The 7 Best Self-Working Card Tricks Explained

Whether you’re a beginner first starting out, or a more experienced card magician, self-working card tricks are a great tool to have in your arsenal.

They are simple to perform yet never fail to get a strong reaction from audiences.

There is a common misconception because of their simplicity, self working card tricks are only for beginners first getting into card magic. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth with card magic icons like Daryl Easton and Harry Lorayne, both incorporating self-working card tricks into their routines!

You won’t need any fancy sleights of hand or gimmicked setups for the card tricks listed in this article. These self-working card tricks only require a simple deck of playing cards and a willingness to learn how to get your cards working in your favor.

Here are my choices for the 7 best self-working card tricks:

  1. Overkill
  2. Untouched
  3. Gemini Twins
  4. 21 Card Trick
  5. Play It Straight Triumph
  6. Lazy Man’s Card Trick
  7. Out of This World

Let’s take a close look at each effect and where you can learn it.

(With the exception of Lazy Man’s Card Trick and the 21 Card Trick, the best place to learn all of these is Michael Ammar’s “Easy to Master Card Miracle” series — buy the DVDs or download the individual effects you want to learn from his website at bargain prices.)

1. Overkill by Paul Harris

Skill Level: Intermediate

First developed by Paul Harris, Overkill is a fantastic prediction self-working card trick that works every time.

This trick requires a small setup beforehand, and you will need both a duplicate card with the same colored back and a different one as well.

The Effect

The magician tells the spectator to take a small packet of cards off the top of the deck and count how many they took. The magician will turn their back to the cards, and the spectator will take off a small number of cards and count them while putting the cards facedown back onto the table.

The most crucial part of this effect is to remember the number of cards, so make this point clear to the spectator.

Once the spectator has finished counting the cards, they will hide the packet somewhere so only they could ever know the total number of cards.

The magician will then start to lay out several cards face-up for the spectator to view.

Once the cards are on full display, the magician will let the spectator know that they will count the cards and for the spectator to remember the card that matches the total number of cards in the packet previously chosen.

Once the spectator has spotted their card, the magician will let them know which card they were thinking of—leaving them stunned.

To further impress the spectator, the magician will reveal that their card selection is the only card in the entire deck with a different colored back.

The magician pushes the envelope even more by revealing the card’s name on the playing card box and revealing that there is a duplicate of the same card in the pile of cards the spectator first took off the deck.

This effect features climax after climax after climax! It’s a lot of fun to perform for the right audience.

2. Untouched by Daryl

One of my all-time favorite card tricks, bar none — it’s also totally impromptu!

As the name of this card trick hints, the magician will not touch the deck of cards during the performance of this self-working card trick. Using just their eyes, the magician will be able to make a fantastic prediction.

If you have an audience member who is willing to be in the spotlight for the performance, this is the card trick for you.

The Effect

The magician begins by explaining that they are thinking of a card and that they will not touch the deck for the entirety of the card trick.

The magician will hand the deck of cards to an audience member and instruct them to fan out the cards with the cards’ faces away from them.

While the spectator is fanning out the cards, the magician is looking closely to spot the card they are thinking of and instructs the spectator to remove that card (without seeing it) from the deck and place it face down.

With the predicted card facedown, the magician tells the spectator to deal as many cards as they want onto the table.

Once they have stopped dealing cards, the magician will then instruct them to split the cards into two separate groups.

Once the spectator has finished making their two piles, the magician will turn over the top card of both piles.

In a fantastic display of mentalism, the two cards that are turned over will have the same value and suit as the original card the magician chose initially.

3. Gemini Twins by Karl Fulves

Skill Level: Beginner

Not to be mistaken for the storytelling card trick The Twins by Brother John Hamman, the Gemini Twins by Karl Fulves is a simple prediction-style card trick that amazes audiences.

You will not need any duplicate cards or gimmicks for this card trick, just a small setup that only takes a few seconds before you want to perform the card trick.

The Effect

The magician begins by choosing two prediction cards and placing them face-up onto the table for the spectators to see.

Once the magician has their prediction cards, they will hand over the deck to a spectator and ask them to deal as many cards as they want face down onto the table.

Once they have stopped dealing the cards for the first time, the magician will take one of the prediction cards and place it face-up on top of the pile of cards. The rest of the deck will be placed on top, so the prediction card is inside the middle of the deck.

The magician will instruct the spectator to do this process again for the second prediction card as well.

Once both prediction cards are somewhere in the middle of the deck, completely at random, the magician will fan out the cards to reveal both face-up prediction cards.

The magician will take both the prediction card and the card next to it and place it back onto the table.

With both prediction cards face-up and two cards facedown, the magician will reveal the facedown cards to be the same card as the prediction cards with a different suit — their “twins”.

