Bad Password 🐉

Well done for guessing the correct password. It wasn't too tricky, though, was it? I'll make it more difficult next time!

This trick combines a self-working principle with a modicum of sleight of hand to deliver a compelling piece of mental magic. A thought-of card is located in a small packet of cards using a secret password. The face of the selected card then vanishes. All cards can be examined at the end of the routine. 

"Bad Password" is fun, interactive and has an engaging presentation. Please give it a go—you won't regret it!


The magician talks about the importance of using a strong password to protect your data and online identity. Next, he deals two piles of cards to the table and asks a spectator to pick either pile. The cards that are not selected are returned to the pack. The participant is then asked to look through the cards, remember one, and shuffle them thoroughly.

The participant chooses a secret password, such as a simple dictionary word. Then, this password is "programmed" into the packet. For example, if the selected password is "MONKEY", then one card is dealt to the table for each letter of the word. In this case, your participant would deal six cards into a single pile on the table. Finally, any cards left over are dropped on top of the pile. This entire process happens with the magician's back toward the audience so that the password remains a secret. 

The performer then instructs his helper to spell-deal the phrase "MY PASSWORD IS", dropping any cards remaining on top of the pile after each word of the phrase is spelt. Next, the participant is asked to say their password out loud. When they announce it, the magician says, "You should never tell anyone your password!"

Finally, the secret password is spelt out again, and the leftover cards are dropped on top as before. The magician deals the top card of the packet to the table and says, "Wouldn't it be amazing if that was your thought-of card?" 

The other cards are dealt face up; the thought-of card is not among them. The magician says, "The problem with using a weak password is that they're easy to crack. If this happens, someone might steal your data. Look, I think it has already happened!" The remaining face-down card is turned over to reveal a blank-faced playing card. The magician finishes by saying, "And that's why you should always use a strong password!"

Background & Credits

The trick combines the small packet spelling effect with The Princess Card Trick principle (using pseudo-duplicates rather than mis-indexed cards). The inclusion of a blank-faced kicker is reminiscent of "Limited Edition" (and "New Limited Edition") by Gordon Bean and Larry Jennings.

The routine was inspired by "My Secret Password" by Robert Ball, which, in turn, is a variation of Jim Steinmeyer's "Nine Card Problem", first published in Magic Magazine almost thirty years ago (May 1993, pg 56). It was later reprinted in Jim's book Impuzzibilities in 2002. In addition, Robert published a video tutorial for his trick on YouTube in August 2022. 

Henry Hardin is credited with the invention of "The Prince's Card Trick", later described by T. Nelson Downs in The Art of Magic in 1909 as "The Princess Card Trick." I'm unsure why or when the name changed, but the female title is now more commonly used.

The Jinx Switch was first published by Ted Annemann in The Jinx in 1937. A similar switch was later published by Ed Marlo in 1984 called Olram's Jinx Switch. However, the move is much older than this; it was first used by card cheats at the gaming tables.

Requirements & Preparation

A standard pack of playing cards with a matching blank-faced playing card. 

Remove any eight pairs of mates from the pack, e.g., Jack of Hearts and Jack of Diamonds. The exact cards do not matter, but it is best to include a good mixture of picture and spot cards. Put the blank-backed card on top of the talon, then place the sixteen-card slug on top of all.

Method & Presentation

False shuffle the cards, then deal two piles of eight cards to the table as if you were playing a game of cards. Due to the pre-arrangement, the cards in opposite piles will be pseudo-duplicates. Finally, shuffle (or cut) the blank-backed card to the bottom of the pack.

Instruct your helper to select one of the piles. I like to make this silly by saying, "Please pick either pile A or pile B. 'A' for awesome or 'B' for boring. Please don't let me influence your choice."

