Twisting the Aces Three Ways

In this post, I share three ways to perform "Twisting the Aces" as well as some ideas to make the magic easier to follow.

So far, I've discussed a magic trick's premise, plot and theme. In this post, you will discover how these three ingredients combine to create an engaging presentation.

Like a fancy TV chef, I've prepared three different presentations for Dai Vernon's classic packet trick "Twisting the Aces "1, although I don't recommend that you serve them all at once! Instead of giving you indigestion, I hope these "dishes" help you contemplate the benefits of developing more than one presentation for the same trick (and maybe even encourage you to do the same).

In this article, I will also share the "secret sauce" that I use to strengthen the internal logic of the trick, making it much easier for an audience to interpret and understand the magic.

Note: I've included three presentation plans that should give you a good idea of how each presentation works. The notes on handling are there to remind me of the changes to the original trick. If you're not familiar with the original, these notes will make little sense! I've included the presentation plans to give you a better understanding of my scriptwriting process.

"Twisting the Aces" was first published in 1960 and is rightly considered a classic of close-up card magic. It is the first trick in the book More Inner Secrets of Card Magic by Lewis Ganson and has been in my repertoire for a long time. While I've changed the handling over the years, the presentation has remained the same. I perform the trick using the standard patter described in the book. 

There's nothing wrong with using the suggested presentation for an effect. In fact, if a magic author has gone to the effort of describing a detailed presentation, then it is sensible to try it out at least once. However, there are only a few lines of suggested patter in the original write-up for Vernon's most famous packet trick. The first two clarify the premise:

"Very few people realise that the Ace of Spades, being a conspicuous card, is difficult to manipulate—I'll demonstrate what I mean."

"These other Aces are child's play to handle."

And the third introduces the all-important twisting motion:

"By twisting the packet like this...'

The rest of the suggested presentation is descriptive. Again, not much to go on, but surprisingly, it is enough for such a short trick.

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any video footage of Vernon performing "Twisting the Aces"—something I'd love to see. However, I did find the next best thing: a video of the Spanish maestro of magic, Juan Tamaritz, performing a relatively faithful rendition of it; he even uses the fingertip-to-fingertip handling of the Elmsley Count, which has fallen out of favour with modern conjurers. Note: One edition that Juan has added is the repeated flicking of the packet; this is something the original instructions suggest you do for the final Ace, not all four.

Juan Tamaritz performing "Twisting the Aces" on the Spanish TV show Chantatachán in the early 1990s. Video Credit: Magicana.

Watching Juan perform the original handling demonstrates the cleverness of Vernon's thinking. The twisting motion not only functions as the plot device that drives the narrative of the trick forward, but it also correctly positions the packet for an Elmsley Count. In addition, the initial secret manoeuvre required to make the trick work is perfectly justified by the line about the Ace of Spades being a difficult card to manipulate. This demonstrates how it can be hard to untangle a good presentation from the method because one is often dependent on the other to be successful.

Twisted Logic

Aaron Fisher taught the trick in an online webinar a few years ago. The event was the latest instalment of his "Alpha Class" series, one of the perks of being a member of his Conjuror Community. Aaron shared several excellent technical tips on Vernon's four-Ace routine and demonstrated and explained some clever presentational touches on the trick; in particular, he went to great lengths to highlight the importance of pacing. Aaron considers the trick a "slow burner" that requires a gentle rhythm and an attentive audience to prove successful—something I agree with. He also tipped a fantastic kicker ending to the routine, giving it a punchier, more impressive climax (the Ace of Spades disappears from the packet and reappears face up in the pack). 

However, he did one thing that I really disliked. Aaron presented the appearance of the second Ace as a transformation, not a reversal. However, in More Inner Secrets of Card Magic, Lewis Ganson makes it abundantly clear that the effect is the progressive magical reversal of the four Aces, as the following extract from the book highlights:

"By giving the packet a twist in his hands, Dai shows that one Ace has now turned face up. Another twist and a second Ace turns face up, the first Ace turning face down again. The twisting is repeated until the faces of all four Aces have been shown singularly in the face-down packet."

Why does the same twisting action make some cards turn over, but others transform? Presenting this moment as a transformation negatively affects the continuity of the trick. It weakens its overall integrity by undermining the ability of the twisting action to act as a functional plot device capable of driving the magical narrative forward. This inconsistency damages the internal logic of the trick, making it more difficult for your audience to believe the lies you're feeding them about the Aces. (The internal logic of your trick is the set of rules that govern how your magical powers work. For example, if you derive your powers from a magic wand, you should never perform magic without the wand.)

