“The world’s best cardmen practice the moves until they do them right. Richard Turner practices the moves until he can’t do them wrong.” – Bruce T, Gambling Regulator, 2006.
Texas resident Richard Turner was born in California on June 16th, 1954, which was quite fatefully dubbed “the year of the full deck.” Growing up in an all-American family, the oldest of 3 siblings was obsessed with westerns; something about rugged men playing poker while talking the talk and walking the walk got his undivided attention. Taking an interest in card manipulation (read – cheating) early on, he began to practice.
Turner refers to himself as the poster child for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). That’s because when he has his mind set on something, there’s simply nothing that can change it. Becoming the world’s greatest card mechanic is no small feat, but to reach that level without the gift of sight is simply unbelievable. At the age of nine, while recovering from scarlet fever, he learned that his eyesight would eventually disappear completely. It was a devastating blow for the creative child; he had natural artistic ability and wanted to cultivate it. Disappointed by his circumstances, he searched for ways to cope and ultimately found strength in church as well as a Dojo. Resolved to live life on his own terms, he became increasingly devoted to improving himself in every way possible.
For example, the world’s greatest card mechanic is also a 6th degree karate black belt. Today, he and his family can be found training at their in-house Dojo anywhere between 4-7 days a week. Clearly, limitations are not something Turner concerns himself with. Perhaps that is exactly why Texas-based filmmaker, Luke Korem decided to make DEALT, a documentary about the unbelievable life of Richard Turner.
Filming for the past 12 months, the crew has already accumulated 300 hours of footage, 40 interviews, and put in 3000 hours of editing time. No living man can do what Richard Turner can do, and DEALT is a rare opportunity to preserve the life and skill of a man who is, for a lack of better terms, something like a phenomenon. Liz Belilovskaya spoke with DEALT director Luke Korem and card mechanic Richard Turner for an exclusive interview for The Untitled Magazine. Check out the interviews below.
Interview with Luke Korem, director of DEALT
Liz Belilovskaya: Do you have a background in magic as well?
Luke Korem: My dad did magic for 20 years. He was a professional magician, performed at the Magic Castle and wrote books about the subject. I actually also performed until I was 17…So my background in magic definitely drove me to the project when I first heard about it.
LB: How did you hear about Richard?
LK: I’d finished my previous film. The guy I wrote that with said, ‘Hey, I heard about this blind magician, his name is Richard Turner. I think you should look at his story.’ I sort of recognized that name, so I called my dad. ‘I told you! You need to make a film about this guy!’ he said. My dad introduced me to Richard; this was about 2 years ago. Richard had a lot of guys interested in making a documentary film about him.
LB: How much time did you get to spend with him?
LK: I have probably spent several thousand hours with Richard. I went on the road with him…we spent a lot of time with his family. He kind of lived with a camera in his face for a little while too. I’m excited because the film really has the highs and the lows.
LB: So, it’s about his journey?
LK: Correct. It’s about his life. You know, at first when people hear about Richard, they assume he was born blind. But when they find out he wasn’t, they go, ‘What happened?’ And there are all types of questions. How did he learn cards? How did he practice magic? How did he learn karate?
[Luckily, the film addresses all these questions, and so much more!]
Interview with Richard Turner, world’s greatest card mechanic.
Liz Belilovskaya: How did you get into magic originally?
Richard Turner: I am what is called a card mechanic. To give you a distinction – magicians do tricks with cards for the purpose of entertainment; a card mechanic is somebody who can control the outcome of a card game. But, to get back to your original question, I was watching an old show called Maverick with James Garner around 1961, and I thought he was so cool with a deck of cards! So, I started messing around with cards…I started creating ways to make sure I came out on top, and it went from there.
LB: When did you start to develop the interest in cards into an actual skill?
RT: In high school, it was a way of earning extra money. I got a recording of an old book that was published in 1902, called Expert at the Card Table by S.W. Erdnase. It’s a book on how to cheat at cards, but no one knows who wrote the book. They think it’s the guy’s real name spelled backwards — E.S. Andrews — and people have been searching him out for 112 years now. At 21, I had the privilege of meeting a man named Dai Vernon, but people call him “The Professor.” He was born in 1894, and lived to be 98 years old. For a half a century he was considered to be the best in the world with a deck of cards. He was also known as “The Man Who Fooled Houdini” and that was back in 1920 – just to show you how far back this goes. I had the privilege of working with him for 17 years. Because he could see I was obsessive in my practice; I would practice an average of 14 hours a day, and the only time I did NOT practice was when I would take two hours a day to do my workout. I essentially became the recipient of his most guarded card table artifice. I have moves that only Professor Vernon and I know, and he died in 1992. So, there are card mechanics just waiting for me to tip it…but even if I showed the moves to them, these moves are so complicated that it wouldn’t do them any good anyway.
LB: Would you ever consider training an apprentice?
RT: The thing is, I have about 140,000 hours of calculated time in practice. Do you know who Malcolm Gladwell is? He said to become a true expert, a master has to put in at least 10,000 hours to their craft. That means you practice 3 hours a day, 7 days a week, for at least 10 years straight, and I have that time logging since I was 14 years old. Most people don’t want to put in the time it takes to develop some of these moves and, of course, I have developed them in ways that have never been done before. I’ve actually done one move – it’s called the “Turner Sweep Second” and no one else can do it. I have done that one move in front of an audience over 5 million times. And in practice, I stopped counting in 1990 at 43 million. Since then till now, I figure I’ve done it between 50 and 60 million times.
LB: But card manipulation isn’t your only passion, you’re also a sixth degree Karate black belt!
