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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016 5 years ago

Review: 'The Cardshark'

Jason Michaels shows he's got nothing up his sleeve at this sleight-of-hand performance.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Jason Michaels is a card shark. My previous contact with this species is not positive. Some play poker to put themselves through college. I put somebody else through college, or helped anyway. Lesson learned. And besides, Michaels uses his skills for good, not evil, which explains why he’s on the Florida Studio cabaret stage and not in Las Vegas.

The man’s got a winning personality and keeps up a constant patois. When he’s not shuffling the cards in his hands, he lays them out on a black table. An overhead camera shows you the action on two big monitors. The evening proceeds. It’s entertaining, not to mention educational. The big lesson?

Basically, you can’t win against a card shark.

To prove his point, Michaels calls up various audience volunteers (a.k.a. “marks”). They participate in a series of tricks, gags, routines and scams. These include …

Three Card Monte — aka Chase the Ace, aka Chase the Lady. This is the classic grift where the dealer shuffles three cards around and the mark tries to spot the ace. The mark never does, because the dealer palms and switches the ace whenever the mark places a bet. “You never win,” says Michaels. “Ever.”

In Sympathetic Cards, a shuffled deck of red cards seems to line up in the exact same order as a shuffled deck of black cards.

The Shape of My Heart is the trick where the mark writes their name on a card’s face side. Michaels pops it back in the deck and blindly shuffles it, then makes the card appear like, well, magic. And, yes, he does it to the tune of Sting’s song of the same name.

The Rising Card is the one where an ace apparently floats out of deck of cards placed in a wine glass. That seems like magic, too. It isn’t — as Michaels is quick to point out. So how does he do it?

Spooky action at a distance? Telekinesis? Mass hypnosis?

No, no, and no.

And it’s definitely not magic.

Like the Amazing Randi, Michaels has disparaging things to say about psychics, seers, diviners and fortunetellers. Forget their claims, folks. Michaels can do what they do with sleight of hand. But unlike the Amazing Randi, he doesn’t tell you how he does it. “I cheated.” That’s it.

It makes for a fun — if philosophically disturbing — show.

Cards intrigue us because they’re random. Card sharks intrigue us because they leave nothing to chance. They pull order out of chaos with the magic of cheating. It only looks random, and that’s what’s so disturbing about it.

From encryption to the lottery to voting machines, random numbers are our society’s way of assuring that life is fair. These systems are far more complicated than a deck of 52 playing cards, and complication makes cheating possible. Based on this line of reasoning, Michaels may or may not be a conspiracy theorist.

If he isn’t, that really would be magic.

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