It doesn't matter which pile is selected. The only reason for giving your participant the choice between the two piles is to make it easy for you to establish a break above a nine-card packet on the bottom of the pack. This break is required to facilitate a switch of the packet later on in the routine. Note: If you don't want to use this two-pile approach, you can put a top-cutting breather crimp in the blank-faced playing card to allow you to perform the switch (or put a thick card or short card above the nine-card setup). However, I like using the two-pile gambit because, apart from the blank-faced card, the pack is unprepared.

Tell your participant to pick up the pile, look through the cards and think of one of them. Then ask them to shuffle the cards. As they're doing this, perform a Pinky Count to establish a Little Finger Break above the bottom card of the pack (the blank-faced playing card). Next, transfer the cards into right-hand End Grip, maintaining the break with the pad of your right thumb.

Ask your helper to hand you the pile that was not selected. Then, place the cards you hold on top of the rejected pile, transferring your break to your left little finger.

Take the selected pile from your participant in right-hand End Grip in preparation for Ted Annemann's Jinx Switch. To execute the switch, drop the packet in your right hand on top of the pack. As soon as you do this, remove all the cards above the break, pause a beat, and then place them on the table. (Alternatively, you can use the Swivel Jinx Switch by Blake Douglass.)

This switching technique is discrepant. You start with the chosen packet in your right hand and the balance of the pack in your left. After the switch has taken place, the situation is reversed; the packet is in your left hand, and the rest of the cards are held in your right hand. For this reason, it is important to cover the switch with suitable misdirection. As you complete the switch, ask your participant a question. Doing this will make them look at you and not at the cards. When they look back, they will not notice the reversal.

An alternative way to handle the switch is to use an old gambling move similar to the Jinx Switch. Have your participant square the selected pile and place it on the table. Look at your helper and ask them a direct question, e.g., "Do you find it difficult to remember passwords?" As they answer, drop all the cards above the break on top of the pile on the table. This will leave the nine-card packet in your left hand. Again, this is a discrepant move, but due to inattentional blindness, or perceptual blindness as it is also known, no one will notice the change in the situation. Your audience will assume that you placed the pack on the table and picked up the chosen pile.

Situation Check: You have secretly switched out the selected pile for the rejected one and added the blank-faced card to the top of it. The switch effectively vanishes the thought-of card.

Next, you demonstrate how your volunteer should deal cards to spell out their chosen password. You can use any password you like as an example; I use "MONKEY" or "DRAGON" because these are two of the most common passwords discovered in various data breaches. Doing this will move the blank-faced card from the top to the bottom of the nine-card packet. Note: You can let your participant pick this password as well as their own if you prefer because the number of cards dealt to the table is irrelevant to the method.

Turn your back on your audience, and instruct your helper to pick up the cards and spell-deal their secret password to the table, one card for every character in their password. Tell them to drop any remaining cards on top of the pile, then turn back to face everyone.

Get your participant to spell out "M-Y" and drop the leftover cards on top. Next, ask them to spell out "P-A-S-S-W-O-R-D" in the same manner, dealing one card to the table for each letter of the word. Get them to drop the remaining card on top. Finally, have them spell-deal the word "I-S" and drop the rest of the cards on top of the pile. No matter the password used, the blank-faced card will always end on top of the pile.

Pick up the packet and deal the top card in front of your participant. Deal the remaining eight cards into a face-up pile. Ask your helper if they saw their thought-of card. They will answer "No" because their selected card is back in the pack somewhere. This situation implies that the remaining face-down card must be their selection.

Talk about the dangers of using a weak password, then reveal the blank face of the selected card (?) to finish.

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

When you don't have a blank-faced card in your pack or don't want to deal with the added complication of the switch, you can perform "My Secret Password", as described by Robert Ball in his YouTube tutorial. I perform it in much the same way as Robert does, but with one significant difference: I use Paul Curry's "Deal or Switch" procedure from his trick "A Swindle Of Sorts" to apparently mix up the order of the cards after the secret password has been selected and "programmed" into the packet. I think this strengthens the location of the selected card and helps to better disguise the mathematical nature of the method.