Juan Tamatriz obviously understands this because, in the video performance above, he takes the time to explain to his audience that the Ace of Hearts has turned face down before revealing that the Ace of Clubs is face up. (To make this magical moment even clearer, he turns his hand palm down and then palm up again to highlight what is happening, unseen in the packet.) Even so, this sequence is illogical. Why does the first twist turn the Ace of Hearts face up, but the second cause the Ace of Hearts to turn face down and the Ace of Clubs to turn face up simultaneously?

A Spoonful of Magic

To be fair to Aaron, he's not the first magician I've seen make this mistake. In fact, the structure of the trick actively encourages you to present this magical moment as a transformation (or transposition) because two things happen simultaneously: the Ace of Hearts turns face down, and the Ace of Clubs flips face up. This makes the magic ambiguous. Did the Ace of Hearts flip face down, transform, or transpose with the Ace of Clubs? If you leave these questions unanswered, your spectators have to decide. This situation is highly undesirable because one audience member might perceive this moment as a transposition, while another onlooker might view it as a transformation. Obviously, this makes the magical effect as clear as mud and, as The Professor was fond of saying, "confusion is not magic."

"Feed magic to an audience one spoonful at a time." - Tommy Wonder

In his superb essay Slow and Steady Wins the Race2, Tommy Wonder stresses that we should feed magic to an audience one spoonful at a time. More specifically, he said that:

"People need time to digest and appreciate what is offered. When you present information, you should give it in small pieces and let each piece be digested before giving another."

In the second phase of "Twisting the Aces", you're clearly giving your audience a double dose of information. So how do we address this issue? We can do one of two things: 1) change the method to eliminate the moment, or 2) alter the presentation. One of the best features of "Twisting the Aces" is its minimalistic method; changing it would destroy the flow of the piece, so I'd be reluctant to use option number one.

This leaves us with option number two. Thankfully, there is a straightforward solution to this problem: after performing the first twist, and revealing the face-up Ace of Hearts in the packet, square up the cards and perform an additional anticlockwise twist. Tell your audience that while a clockwise twist turns an Ace face up, a twist in the opposite direction will turn the card face down again. This idea not only makes logical sense, but it also makes the magical effect crystal clear. The extra twist also gives your audience more time to process the situation. Most importantly, this minor addition strengthens the twisting action as a plot device, further proving that it is this action that is apparently causing the Aces to flip face up (maintaining the internal logic of the trick).

"I believe that the extraordinary is closer than we think. Just one degree away." - John Guastaferro

This modification to the presentation of "Twisting the Aces" is an excellent example of what Californian magician John Guastaferro calls a "one-degree" improvement3. This small but significant change makes your magic more powerful. The phrase refers to the fact that changing the water temperature from 211 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit can take it to boiling point. In the same way, we can make small, intentional "one-degree" changes to our magic tricks to create more powerful outcomes, taking our magical performances to the next level.

Shaking the Aces

I'm not the first performer to take this approach to "Twisting the Aces". If you watch Ekaterina's performance of the trick in the video below, you'll see that she shakes the packet to turn the first Ace face down before revealing a second Ace has reversed itself in the packet. In fact, she uses shaking the packet as the magical gesture that makes the magic happen throughout the entire routine, leading to a funny interaction with the young boy who manages, much to his surprise, to shake the Ace of Spades face up.

Ekaterina performing "Twisting the Aces" without the twist! Video Credit: Ekaterina.

The best thing about Ekaterina's performance is how she gets everyone to care about the trick. Getting a member of your audience to perform the last twist is a great way to strengthen the final Ace reversal. (The keen-eyed among you will also have noticed that Juan Tamaritz does this.) The danger with "Twisting the Aces" is that it can appear repetitive if you don't find a way to make the appearance of the final Ace more impressive (I do this by using a simple colour change).

I've used this anticlockwise twist presentational ploy for a few years (I've also tried the shaking thing, but I prefer to twist the packet). This tiny change to the presentation makes the magic much easier to follow and has resulted in much better reactions to the trick.

Below, I've included my full presentation plan for the trick (I've not included an explanation of the method because I want to focus on the presentation of magic in this post. I plan to share my handling of "Twisting the Aces" at some point in the future, though).

Presentation 1: Traditional Twist

As you can see from the script below, the presentation isn't particularly deep or meaningful. Instead, it simply describes what is happening to the cards. Writers call this approach "exposition"; it involves communicating essential information to your readers or, in this case, your audience. However, if you perform the trick slowly and emphasise that four cards, and four cards only, are being used, the trick is very perplexing. 

