Duck and Deal Discovery 🦆🃏

This is a fun, two-person version of the "Nine Card Problem".

These instructions assume that you are familiar with the "Nine Card Problem" spelling procedure. I recommend reading and learning my version of the trick called "Elaborative Encoding" before attempting to learn "Duck and Deal Discovery". If you're looking for another handling of the "Nine Card Problem", you may also enjoy "Hello, My Name Is..."

This write-up also includes an alternative way of having a card selected and lost in the nine-card packet. This approach can also be used with "Elaborative Encoding".


Two people remove nine random cards from the pack. They each select and remember a card. Both packets are mixed using an unusual spelling procedure; the name of the selected card is spelt out by each participant and one card is dealt to the table for each letter of the card's name.

Both piles are combined and mixed. One of the selected cards is found using a "Duck and Deal" process of elimination. This is repeated for the other selection, but the wrong card is found and put to one side.

The magician tries again by repeating the "Duck and Deal" procedure. Surprisingly, the found card is the same card put aside moments before. When the card on the table is turned over, it is discovered to be the other selected card!

Background & Credits

This trick is based on the "Nine Card Problem" by Jim Steinmeyer; it was first published in MAGIC Magazine (May 1993, pg 56). The "Nine Card Problem" was later reprinted in Jim's book Impuzzibilities in 2002.

The underlying principle is related to the trick "Remote Control", also created by Jim Steinmeyer and published in The New Invocation (No. 43) in February 1988. While "Remote Control" requires eighteen cards, not Nine, it uses a very similar method.

A much earlier application of the same principle can be found in Abbott's Anthology of Card Magic Volume Three, compiled by Gordon Miller. It is used in a trick using the whole pack called "Miracle Mix-Up" by Jack Yates (page 58). Initially, Jack sold the trick as a manuscript in 1953.

The "deal or switch" mixing procedure was devised by Paul Curry and first published as part of a trick of his called "A Swindle Of Sorts" in his book Paul Curry Presents, which was first published in 1974.

Dealing the cards into three piles to make the selection is a Bob Farmer idea.

Requirements & Preparation

A regular pack of playing cards.

Method & Presentation

Give the cards to someone to shuffle. Ask him to deal two piles of nine cards, one for him and another for his friend. Then, ask both participants to mix their nine-card packet and follow the "Elaborative Encoding" spelling procedure. Alternatively, you can use Jim Steinmeyer's original handling of the "Nine Card Problem" if you prefer. However, whatever handling you use, stop once both cards have been spelt (don't reveal the cards).

However, I prefer to do the following: Get both participants to deal three piles to the table, three cards in each pile. Tell them both to pick up one of the piles and peek at the top card. This is their "secret card" that they must remember.

Instruct your participants to pick up one of the other two piles and drop it on top of the cards they're holding. Finally, tell them to pick up the remaining three-card pile and drop it on top of all. While this process feels random, the two selected cards will always end up third from the bottom, or seventh from the top, of the packet.

Now guide both of your helpers through a "deal or switch shuffle". If your participant says "deal", simply deal the top card to the table. If, however, they shout "switch", spread over the top two cards of the packet and switch their position before dropping them, as a pair, to the table. Continue dealing or switching in this way until all nine cards are in a messy pile on the table. While this deal or switch shuffle appears to genuinely mix up the cards, all it does is reverse their order. 

Once this has been completed, both selections will be third from the top of the packet, which is the correct starting position for the original "Nine Card Problem" handling.

Next, get them both to spell the name of their selected card. Tell them to deal one card to the table for each letter of the name. Remember, they should drop any remaining cards on top of the pile after each card is spelt. (If you need more details on this process, please see the write-up for "Elaborative Encoding".)

Once your participants have done this, both selections will be the fifth card from the top (or bottom) on their respective piles.

Tell your first participant to drop one of the piles on top of the other (it doesn't matter which pile goes on top). Next, perform another deal or switch shuffle on the eighteen-card packet. While this appears to mix up the cards, all it does is reverse their order. The two selections will still be fifth and fourteenth from the top of the packet.

Next, perform a "Duck and Deal" on the packet (my preferred term for an Under-Down Deal, the opposite of the more common Down-Under Deal). As the name suggests, this involves "ducking" the top card underneath the packet and then "dealing" the next card to the table. Keep alternating between ducking and dealing until you're left holding a single card—this will be one of the selections.

Repeat the Duck and Deal. This time, the remaining selected card will end up on top of the pile on the table, not in your hand. As a result, the card in your hand will be an indifferent one. Reveal your mistake, then either perform a Top Change or Illogical Double Lift to switch the indifferent card for the selected card as you place it to one side on the table.

Perform yet another Duck and Deal, leaving you holding a single card; this will be the indifferent card from before. Look puzzled, then turn your gaze to the face-down card on the table. Turn it over to reveal the other selected card.

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

This trick involves a lot of dealing, so you need something interesting to say while you duck and deal. However, I still firmly believe that this can be entertaining. I like to talk about "a new algorithm called the duck and deal, which is guaranteed to find a person's selected card." The surprise transposition at the end of the routine gets a very good reaction, so, for me, at least, all the dealing is worth it.

You can also use the same presentational approach from "Elaborative Encoding". For example, while you're ducking and dealing, you can joke about how distraction and the passage of time make it more likely that a person will forget information in their short-term memory.

If you want to speed up the routine, after you've found one of the selections, you can use a Colour Change to transform the incorrect card into the other selection. The ever-popular Twirl Change or Marc DeSousa's Shapeshifter Change would both be good choices. However, I think the surprise transposition, although not as visual, feels more magical.


"Duck and Deal Discovery" provides an alternative way to end the "Nine Card Problem" when performing for an audience of two. However, it is possible to finish the trick in the usual fashion if you don't have time for all the ducking and dealing. Simply get both participants to deal down to the fifth card by spelling the word "MAGIC" and get them to reveal both selected cards simultaneously.