correctly, he asks people to please chase him before he even starts running.

  9. 9 Intensely Magic October 4, 2007 at 7:00 pm


    After watching magic for over 50 years, I’m convinced that an invisible pass exists only in the mind of the performer. Certainly some are better, much better, than others, but EVERY pass I have seen has a hop – a flick – a noise – something that tells the spectator something has happened and that is as bad as knowing what happened.

    Covers such as jerky movements, many riffles and/or turns are so contorted and contrived that they are nearly comical.


  10. 10 Matt G. October 4, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    It all comes down to what kind of performer you are and what kind of trick you are doing. Now I’m not an expert on the pass, I’m still in the R&D phase (as Aaron would call it) of a pass that suits me. But I agree it can be amazing to see a card visually melt to the top of the deck because to a spectator, even to a magician who knows the secret, if done correctly it looks absolutely amazing. Now is it better to perform a pass in the midst of mass misdirection or underfire? It all depends on the performer, their skill level (not only technical skill but audience managements), and the trick. For me if I would use a pass I would do it when no one expects it however some people perfer to do it underfire. So for me personally, I would have to agree with Aaron. Tony has some very good points though so if you can preform the move invisibly to create visual miracles then you should by all means do it like Tony says. So to conclude, there is no right or wrong answer because every single performer is different. So see what suits you personally and the trick your trying to do. Have Fun and don’t worry to much about the technical details because in the spectator’s mind it does not really matter if the card is face up or face down when the card rises to the top.


    Matt. G

  11. 11 Matthew Field October 6, 2007 at 11:05 am

    I’ve got to disagree with Tony, at leaat on one level, when he says the Pass is not worth doing UNLESS the hands are being burned.

    There are several uses for the Pass. The one Tony is using it for in his Ambitious routine is as a Color Change, and it is certainly effective in that role.

    The other common use is as an invisible card control. We can debate till the cows come home whether the Pass is better than a Side steal in this regard, but what each of these controls has to offer is that there is no change in the appearance of the deck before and after the move, that is, nothing appears to have happened after the spectator replaces his card in the deck.

    No other controls allow that (at least none that come to mind) and to limit the use of the Pass to a Color Change is to tremendously restrict the options for the worker.

    Anyway, that’s my view.

    Thank you, Aaron, for a stimulating discussion, and for your insightful writing.

    Matt Field

  12. 12 Matthew Field October 6, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Sorry — I left out the Diagonal Palm Shift as another control that looks neutral, and there are some others. But the Pass is a great move.

    Matt Field

  13. 13 Tony Noice October 7, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Sorry, I’ve been away a few days and the replies have been piling up. I’d like to thank everyone for the carefully considered posts. First, let me say that I never meant to imply that I believe that a pass should never be used as a covert move under misdirection. Rather, I believe that if one has put in the years necessary to perform a pass in which a face up card or cards VISIBLY change, the result is truly magical and should be used in that way – one card literally seems to melt into another. Many examples of a burnable pass are around including those by Ken Krenzel, Howie Schwarzman, Peter Duffie, Jamy Ian Swiss, and the sorely missed Derek Dingle. A good, smooth pass that can be done under misdirection can be learned in a fraction of the time required for a burnable pass. Therefore, I do believe that if one has invested the years necessary to perform this type of pass but never uses it for a visual change, one has wasted valuable extra time that could have been used to acquire other sleights that he or she WOULD use. Indeed, I believe the visible use is the only one that justifies the enormous amount of practice for a burnable pass. Otherwise, why not just learn a good, smooth, pass that will be perfectly deceptive with a modicum of misdirection?

  14. 14 aaronfishermagic October 8, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Thanks for the comment Tony – I think you’re absolutely right.I absolutely love opportunities where it’s really appropriate to do the kind of work you’re talking about here. That’s the reason I got into magic in the first place.



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