At first glance, the narration might seem redundant. However, it reminds your audience which of the Aces is yet to turn over. This is important because it is very easy for people to lose track of which Aces have already reversed (this is why some variations of the plot use an Ace, Two, Three and Four instead of four Aces).

Here's my presentation plan for "Traditional Twist":


The Ace of Spades is more difficult to control than the other three Aces because there is more ink on the card.

Performance Notes

Perform the trick slowly, studiously and deliberately. Each reversal should seem more impossible than the last. Emphasise the suit of each Ace when it reverses so that people remember the order in which they appear.


"Very few people realise that the Ace of Spades, being a conspicuous card, is difficult to manipulate—I'll demonstrate what I mean."

"The Ace of Spades is more difficult to control because there's more ink printed on its face, making it heavier than the other three Aces. These Aces are child's play to handle in comparison." 

(Slide out AS and tap the packet held in the left hand.)

"If I twist the packet like this, the Ace of Hearts turns face up." 

(Perform an Elmsley Count.)

"But a twist in an anticlockwise direction turns the Ace of Hearts face down. Another twist and another Ace turns over." 

(Perform an Underground Elmsley Count to display the face-up AC.)

"The Ace of Clubs is very easy to manipulate. Look, if I put it on the bottom of the packet and snap my fingers..." 

(Insert AC second from bottom, establish a break below it and snap fingers.)

" jumps back to the top of the packet!" 

(Perform block turnover of all cards above the break.)

"Remember, the Ace of Spades is the most difficult card to control." 

(Flash AS on the bottom of the packet, transferring it to left fingertip grip.)

"Do you know what happens when you don't twist the packet?" 

(Wait for an answer.)

"That's right, nothing." 

(Perform an Elmsley Count displaying four face-down cards.)

"But if we twist, the Ace of Diamonds flips face up." 

(Perform another Elmsley Count.)

"However, it doesn't matter how many times I twist the packet..." 

(Set packet for final reversal. Perform an Elmsley Count.)

"...the Ace of Spades will never turn over." 

(Perform a Jordan Count.)

"Instead, you have to give the card a little push." 

(Perform the Tongue Change, making AS pop face-up out of the packet.)

Presentation 2: Pasteboard Puppies

I briefly described this presentation in my previous post on script writing. This approach is much more whimsical than "Traditional Twist" and is particularly well suited to children. However, regardless of age, it plays well with anyone who owns a dog. While you can let members of your audience name the four pasteboard puppies, I usually don't do this for the sake of time. Also, as an amateur magician, I avoid having cards signed or written on. So the script below assumes that you will name the cards yourself. 

Interestingly, as I wrote this script, I devised several new ideas, such as producing a fake dog poo4 during the routine! I haven't tried this silly idea out yet, but it has the potential to be an amusing bit of business (although it remains to be seen if it will work in reality). It also reinforces the premise (the embarrassing relationship between a man and his dog). I only generated this idea because I wrote the script. Writing the script also led me to create an alternative ending (a two-card transposition). Again, this is something that would only have happened with a script.

Finally, by spending more time on the script, I accidentally created a variation that includes a selected card called "Fetch!" which I will also share soon. In the meantime, here's the presentation plan for "Pasteboard Puppies":


  • What if the four playing cards behaved like pet dogs?"
  • The embarrassing relationship between a man and his dog.
  • The spiritual concept of Kotodama (the mystical power of words and names).

Performance Notes

This trick is an opportunity for your audience to engage in imaginative play. You can get your audience to name the dogs. However, you need backup names in case they need help thinking of any. These names are good because they remind your audience of the suit of the card, which makes the magic clearer:

  • Club - Shamrock, because the club looks like a clover leaf
  • Heart - Romeo, as in Romeo and Juliet (romantic)
  • Spade - Digger, because of the four spades
  • Diamond - Ruby, because the diamonds look like red rubies


"I have four puppies. Would you like to see them?... They're in my pocket!"

"I'm afraid that they're not real puppies. When I was a young boy, my Dad refused to get me a dog, even though I desperately wanted one. So I used to imagine that my playing cards were puppies—pasteboard puppies!"

(Cards in CHaSeD order.)

"Here they are. Can you see their small paws? They all have names. The Four of Clubs is called Shamrock. He's an Irish Terrier. The Four of Hearts, Romeo. He's a very loving and affectionate dog. The Four of Spades is called Digger because he loves to dig! And the Four of Diamonds is named Ruby, who likes to go on long walks. Shamrock, Romeo, Digger and Ruby"

(Squiggle display face up. Squiggle display face down. Displace the top two cards to the bottom.)

