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Pick a Card
"Do you like card tricks?"
"No, I hate card tricks," I answered.
...
He showed me three.
— W. Somerset Maugham, "Mr. Know-All"

One of the stock magic tricks.

At its simplest, the magician invites an audience member to "pick a card, any card" out of a deck of cards, and memorize which card it is. The card is then placed back in the deck, which is shuffled, then the magician picks out a card, displays it, and says "Is this your card?"

It's rarely done now without some extra decoration, like the card appearing to leap out of the deck of its own accord, or disappear from the deck and appear in the audience member's pocket, or the correct card number and suit being written in an envelope that was sealed before the trick started.

As with Saw a Woman in Half, real trick to this trick is well enough known that fictional depictions may feel free to discuss it. The clever part is not where it appears to be: it's not that the magician has a secret way of detecting which card the mark has selected, it's that the magician has a way (a technique called the Magician's Force) of making sure the mark picks the card he wants them to pick.

In fiction, the bare-bones version is a favourite of amateurs trying to impress somebody — and they almost always fail to get the right card at the end. The would-be magician may be shown flagrantly sneaking a look at the card before putting it back in the deck (which doesn't always prevent him from subsequently identifying the wrong card at the end anyway). Another common way for the trick to fail is for the would-be magician to be caught using a deck containing 52 copies of a single card.

Another common fictional twist is for the card to turn out to not be a playing card.

Examples

Comics
  • Sir Bagby: When Sir Bagby comes to rescue the magician Snerk from a dungeon, Snerk shuffles a deck of cards and invites Sir Bagby to pick one. Sir Bagby picks a card, looks to see what it is — it's Go to jail. Miss 1 turn.
  • The non-serious 34th issue of Marvel Comics' What If? series proposes an alternate reality where Doctor Strange and associates were this kind of magicians instead of arcane sorcerers. The Dread Dormammu's great master plan comes down to Strange having to pick a card, any card.
  • The Joker once used this line while explaining his origins, while holding up three specially styled Jacks, each featuring an image based on one of his famous backstories (from The Killing Joke, the movie Batman, and the comics, respectively).

Film
  • When Rachel first goes to the Shelter Mountain Inn in The Ring the manager does this routine with her. The first couple of times she tells him it isn't her card. The last time she tells him that it is her card just to get him to leave her alone.
  • The magician in Terror Train does these tricks. Being played by David Copperfield helps.
  • In Hugo, after Papa Georges starts teaching Hugo card tricks, Hugo is shown practicing this one by himself, using the broken automaton as a stand-in for the audience member.
  • Now You See Me has several of them:
    • Daniel's opening scene, where the girl picks a card - and Daniel makes it appear in lights on the side of a building.
    • During a plane trip, the Interpol agent tries it with Dylan, and fails as the selected card winds up in the lap of the guy next to her.
    • During their show in New Orleans, Jack has someone pick a card. Once a card is selected, he has another audience member hold a pen up. He shoots the cards at the person in the audience, with the selected card impaling on the pen.
  • Parodied and subverted by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup:
    Rufus T. Firefly: Take a card.
    Mrs. Teasdale: [takes one] Card? What will I do with the card?
    Rufus T. Firefly: You can keep it. I've got fifty-one left.

Literature
  • Bored of the Rings:
    "Insult not the White Wizard," warned Goodgulf as he drew something from his pocket, "for I have many powers. Here, pick a card. Any card."
    Benelux selected one of the fifty-two sevens of hearts and tore it into confetti.
  • The Doctor does this to amuse the People of the Worldsphere when he wants to take a break from the heavy plot of the Doctor Who New Adventures novel The Also People. The People may be Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, but they're always intrigued by novel forms of entertainment.
    "Now for my first trick I need a volunteer from the audience. Yes you, sir, float right up. Have I ever worked with you before? Of course I haven't. What's your name? Ki'Xikati? All right, ki'Xikati, in a moment I want you to pick a card, any card and show it to the audience but not to me. But first I want you to scan this deck of cards. Are they marked, tagged, smell-identified, or in any way anything other than a series of sequential designs printed on rectangular pasteboard? Would you tell the audience that? Thank you so much.
    "Now," said the Doctor, "pick a card."

