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A Magician's Quest for the Perfect Card Cheat

Dai Vernon, considered among the most influential magicians of the 20th century, could do just about any trick that called for sleight of hand. He was obsessed with learning the secrets of crooked card dealers. But there was one move he couldn't master.

In the The Magician and the Cardsharp, author Karl Johnson documents Vernon's quest to find the one man who was able to perform the holy grail of card tricks -- the so-called "center deal," dealing a specific card from anywhere in the deck, undetected.

Vernon's search took him from one sleazy dive to another: bars, nightclubs, pool halls, and smoke-filled back rooms. In 1932, the trail finally led him to a little white house in Pleasant Hill, Mo., where Allen Kennedy lived.

Kennedy didn't disappoint Vernon, showing him exactly how to perform the trick great gamblers had assumed was a fairytale.

Vernon died in 1992 at the age of 98. But at the Magic Castle, a Los Angeles club for magicians, there's a seat permanently reserved in his honor.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.