Ever had the desire to sling cards like this guy?

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Marvel’s Gambit does his thing.  (Image courtesy of Marvel)

Or how about this guy?

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League of Legend’s Twisted Fate does his thing. (Image courtesy of the League of Legends Wiki)

Or maybe DC comic’s Joker was more your style:

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“Pick a card … <pause> Have all the cards!”  (Image courtesy of DC and Allposters.com)

Who hasn’t?

I first learned about card throwing from some friends at a summer camp when I was in middle school, before I knew who Gambit was (League of Legends was far off in the future, but Batman: The Animated Series, where the Joker tosses cards in a scene I paraphrased above, was on TV). At the time, the trading card game Magic: The Gathering had also just become popular and plenty of kids had them and used to play them during downtime. The rest of us that didn’t have a deck would sit around trying to figure out what kind of games we could play with regular cards. The only card games I knew were poker and 52 card pickup. Poker wasn’t very popular at the time and 52 card pickup was, well, more work than fun.

As is generally the case when young boys are left to their own devices, the play turned destructive – we eventually tried throwing the cards at each other.  None of us could really do it, but we eventually figured out that our plastic IDs, rigid and heavier than playing cards, worked a lot better.  They worked great in the hallway wars sometimes had.  The only issue was if you lost your ID, you were kind of SOL.  The adult me looks back and is grateful no one lost an eye or worse.

When I went back home, I kept experimenting with throwing playing cards.  Somewhere around that time, I remember reading some old magic books that talked about magicians like Howard Thurston using card throwing in their acts.  One book even boasted of a performer’s ability to toss a playing card from the stage all the way to the end of the theater. It always seem like a fun little trick and, to me, a more interesting way of utilizing a deck of cards then playing the few card games I knew.  Not a bad way to pass the time, as evidenced by Bill Murray’s character using card tossing as one of the ways to pass the years he spent reliving the same day in Groundhog Day.  As he says, “it’s all in the wrist.”

Time and boredom is also how Logan from The Thirteenth Hour gets good at the skill during the months that he is on board the Imperial Ranger ship at the beginning of the book:

…There was always a deck of cards lying around someplace, and even though I was no more welcome at the card table now than I had been before, I did pick up one interesting skill. 

I learned to throw cards one evening after stumbling upon an adventure book in the ship’s library.  The majority of the library – if you can call one shelf of books a library – consisted of star charts and books on navigation.  But buried in between was “A Pirate’s Yarn – the Omnibus Edition,” a quasi–autobiographical account written by “J. Allsworth, former buccaneer.”  The balance between truth and fiction probably leant heavily towards fiction, but the man was an entertaining writer nonetheless and, even without embellishment, had probably led an interesting life. 

He described one encounter in a tavern where he had used a deck of cards to save his life.  At the time, Mr. Allsworth, broke and haggard, was strongly considering giving up the frenetic life of a pirate–on–the–run and was thinking about a stabler career, perhaps in forgery or counterfeiting.  He had just hocked his sword for one last night of drunken debauchery at the local tavern when his past caught up with him in the form of several soldiers holding a warrant for his arrest.  Unarmed and inebriated, Mr. Allsworth reached for the only weapon he could find – a deck of cards.  With a few flicks of the wrist, he send cards spinning into the faces of his captors, allowing him to make his getaway with flying colors, or at least, flying cards.

The book even had a few pictures showing how he did it.  Mr. Allsworth didn’t say whether he acquired the skill on the spot or whether he’d picked it up at some earlier time.  The book leans towards the former, but after trying it out myself, I vouch for the latter.  Most of the time, the card would just flutter off like a wounded bird, and you had to hold and fling the thing just right for it to fly straight.  But I had lots of time to practice, and eventually got to the point where I could toss cards the length of the deck.  I lost more cards that way.  I never really could hit what I was aiming at, but then again, I never was drunk and surrounded by soldiers that wanted to arrest me.  Perhaps under that kind of duress with the magic of alcohol, accuracy would assert itself. 

He ends up later finding another pack of cards that he utilizes successfully for distraction in a fight near the end of the book.

