Two Hot to Trot

This trick is my handling of the venerable Chicago Opener plot. In this version, the backs of two selected cards change colour. Then, the two odd-backed cards transpose. Both cards, along with the rest of the pack, can be thoroughly examined at the end of the routine. I've also included a natural way to reset the trick in front of an audience.

My motivation for developing an alternative approach to this card-magic classic was threefold: I disliked the Double Turnover in the original handling; even when performed well, it happens at the worst possible time (when everyone is looking at your hands). Second, I wanted to allow my audience to examine and shuffle the cards before the second card was selected. Thirdly, I wanted to end clean (no duplicates left in the pack).


The backs of two selected playing cards change from blue to red. The two odd-backed cards then transpose under impossible conditions.

Background & Credits

"Chicago Opener" is often credited to Frank Everhart, Jim Ryan, Frank Garcia or even some guy on YouTube—all of these attributions are wrong! The trick was invented by Al Leech and first marketed in 1950. Al didn't even call it "Chicago Opener"; the trick's original name was "A Hot Card Trick No. 1".

Why all this misinformation? Frank Everhart is responsible for making it a favourite amongst magicians. The trick was published in 1972 by Frank Garcia. Garcia renamed "Chicago Opener" because Everhart used it as the opening effect in his bar magic act.

In 1973, the effect was again published in "Super Subtle Card Miracles" as "Chicago Style". Unfortunately, Frank Everhart was wrongly given credit for the routine in this book. This mistake explains much of the confusion surrounding the origin of this great trick.

Jim Ryan, another high-profile magician from the Chicago area, also helped to make the effect popular. Jim's version of the trick was published in 1980 as "Red Hot Mama". Jim used to turn to a female spectator and have her tap the pack. Then, in his mischievous Irish accent, he would say, "Do you know what happens when a red hot mama does that?" Jim would slowly spread through the pack, showing that one card's back was now red!

Requirements & Preparation

You will need a blue-backed pack of playing cards and two red-backed stranger cards, e.g. the Four of Spades and the Queen of Hearts. Make sure you use two cards with strong contrast; this will make the magic easy to follow.

Discard the Queen of Hearts from the blue-backed pack; you will not need this card. Then, from the top of the pack down, arrange the remaining cards in the following order: balance of pack, red-backed Four of Spades, blue-backed Four of Spades, blue-backed indifferent card, and red-backed Queen of Hearts.

Method & Presentation

False shuffle, retaining your stack on the bottom of the pack. I use a Centre Hindu Shuffle to do this, but any false shuffle that doesn't disturb the bottom four cards of the pack will also work (such as a Riffle Shuffle).

Force the bottom card onto Emma using the Hindu Shuffle Force. Display the face of the Queen of Hearts to her, then drop the cards held in your right hand on top of those held in your left.

Riffle the pack, then spread through the cards until you reach the red-backed Four. Next, spread over one more blue card, then push over a block to hide the red-backed Queen.

Square up, then turn the pack face up. Ask Emma what card she is thinking of. Run through the cards until you get to the Queen of Hearts. Cut all the cards above the Queen to the back of the face-up pack. Remove the Queen and raise the card to chest height, keeping the back of the Queen towards your audience. After a suitable dramatic pause, revolve the card to display its face to your audience. Hand the Queen to Emma.

As everyone reacts to the change, establish a left little finger break below the bottom three cards of the pack. Next, move the pack into right-hand End Grip, transferring the break to your right thumb. Finally, take back the red-backed Queen, holding it face-down in your left hand. Then, in the action of handing the pack to Emma, secretly load the three cards below the break on top of the Queen (this is the SWAK Transfer by John Bannon). 

As soon as you've done this, relax your left hand. If you're standing, let your left arm drop to your side; this helps hide the thickness of the packet and gives the impression that the red card is no longer important, shifting focus back to the pack. If you're seated, let your left hand drop into your lap.

Instruct Emma to check for additional red-backed cards in the pack. She can also shuffle the cards if she so wishes. Transfer the packet in your left hand to right hand Biddle Grip, keeping the cards perfectly aligned (remember this is supposed to be a single card). Your right fingers should be positioned to conceal the packet's true thickness. Extend your left hand towards Emma so you can take back the pack from her. Flash the face of the Queen before casually dropping the quadruple card on top of the pack. 

"Would you like me to do that again?"

After a suitable pause, deal the top card of the pack to the table. Emma thinks the red card on the table is the Queen of Hearts, but it is actually the Four of Spades. Establish a break below the top card of the pack. Double Cut this card to the bottom.

Show that all the cards are still blue-backed by spreading through the pack, pushing a block of more than two cards over to begin with (this conceals the red-backed Queen, which is second from the top).

"Look, all the cards are still blue."

Turn to Jean and perform another Hindu Shuffle Force to make her "freely select" the Four of Spades.

Square up, then overhand shuffle the cards, moving the red-backed Queen into the lower portion of the pack. Next, cut the cards and complete the cut; this positions the red-backed Queen roughly in the centre of the pack.

"I'll make things more difficult for myself this time by shuffling and cutting the cards."

Better handling (?): Turn the pack face up and perform another Hindu Shuffle as you ask Jean to say "stop" when she wants to return her card to the pack. Replace the card face up and drop the remainder on top. This positions the red-backed Queen two cards below the blue-backed Four of Spades.

Riffle the pack, then spread through the cards to reveal another one has turned red! Out-jog the red-backed card and remove it from the spread. Next, raise the card to chest height, and miscall it as the Four of Spades. Then, slowly revolve it to reveal the face of the Queen of Hearts (and not the Four of Spades as your audience expects). Wait until someone turns the tabled card face up, then drop the Queen to the table.

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

When developing this routine, I was keen to retain the basic theme of the plot, which I managed to do. I don't consider my version to be better than the original, but it does offer several advantages.

Unlike most versions of "Chicago Opener", this one doesn't rely on the Double Turnover. There is a lot of heat on the odd-backed card when it appears, making this the worst possible moment to perform the sleight (or any other for that matter). There are two ways to deal with this problem: remove tension by delaying the move or remove the sleight from the trick entirely. I decided to do the latter.

Also, in my version of the Chicago Opener, the selection process is consistent; the two participants select a card in the same manner (Hindu Shuffle). Finally, the second participant can examine the pack before and after the back of their chosen card changes colour—this makes the final phase very powerful!


Text - TK