"Shamrock is the most disobedient. The other three are much easier to control in comparison."

(Setup packet for "Twisting the Aces".)

"Let's see if we can teach them some simple commands. For example, Romeo, roll over!"

(Perform an Elmsley Count.)

"Digger, roll over!"

(Perform an Elmsley Count.)

"Look, I'll put Digger on the bottom of the packet."

(Insert 4S second from the bottom, establish a break below it.)

"Here, boy!"

(Perform block turnover of all cards above the break.)

"Stay! Play dead!"

(Put the FS face up on your participant's hand. Then face down. Replace on the packet.)

"Ruby is very well-behaved. She likes to go on long walks. All you have to say to make her appear is 'walkeeis!'" or "Ruby loves her food. All you have to do to make her appear is shout 'din-dins!'"

(Perform the Tounge Change. Retrieve fake dog poo from your pocket or sleeve, and hide under the packet.)

"Shamrock, sit!" (Sounds like "shit")

(Triple turnover. Then drop the palmed fake dog poo on the tabletop.)

"I think he misheard that command! This is so embarrassing!"

(Take the poo bag out of your pocket and scoop up the fake dog poo. Put the bag in your pocket.)

"Shamrock will perform the most amazing dog trick for you all to make up for his disgraceful behaviour. A classic illusion from the golden age of magic as performed by Harry Houdini and his wife, Bess."

(Perform the  two-card transposition sequence.)

"Proof that, while you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, you can teach a new dog old tricks!"

Presentation 3: Crazy Eights

This alternative presentation does not use the four Aces. I devised it because I have too many four-Ace tricks in my repertoire. Consequently, when I practise my magic, the Aces tend to get worn out faster than the other cards in the pack. Also, one of the issues with using the Aces with Vernon's twisting motion is that it often causes the cards to be displayed upside down (unless you are very careful in how you handle the cards). While this isn't a significant issue, it damages the aesthetics of your magic and can make it more difficult for people to identify which card has already turned face up. However, the Eights can be easily read regardless of orientation. (This same benefit is present when you present "Pasteboard Puppies" using the Fours instead of Aces.)

Similar to the original premise of the trick, "Crazy Eight" uses the idea that one of the cards is more difficult to manipulate. However, in this case, it is the Eight of Diamonds because it has a hidden figure of eight on its face (see image below). This surprising piece of trivia is the hook that gets people interested in the magic that is about to take place.

Can you see the hidden, larger figure of eight? It is formed by the negative white space between the diamonds? Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The presentation also uses the popular card game Crazy Eights as a backdrop for the magic. This makes it logical to present the appearance of the second face-up card as a transformation rather than a reversal because, in the game of Crazy Eights, the four Eights are wild. (Yeah, I know, I'm a hypocrite for criticising Aaron Fisher for this very approach! However, this presentation adequately justifies the framing of the moment as a transformation in a way that Aaron's suggested presentation did not.)


The Eight of Diamonds is more difficult to control than the other three Eights because there is a hidden figure of eight on the card. In fact, the Eights can all do crazy things. That's why they're known as the "crazy Eights".

Performance Notes

The whole trick should be performed at a fast pace and have a surreal feel. When all the cards appear to transform into the Eight of Diamonds in the finale, you act as if the whole thing was a mistake (too many twists). Look shocked and surprised at the "crazy" things the cards are doing before "fixing" the packet.


"Let's do some magic with four cards and four cards only."

(Cards displayed in SCHD order, with the 8D at the face of the packet.)

"The four Eights are the most difficult cards to manipulate in a pack of playing cards. That's why they're called crazy Eights. The Eight of Diamonds is the most difficult to manipulate—do you know why?"

"Because there are three eights on the face of the card. Eight-eight-eight is an auspicious number. Mathematicians call this a 'happy number'a number which eventually reaches one when replaced by the sum of the square of each digit...."

"...You can only see two? Can you see the hidden figure of eight now?"

(Run your finger around the negative white space between the diamonds.)

"This makes the Eight of Diamonds more powerful and, consequently, more difficult to control. The other Eights are child's play to handle in comparison." 

(False shuffle: run two, and throw two. Then run four twice.)

"In the card game Crazy Eights, the Eights are wild. Look! How crazy is that!"

(Triple turnover. Display 8C, then perform the Glide. Shake card. It transforms into 8D. Replace on the bottom.)

"If I twist the packet like this, the Eight of Clubs turns face up. Crazy!" 

(Perform an Elmsley Count.)

