Help with Sleights

Reader Kim McCastle just sent me an excellent question. Here it is, followed by my response.

The Question

“Aaron I am reading Paper Engine with great interest.  I now have workable solutions for the pass which I always found difficult.  So thanks very much.  I was interested in your opinion of where I might find a description of a really great top change.  Sorry this seems so basic but I’m working my way back into close up after many years out of magic.”


The Answer

What a great question! First, I’ll give the basic answer – then I’ll talk about the issues that really matter in the study of the top change.

I personally use the excellent method described by David Williamson in his book Williamson’s Wonders. Close-up workers regard this volume very highly, but frankly, it’s still underrated. Dave’s book is a modern classic, and a must have resource for any serious sleight-of-hand performer. ‘51 cards to pocket’ has been a staple of my repertoire for over a decade and provided the inspiration for my own highly visual effect Panic


Dave Willamson


What Really Counts

The top change gives  sleight of hand students a very hard time. No matter how well you execute any top change technique, you will never learn this move in front of a mirror. This is one sleight you simply have to perform.

The top change bears a great resemblance to it’s cousin, the shift for several reasons:

  • Both sleights require strong misdirection built into the routine to ensure success.
  • These moves have no ‘built in’ cover. The double lift, for example, is performed during the action of turning over the top card of the deck. The turnover pass happens as you turn the deck over. Both the top change and the classic or half passes take place with no such open action to cloak them.
  • Students of both sleights tend to pursue ‘unseeable’ handlings, and in the process, run into trouble. While both of these techniques can be performed invisibly, neither of them can be used effectively unless the performer mastered the requisite timing, focus and misdirection.


Mandy Davis and Me and some annoying magician at the IBM/SAM combined convention a few months back in Kentucky.


The Real Secret of the Top Change

When you see a master card magician execute a beautiful top change in performance, it’s seems impossible – truly magical. There’s nothing to see, and seemingly no cover or misdirection. That, my friends, is the effect. Simply put, it’s an illusion.

The truth is that anyone can learn to have this facility. But if you are in your first couple years with the sleight, and you try to cover it with a casual glint, prepare for disappointment. That sort of mastery takes years to acquire.

In the meantime, you can experience success with these sleights if you structure routines with strong ‘built in’ misdirection to cover the change. At the moment you make the switch your spectator should be actively involved in some action – revealing another card, or picking up a wand.

Using the sleight in such a calculated fashion will help you learn how to direct the audience and command focus. Once you have real confidence in these important areas, you’ll notice a change in your powers. You’ll have confidence in the sleight’s deceptiveness and in your own ability to cover it. Before you know it, you’ll find you can merely turn your head, and in that action, cover just about any sleight with attention to spare.

Your Turn

We all find in our studies that some techniques come easier than others. What sleights have frustrated YOU? Tell  us your story – I’d love to read it and so would your fellow readers!


5 Responses to “Help with Sleights”

  1. 1 dimabbq October 22, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Just wanted to show a perfect example of a flawless TC. Not sure if this is exposure but it is very rare to see someone execute the TC in context, especially a master like Ricky Jay.

  2. 2 Geoff Williams October 22, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Want to learn the top change by DOING it? I HIGHLY recommend Chad Long’s “Now Look Here” as the PERFECT routine for this. The sleight is aided by the fact that ALL the heat is on the tabled card at the critical moment the sleight is performed.

    The audience’s directed attention is SO strong, I even structure my routine to make one of the spectators responsible for watching my right hand all the time (I even scold them several times throughout the routine if I catch them looking away). Even through all of that, I’ve never been caught.

    What a wonderful routine Chad has given us in the magic community for learning, perfecting and polishing the top change.


  3. 3 aaronfishermagic October 22, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Geoff –

    This is such a good idea it HURTS..Highly recommended!


  4. 4 Dave Kirkland October 23, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    A piece of advice I found useful regarding the “Top Change” came from Simon Lovell. His idea was to do a top change at the end of any trick you do. That way the pressure is off, and the misdirection is pretty much built in because the spectators are relaxed at the end of the trick anyway.

    This way you also get more practise because there’s a top change in every trick you do, rather than just one.


  5. 5 Jer October 24, 2008 at 3:58 am

    Thanks for the tips on the top change! I’ve been using it lately to nice effect in just the way you describe. My mentor, a local magician named Mark King suggested also that I add to the misdirection with body language. That is, relax the shoulders, sending the message that the effect is already over and getting eye contact with the audience (I tend to do this effect with only 1-2 people watching) in order to perform the change invisibly without having to make it “burnable”.


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