• Alex Hui

BOOK REVIEW - Darwin Ortiz At The Card Table

Updated: May 14



Here is my in-depth review of Darwin Ortiz At The Card Table.


REVIEW PHILOSOPHY


The philosophy is simple: to give you the truth.


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YOUTUBE REVIEW


If you want to watch the review, here is the YouTube version.



Why doing a review for 30+ year-old book? 


Video tutorial is becoming a dominant form of learning in many areas. There is no denial that video has many merits and is a good teaching media. However, books always offer another excellent intellectual path to knowledge. Due to the fact that less people are reading books now (not to mention old books), I want to show my readers that there are always something good in old books waiting for us to re-discover. In fact, during my study of magic for more than 2 decades, I always discover some of the best materials in old manuscripts or books. Therefore, I hope to share this mean of knowledge discovery to my readers. I believe this will open a whole new world and give many benefits to many magicians. 


As this book is recently reprinted, I think it's a good timing to do a review for this book.


WHAT YOU GET

Darwin Ortiz At The Card Table is originally a publication in 1988. It was out-of-print for many years, and recently re-printed. 

It was the first hardbound magic book by Darwin Ortiz. There are 168 pages with 156 B&W photos and 56 illustrations by Richard Kaufman.

The newer version of the book doesn’t come with dust jacket.

QUALITY OF THE BOOK


Darwin Ortiz At The Card Table is a very professionally produced book in almost all aspects. 

All effect is basically made of ‘Effect’, ‘Handling’, ‘Performance Tips’ and ‘Credits'. With some effects, they also come with ‘Preparation’ and ‘Comments’. It is clearly sectioned, therefore readers will have no problem navigating the book. However, unlike modern books, many tricks do not start on a new page while some are. Book formatting is a little bit inconsistent in this regard.

Darwin's writing style is excellent. The structure of description is solid with good clarity. The font size is just right for stressless reading. I can imagine it is a book that somehow set the standard of how a good magic book is written when it was published 31 years ago. 

There are a lot of photos and illustrations aiding the learning. Photos are nicely taken with clear angles, but as you may expect, they are not high-res photos with fancy photoshop editing. It’s worth noting that drawn illustrations are mixed with photos throughout the book. I appreciate the fact that it helps understanding the tricks better, but it may look a little bit inconsistent to readers nowadays.

All in all, this is a very high quality book that I enjoy reading much. It’s hard to imagine it was released almost 3 decades ago. It lays flat on table and thus you can follow the text easily while having cards in your hands. 


QUALITY OF THE TRICKS


In ‘Introduction’, Darwin summarized the material like this: "If I had to summarize the material in this book I would have to say that it is professional magic, it is strong magic...The term 'audience-tested' is often used, and sometimes abused, in the literature of magic. The effects in this book have been audience-tested, not over a period of weeks of months, but over years of constant use before paying audiences, the only way one can really come to know an effect."


After three decades, does this statement still hold truth? It’s what I want to explore in this section. 


The tricks are divided into 2 main sections: 1. Card Table Artifice; 2. Legerdemain


Card Table Artifice is a collection of 13 effects built on gambling theme.There is a good mix of materials, including false deal demonstration, estimation, poker effect, and demonstration of riffle stacking etc. Some of the effects are relatively short which only require very minimal procedures. For example, the first four effects in the book is about false dealing. They indeed requires performer to do legitimate false dealing but the structure of effects very streamlined. They are good introductions to more sophisticated routines. Even at today’s standard, effect like 'Jacks or Better’ is still superior to many similar false dealing demonstration in terms of routining and effectiveness. 



The rest of the gambling routines are more complex. They either involve more procedures or technical moves. Take Fast Shuffle as example, it’s a demonstration of riffle stacking 4 Aces. The routine is solidly structured, but it requires real riffle stacking skills to accomplish. This will be challenge for most readers but not manageable. 


As for one of the most impressive gambling demonstrations in the book, it requires very accurate execution of moves smoothly. Oftentimes tabled false shuffles (like Zarrow Shuffle or Up-The-Ladder) are required, and they have to be done smoothly with moves following closely after the shuffles. These effects are usually very effective on audience (even magicians), thus they justify the practise for sure. 

For ’The Estimation Routine’, it is very skill-oriented and require doing a move non-stop. It’s not particular interesting if your goal is to perform an effective estimation routine. And as Darwin also mentioned, this effect 'is not intended as a program item’. The effect is not bad, but the effect structure is not too ideal. 


In short, the gambling routines section contains a lot of impressive effects. Some of them look very difficult on paper and readers may wonder if they are practical in live performance. In the hands of Darwin Ortiz, they look perfect. And I am sure that performer with average skills can master them with decent amount (but not tremendous amount) of practice. 

Legerdemain is a collection of 16 card magic effects. 


There are couples of Darwin’s classic effects which readers may recognise: The Dream Card, The Hitchcock Aces, Modern Jazz Ace, to name a few. 


The effects range from automatic to technically demanding. Compared with the gambling routines in the first half of the book, most routines in this section involves a lot more procedures and moves. That being said, the routines do not look complicated in any senses to audience. They are very direct. Take Jumping Gemini and Back Off as examples, they involve many sequences but are done in a coherent manner. However, in routine like Regal Aces some angle-sensitive moves are done repeatedly. It looks good on paper but may not be too practical in live performance. 