Live-Action Television
  • In the Midsomer Murders episode "Ghosts of Christmas Past", a boy who wants to be a magician when he grows up does an actually-quite-clever version of the trick while being interviewed by the police about the murder, and his explanation of how he did it (including the fact that he arranged matters to have his own choice of card come up at the end) inspires a Eureka Moment later.
  • The Big Bang Theory features an episode in which Howard demonstrates such a card trick that Sheldon spends the episode trying to figure out. He's actually faking it with the help of the other characters in order to mess with Sheldon.
  • The IT Crowd:
    "Pick a card... don't show me! Put it back in the pack... is this your card?"
    "No— but damn close!"
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor tries and fails to do the trick at the Christmas party in "A Christmas Carol". Ultimately, a card mysteriously appears in the Christmas dinner ... but still isn't the right one!
  • One episode of The Addams Family had Pugsley try it. Turns out his deck is made up only of the same card.
  • On Friends Joey attempted this trick, but he was laughably bad at it. He thought he was taking a glance at it so fast that no one could see. This, of course, didn't fool anyone, but they politely didn't say anything. Watch the scene..
    • Another episode featured Joey having Chandler select a card and, with chandler still holding the card, pulling another one from the deck and saying "Is this your card?" Rather than point out that he's still holding his card Chandler just says "...yes"
  • One of GOB's illusions in Arrested Development. In one case he pulls off his shirt to show that his chest has been painted... with the name of entirely the wrong card.
  • There has been at least one instance of Patrick Jane pulling this trick by somehow slipping the card into the victim of the week's pocket.
  • Jackson does this in the introductory scene of Danger 5.
  • An episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a student attempting this trick (badly) while practicing for the school talent show.

Newspaper Comics
  • In Frank And Ernest, Frank had Ernest do this once — and found it by checking the early edition of the paper.
  • Jason Fox does this with Peter in FoxTrot. Peter quickly figures out how Jason does it- every card in the deck is the same.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • Jimmy Neutron: Sheen does this to distract the guards during the museum heist.
  • On Garfield and Friends, Jon tries to do the trick with Garfield, but fails. After taking out every card in the deck, Jon gives up and asks Garfield what his card was. Garfield pulls out the card with the instructions for Pinochle.
  • South Park episode "Super Best Friends" opens with David Blaine doing these tricks on the streets to impress the townsfolk.
  • In Part One of the Phineas and Ferb episode "Where's Perry?", Candace requests a calling card from Baljeet so she can call Jeremy, but Baljeet doesn't have one. So Buford says, "I got cards, pick a card, any card." Candace says she doesn't want magic, but Buford says he's not doing magic, but simply giving away cards.

Other
  • Penn & Teller have done several deliberately over-the-top variations, such as the one where the number and suit of the card are revealed to be printed on Teller's eyeballs. They also, as habitual lampshaders of the fraudulent nature of stage magic, have a favorite card to make their marks randomly select, the three of clubs.
    • In one of their books they claimed to have contacted every pizza restaurant in the country so that you could order a "P&T Special", which was a pizza with the three of clubs made of pepperoni on it so you could pull the "was this your card switcheroo" thing on your friends. "Was this your card? No? Oh well, I'm only learning. Let's order pizza." pizza comes, friend opens it to discover their card on the pizza
    • Another Penn and Teller version was to try to find the card whilst Teller is holding his breath in a large plexi-glass tank. Penn fails to find the card so Teller drowns. Then the card is seen inside the tank, with signature, underneath teller's googles. Teller is still dead though.
    • Still another had an audience member pick a card. The deck is scattered on a table. A blindfolded Teller then tries to select the card by sticking it with a dagger. He gets it wrong, and Penn rescatters the cards. This continues a few times until Teller appears to stab Penn through his hand, which is holding the correct card.
  • The most popular version of this trick amongst real magicians today is known as the ambitious card, where the chosen card, often signed to prevent duplicates, is placed in the middle of the deck before jumping to the top of the deck. This is often repeated multiple times, sometimes finishing with the card arriving in a pocket or stuck to the ceiling.
  • Magician and psychologist Richard Wiseman has described performing a version of this trick for the Magic Circle in which none of the professional magicians could work out how he did it, since they could see he wasn't using the standard methods. It turned out that it would never occur to a professional magician that anyone would use a deck of cards that are all the same, despite it being the first thing you have to show a layman you aren't doing.


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