Here's a brief description of how I perform Robert's trick for those unfamiliar with Paul Curry's devious false mixing procedure. First, have a spectator shuffle the nine-card packet and remember the bottom card (I don't bother dealing the cards into three piles as Robert does in his tutorial). Next, instruct your helper to silently spell out their secret password, dealing one card to the table for each character in their password. Then, tell them to drop any leftover cards on the pile. 

Turn back to face your audience and say, "I don't know what secret password you selected, so there's no way I could know which card you're thinking of or where it is located in the packet, correct?" They should agree with this statement because it is true. Continue by saying, "But just in case you still don't trust me, let's mix up the cards some more using a random mixing procedure similar to the one that automatic shuffling machines use. It is called the 'deal or switch' shuffle. Do you want to deal or switch?"

If your participant says "deal", simply deal the top card of the packet 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 either dealing or switching in this way, as directed by your participant, until all nine cards are in a messy pile on the table. While this "deal or switch" procedure appears to mix up the cards, all it does is reverse the order of the cards in the packet. In fact, it does exactly the same thing as dealing the cards, one at a time, to the table.

Pick up the pile and square it up as you say, "Let's do that again to make sure your thought-of card is really lost!" Repeat the "deal or switch" procedure. This second mix simply serves to undo what the first one did. The packet is back in its original order!

Finish the routine by guiding your participant through the spelling of "MY PASSWORD IS" followed by their secret password. (Remember, any remaining cards are dropped on top of the pile on the table after your helper has finished spelling each word.) After a suitable build-up, turn over the top card to reveal the thought-of card.

Another idea I had after performing Robert's wonderful trick was to combine it with the Glide Force. For example, you could perform the trick with a single force card and eight Jokers (or blank-faced cards if you have them). Arrange the cards, so the force card is on the bottom of the packet. 

Shuffle the cards, bringing the force card to the top. Repeat the shuffling action to send the force card back to the bottom of the packet. Hold the face-down packet from above with your left hand in readiness for the Glide. With the tips of your left fingers, secretly draw in the bottom card of the packet by half an inch or so. 

Next, openly remove the card second from the bottom of the packet and place it on top of the packet. Keep repeating this action as you ask your participant to "Call stop whenever you want." Once your helper has instructed you to halt, tap the end of the packet with the fingers of your right hand to square up the cards. Then hand the face-down packet to your participant and ask them to "Take a peek at the bottom card of the packet." This straightforward yet effective procedure allows you to force a card in an extremely fair manner.

Continue the trick as outlined above. However, once you have revealed that the thought-of card is on top of the packet, say, "Maybe some of you think that all of these cards are the same. You're right. They're all Jokers!" Deal the Jokers face up in an overlapping row to finish.

Because you're forcing a card, you can also read your participant's mind before you reveal that their card is on top of the packet. This makes the trick even more impressive for a layperson.

Another idea that is worth exploring is combining "My Secret Password" with a full blank deck kicker ending, similar to "Blizzard" by Dean Dill, my favourite trick involving blank-faced playing cards (watch Dean perform the trick in his barber shop). Briefly, have a card selected from a regular pack of playing cards. Then, as your participant is looking at their selection, switch the pack for 51 blank-faced playing cards with a matching back design. Dean's method of switching out the cards using a card box shell works brilliantly, but you could rely on a simple pocket switch instead, given the strength of the misdirection at work.

Next, shuffle the cards and deal eight cards on top of your participant's selected card. Perform the trick as discussed above. Reveal that the top card of the packet is the selected card. Show that the other cards in the packet are all blank before spreading the pack on the table to show a sea of blank-faced playing cards to finish.


Don't be put off by the Jinx switch; it can appear too bold if you've never used it before. If you use a little verbal misdirection, you'll get away with it. 

After the switch, the selected pile (?) grows in number by one card (from eight to nine cards). As you never mention the exact number of cards in the two piles when you deal them out, no one should notice this discrepancy.