And with some practice, you, too, can learn how to throw cards like Logan, though I can’t promise it’ll be anywhere as useful for you in self-defense (or offense) as it was for him, Gambit, Twisted Fate, or the Joker. But, like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, it can provide you with endless cheap entertainment.

Below are the steps to follow, accompanied by pictures.

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1.) Get some cards to throw. I’m using a pack of Bicycle playing cards here, always a good choice. Avoid the ones made out super thin pieces of plastic found in dollar stores and the like – I’ll tell you why in a minute, but suffice to say, they are too light to learn on.  The stiffer and heavier the card, the easier it will be to throw and the more accurate and consistent you will be.  In fact, old baseball cards, used plastic gift cards, or those fake credit cards that come in the mail are even easier and are not a bad way to start out.  Then you can progress to standard playing cards if you want.

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2.) Here’s one basic throw (there are many – this one will just get you started).  It will be like tossing a frisbee.  There are also multiple ways to grip the card, but here’s the method I use.  Hold one edge of the card loosely between your index and middle finger.

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3.) Like Bill Murray said, it’s all in your wrist. Curl your wrist back as if throwing a frisbee. To throw, curl your arm back at the elbow so it is bent like you were showing somebody lying on the ground the size of your biceps.

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4.) Uncurl your arm and wrist to release the card.

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To make this throw more powerful, you can use more than your arm.  I find that if I rock my body back and forth (back when cocking the arm and forward when releasing), it adds more power due to more body weight behind the throw.  However, the most important thing is still the wrist flick, since without that, the card will, as Logan mentioned, “flutter off like a wounded bird.”

Once you have that basic throw down, you can try some variations.  Sometimes, instead of holding the card between my index and middle finger, I use this grip instead:

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This grip might be more intuitive for some people, since it uses the thumb and middle finger for support while the index finger helps to add spin.

Another way to grip the card is this way:

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This method uses the outside corner of the card.  I find I get more spin out of using the inside corner, but it’s all personal preference.  Try them all and see which way works best for you.

The last method I use, which I find works a little better for accuracy and power, is to hold the card vertically instead of horizontally, like this:

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I use the same curling and uncurling movement of the arm to throw, but everything is in the vertical plane.

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I also find myself standing differently for this one – in the frisbee throw above, my throwing hand is my leading hand.  In other words, for a right handed throw, I’m also standing right foot forward.  In the vertical grip, my throwing hand is in back.  In other words, for a right handed throw, my left foot is in front.  I find I can really wind up and get more of full body throw this way.

From here on out, it is just practice, as consistent throws are the hard part, especially if you have subpar or worn cards. It won’t be long before your cards start to look like this, all bent at the corners from colliding into walls and doors:

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In order for the cards to be usable again for throwing, they should be bent back into shape as much as possible.  Remember how I said don’t use cheap plastic cards?  This is what will happen – the corners will chip off – now these things actually are dangerous … or some will split outright:

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Actually, use them if you want once you’ve got the technique down – since they’re lighter and flimsier, they’re more challenging to throw, but it can definitely be done as long as you give them a good spin.

For inspiration, look what this guy is able to do with just business cards!  If you notice, in the video, he uses fairly little overall body movement in some of the throws, but note how he curls his arm and wrist to give the cards a good spin in all of them.

The biggest issue I still have, besides consistency and the cards getting lost behind sofas and under doors, is with greater distances.  It’s easy with the above methods to toss a card the length of a hallway, but for longer distances (or outdoors, where the light playing card is subject to wind), it’s harder to be accurate (at least for me).  However, if you’re interested, there are many great tutorials and demos on youtube.  Here’s one excellent example.  The thrower in the tutorial is using a specially designed deck of cards for throwing available here.

And, for a laugh, check out the tongue-in-cheek, unfortunately now out-of-print book Cards as Weapons by magician Ricky Jay with plenty of zany 70s humor and hair:

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Have fun and throw safely!

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2 thoughts on “Ever Wanted to Be Like Gambit? Card Throwing 101

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