4. The 21 Card Trick

Skill Level: Beginner

The 21-card trick is possibly the oldest card trick known to man and one of the easiest tricks you will ever perform.

This card trick can be performed impromptu with a random deck of cards, and you will always find the spectators card following the secret mathematical formula of this effect.

It’s a great one for parties and family gatherings.

The Effect

The magician begins by making a group of 21 cards and telling the spectator to pick any card they want out of the group. Once the spectator selects their card, they will look at it and put it back inside of the pack of cards.

Now is where the mathematical formula comes into play.

The magician will make three rows of seven cards and ask the spectator to point at which row has their chosen card. The magician will repeat this process three times until they are sure they know the spectator’s card.

The magician will place down several cards in the final reveal until they sense the spectator’s card and then proceed to turn over the initially selected card.

If this one is a little basic for your tastes, check out my guide to the 21 card trick for some stunning variations that take it to the next level, plus a few good tutorial guides.

5. Play It Straight Triumph by John Bannon

Skill Level: Intermediate

First developed by John Bannon and brought into the spotlight by Micheal Ammar, Play It Straight Triumph is a self-working card trick that likes to play with the audience’s emotions — and is a simplified variation on the original Triumph card trick.

While the audience believes that the magician made a massive mistake, it turns out it was part of the card trick all along.

Give this self-working card trick a try, and let your acting abilities shine.

The Effect

The magician begins by having a member of the audience choose any card they would like out of the deck of cards. While the audience member has the card in their hand, the magician will shuffle the cards together with some cards being face-up and others being facedown.

With great confidence, the magician will say that each card will flip back over to their correct position—besides the audience member’s selected card.

However, the audience member never put their selection back into the deck. While the audience is slightly embarrassed for the magician, this is the reaction you want to set up the ending correctly!

The magician finishes this trick by spreading out the deck and showcasing that all of the face-up cards in the deck are in numbered order and of the same suit.

While counting the numbers in order, the magician notices one card missing in the order, which is — impossibly! — the spectator’s choice.

6. Lazy Man’s Card Trick by Harry Lorayne

Skill Level: Intermediate

As the name implies, this card trick is hands-off and lets the spectator do all the work for you.

First performed by Harry Lorayne, the Lazy Man’s Card Trick is an excellent self-working card trick that requires a little bit of focus and a little setup beforehand with a standard deck of playing cards.

The Effect

The magician begins by telling a story about how after a long and tiring magic routine, someone would ask them to see another trick after the show.

With the magician no longer interested in performing any complicated tricks, they decide to let the spectator do all of the work.

The magician tells the spectator to take any card they would like out of the middle of the deck and to remember that card.

Once the spectator remembers the card, the magician tells them to put it on the top of the deck and to cut it back into the middle.

The magician then tells the spectator to cut the deck multiple times while the magician acts like they aren’t interested. After the spectator has cut the deck numerous times, the magician will instruct them to flip the deck face-up and cut them again.

The magician will finally flip the deck back over and sense where they think it is inside the deck.

In a fantastic display, the magician will count off several cards and stop at one card—revealing it to be the spectator’s choice.

Learn this from Lorayne’s book, Close-Up Card Magic.

7. Out of This World by Paul Curry

Skill Level: Advanced

One of the best card tricks of all-time is also (mostly) self-working.

The Out of This World self-working card trick by Paul Curry seems to be impossible the first time you watch it in action.

From the outside, it looks like you are giving the spectator absolute control over their decisions, and you predicted their moves every step of the way.

This trick does require a setup beforehand and some procedural elements that can be quite extensive compared to the other card tricks on this list.

But it usually requires no sleight of hand at all.

The Effect

The magician will begin by having the spectator select a random card from the deck of cards.

Depending on the card’s color, the magician will place that card face-up, pick another card of the opposite color, and put them side-by-side.

Now, the magician gives the spectator full control and tells them to put the cards of the deck facedown on top of the color they think the card is in their hand.

They can put any amount of cards down and as random as they would like.

Once the spectator has put down about half of the cards, the magician will tell the spectator to switch colors on both sides, so they are opposite again.

After the spectator has finished placing down all 52-cards, the magician will reveal that all of the cards the spectator placed down are the same color.

See my guide to the Out of This World card trick for more info, where to learn, and the best variations.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, it doesn’t matter if you are a beginner first starting card magic or you have several years under your belt— don’t scoff at self-working card tricks!

The very fact that the require no sleight of hand makes them extraordinarily deceptive to audiences. There’s nothing to “catch,” and when performed well, your viewers will be absolutely baffled.

Just let the cards do the work for you!

Before you go, check out more card trick round-ups like:

Or you could simply check out the full guide to my favourite, classic card tricks.

Hope this helps!

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