Almost all the effects need a working surface. And here are several effects which required gaffs or extra things to accomplish: 

  • Dream Card 

  • Slick Ace 

  • Deja Vu Jokers

  • The Lucky Deck 

  • Darwin’s Wild Card 

  • The Card Warp Deck

  • Back Off


Except Dream Card which needs a special wallet and The Card Warp Deck which needs a custom deck of different back cards, all other gaffs are standard. 

As for effectiveness, there is no question about it. Darwin Ortiz has a good sense of how to make strong effects and deliver them. It is reflected in the effect structure. Most effects comprise several moments of magic, and they are usually delivered in a progressively elevated fashion. It is obvious that Darwin Ortiz has no intention to make the routines easy for sake of making easier to perform. Instead, readers will find out that most routines are made difficult to do for sake of making them more effective to audience. 

Most effects do not come with script or even presentational ideas. Thus readers have to figure out how to present the effects. 

To conclude, almost all materials in this book are top-notch. Even the materials are three decades old, many of them are still very usable. In fact, as Darwin Ortiz mentioned in the Introduction, the effects are tested in front of paying audience for years, therefore it is without doubt that they work. This book is full of gems for serious card students. Even if you don’t perform the effect exactly as described, you will find a lot of inspiration and usable moves to adapt in your own materials. 



QUALITY OF THE TECHNIQUES


A highlight of this book is the number of moves taught in the text. 

There are 20 techniques in Card Table Artifice and 42 moves in Legerdemain. 


Unlike many books which contains some experimental moves or ‘innovative’ moves, all moves in the book is exceptionally practical. They are very good educational materials for intermediate learners to upgrade their ‘move library’. Since there is a good mix of effects in the book, there are also moves for many different functions. As a matter of fact, if these moves are good enough to form the building blocks for Darwin Ortiz’s effects, they should have no issue in many other effects. 

One question the readers may ask is: are there any ’new’ moves in the book? 

My answer is: Definitely! 

There are many practical and less well-known moves in the books for advanced magicians. Derek Dingle’s Bluff Shift is a disarming move which has great potential. Ken Krenzel’s Pressure Hide-Out is a viable alternative to modern approach of handling double in a small packet of cards. And in Nine-Card Location, you will find a lot of visual revelation which you may adapt in your routines. 


This book is not a ‘move’ book, but it has more than enough excellent moves for your practise. 

DIFFICULTY


As Darwin Ortiz said in the Introduction: “Admittedly, the materials is not easy. With few exceptions, the effects in this book requires considerate work to master and exceptional skill to perform.”

It is truth in two aspects: first, some moves are difficult per se. Therefore, readers have to put in time to master the moves in order to do the effects. 


Second, even some moves are not too difficult, the timing of execution and make them flow is another challenge reader may face. 


That being said, don’t be discouraged by the difficulty. All the effects and moves are practical. And they are by no mean impossible for average skill performers. Anyone who determined to learn the moves will eventually get it with enough practise. 

RATING OF TRICKS


I usually rate a trick based on several factors: 

1. Practical of Effect

2. Effectiveness (how magical the effect is)

3. Creativity 


Sometimes, even I rate a trick (5/10), that doesn’t mean it is a bad trick. Maybe I just think the method is not particularly new or interesting. The effect may still be ok. And even if an effect was very magical and creative in execution, I wouldn’t give high rating if it involves a lot of procedures or easy to mess up.

As a general guideline, a trick rated 7 or above is good. A rating of 9-10 guarantees a great trick (even if you don’t do it, it contains a lot of new things you can learn). I will try to give a reason if I rate an effect low score. I hope this will give you a better idea of my reasoning. 

  1. Jacks Open 8

  2. Jackpot 7

  3. Jacks or Better 9

  4. In One Deal 8

  5. Mexican Poker 10

  6. Darwin's Three Card Monte 8

  7. The Estimation Routine 7

  8. Grand Slam 9

  9. The Vegas Shuffle 9

  10. Fast Shuffle 8

  11. The Twofer Shuffle 7

  12. Greek Poker 10

  13. The Ultimate Card Shark 9

  14. The Dream Card 8

  15. Hitchcock Aces 9

  16. Nine Card Location 8

  17. Regal Aces 5

  18. Slick Aces 8

  19. Deja Vu Jokers 8

  20. Modern Jazz Aces 10

  21. The Lucky Deck 9

  22. Darwin's Wild Card 8

  23. Darwin's Aces 7

  24. The Card Warp Deck 10

  25. The Si Stebbins Secret 10

  26. Do As I Did 9

  27. Jumping Gemini 8

  28. Back Off 9

  29. Mindbender 10

  30. Ultimate Interchange 9

  31. New Tens Routine 9


PROS ABOUT THE BOOK

  1. The book is professionally edited with a clear format.

  2. Good variety of materials with a lots of practical moves taught. 

  3. Almost all material are effective 


CONS ABOUT THE BOOK

  1. Mix of photos and illustrations. 

  2. Very few effects can be casually performed.

FINAL VERDICT


Undoubtedly, Darwin Ortiz At The Card Table is an acknowledged classic by many means. 


The book contains a lot of top-notch materials, practical moves, and thoughtful routines to inspire creative minds. 


At the price tag of $60 (re-print version), it is one of the best deal of books you can find on market. Though the book is by no mean for beginners, any students of magic should read it carefully to understand how Darwin Ortiz make these effects alive and work perfectly for paying audience. This is a book which you will re-read repeatedly for make your magic better. 


  • Video Quality: 9/10

  • Effectiveness of Tricks: 10/10

  • Practical: 9/10

  • Creativity: 9/10

  • Cost Performance: 10/10

  • Final Score: 10/10

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