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kottke.org posts about Richard Kaufman

The World’s Greatest Card Trick Can’t Be Taught

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2021

World-renowned magician David Berglas, now 94 years old, does a card trick that’s so effortlessly simple and dazzling that no one has figured it out and Berglas himself says it cannot be taught.

The trick is a version of a classic plot of magic, called Any Card at Any Number. These tricks are called ACAAN in the business.

ACAAN has been around since the 1700s, and every iteration unfolds in roughly the same way: A spectator is asked to name any card in a deck — let’s say the nine of clubs. Another is asked to name any number between one and 52 — let’s say 31.

The cards are dealt face up, one by one. The 31st card revealed is, of course, the nine of clubs. Cue the gasps.

There are hundreds of ACAAN variations, and you’d be hard pressed to find a professional card magician without at least one in his or her repertoire. (A Buddha-like maestro in Spain, Dani DaOrtiz, knows about 60.) There are ACAANs in which the card-choosing spectator writes down the named card in secrecy; ACAANs in which the spectator shuffles the deck; ACAANs in which every other card turns out to be blank.

For all their differences, every ACAAN has one feature in common: At some point, the magician touches the cards. The touch might be imperceptible, it might appear entirely innocent. But the cards are always touched.

With one exception: David Berglas’s ACAAN. He would place the cards on a table and he didn’t handle them again until after the revelation and during the applause. There was no sleight of hand, no hint of shenanigans. It was both effortless and boggling.

Of course, his unwillingness to reveal how the trick works or even that he is unable to show someone else how to do it could be part of the trick. But in recent years, Berglas has pulled back the curtain on most of his other tricks, like the time he made a grand piano vanish into thin air, explained by Berglas himself in a YouTube video:

But not this card trick, as the author of the Times’ piece discovers. A delightful read.

Update: Part of the reason I love publishing posts like this (about magic and unknowable tricks) is that I know I’m gonna get some great feedback. In 2011, Richard Kaufman wrote a book called The Berglas Effects with the participation of Berglas himself in which his version of ACAAN is explained at length. Here’s Kaufman himself remarking on the Times story:

The writer is under the odd impression that “The Berglas Effect” has never been explained and is not explained in my book. There are 75 pages devoted to it.

So…huh. I wonder what the book says about the trick? (thx, bill)