Mastering The Faro Shuffle
This article will attempt to break down some of the barriers to success at mastering the faro shuffle. I will offer advice on the type and condition of which playing cards are suited to the faro shuffle and also advise on the correct grip and technique to help you succeed. Make no mistake, the faro shuffle is only for the dedicated, it will take many hours spanning many months of constant, diligent practice to master this powerful weapon. However, the advice offered in this article will keep your practice and learning curve to a minimum if followed correctly.
One of the ultimate goals for a magician performing magic with playing cards is mastering the use and performance of the ‘Faro Shuffle’. At first hand mastery of the faro shuffle seems insurmountable and quite impossible. In the book ‘Greater Magic’ author John Northern Hilliard says: “To ask for the perfect faro shuffle would be a good deal like asking the reader to tackle one of the labours of Hercules”. In the same book magic with playing cards is said to be the ‘poetry of all magic’. This notion was further commented on by Rusduck in the magazine ‘The Cardiste’ in which describes the faro shuffle as “The poetry of card work – and poets are few in any art”.
Mastery of the faro shuffle begins will the correct brand of playing card that will allow the mechanics of the shuffle or ‘weave’ to occur in a smooth and easy fashion. Certain brands of playing cards are more suited to the faro shuffle than others by way of their manufacture. Most of the brands produced by the American Playing Card Company will work for the shuffle with some finishes being better than others. British playing cards produced by Waddingtons will make mastery of the shuffle very difficult. The finish to these cards is not of a high quality compared to the American brand and should really be avoided by the beginner. It is possible to achieve the perfect faro shuffle with these cards but perfect consistency will be difficult.
Of the American brands the ones that will get you success more easily are those that have been ‘traditionally cut’. This is important to the mechanics of the weave and deserves further explanation. When playing cards are cut at the factory, 52 sheets of card with each design from the deck are stacked one on top of another. These are then cut through with a hydraulic cutting die, cutting through all 52 layers at the same time. This cutting process was traditionally performed from the face of the deck to the back. However some time ago this process was change to the layers being cut from the back design through to the face of the deck. Why is this important in terms of learning and performing the perfect faro shuffle?
To answer this correctly it depends on whether you are going to learn to weave the two halves of the deck together from the bottom up or from the top down. As the hydraulic die cuts through the deck the downward pressure creates a tiny blur to the edge of each playing card in the direction of the cut. In almost all decks of cards this burr will point from the back design to the face of the deck. If you learn to weave from the bottom of the deck upwards (this is what I recommend) then this burr will be fighting against you and hinder your practice. In order to make things easier one has to purchase a deck that has been traditionally cut – from the face of the deck to the back. This means that the burr will working with you instead of against you. Use a Google search for ‘traditionally cut playing cards’ to find an online supplier whom you can purchase from.
To prove the point and emphasise how important this is (if you are faroing from the bottom up as recommended) take a new deck and try your initial weave from the bottom up with the deck held face down. Depending on the quality of the cards you will find a definite resistance fighting against you. Now try again this time with the deck held face up and you should find little or no resistance because the burr on the cards is working with you. Purchasing a deck that has been traditionally cut reverses the direction of the weave and so enables you to have little or no resistance with the deck held face down when performing the weave. You might often hear or read that a deck has to be ‘trained’ or ‘broken in’ for the faro shuffle. This is true only to a point in that you are re-ordering the direction of the burr on the edge of the card due to constant pressure through practice. If you are new to the shuffle this will hinder your learning and most likely damage the cards due to unnecessary pressure.
In my lectures years ago when talking about the faro shuffle I did offer a few tips on how you can prepare a new deck for use with the faro shuffle, these I will share with you now. Unless you have just washed your hands with soap and water within the last hour or two, your hands will contain some natural moisture and oil on the surface of your skin. You can transfer some of the oil to the edges of the deck by rubbing the edge of the complete deck across the palms of your hands. Do this with all four sides of a new deck. Secondly, holding the complete deck tightly in your hands rub the edges of the deck vigorously against the fabric of some denim jeans to help smooth some of the roughness. I had a smile on my face when this same advice was offered recently by the Buck Twins on their website – you are about 20 years’ too late guys!
So now you should have a good idea about the importance of using the correct playing card for beginning your learning of the shuffle with specific regard to how the cards have been cut. What comes next? The next step is choosing the correct grip for holding the two halves of the deck ready to make the weave. There are a few grips around and when I was learning to execute the shuffle I tried most of them and eventually settled on the one devised by Marlo as being the best and most accurate for consistency. This is shown on page 162 of the book ‘Revolutionary Card Technique’ by Ed Marlo – figure 30 as seen below:
Pay diligent attention to this exact grip as this is your first and all important physical first step to success. Pay particular attention to the position of the left hand little finger, this is referred to as the ‘little finger table’ and is very important. The only personal alterations that I have made to what is displayed in the diagram are twofold; my right hand holds the deck in the same position but further up towards where the two halves meet. Secondly, where the two halves meet in the diagram with a ‘v’ shape I have the halves meeting with both ends of each half being squared. I cannot emphasise how important it is to get this grip correct.
