Aaron Fisher on Tension in Card Magic: an excerpt from The Paper Engine

This is the new edition of The Paper Engine. Scroll down for an excerpt from the book….enjoy!



The paper is still perfect.

The photos are still crisp.

The price is now better than ever.

The Paper engine.

Now available for the first time in Paperback.

Join the Revolution

click here.


 Please Note: This excerpt appears in the book just after the description of the Gravity Half Pass. This is NOT the full description of the Gravity Half Pass – to  fully understand the technique you’ll need the full description. As you read this article think about how the ideas in it relate to your sleight of hand on the whole – not just the perfect half pass.

If The Paper Engine has had any effect on the amount of tension in your card work, post a comment below and tell us about it.


Thoughts and Commentary: The Gravity Half Pass

Tension can be the Achilles heel of any advanced card-worker. Any time a muscle contracts, there is at least a small degree of tension and this can be detected by audiences, if only subconsciously. Most advanced card techniques are highly susceptible to tension. A friend once quipped that he could tell whether a certain card expert was dealing tops, seconds, or bottoms by the number of veins throbbing in his forehead. While this was a mild exaggeration, it was not unfounded. It does not matter that the worker in question has visually deceptive techniques; audiences can feel the tension and instinctively sense trickery. One way to alleviate tension in the performance of sleight-of-hand is through design.


The best way to remove muscle tension is to eliminate the muscle’s participation in the action — find another way to get the job done. For example, assume you are standing on the roof of a building, holding a set of keys. If your goal is to loan the keys to your friend on the sidewalk below, you can either carry them down or drop them to him. It is more efficient to drop an object than to carry it. Several items in this book (including the half pass) allow gravity to manipulate the cards, keeping the manipulation on the performer’s part to a minimum.


As the sleight commences and the cards begin to revolve, the only pressure exerted is that necessary to modulate the action. One doesn’t want to lose control, or go too fast, or not stop at the right time. Pressure is only exerted to focus the moving energy — energy initiated by gravity. This is similar to the steering technique my driving instructor called controlled slippage. Turning the wheel while going into a turn can require difficult, hand-over-hand action. Muscles pull, readjust, and then pull again. Coming out of a turn, however, is far easier. One no longer has to pull, but only allow the wheel to adjust.


Humans should not trifle with the forces of nature. As Spalding Gray quoted Athol Fugard in Swimming to Cambodia, The sea’s a lovely lady when you play in her, but, if you play with her, she’s a bitch.” keep this in mind if you choose to invoke natural forces, such as gravity in your technique, great care should be taken in the initiation of the reversal (the left-hand action). In a standard handling, with the left fingers reversing the cards, pressure can be added or released as needed. In this method there is only one chance to release your control over the packet and then only one chance to re-establish it.


The gravity half pass should never be rushed. If the sleight is hurried, the pack tends to overshot the right palm entirely. This sort of thing is to be avoided, so take care. Gravity is your friend, but it can also kill.


Those interested in further study of the half pass should know that perhaps the greatest exponent of half-pass applications is Scotland’s famed card expert, Roy Walton. His routines with both the standard half pass and his spread half pass are vital explorations into the subject. Careful study of his work is mandatory for any serious student of card magic.



6 Responses to “Aaron Fisher on Tension in Card Magic: an excerpt from The Paper Engine”

  1. 1 Matthew January 11, 2008 at 2:30 am

    Looks great! I like the color selection and the modern look.

  2. 2 Brett Taylor January 11, 2008 at 3:39 am

    Hey Aaron,

    Tyler Wilson was telling me how sweet this was when I stayed with him in December. Later that day Lee showed me it and I gotta say, its freakin awesome. The new look, the colours, it all just fits so well. And nothing is compormised. Nice work, I might have to buy another one.

  3. 3 Ben Long January 11, 2008 at 3:41 am

    Looks nice. Is the quality of the pages the same? Maybe I’ll pick this up for my friend. He really wants to step up with his card magic. This, if any, is the chance to do it.

  4. 4 T.J. January 12, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    The new edition looks stellar. The cards in the iris of the eye is a nice touch.

    As for the material in the book, I just bought it a couple weeks ago and haven’t been able to put it down. I can honestly say that if you took out all of the sleights and effects in this book and just left the “thoughts and commentary,” I would feel it was still worth the money. The Paper Engine has enabled me to observe the art of what we do from different perspectives. These new paradigms are what make improvement possible. Thank you, Aaron!

  5. 5 Yoav Attias January 12, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Hey Aaron,
    i saw the paperback in MARS!
    it is fantastic!
    to bad i allready got the “Hardbound” edistion ^^
    the book is great;),it is one of the best i read in the past couple of month(i didn’t finsih it yet:()
    i recommend each and every one of you to buy it,speacily now for those of you that didint buy the hardbound edision becuse it was too expensive,now you have the paperback edistion.

    Your firend in Israel ;),

    Yoav Attias

  6. 6 Michael Tim February 28, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I love your site!

    Experiencing a slow PC recently? Fix it now!

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