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Pick a Card

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"Pick a Card... any card..."
"The two of wives?
Excellent Choice!

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, the 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.


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  • Steve Martin had a schtick where he would spread out a deck of cards in his hands then show out the Queen of Hearts, saying he will make the card dance. He gets an audience member to call out "Queen of Hearts, come down and dance!" Steve plucks the card and bounces it around the platform, humming "doo-de-doo doop, doo doop de doo..." as he does.
  • The Amazing Johnathan would lampoon this in his act, telling the person to think of a card, then shuffle the deck as many times as they wanted. When they hand the deck back to them, he confirms they've only thought of the card, they shuffled the deck as many times as they wanted, and thus there was no way he could possibly find their card. When the person said "that's correct", Johnathan would declare "Well, fuck that then!" and throw the deck over his shoulder, scattering cards everywhere.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 1989 movie Batman, and the comics, respectively).

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Live and Let Die. Solitaire is a fortune teller employed by the Big Bad who can read the future in her tarot cards. When she first meets James Bond she invites him to pick a card, which turns out to be The Fool (Bond has just gotten captured thanks to his own overconfidence, so it's not like the cards are wrong). However Bond then picks a second card: The Lovers ("Us?"). Later Bond tricks Solitaire into sleeping with him using this trope, using a stacked deck in which Bond has replaced every card with The Lovers.
  • In Swing Time, this is Pop's favorite magic trick. It's implied that he accomplishes it by slipping the ace into the deck when he cuts. This becomes Chekhov's Skill when he uses it to beat a marked deck to win a bandleader's contract.
  • 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.
  • A scene in Looney Tunes: Back in Action has Bugs distracting Elmer from getting the "window" Queen-of-Diamonds card by hiding it in a deck of cards and giving him the wrong ones while DJ and Kate escaped.
  • In Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott Lang/Ant-Man has been under house arrest for two years. To pass the time, he’s taken up card tricks as a hobby. Throughout the movie, it becomes a Chekhov's Gag that Scott has become very good as misdirection.
  • In Zig Zag (2002), ZigZag entertains Singer in the hospital with card tricks.
  • In The Magnificent Seven (2016), Faraday's Establishing Character Moment has him offer to do this as he's being held up at gunpoint by two players he previously scammed. They proceed to amuse him for a bit by picking a card and allowing him to perform his trick while they have him dead to rights, but a fancy Bait-and-Switch impresses them enough to be distracted as Faraday demonstrates his quick-draw.

  • 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.
  • Doctor Who New Adventures: The Doctor does this to amuse the People of the Worldsphere when he wants to take a break from the heavy plot of 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."
  • Journey to Chaos: Card-picking is one of the magician tricks Eric learned on Threa. The people of Tariatla find it impressive because he convinces them he's using telepathy, which is much rarer than Functional Magic.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 while heckling Teller for screwing up the trick. This continues a few times until Teller appears to stab Penn through his hand, which is holding the correct card.
  • 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.
  • The Mentalist: 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.
  • Punky Brewster: At the start of "Accidents Happen" (the Space Shuttle tragedy episode), Punky gets her dog Brandon to take a card face down out of a deck, which he does with his mouth. Punky takes it and puts it back in the deck, shuffles, then successfully pulls out the card Brandon chose. How? It was the only card with dog slobber on it.
  • When Jonathan Burns appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us doing card tricks reimagined to use individually-wrapped cheese slices, his warm-up was a spoof version of this trick — the joke being that when you do the trick with cheese slices there's no way to tell whether the cheese slice the magician produces at the end actually is the one the audience volunteer chose earlier.
  • A non-magical game show example: the Card Game on The Price Is Right has the contestant starting off by pulling any card out of a special deck to determine the range he/she must be within to the price of a car without going over. A second deck of cards is used for the contestant to make bids on the car, drawing any card one at a time.
  • On Gilmore Girls, Rory is pressed into service tutoring Brilliant, but Lazy Jess, who is at risk of repeating his junior year. He doesn't much are for the tutoring and just wants to use it as an excuse to spend time with her. He tries this trope as she's quizzing him on something. Annoyed, she takes the whole deck and throws it on the floor. He remarks that this makes the trick a little harder.
  • In the Banjun Drama episode "The Magician's Doll", savvy Stage Magician Sungjin uses this trick to hit on the woman his friend brought home. The girl is impressed when he shows her card, but she's taken away further when, by a swipe of his hand, Sungjin changes her card into a suit of hearts, written on it "I Love You."

  • 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.
  • Magician Ricky Jay pulls several versions of this in his stage shows, notably "Ricky Jay and his Fifty-two Assistants". In that show he has several audience members select different cards during the same trick, and then produces them in order in a series of elaborate shuffles and flourishes. After one complex cut he produces the Ace of Clubs and shows it to the lady who drew that card, only for her to inform him that she drew the Four of Diamonds. He turns the card around, revealing her card, saying, "If you insist."

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    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: Sheen does this to distract the guards during the museum heist. However, he keeps showing the same card to the guards, even after they say it wasn't their card.
  • 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.
  • In Family Guy, Peter attempts to do this and fails miserably, reduced to pulling out card after card and asking the subject if he got it right.
  • Batman: The Animated Series episode "Zatanna": In a flashback, young Zatanna invites a young Bruce Wayne to pick a card from a deck and attempts to not only identify it without looking at it, but describe what it foretells about his future. She thinks Bruce got "two of hearts" (it's implied that she set that up as an excuse to flirt with him), but he's got a Joker card.
    Zatanna: [throws the cards in anger] It's a dumb trick anyway!
  • Justice League: Doom. Used as a Pre Ass Kicking One Liner by the Royal Flush Gang, followed by a Flechette Storm of razor-sharp playing cards.
  • In the Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum episode "I Am Anna Pavlova", Xavier tries to do this kind of card trick but fails.
  • Celebrity Deathmatch, in the Seigfried & Roy vs Penn & Teller fight, Penn asks the duo to pick a card. When Seigfried put the card back he gets his fingers bitten by a rabid badger.


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Ben impressed by stage magic

Ben is awed by Bezel's stage magic, even though he's a shapeshifting superhero who has witnessed feats of actual magic.

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