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What is Legerdemain?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Legerdemain is a set of techniques used to create illusions for magic or card tricks. It is more commonly called sleight of hand and sometimes prestidigitation. The word comes from the French for "lightness of the hand."

One of the most difficult skills for the magician to perfect, legerdemain is also one of the most impressive. It is absolutely necessary for most close-up magic tricks, though many stage magicians make use of legerdemain as well. Magic tricks that use these techniques often involve props, such as cards or coins, that the magician manipulates in a surprising way, hopefully without the audience being able to see how it is really done.

In practice, legerdemain is much more than an agile hand. Close-up magicians and other artists often rely heavily on misdirection, in which the audience is manipulated into looking in a certain direction, freeing the magician to perform tricks outside of their gaze. Mastering misdirection is often the most challenging and the most rewarding part of becoming a successful legerdemain artist. The expert is able to execute highly choreographed tricks with apparent ease and naturalness.

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Though legerdemain is often used to entertain, it can also be used to take advantage of people. It can give a card player an unfair edge over the competition and is considered a form of cheating in games of luck. Some people use these methods to con tourists out of money, as in the well-known three-shell game. Pickpockets, sometimes working in teams, are also notoriously skilled in legerdemain.

Spirit mediums during the seance craze around the turn of the 20th century were often accused of faking results through legerdemain, and many were exposed in this practice. In fact, many of the modern magician's tricks have their roots in the heyday of the seance. The techniques can take years to master, but the aspiring magician can find many books, classes, and websites on the basics.

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discographer
Post 5

@turquoise-- Well, of course. Legerdemain means "quickness of hand" right? So in order for someone to be so quick, they have to practice a lot.

I do believe that some people are born with this talent though. Just think about those young pickpockets that come up to tourists in other counters. I'm sure someone taught them what they know, but they're also very talented, there is no doubt about that. I was cheated of my money that way once.

turquoise
Post 4

Sometimes amateur magicians come for small shows where I work. Some are so bad! They clearly haven't learned all of the rules of legerdemain or they haven't practiced enough. During some of the tricks, although I might miss the manipulation, I can guess how the trick was done. That's not how it's supposed to be. The magic trick needs to be done in such a way that no one can tell what happened and how it turned out that way. It needs to be amazing.

I understand that learning legerdemain is difficult and takes a long time though. If anyone here is aspiring to be a magician, please practice as much as possible. It's impossible to perfect legerdemain skills without practices. I'm sure the pros must have practiced each trick about a million times.

SarahGen
Post 3

@Terrificli-- I think legerdemain is fairly common in card games. I know someone who knows these tricks and no one can beat him in a card game. Of course, these are just games among friends, there isn't money involved. But still, everyone is afraid to play with him because they know that he knows legerdemain and will manage to win somehow.

Logicfest
Post 2

@Terrificli -- In casinos, I'd be willing to wager (pun intended) that such cheating is almost unheard of because of tight security, legal considerations and other things you've mentioned. In fact, I doubt you'll find these types of things going on in regulated, official poker games anywhere.

The problem is in those unregulated games where con artists employ such trickery to bilk unsuspecting folks of their cash. Will you find that in friendly poker games among friends? Let's hope not. But you will find such tricks on those low-level games where a lot of money can be won or lost.

I do believe the widespread use of such tricks to con people out of money is one of the primary reasons such games are illegal. The government isn't just being mean by cracking down on all but sanctioned, legal card games. It is legitimately out to protect the public from thieves.

Terrificli
Post 1

Perhaps I am missing something, but how can these "Legerdemain" tricks be used in poker games? It seems customers would lynch casino dealers caught up in such foul play (not to mention violation of laws) and there are enough cameras and skilled observers to keep players honest.

That being the case, how much of a problem is this kind of cheating really?

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