"Remember, the Eights are wild. For example, if I want the Eight of Clubs to be another suit, such as Hearts, you can do that!" 

(Shake the packet, then perform an Underground Elmsley Count to display the face-up AH.)

"The Eight of Hearts is very easy to manipulate. Look, if I put it on the bottom of the packet and snap my fingers..." 

(Insert AC second from bottom, establish a break below it and snap fingers.)

" jumps back to the top of the packet! Crazy!" 

(Perform block turnover of all cards above the break.)

"Remember, the Eight of Diamonds is the most difficult card to control." 

(Flash 8D on the bottom of the packet, transferring it to left fingertip grip.)

"Do you know what happens when you don't twist the packet?" 

(Wait for an answer.)

"That's right, nothing." 

(Perform an Elmsley Count displaying four face-down cards.)

"But if we twist, the Eight of Spades flips face up. Crazy!" 

(Perform another Elmlsey Count.)

"However, it doesn't matter how many times I twist the packet...

(Perform an Elmsley Count.)

"...the Eight of Diamonds will never turn over." 

(Perform a Jordan Count.)

"Instead, you have to give the card a little push." 

(Perform the Tongue Change, making 8D pop face-up out of the packet. Slip cut 8D to second from the bottom.)

"Make sure you avoid twisting the cards repeatedly. That makes the cards go really crazy! Look, we have one, two, three, or four identical cards. Oh dear, that will never do."

(Diminishing lift sequence, followed by Flushtration/Orion Count.)

"Let's see if I can fix this mess."

(Through the Fist Flourish, followed by a face-up Flushtration/Orion Count.)

King Among Men and Jumping Jackrobats

And finally, I thought I'd share some incomplete ideas for alternative presentations for "Twisting the Aces" as a bonus for making it this far down the page! As demonstrated by "Crazy Eight", simply changing the cards being twisted can lead to a different presentation and effect. For example, one way to account for the difficulty in manipulating the Ace of Spades is to use a King of Spades with three Jacks (Clubs, Hearts and Diamonds). The King, who considers himself superior, does not do as you instruct. However, he flips face up when you apply a little force. 

If you're a gospel magician, you might want to develop a script that talks about a "king among men" as a subtle reference to Jesus. Something about him being difficult to manipulate or corrupt. Or, you could use one Jack to represent Jesus and three Kings to symbolise the Three Wise Men. It would then make a lot of sense to have the Jack disappear from the packet and reappear in the pack, echoing the death, disappearance and resurrection of the son of God. I won't be using this presentation because I'm a non-religious humanist. Still, I mention it as another example of the good things that can happen when you commit to writing a script, even a very basic one. If you mix religion and magic, please feel free to develop this idea further.

Another, perhaps obvious, way to frame the reversals is to use the four Jacks and refer to them as "Jumping Jackrobats". This then gives you the excuse to call the reversals "somersaults" and sets you up to perform Dr Daley's Last Trick afterwards. Larry Jennings used this presentation for his trick "Ambitious Classic"5. His script mentions vaudeville and a family of "ground and lofty tumblers", represented by the Ace, Two, Three, Four and Five of Spades. Although some magicians hate the personification of playing cards, I've always found this approach, when it is done well, charming and thoroughly entertaining.

This will be my last post on scriptwriting for magicians for a while. However, I intend to revisit this fascinating and important topic. In the meantime, why don't you try writing some scripts for your magic tricks? 😉


  1. Lewis Ganson, Dai Vernon's Inner Card Trilogy, (L&L Publishing, 1996), 5. Note: The book was initially published in 1960 by Unique Magic Studio (Harry Stanley), then later by Supreme Magic and L&L Publishing in a hardback edition.

  2. Tommy Wonder and Stephen Minch, The Books of Wonder Volume 1, (Hermetic Press, 1996) 209.

  3. John Guastaferro, One Degree, (Vanishing Inc. Magic, 2010), xiii.

  4. If you don't like the joke about the dog poo, then you can skip this part of the script entirely. I appreciate that some magicians will find the production of fake dog poo crass. I have two young daughters who love toilet humour. They see this stuff hilarious.

  5. Mike Maxwell, The Classic Magic of Larry Jennings, (L&L Publishing, 1986), 95. Note: The trick was first published by Karl Fulves in 1975 in his magic periodical Epilogue (Special No 3, Part 2). Larry Jennings was the first to get the trick into print, so he is usually credited as the inventor of the plot. However, evidence suggests that the trick might have originated with Persi Diaconis or Bruce Cervon. Either way, it is an entertaining piece of magic worth learning.