Ever Wanted to Be Like Gambit? Card Throwing 101

Update (11/2022): Do you have a card with a QR code that has taken you to this page?  There’s now a video showing how to throw cards.  See below!

You can also listen to more info on card throwing in episode 82 of The Thirteenth Hour podcast.


Ever had the desire to sling cards like this guy?


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

Or how about this guy?


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:


“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.

2015-11-24 13.43.58

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:



Have fun and throw safely!


thunderclap 13th hr picture_edited-1


Logan’s Everyday Carry (EDC) from The Thirteenth Hour

There are a number of sites out on the internet that show pictures of the stuff people carry in their pockets or in their bags.  If you google the terms “everyday carry” or “EDC” you’ll see what I mean.  At first, I thought this was kind of a joke or a spill-over of military terminology into civilian life, but the more I looked at the pictures, the more fascinating it became.  There really was a Boy Scoutish “prepared for anything” air about the collections of (mostly) knives, pens, wallets, survival gear, and watches.  These were folks who’d devoted a lot of time thinking about what they’d carry on their person, and man, if my family and I were on a plane going down over Siberia or something, I’d sure be hoping there were a few EDCers on board!

It’s probably not surprising I’d find this sort of thing interesting since I’m a guy, and it’s mostly guys posting pictures of their adult toys (knives, guns, pens, cameras, etc).  Occasionally, however, women will post pictures of the stuff they carry in their purses (a so-called “purse dump”), which always seems to draw interest.  And perhaps it should come as no surprise, since women were the original EDCers out there (especially women who happen to be mothers – they really have to prepared for everything.  But something tells me a mother’s diaper bag with pictures of diapers and butt cream may not be quite as interesting to the young-middle adult male demographic these sites seem to cater to.)

However, I digress.

Partly for kicks and partly in the spirit of The Thirteenth Hour, which doesn’t take itself too seriously, I created an EDC picture for Logan, the main character of the book.  He doesn’t actually carry much in the book – he loses all of his gear when his ship goes down, but he gains a few things here and there, and this inventory is from near the end of the book.

Without further ado, here’s Logan’s EDC:

Logan's EDC_edited-2

  1. Lightning (folded up)
  2. Burned wood handle pocket knife (actually an Aitor folding knife)
  3. Playing cards (for throwing)
  4. Apple (for eating)
  5. Tartec currency (useless in other parts of the world, but handy to have in Tartec)
  6. The scroll containing the instructions on how to make the Potion for Eternal Life
  7. Matches (x8)

Here are more details about some of the components:

1.) Lightning – Logan’s trusty talking magic silver hoverboard with an onboard monitor and computer (programmed by wizards) that he is given at the Palace of the Winds to allow him to speed around the world much faster than any sailing ship.


logan on lightningWM

Like George Jetson’s spaceship, it folds up into a compact, though heavy package about the size of an open hand.

lightning folding.gif

I wasn’t sure how to pull of the kind of wizardry needed to make a real-life prop like this for Logan’s EDC, so I wrapped a book in some aluminum foil:

making lightning (1) making lightning (2) making lightning (3) making lightning (4)

I knew that Spanish verb book would come in handy one of these days!

2.) Burned wood handle pocket knife – Logan finds a pocket knife on his journeys after losing all his gear when his ship goes down.  And that probably saved his bacon, because if there’s one things that’s really handy to have out in the woods, it’s a knife.  Here’s what Logan had to say about the one he found:

… I did, however, find a pocket knife that needed no modifications in what looked like a razed general good store. The hardwood handles had been singed, which didn’t add to its appearance – this was a strictly utilitarian blade – but it was sharp and the folding mechanism was strong and rust–free. It fit well in my hand and was heavy and balanced enough that I could probably throw it if need be, but I doubted I would, as knife throwing had not been a strong suit of mine in the Army, and I didn’t want to throw a knife away now that I had been lucky enough to locate one.

I went through a number of potential candidates to find Logan’s real-life knife.  Like the description, I was looking for something that had wooden handles and had an unadorned, working-man’s knife type of appearance.  There were a number of blades (both traditional and modern), mostly made in Europe, that I considered (pictures link to sites where you can buy the knives or learn more about them):

The Opinel folding knife (made in France)

Svord Peasant Mini Hardwood Fold Knife, Swedish high carbon tool steel blade, Hardwood handle PKM

The Svord peasant knife (made in New Zealand)

The Lierenaar folding knife (from Belgium)

The Baladeo olive wood handle pocket knife (made in France, I think)

Aitor Knives 16514 Castor Mediana Knife with Bubinga Wood Handles

Aitor Castor Mediana pocket knife (made in Spain)

The one in the EDC photo is the last one, made by Aitor.  All the knives in the list above look like fine blades and probably would have fit the bill.  However, I was looking for a knife made of high carbon steel, since I figured there wouldn’t have been stainless steel in the world Logan lived in, which narrowed down the list considerably, as well as something that wasn’t too handle heavy given Logan’s comment about knife throwing.  (Although this is a different topic altogether, yes, you can throw pocket knives, even ones that aren’t balanced evenly – google Ralph Thorn).  Lastly, I was aiming to find something that wasn’t very expensive.  Although there are many wood handled knives made by more expensive brands, I figured a guy like Logan (who was perpetually broke) wouldn’t have gotten his hands on them anyway.

In the end, the Aitor blade had all these requirements and had a bit of flair owing to the leaf shaped blade and bent handle while still carrying with it the feel of a utilitarian working knife.  I found it for about twenty bucks online.  The blade came quite sharp, easily able to shave off hair from the back of a hand and slice off a thin strip from a piece of paper.  There was no thumbnail groove or stud to pull the blade out (which had a remarkably strong spring and needed lubrication to open smoothly), but like the knife Logan found, the folding mechanism was strong and, despite not having a lock, unlikely to close on your hand unless you really mangled it.  The wood handles were exactly what I pictured, and yes, at close ranges (less than ten feet – haven’t tried it further), it threw nicely using a quarter turn throw (a.k.a. “no-spin” throw), though it had a tendency to rotate along its horizontal axis while in the air, maybe because of the bent shape of the handle).  For the picture, I Photoshopped burn marks onto the handle.

3.) Playing cards – speaking of throwing things, in the book, Logan comes across a novel that teaches him how to throw cards.  While this is a post for another time, yes, it’s also possible to throw cards so they fly (relatively) straight.  Magicians have been doing it for ages, but now thanks to the power of the internet, you can also learn how (many examples on youtube or look for Ricky Jay’s tongue-in-cheek “Card as Weapons” book).  Logan, though, learned from a book without pictures, though after months practicing while on his sea voyage, he was able to put the technique to good use later in his journey.

5.) Tartec currency – this collection of coins represents the extent of Logan’s disposable income – coins found here and there on the street of the capital city and through other means, which he hides in his mattress in the Imperial Army barracks (since it’s useless elsewhere in the world) and later retrieves when he returned from his quest.  Like Logan’s coins, the ones in the picture are useless as currency in the USA – two Euro coins, a Swedish Krona, a British pence, and an Ugandan shilling – though they are fun souvenirs from our own travels.

6.) The Potion for Eternal Life scroll – this scroll, given to Logan from the Dreamweaver, contains the ingredients to make a good cup of coffee … which isn’t really the secret to living forever, though it sometimes makes people feel like they could.  There’s a previous post I did about this little scroll, which I printed out on a piece of parchment-style paper.  Here’s one of the pictures of it unrolled:

scrollWM (3)

Interesting is seeing more (real-life, as opposed to fictional) EDC pictures?  Check out http://everydaycarry.com/ for more!