• Want to be a magician who uses cards? You’re going to need to be good at 52 Pickup

  • August 03, 2020

  • If you’ve never heard of the card game 52 Pickup, then I am thrilled you heard about it here first.

    For one, it isn’t a card game. It is a very dull practical joke. At least, I’ve always found it annoying as I am usually on the receiving end, and having respect for a deck of cards that only comes with being a magician, definitely gets in the way of enjoying this little “trick”. And if you recall how I am making a concerted effort to refer to magic tricks, as magic effects, as we don’t trick our audiences, we show them effects so we can all enjoy them together. 52 Pickup, however, definitely deserves the title of being a trick.

    What is 52 pickup?

    The nature of the game and I use that term loosely, is to borrow someone’s deck of cards and ask if they have ever played 52 pickup. Whatever their response, you scatter the cards across the floor by throwing them all over the place. The deck of cards is now spread out in a mess, and you have to pick up all 52 cards.


    So why would I even let you know that such a banal little prank exists? Because if you are a magician or a cardistry artist, you are going to play it many, many, many, many times. And you are going to have to be okay with that.

    Remember what I said about being okay with failure? Yup, that’s what is going on here.

    Playing this game goes hand in hand with learning to handle cards with any kind of proficiency. Whether you are learning a fancy move such as a “pass” or a “false shuffle”, or a flourish, but whatever it is, you are going to drop the cards.

    Minimising the frustration

    At the early stages, you can avoid playing too extreme a version of this by practising while sitting on your bed, or my personal favourite, which is to practice on the floor while sitting cross-legged. Then, when I would inevitably drop the cards or even a portion of them, they couldn’t scatter too far. This would prevent there from being too much work between each practice.

    Of course, this only works for so long before you have to change how you are practising.  

    The second stage of playing

    Now that you are relatively skilled at doing it sat down, you can migrate to doing it at a table. The change of posture will probably result in feeling like you’re learning the move all over again, which leads to lots of picking up. At least they will mostly be on the table, and not too many should reach the floor.

    The second worst stage

    Then, of course, we have to move onto practising while standing up. Now, you can soften the blows by performing over a table, or at least next to one, but be sure to pay close attention to how you are performing the move. Don’t lean too far over the table as I used to, and this can come across as slightly odd when you perform the movement in front of a real audience.

    Ideally, of course, you should do this in an empty space where should you drop the cards, you are going to have to bend all the way down to pick them up. I know, it is a long way down, but I believe in you.

    The final stage

    So you made it this far, you can perform your chosen...thing, without dropping the cards, even when standing alone with no nearby surface to catch the cards. Brilliant, but now you have to do it in front of real people. An audience. Now you have to combat the nerves and excitement you are feeling. If you have practised an absurd amount, as you should with all things magic, you will be fine. You won’t drop the cards.

    But, just in case, be ready to pick them up!

    An alternative?

    Or, you could just start at the end. Believe me, if you drop your cards in front of a real audience even once, you’ll notice that it really isn’t that bad. Yes it derails the performance, it may destroy your cards, but it isn’t the end of the world. It is also highly unlikely you will see so much as a dent to your reputation. Just make a joke, “it’s alright everyone, it’s just a floor show” apologise, and carry on.

    You’re only human!

    Another alternative!?

    Don’t use cards. Now how is that for some useful advice? Not at all. I know. Sorry.

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