The Original Close-Up Convention

FFFF Chairman: Obie O'Brien
Obie O'Brien

FFFF Board Member: Glenn Brown
FFFF Board Member: Jimmy Cieslinski
FFFF Board Member: Dan Garrett
FFFF Board Member: Mike Joseph FFFF Board Member: Meir Yedid  
Board Of Directors:
Glenn Brown
Jimmy Cieslinski

Dan Garrett
Mike Joseph
Meir Yedid
Joan Caesar
Executive Assistant:

Joan Caesar
Backstage Crew:
Lee Eyler (Manager). Thomas Blacke, Jack Chancellor, Ray Eyler, Scott Miller.
Audiovisual Crew:
Jimmy C. (Manager), Joe Cappon, Larry Kohorst, Gary Ward, Rick Wilcox.
4F Shop Crew:
Rod Chow (Manager), Shank Kothare, Simon Lane, Rajneesh Madhok, Amanda Nicot, Jay McLaughlin, Ed Ripley, Michael Tallon.

Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic
The Fellowship of the Rink -- FFFF 2010
Reported by Robin Dawes • Photographed by Dale Farris

A vast cloud of smoke and ash billows before my eyes, obscuring vision and making travel nearly impossible. Is it the Icelandic volcano? No, it's some idiot in front of me on the I-90 who really needs to change the oil in his 1985 clunker. But I'm on my way to Batavia, NY to attend the 40th Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic (the original close-up convention, by invitation only) and nothing is going to stop me. Like all the other invitees -- including the 30 or so from Europe who are indeed blocked by Eyjafjallajökull's eruption -- I have been anticipating this weekend for the better part of a year.

The identity of the Guest of Honour always plays a role in setting the tone for FFFF, and this year the influence is stronger than ever since the GOH is none other than Obie O'Brien himself, Head Forker and tireless organizer of the convention for the past four decades. Close-up magicians from around the globe are converging on Batavia to join in the celebration of Obie's dedication and contribution to magic and to the unique convention that now bears his name (it has officially been renamed "Obie's FFFF Convention").

For some reason it seems to be getting unusually cold inside the convention hotel -- by the time I check into my room, the floor is covered in a sheet of ice several inches thick. Everyone has donned skates and helmets, and there are blue and red lines criss-crossing the ice. I realize that FFFF 2010 has actually transformed into a week-end long game of hockey ... Obie played hockey for years and his past seems to have caught up with all of us.

Shawn FarquharFirst play of the game is a lecture from Nicholas Einhorn ... no wait, Nicholas isn't here, it's Richard Pinner ... no wait, Richard isn't here either ... it's Shawn Farquhar, stepping in the last moment in the best FFFF tradition, still lacing up his skates as he jumps over the boards and enters the fray. Shawn shares the secret of his holdout, and teaches a beautiful matrix routine using poker chips and photographs of his hands. He follows up with magic with CDs -- signatures appear and disappear and transform -- then roars across the blue line with a thorough tutorial on his favourite deck-switch technique -- with several detailed applications. Shawn fakes right, fakes left, then fires a blistering wrist-shot with his famous "Torn to Pieces" torn-and-restored signed photograph routine. He shoots, he scores!

Following Shawn's lecture, the hospitality suite and the Dealers' Room are open -- the players gather in clusters to discuss the season, the coaches, the refs, and to share their new moves and creations, to forge and strengthen important friendships. FFFF is an unique and wonderful gathering: some of my closest friends in the world are people that I only see for four days every April.

Antonio RomeroFiring up the crowd on Thursday morning is the task of Antonio Romero, who delivers a stirring lecture of clever ideas and inventions. His work on Post-it® pads is sure to find favour with mentalists, and his stabbed deck wrapped in clear plastic wrap is a popular favourite ... but the killer item in his lecture is his amazing hold-out. Brilliantly engineered, imperceptible in operation, and capable of producing infinitely many magical moments, this is a highlight of the convention for many.

Onwards and upwards: after a brief time-out for the players to catch their breath, the game continues with Roger Klause's Teach-a-Trick session (Roger is sorely missed by many at FFFF), now coached by the able and experienced Steve "Slap-shot" Beam. This event is eagerly anticipated as members of the FFFF family share some of their pet effects. The players take the ice and the whistle sounds. This year a new feature is added: FFFF ticket-holders can download instructions for all the taught effects from Steve's site – this is a huge bonus. Steve Beam teaches a card routine in which the aces magically appear one after the other on the face of the deck. Rod Chow carries the puck over the centre line with a business card STOP trick, and passes to Marc de Souza who shares an original coins across routine combining subtleties and sleights -- Marc really has the puck on a string. Wily Prof. Rem fakes out the defense with a pair of geometric mysteries. Scott Robinson gives us the willies as cards magically appear in his pockets. Dan Garrett teaches us smart-phone magic and makes a pass to Tom Craven, who teaches us how to place a card precisely in the deck with just two shuffles. Tom circles behind the net and fires the puck out to David Corsaro, who shares an effect that I have long admired, in which a shuffled deck reveals a telephone number selected by a volunteer -- a very commercial effect. David puts the puck on the blade of Mike Powers, who fools the goalie utterly with a card routine based on an idea by Stewart James -- once again Mike shows us that there is gold in the classic literature, for those who have the patience to mine for it, refine it and polish it.