The next step is the beginning of the weave itself where the two halves weave together. Do not worry about cutting the deck at 26 each for the moment as this will be deal with later. It is more important at this stage to get a feeling for how the cards are going to weave together. You will notice from the diagram that the weave is begun form the bottom of the deck and will proceed to the top. As mentioned earlier this is what I recommend although there is no difference to the end result but bear in mind all that was explained earlier concerning the ‘cut’ of the deck. The second most important factor to consider after the correct grip is that both halves of the deck are completely square. I repeat ‘COMPLETELY SQUARE’ because if they are not you can forget trying to make a perfect weave.
If you are positioning the bottom of each half to rest upon the little finger table then the halves will be equal at the bottom ready to begin the weave. Forget if one half is heavier or larger than the other at the top of the deck, at this stage that is unimportant. At this point you might be tempted to begin applying too much pressure trying to ‘push’ each half together. This would be a mistake and will probably result in damage to the cards. Those who know and perform the faro shuffle will readily explain that the shuffle requires little or no pressure as once mastered correctly the cards will literally weave by themselves.
Make the slightest of pressure and then move the right half of the deck towards your body very slowly. If you do this correctly the cards will begin to weave together card for card in perfect unison, one from each half of the deck. Of course ‘If you do this correctly’ is an important statement and the key moment for practice. You will not get the ‘knack’ to this right away but everything that follows depends upon getting this initial weave to happen smoothly with undue pressure. Be diligent and keep practicing until you can start to weave both halves singly from the support of your little finger successfully. I can assure you that it will happen if you have studied the correct grip and have made certain that both halves of the deck are completely square.
After you have successfully mastered how to grip the deck and begin the weave you will find that by applying a steady pressure the cards will weave together perfectly right to the top of the deck. If there are a few spots where the cards have not weaved together singly and might be clustered in groups of two or three, don’t worry at this early stage. The main reason for this is that one or both halves were not perfectly square to begin with or that you applied too much pressure on the cards. You must strive for an even, light touch as too much pressure will only result in problems. Remember to begin the weave from the bottom of the deck through to the top as shown in the diagram. If you insist for whatever reason to learn to faro shuffle from the top of the deck down, then forget purchasing a deck that has been traditionally cut as an ordinary deck will have the burr working with you.
What about learning to cut the deck exactly at 26 I hear you ask? In his writings author Karl Fulves made a telling observation regarding this dilemma. When asked about this he commented that he does not cut at 26 he merely cuts the deck in half equally. While this may result in the same outcome, the application of this statement is quite clever if you think if you ponder it for the moment. Mr. Fulves is quite correct as all those who use the faro shuffle will testify, one does not cut the deck at 26. The cutting of the deck is performed by a visual estimation of where the centre of the deck lies. This is really quite simple and is probably is easiest facet of the faro shuffle to master. Just look to the edge of the deck and visualise where the centre lies and then make the cut. When the halves are now brought to rest on top of the little finger table one will instantly see if the cut is off by a card or two. This measuring of the deck atop the little finger table is a useful device in faro shuffle magic and is referred to by Marlo at the ‘Faro Check’. When learning to do this centre cut I would be surprised if you are ever off by more than a single card. As I said, it is surprisingly easy to do.
With this in mind it is just as easy to cut a 50 card deck in half, or a 48 card deck in half which in some magic routines may well be called for. I should mention that not only do I visually estimate the centre of the deck for the cut; I can also judge the cut by the feel of the packet on the side of my thumb. I rely more on using the feeling from my thumb then I do from the visual estimation. This might sound hard to believe but after you have practiced thousands of faro shuffles your thumb learns to recognise the feel of the 26 card packet. This is also confirmed by the way I perform Marlo’s classic ace cutting routine ‘Miracle Aces’ from the book ‘Faro Controlled Miracles’ most commonly referred to as ‘Estimation Aces’. I place the aces at positions 24,26,28, and 30 ready for cutting. I don’t use any visual information for estimating the cut at position 24 but rely solely on the feel from the side of my thumb for the correct depth.
You should have all the information that is required for mastering the faro shuffle from this article. For further information in print regarding the mechanics and learning of the shuffle look no further than chapters 6&7 in the book;
Revolutionary Card Technique, Magic Inc – 2003
Ed Marlo has routines that employ the use of the Faro shuffle scattered throughout his many published works. See also the ground breaking work of Alex Elmsley in chapter 6 ‘Faro Tapestries’ in his book:
The collected Works of Alex Elmsley Volume 2, Louis Falanga 1994
If you see me at a magic convention and have any questions regarding the faro shuffle, don’t hesitate to ask. I have many original routines that employ the faro shuffle and I’d be glad to demonstrate them to you or explain them as part of a magic lecture. I have been passionate about the faro shuffle for 25 years or more and I hope I have inspired you to take the first steps at learning a toll that is ‘The Poetry of Card Magic’ good luck!