What Is the Berglas Effect?
The Berglas Effect is widely considered amongst magicians to be the holy grail of card magic. In its purest form, the magician hands the deck to ‘spectator 1’. Following this the magician asks ‘spectator 2’ to name a card and ‘spectator 3’ to name a number. ‘Spectator 1’ then proceeds to count off the number of cards that were named and lands exactly on the spoken card. It should be noted that some versions of the Effect involve a shuffled deck.
There is a fierce debate amongst magicians as to whether the Berglas Effect is a controlled card trick, an instance of luck or the stuff of mythology. I am inclined to believe it is a combination of all three factors. Two phenomenal performances of the Berglas Effect can be viewed here:
The original Berglas effect, which is only known and performed by David Berglas and Marc Paul, has four strict criteria.
- The deck is available for viewing prior to the trick (the cards are not touched by the magician.)
- The genuine spectator can name any of the 52 cards in the deck.
- A second genuine spectator is permitted to name any number between 1 and 52.
- A third genuine spectator counts down the selected number of cards.
To the layperson, the Berglas Effect may appear to be a mildly entertaining card trick. To the magician who is familiar with the intricacies, methodologies and secrets of illusion, it is impossible. Some magicians have exclaimed that as the magician does not handle the deck, the trick can be one of either luck or fiction. A primary source recount of the Berglas Effect can be read here: http://www.geniimagazine.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=31790
There are of course methods to maximise the chances of the Berglas Effect working. Psychological manipulation to somehow force the spectator to name a certain card or number is one such method. Another method involves the use of a stacked deck. There is (I suspect) a mathematical likelihood of females selecting a certain card (e.g. a queen) and males selecting a specific card. Following on from this theory, there would exist an order of likelihood of cards being named. These cards could be duplicated and spread throughout the deck at certain intervals. The Berglas effect in some instances will not work- the magician will realise that the named card and number will not match and he will have to improvise with an alternate trick.
Most versions of the Berglas effect will involve the magician being aware of the order of the deck, having memorised it. Using psychological force to make the spectator count the cards from the top or bottom of the deck will double the chances of a successful trick. Many have speculated that the Berglas Effect requires the use of stooges for it to work however there exists enough evidence that the Berglas Effect performed by Marc Paul and David Berglas does not involve stooges. In fact a handful of lucky illusionists have witnessed a personal showing of a successful Berglas Effect by the aforementioned illusionists. Given the above techniques to maximise the likelihood of success of the Berglas effect, one is still left with a low percentage of successful performances. Unlike other A.C.A.A.N. effects, the conditions stipulated at the beginning of this article make it problematic for the magician to have any more involvement and hence trickery in the Berglas Effect than already mentioned.
My Possible Berglas Effect Quasi Solution
While observing the Berglas Effect in action, it appears as if the magician can have little control in the trick after handing the cards to the spectator. My theoretical solution to the Berglas Effect is largely based upon the magician still having a temporal control of the deck when it isn’t in his hands. The one variable that is overlooked as an area the magician can affect when performing this illusion is the aspect of time- choosing when exactly the spectator deals the cards.
Essentially my quasi solution works with the spectator taking pairs of cards (as they are stuck together-two cards masquerading as one) until the magician stops them counting part way through the count and the adhesive wears off. This causes all subsequent cards to become single cards. As a result, in many named card cases, a greater than 60% success rate is achieved regardless of the number named. The magician will be aware when the number and card named are an impossible match and can employ an alternate trick.
Possible Variant Solutions
- A 52 card deck (or more) with every two cards stuck together- front to back. After x amount of time, the adhesive wears off all of the cards (say after 1 minute.) This causes the cards to separate from pairs to single cards
- A 52 card deck (or more) with a wet adhesive attached to the back of every second card. After x amount of time, the adhesive dries on all of the cards. This causes all of the cards to stick together as pairs.
- This variant is even more theoretical than 1. or 2. and involves adhesive however the drying process causing the viscosity and hence cards sticking together (or alternative, the adhesive to cease working) results from some gaseous chemical reaction. This may take the form of a remote switch triggering a small amount of certain gas to be released over the deck (which may be on a table.) This causes the unstuck deck to stick when triggered or the stuck deck to unstick.
- The magician during the trick instructs the spectator holding the deck (with innocuous patter) to press down firmly on the cards e.g. to “make sure the magician can’t touch them.” Subsequently this downwards force may activate the sticking properties of the adhesive. Alternatively the magician instructs the spectator to loosen their grip on the deck, causing the adhesive properties to lessen and hence the cards to separate.
- An adhesive is attached to the back of every second card (perhaps similar to the invisible deck.) The spectator picks up cards in their normal motion (the adhesive causes them to pick up two cards each time) until the magician instructs them to stop. At this point, the magician instructs them to slide cards off (with patter such as they look sweaty and they don’t won’t them sticking card together with their sweat. Another throwaway line may be that the spectator is bending the expensive cards, so could they slide them off instead?) The sliding cards off motion by the spectator will cause all single cards to be taken off from this point forwards.
Example of the Method in Action
In a 52 card deck, the first spectator names a card e.g. six of spades. The magician who has memorised the deck, works out the card is in the 18th position from the top of the deck. According to the theoretical solution mentioned above, the next spectator could name any number from 9 to 18, dealing from the top, or 17 to 34, dealing from the bottom and the Berglas Effect will be successful. This is essentially a 50% range. For example if the spectator names the number 15, the magician would force the spectator to count immediately from the top of the deck. At this stage, all of the cards are joined in pairs and after the spectator has counted ‘3’ cards (really 6) from the top, the magician will stop the spectator counting and talk for 20 to 30 seconds until he is certain the adhesive has worn off. They may just engage in general patter such as mentioning how impossible the trick is. Once the magician believes that the adhesive has worn off, they will invite the spectator to continue counting and all of the cards will now be single cards. To this point, the spectator has without realising it counted off 6 cards but counted to only 3 (as the cards were stuck in pairs.) They will then count 12 more single cards off with the supposed 15th card (the actual 18th card) being the selected 6 of spades.
This is definitely not the Berglas Effect method performed by David Berglas and Marc Paul. It is simply a theoretical method I devised while pondering the great illusion. I am not even confident if the properties of any adhesive make this trick possible. This version does however fulfil all of the Berglas Effect criteria mentioned earlier in this article. It does have the drawback of the magician stopping the spectator counting the cards for e.g. 30 seconds during the trick.
UPDATE: I am now of the opinion that the ‘random’ person counting the cards in popular youtube videos of the Berglas Effect may indeed be in on the trick. As the cards are counted down to the precise number, there is a pause before the final card is revealed. It seems that during this pause, the ‘spectator’ uses sleight of hand to reveal the named card.