Friends of the ForksBack to centre ice for a quick faceoff, then the team is on the offensive again – the coach has brought in his veteran line, the "Friends of the Forks". MC Mike "Hat Trick" Hilburger leads the rush with vintage film footage of FFFF namesake Eddie Fechter performing at the Forks Hotel in the 1960's. Billy Dunn gets the puck moving down the ice with card magic and Houdini's Hanky. The unflappable Vic Trabucco combines cards and coins in a series of sublime magical effects. Gary Para twists Aces into a Royal Flush, then outflanks the defence with sleight of hand(s), then flips the puck over to Larry Martinez who performs an excellent cut-and-restored rope routine. As Larry charges the net, he slips the puck back to Harrison Caroll who mesmerizes the ref and everyone else with his magical tale of a carnival encounter one hot August afternoon. Harrison's story-telling skills are unmatched. The puck is loose for a moment but it's scooped up by Jim Gabor, performing a provocative act with coins and cards. The defence is closing in to block the rush when suddenly that crafty elder statesman of the ice, the ever-irascible Karl Norman comes out of nowhere to salvage the play: his work with elastics, coins and a box thrills the crowd and earns him the first standing ovation of the convention as he notches up yet another victory over the hapless goalie.

Thursday Night ShowIn a short time, play commences again with Oscar "Offside" Munoz helming the squad. Oscar takes the play to the opposition with a ring and shoelace routine that ends with a commemorative ring being presented to Obie. The effervescent Camilo brings the house down with the line "I didn't expect an alligator", then sends the bisquit down the ice with a selected card that is not in any of the hundred or so items that Camilo has in his pockets, until it is found in an utterly impossible place. The courageous David Jade, a last minute substitution, comes over the boards to join the game and makes his play with extremely visual card magic. The Wonders from Down Under, Tim Ellis and Sue-Anne Webster, team up for a power-play presentation of the 6-Card Rap-eat, followed by a hilarious routine involving translation from Australian to English. Tim introduces an uproarious video giving "highlights" of Obie's life and magic videos. Sweeping down the ice now comes the mighty Finn Robert Jägerhorn, with his brilliantly conceived and executed "prepare for landing" act. RJ hands the puck to Antonio Romero, who performs a stunningly visual cups and balls routine. Antonio passes off to hockey legend Meir Yedid, who performs an excellent sandwich routine. The crowd responds eagerly, but all sigh with relief when the whistle blows for a time-out.

Everyone is back in the stands after 15 minutes. Luis Otero performs a brilliant card routine based on coincidences. Willy Monroe is assaulted by a malign marauder with an evil laugh and a pair of scissors, who snips Willy's yoyo string into tiny pieces … but Willy magically restores it. The great J.C. Wagner picks up the puck behind the net and brings it down the boards, performing super card magic for Anne O'Brien, First Lady of our Guest of Honour. Woody Aragon, no longer brandishing the shears (nor the evil laugh) with which he tormented Willy Monroe , performs an amazing Joker assembly routine that ends with the backs of the cards spelling a congratulatory message for Obie. Woody's musical accompaniment is Gershwin's  "Rhapsody in Blue" -- very nice! Woody makes a swift pass to Bob  "The Enforcer" Sheets who nets a bottle rocket with his brilliant Tunnel of Logic.

Off the ice come the players at the end of the first period – it's been a gruelling day but the score is a solid four-nothing for the FFFF Phantoms. The players and fans mingle freely for a few hours then disperse for sleep or sessions -- the morning will arrive to find some die-hards still hunched over their cards.

Obie O'BrienBarrelling back into the game at 11 AM the next day,  "Mahovolich" Meir Yedid leads his squad of specialists out onto the ice for Pat Page's Workshop. Alas, Pat is no longer with us -- but the FFFF family is bonded through traditions and shared memories. Just as Steve Beam has so ably stepped in to continue Roger Klause's Teach-a-Trick, Meir carries on Pat Page's event. The theme this year, chosen by vote at FFFF 2009, is  "Tricks With No Props". The fans are eager to see what the creative crew have come up with.

Right off the bench Bruce Kalver and Joan Caesar perform a clever demonstration of telepathy which has everyone guessing. They leave the ice without teaching the method, but Bruce returns later to share the technique -- sorry I can't say more, but it's a FFFF exclusive. Meir Yedid picks up the puck and turns an old finger gag into a magical effect. Harvey Berg keeps the play going with a group levitation. Bob Reese gets the crowd involved with an exercise in memory training. Raj Madhok introduces us to the magic of kinaesthesia and makes Gene Anderson a happy man. Gene Gordon takes over the drive and transforms a hand full of nothing into a Royal Flush. My good friend Roland Meister assembles a line-up of four chargers and demonstrates the principle of mutual support. The always-creative Mark Zacharia performs mentalism with invisible coins. Michel Asselin demonstrates that one defender is often more than a match for two attackers. Tim Ellis brings Obie into the line-up and makes a bet that Obie can't win. Meir surges back into the play with a clever illusion of stretching his thumb, then fires the puck across the blue line to Joe Rindfleich, who sinks the rubber with a series of astonishing digital manipulations that had all the finger flickers gasping and wincing.

