Best Card Magicians Ever
Rating the greatest card magicians of all time is a HERCULEAN task. Of course, we all have different tastes and preferences but we hope this list exposes you to new performers that you may not have heard of. Or you can write us and offer your suggestions, we are more than happy to improve this list based on your input. However, our criteria for this list is for magical card entertainers, we're not looking at influencers, scholars, mechanics, historians, finger flickers, or other branches of card magic. This is our list of the best magicians to entertain with a deck of playing cards. Read on...
The 10 Greatest Card Magicians of All Time
Magic with playing cards is as old as playing cards have been around. However, a bit more than 100 years ago, this branch of magic began to grow with two significant events: Hofzinser performing around 1850 and S.W. Erdnase's book in 1902. From that time until today, it has exploded. Here are the most influential card magicians and their approximate decades of influence:
- The Hofzinser Era (1860s-1900s)
- The Erdnase Era (1900s-1920s)
- The Annemann Era (1920s-1940s)
- The Hugard Era (1940s-1950s)
- The Vernon Era (1960s)
- The Marlo Era (1970s)
- The Jennings Era (1980s-1990s)
- The Tamariz Era (1990s-2000s)
- The Paul Harris Era (2000s-2010s)
- The Internet Era (2010s to 2020s)
Looking back over this history, this is our list of the most entertaining card magicians ever. Crank up your video volume and enjoy these masters...
Hofzinser is the only person on this list that we have not personally watched and there are no videos of him performing. (He died before the invention of film.) So why is he on this list? What Paganini was to the violin, Hofzinser was to playing cards. He was a virtuoso! He invented basic playing card magic techniques that bare his name today and also invented many classic tricks, however, this list recognizes only entertaining performers. "How the heck do we know he was a GREAT performer," you ask? Well, not only was he world famous in his era for performing with just playing cards and charged exorbitant entrance fees to watch him but many of the world's great magicians flocked to Vienna to watch and learn from him. Hofzinser was THE master card magician of his era!
Young Richard practiced card manipulation outdoors in the freezing trenches of World War I. For a bit of protection from the ravaging weather, he wore gloves. After the war, he spent months in the hospital and kept practicing to keep his spirits up. These massive hours of practice helped him build his card manipulation act. He later changed his name for the stage to Cardini and when television hit, he was a massive star. He played a character of an inebriated gentleman (finally a magician with a reason to wear a tux and gloves!) where cards and other objects would seem to appear and disappear through his drunken stupor. The young bellboy that assisted him was his wife.
8. Juliana Chen
Trained as a circus performer in China, Juliana has created a fabulous stage act with playing cards that has enabled her to perform at the world's best theaters. Differing from most performers on this list, she is not a close-up magician and can instead perform to hundreds of audience members with NO video projection. Her act is exciting and theatrical but if you want to see just her card performance, jump to 1:50 in the video. And by the way, don't ever stand in her way when she throws playing cards!
7. Shin Lim
Shin Lim is the youngest card performer on this list and the only one to belong to the new internet era of magic. This type of magic opens a completely new direction where the audience's attention can be directed by camera cuts and zooms. You may not fool the assistants at the table but millions of viewers worldwide will be amazed. If you don't want to see the background on him in the video above, jump to minute 1:00. Shin Lim is the 2018 winner of America's Got Talent and now has his own Vegas magic show. Who said audiences don't like card tricks?
6. An Ha Lim
Watch this video and imagine how we can only be on number 6 of this list so far! Poor old Cardini can't even imagine what is being done here. An Ha Lim of South Korean has taken the playing card manipulation act to a new level of excellence and busted open Korean card magic to the world! This is an exciting act with great music and builds every time to a well-deserved standing ovation.
5. Ricky Jay
Ricky Jay was a writer, historian, actor, and all-around eccentric. (You're welcome Ricky!) However, this list is about card magicians that entertain and Ricky has been on television or film almost continually since his college days at Cornell University. He started in the hippy clubs of New York, to national television, Doug Henning specials (see our greatest magicians ever list), weekly radio shows, national tours, and Hollywood movies usually playing a card cheat, magician, or back-alley character. Ricky is synonymous with American close-up card magic.
4. Bill Malone
Known as a magician's magician, Bill is not a household name but has had many TV appearances over the years. (Jump to 1:40 on the video and lose the snooze.) Bill owned a bar at a golf course in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and performed at high-end client's private events. Bill has made many DVDs for magicians teaching his tricks and techniques and one of the few "card teachers" that's highly entertaining.
3. René Lavand
The dramatic artistry of Lavand is most pronounced in his native Spanish which there are countless youtube videos. Finding him in dubbed English is a bit more difficult. Having only one arm for card magic is astounding but what sets Lavand apart is the theatricality he brings to the close-up stage. No easy comedy here. It's excellent cardistry (with all one-handed technique he had to discover himself) and a life-long passion for the beauty of card magic.
2. Jimmy Grippo
Although a few appearances on the top TV talk shows of the era, Jimmy Grippo was NOT well-know to the public... unless you were a high-roller gambler at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Jimmy specialized in up-close magic at your table. (We're talking when Vegas was in its heyday!) He performed for royalty, millionaires, at Caesars, and around the world for heads of state. A master of his mythology and a master of his audience (I love how he goes slow and makes you REALLY want to watch him), Jimmy didn't have to apply his technical prowess to his card magic, he provided intimate theater and private miracles to be one of the greatest of all time.
1. Juan Tamariz
(Dim lights, drumroll please...) Yes, he's wacky, off-the-wall, plays air violin, and you wouldn't believe he's accomplished at all but we have voted Tamariz the best card magician of all time. Underneath the facade of craziness lives a playing card magical genius who has been on television consistently all over the Spanish-speaking world for decades. In fact, mention his name to a Spaniard or South American over the age of 30 and you have a 90% chance they have watched him. For the English speaker, there are not a lot of videos, so we are also including a clip on Spanish television. If you want to skip a bit of silly "entertainment" at the beginning, jump to 2:30. This trick is one of his inventions and used today to close a top NYC magic show in his high-end parlor show. Congratulations Juan Tamariz!
Ready to get your pants, skirt, or kimono fooled off? Richard Turner is an obsessive card manipulator and unrelenting hard-worker constantly searching for better and better card skills. There is a recent autobiographical movie on his life called Dealt.
Swedish world champion and close-up card magician, Lennart Greene is a study in contrasts: a brilliant and creative card inventor who acts like a fool. In fact, isn't that partly the reason his magic is so strong? Dropping cards, forgetting basic words, and the thick glasses create a false sense that you understand the man. You don't; he's twenty steps ahead AND he's doing it in a foreign language! Here's a long TED talk to let you journey into his magic.
How did we do? Did your favorite magician make the list? There are so many amazing card performers who make magic such a rich and vibrant art that didn't make our list. Should we have included Max Malini, Allan Ackerman, Dai Vernon, Johnny Thompson, Michael Close, Derek Dingle, Larry Jennings, S.W. Erdnase, John Scarne, Eddie Fechter, Arturo Ascanio, Luis Piedrahita, Bert Allerton? We would love to hear who would be on your top ten list to create the best magic tricks with a deck of cards ever!