The Ambitious Card Routine: Steps, Endings & Tutorial

The Ambitious Card Routine (ACR) is undoubtedly one of the most famous card tricks in all of magic.


There are a couple of things about this routine that make it special:

  • It’s simple & easy for people to describe later
  • It’s (almost always) totally impromptu
  • It’s customizable. Everyone’s ACR is a little bit different!
  • It often leaves the spectator with a cool souvenir

So what IS it?

The Ambitious Card Routine is a famous card trick where a freely chosen, and often signed, card repeatedly jumps from the middle of the deck to the top under more and more impossible conditions.

Below, I’ll go into a brief history of the routine, some sleights, phases, and steps you might need to know, how to end your ambitious card routine, and where to learn more.

Let’s go!

History of the Ambitious Card Routine

In addition to being one of the most popular and famous card magic tricks of all time, the ACR is also one of the oldest.

It first appeared in manuals from magicians like Gustav Alberti and Ponsin in the mid 19th century.

Many years later it was popularized and modernized by the great Dai Vernon.

From there, the ACR got its 15 minutes of fame when David Blaine performed a version of the routine on his earliest street magic specials in 1997.

Openers for the Ambitious Card Trick

All ACRs start out relatively the same.

A spectator is invited to choose a card.

In most cases, the choice is completely free (no need to force a card) and the magician can even see the card selected.

The participant can choose a card at random, name their favorite, or even choose from the face-up deck. It’s really up to you and how you present the effect!

From there, you’ll usually want to invite the participant to sign their card with a Sharpie or permanent marker.


A signed card creates more intimacy, removes the possibility of a force or duplicate, and gives the participant a cool souvenir after the fact!

(If you don’t have access to a Sharpie, the signing isn’t 100% necessary, but it’s a nice touch.)

From there, most Ambitious Card routines begin with either a Marlo Tilt / Dai Vernon Depth Illusion or a Bluff Pass.

(Those links will take you to explanations and tutorials.)

In both moves, it appears quite convincingly that the spectator’s card has been placed into the middle of the deck, when in fact, it has been placed in the 2nd position from the top.

This puts you into perfect position to perform the “magical move,” (perhaps a Snap from you or the spectator), and show the card on top of the deck with a double lift.

The benefit of this opening is that, now, you’re in perfect position to repeat the effect even more fairly.

Simply turn the double face down on top of the deck, peel the top card off and place it fairly in the middle, and the signed card is ready to be revealed at the top of the deck.

It’s a killer sequence to start with.

Ambitious Card Steps

The middle of the routine is really where you get to show your personality and style.

(You can customize that opener, as well, but I’d say a pretty large majority of ACRs open using something like the above. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.)

What you do in the middle of your Ambitious Card is up to you, and there are more possibilities than I could possibly cover here, but most magicians will perform 1 to 2 more phases before the finale.

A few ideas:

An in-the-hands jump: After your opener is a good time to get the participant more involved. Let them hold the cards and/or turn over the top card themselves after “the magic move.” You’ll get great reactions when the magic happens in their hands!

A visual jump: Consider using a color change (like the classic color change or paintbrush change) for a more visual phase. If you know some advanced card productions and flourishes, now is a good time to break one out!

Go for laughs: ACR lends itself great to both serious and comedic magic. For serious routines, keep the number of phases minimal and slow for the best impact. For comedy routines, play the card coming to the top over and over again at a breakneck pace for laughs.

Finales & endings for Ambitious Card

OK, so you’ve worked out your opener, designed the middle of your ACR, and now there’s only one thing left:

How should you end your Ambitious Card Routine?

Here are a few ideas:

David Blaine & the Braue pop-up move

The signed card is folded in half to form a visible crimp, then fairly placed in the middle. With a magical Snap, the bent card VISUALLY jumps to the top.

This amazing closer was developed by Frederick Brau (of Expert Card Technique & Royal Road to Card Magic fame) and made famous on TV by David Blaine.

It’s amazingly visual and astoundingly simple to do. You can learn this ending phase in the tutorial below.

Jay Sankey Rubber Room Rise

The signed card is placed in the middle of the deck — truly, the spectator can take a peek at the top card themselves to make sure it’s not there! Then a rubber band is placed around all of the cards. In an instant, the spectator is invited to peek at the top card, still under the rubber band, and amazingly it has changed to the signed card.

Man, I love this ending for Ambitious Card.

Everyone and their brother uses the Braue pop-up move, and for good reason, but if you want something unique, go with this awesome effect from Sankey.

It’s really simple to do and uses only one or two easily covered sleights.

Check out the tutorial here.

Daryl’s Ultimate Ambition

The magician wraps a thick ROPE around the deck, eliminating all possibility of sleight of hand. The signed card (signed on the front and back, with a corner turned off!) is then placed into the middle of the deck, AS FAIRLY as possible, with the spectators actually seeing the face of the card as it goes in the middle. A moment later, it jumps impossibly to the top of the roped deck.

You have to see this one in action to believe it. It’s a serious fooler.

It does use a gimmicked deck (and a deck switch), but WOWZA.

Check out the performance here. And you can buy the Ultimate Ambition gimmick from most magic shops.

Tommy Wonder card in ring box (Kennedy box)

In this effect, a small ring or other box is placed on the table at the very beginning of the routine. At the end, the signed card disappears from the deck entirely and shows up folded inside the box that’s been sitting in plain sight the entire time.

The amazing Tommy Wonder ends his ambitious routine with this closer, and dang is it a good one.

(I would urge you to watch Tommy Wonder’s entire performance. There are a lot of great ACRs out there, but his is a masterclass in how to present the effect for maximum impact.)

You can watch Tommy Wonder’s ACR here and buy the Kennedy Box gimmick here.

Card to mouth

Card to mouth is an excellent way to end an ACR, although it’s probably best suited to comedy-style routines or used as an intermediate phase.

Card to ceiling

I love Michael Ammar’s handling of card on ceiling, and something in this vein could be a FANTASTIC closer to Ambitious Card.

After all, what’s more ambitious than going from the middle of the deck all the way to the ceiling?!

You can lear this one on Michael Ammar’s website.

Card under watch (or other amazing location)

If you’re skilled with sleight of hand, making the signed card appear under a spectator’s watch, in their pocket, or hidden elsewhere is a great way to close an ACR.

Ambitious Card Tutorial & Where to Learn More

If you’re looking to get started developing your own Ambitious Card Routine, I highly suggest you check out the tutorial from 52Kards below.

It walks you through:

How to present the effect

  • Opening with a false shuffle & cuts
  • Ideas for the middle phases
  • Ending with the Braue Pop-Up Move

Check it out below!

For something a little more in-depth, you can’t possibly do better than the Ellusionist Crash Course video on Ambitious Card.

It covers pretty much every possible move and phase you might consider including in your ACR and how to develop your own routine and presentation.

A fantastic watch.

Check out Ellusionist on Ambitious Card right here.

Wrapping Up

So that about covers it!

Everything you need to know about the Ambitious Card and how to get started performing it.

It’s one of my favorite impromptu tricks of all time and it will likely become a staple in your routine, as well.

What are your favorite phases or endings for ACR? Let me know in the comments!

Hope this helps!

And before you go, you might like the full guide to my favourite, classic card tricks.

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