RT: I wanted a body like Charlton Heston, so I started working out. I’m 60 years old today, but I got my first black belt 30 years ago, when I weighed 168 pounds and 4 ounces. When I got my 6th degree black belt, I weighed the same and wore the same size pants. I started at 16 years old, and fought some of the very top fighters in the country throughout the years.
[Richard’s black belt test was covered by ABC and made the front page of The Los Angeles Times sports section. He ended up with a smashed nose, a ruptured right eardrum, an unpleasant groin injury and a broken right arm. Independent of these injuries, he survived against the ten different fighters pitted against him.]
LB: Were you solicited by various individuals interested in hiring you to help them cheat at cards in high stakes poker games?
RT: I had a bunch of them! I can’t give names since some of these guys are still alive. But way back when, one of them ran high-stake illegal poker games outside of California. “How much would it cost to buy you?” were his exact words. In fact, he followed me around for about six years – typical mobster type of guy. [There was] the one in the Middle East – it started with a phone call. A really strong accented voice told me he wanted to discuss business. I said, ‘Meet me on the Riverboat.’ That’s where I used to do entertainment [Reuben E. Lee riverboat-themed restaurant]. There were five guys. One of them spoke English – it was the interpreter. The interpreter said, ‘There’s a stack of bills on the table, let’s see what you can do with those cards.’ So, I showed them. He said, ‘We’ll give you $10,000 a week to come to the Middle East and play cards.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ The interpreter said, ‘You’re turning down $10,000 a week?’ I said, ‘Yep.’ In whatever language it was, he turned to his boss and spoke, then he turned back. ‘How about $20,000 a week? $30,000 a week?’ Finally, he said, ‘How about 1 million dollars?’ And again, I said no. They were irritated – left the stack of money on the table and left without even eating the dinner they set up.
Another guy owned a racetrack outside of San Diego, which has been around for many, many years. The family had interest in gambling and other stuff south of the border. I would have dinner with him quite often because he was a high profile person. ‘I’ll put it simply,’ he said, ‘What do you want? Want your own riverboat? Want your own restaurant?’ I told him about the offer I got from the Middle East. ‘Don’t take it.’ he said. ‘In a situation like that you’d be 100% used. Do you understand what that means?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. What it means is that they kill you when they are done with you.’ This is what he said to me, ‘You know, those Middle Easterners, they own half the world!’ ‘Who owns the other half?’ I asked. ‘We do.’ he said.
But the scariest person I have ever met in my life – I call him Mr. Diamond. He wanted me to play cards outside of Sun City, South Africa. It was a Jewish community – all the people involved in the diamond and goldmine industries. I told the guy I wasn’t interested. I was on a flight headed to a performance. The guy sitting next to me lowered his paper and said, ‘Hello Mr. Turner. How about doing a little business together?’ And, I think to myself, what? How did the guy know what flight I was on and what seat I was in? For the duration of that flight he proceeded to persuade me to play cards for big money. ‘How large are we talking here?’ I asked. ‘$300,000 for your participation.’ ‘To do what?’ I asked. ‘To do what you do best,’ he replied. I listened to what he said, made no deals, and the plane landed. We went our separate ways and I thought that was the end of it. That was not the end of it. This guy stalked me across the country.
I’d walked into a nightclub and there he was waiting for me. I was in a hotel room and the phone rang. ‘Richard, it’s me, Diamond. I’m downstairs. Let me buy you dinner.’ I wanted to see what this guy was up to, so I went down there and he said, ‘Richard, have a seat. Here.’ He pulled out his hand and it was ridiculous! He handed me a 5-karat diamond pinky ring worth $70,000. ‘It’s a gift,’ he said. ‘A token of my good faith.’ But I knew that if I accepted that ring, I’d be married to the guy. I know that in those situations, once they have you, they have you. I gave it back to him.
LB: So, he quite literally tried to offer you a blood diamond?
RT: Oh, yeah. He put it in my hand – big as a marble. One time that he really scared me was when he said, ‘If you ever want to have anyone killed – if you want to get rid of your wife – if you want to get rid of anyone – I can make that happen.’ That one really put the fear in me; he scared me so bad.
[As a result, Turner was trained to shoot a gun in close quarters by a swat team captain personally responsible for taking down multiple serial killers.]
LB: When was your last offer?
RT: My last offer was only about 4-5 years ago. I was offered $200,000 to play in a single game to take down one person.
LB: This is the kind of stuff you think you’ll only hear about in movies!
RT: I actually accepted an offer once from a guy. I think it was 1980-1982. [Richard was invited to participate in a card game amongst lawyers and bankers.] ‘You don’t have to feel guilty about cheating these guys,’ he said. ‘We are all in the same business – cheating.’
[Turner dealt good cards to the gentleman who invited him to the game as well as himself. But, the game came to a close when Richard picked up the deck of cards and stated that two cards were missing – something he knew by the reduced weight of the deck. A banker picked up on that and called him out. Turns out there was another cheat at the table; he hid two cards under a drink place-mat. Many people openly challenged Richard Turner over the years. On several occasions. challengers have cut and moved the cards around themselves, not allowing Turner to touch anything, but that did nothing to prevent him from cheating. Two years later, Turner “was having dinner with a lady.”]
A guy came to the table and said, ‘You’re Richard Turner! You once cheated me out of a bunch of money. I’m the banker who wanted to know how you could pick up a deck of cards and know there are two cards missing.’ And I thought to myself, ‘I am going to get in a fight, right here at this restaurant.’ All of a sudden he grabbed my hand and started shaking it. ‘I just want to tell you that it was such a privilege to be cheated by you!’
See the trailer for DEALT below: