Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth in a new, weekly series by Jason England: MYSTERIUM. Each article in this series will be posted on Wednesday at 11:00am EST – every post on a different subject. This week, Jason describes a practical way to practice and master The Bottom Deal.
The Bottom Deal is a classic sleight-of-hand card movement that enables you to covertly deal the bottom card of the deck while in play. With practice, the move can be done without detection.
Come Sail Away – A Practical Way to Practice and Master the Bottom Deal
I no longer have a set practice schedule. These days I find that frequent performing, even if they are only informal performances for friends and family, is enough to keep my physical skills with the cards reasonably sharp. I do still practice quite often. It’s just that I no longer need to sit down for formal practice sessions every day like I did when I was first starting out in magic.
One thing that has stuck with me however, is the concept of drilling a given movement over and over again in every imaginable way. Let me give you an example of a drill that I still do at least once a week, and sometimes much more often. It involves practicing the bottom deal.
I set up a large working area. Usually this is my kitchen table with an oversized close-up pad, but I’ve also used my blackjack table, a regulation poker table (my favorite) and even a chair turned inwards towards the couch for this drill. The idea is to give myself enough space to really sail the cards into a large number of positions.
I always practice sailing the cards. I almost never practice “placing” the cards down to the table the way we often do in magic routines. The only reason is that I’ve found that I don’t need to practice that type of bottom dealing. We get enough of it in regular magic effects to not have to worry about practicing it. Plus, it’s such a simple thing to begin with. I feel my time is better spent practicing the things that are actually difficult!
I then take several decks of cards, in various states of wear. I usually use three decks. One is brand new, one is rather old and is often a deck I’d normally throw away, and the third is usually in an in-between state of wear. I pick up any of the three decks and immediately begin to deal the cards clockwise around the table to 10 positions. When I get to the 10th position (myself), I deal the bottom card. I do this for all five rounds. All of the cards are dealt face down. I do not bother to pre-set a hand like four Aces or a Royal Flush to bottom deal; I just deal the cards.
I then gather all of the cards and deal another ten-handed “game.” This time I deal the cards to the 9th position which is to my immediate right. Afterwards, I gather the cards and do it all over again, dealing four or five bottoms to the 8th position, then the 7th, the 6th, and so on. If you’re a right-handed dealer like me, you know that it gets a bit tougher to deal bottoms as the position moves counter-clockwise around the dealing surface. It’s much easier for a right-handed dealer to deal bottoms to someone seated on his right (positions 7, 8, 9, etc.) than it is to deal to the 1st or 2nd position. This is because removing the bottom card and continuing in the same direction of travel is easier than having to reverse directions as soon as the card comes off the bottom.
After I’ve moved all the way around the table and I’ve dealt bottoms to all ten positions, I change the format to a nine-handed “game” and begin again.
This time, to speed up a bit, I’ll often only deal bottoms to the 9-seat and the 8-seat, but skip the round where I should’ve dealt to the 7 and 6-seats. I’m skipping these rounds because as I’ve already stated, dealing to those positions is inherently easy for me. By skipping these “easy” positions, I spend more time practicing the positions that are the most difficult for me.
After completing a nine-handed game, I move to an eight-handed game, then a seven-handed game and so on. As before, I tend to skip a few of the easier positions and focus only on dealing bottoms to the spots where I have the most difficulty. If you’re a beginner, I do not recommend you skip any positions. You need all the practice you can get. You’ll probably notice eventually that dealing to the right (assuming you’re right-handed) is easier, but continue to deal to these positions for the practice. If you’re already an accomplished bottom dealer, then you can skip a few of the really easy position combinations, but I recommend you still do some of them, just like I’ve outlined above. In other words, don’t always skip them just because they’re a bit easier.
If you follow this progression from a ten-handed game downwards, you’ll eventually find yourself in five-handed, four-handed and three-handed games. I suggest you return to dealing to every possible position once you’re into these smaller numbers. The turn-around time between bottom deals is getting smaller and that makes dealing to these positions a bit tougher. I’m using the phrase ‘turn-around time’ to refer to the amount of time between bottom deals. For instance, in a nine-handed game where you’re dealing bottoms to yourself you have eight other normal deals between each bottom. That’s plenty of time to do any pre-loosening actions that you might need to extract the bottom card. But when you’re dealing a three-handed game, you only have two cards in between the bottoms. For those who prefer to use a tiny loosening action like I do, that’s not a lot of time!
Finally I like to practice bottom dealing to two positions. I envision a “head-to-head” poker game and I alternate bottom dealing first to myself and then I gather and re-deal this time bottom dealing to my opponent. Even though I’ve been using an imaginary hand of four Aces or a Royal Flush for most of the previous deals, for this round I continue bottom dealing cards either to myself or my opponent until I’ve dealt out about half of the deck before stopping.
The last thing I do before changing the deck is to deal some consecutive bottoms. I practice this in two ways: the first is to deal them directly to myself in a small pile. The second way is to deal the cards clockwise around the table (as if I were dealing a game of poker) but with every card coming off the bottom.
It’s pretty difficult to do and I always start over if I mess up. I only allow myself to call it a day when I’ve gotten all the way around the table a few times without a mistake. At this point, I switch the decks and repeat the same thing.
To be honest, I don’t deal the cards back at every single position. As before, I tend to skip the positions that are easier and concentrate on the harder spots. Naturally your skill level will dictate how many positions you should be skipping if any at all.
Once I’ve done the drill with all three decks, the bulk of the Bottom Dealing session is over. I have similar drills for Center Deals and Greek Deals. Second deals are a different animal entirely and may be discussed in a future article.