Friday Afternoon ShowIn what seems like just moments, we return to the arena for the 2 PM show, MC-ed by Gary  "Gump" Morton. Gary wins the face-off and slides the puck over to Charming Choi, who enchants the crowd with his deft manipulations of cards and coins (and bicycles). Crossing centre ice with the puck is David Acer, who outflanks the opposing team with his four henchmen, each finding the card that was chosen from one of the others' deck. Tom Craven keeps the momentum going with rope, rings, and the unexpected assistance of Clara the Magic Chicken. Over to Geoff Williams as the team puts on the pressure. Geoff channels a Minnesota (Wild?) postman to find the missing halves of two torn dollar bills. The amazing Hannibal pulls off a hat-trick by getting Boris Wild's card under a can of Pringles three times. Steve Walker comes up from Down Under and has the fans rolling off their seats with his perfectly timed comedic delivery as he conjures with cards and newspaper.

Everyone catches their breath for a moment, then the game is on again with the magic of Bebel, who performs miracles with cards -- pure, impeccable magic. Johan Stahl picks up the puck in his own endzone and carries it down the ice with an elegant routine using a teacup, a sugar cube and a pen. Perennial crowd favourite Mark Mason loops the defencemen with ropes and cards. The puck goes to Hidekazu Kimoto of Japan who swings behind the net with ring and coin magic, then he passes off to Simo Aalto in the pocket. Simo drives hard with coins, bells, chimes and ice cubes and slips the puck past the net-tender … GOAL!

Friday Night ShowNothing can stop this team! They are back on the ice at 8 PM for the Friday night show -- Obie tries to make an announcement but is pelted with whistles flung by every fan in the stands. Meir  "Mauler" Yedid bravely takes on the MC role once again. Meir wins the face-off and opens up the play with a quick pass to consummate craftsman Bob Swadling who confidently conjures with coins and cards. Bob sweeps the puck back to Andy Dallas who reprises his graceful and magical pocket watch routine and floating ball routine -- the best I have seen. Play passes to Marc de Souza -- Marc gets the crowd rocking with "Tequila" then touches hearts with a Dreamcatcher story. Charlie Caper pumps up the energy with his  "formal" cups and balls routine. Paul Gertner clears the puck out of the endzone with classic card magic. France's Pilou storms onto the ice and gets the fans on their feet in a standing ovation for his superbly choreographed act.

It's time for the FFFF Golf Tourney awards … what? This is a hockey game! Pattrick Przysiecki is so excited that he trips and smashes the performing table -- Obie nearly has a heart attack until he realizes it is a fake table. Joan Caesar receives a special award for her contributions to FFFF and the crowd rises to its feet in appreciation of this hard-working lady. Then play begins again as Helder Guimares sends four signed Aces to his wallet. The jovial Henry Evans reverses all the Hearts in the deck, one at a time, in a power-house routine that really gets the puck moving. Henry passes off to David Stone who steps neatly around the defence with excellent coin manipulations. And then, coming hot off the bench to finish the show, Shawn Farquhar takes the ice and gets the crowd roaring with the funniest "Topsy Turvy Bottles" routine I have ever seen. The goalie is mesmerized, and the puck … is in the net! GOAAAAAL!

So after two full periods of play, the score stands at seven-nothing for the good guys. The happy fans stumble out of the stands to stretch, chat, and perhaps even sleep for an hour or two before the game resumes.

Simo AaltoSuperb Finnish iceman Simo Aalto takes the face-off at centre ice to kick off Period 3. Simo thrills the crowd with a mini-lecture featuring a brilliant application of an ancient principle -- combining Simo's lecture with those of Shawn Farquhar and Antonio Romero, the FFFF gang has the thinking of three champion magicians on a single topic -- enough new ideas to fill a book or more.

J. C. WagnerThere's no pause after Simo's lecture: the canny play-maker J. C. Wagner picks up the puck and delivers a killer mini-lecture of his own. J.C. teaches card magic that requires equally high levels of skill and audacity. The fans in the stands love it all. These two mini-lectures are highlights of the convention for me.

Helder GuimarãesAfter J.C., over the boards comes Helder Guimarães, the powerful Portuguese puckster. Helder delivers a fascinating lecture that combines theory and practice to illustrate his principles of creating brilliant magic. His signed-cards-across routine is a huge hit with the crowd.

Respect and fear, that's what goalies around the league feel about Dynamite Dan Garrett, MC of the next show. Dan introduces the dynamic duo of Leon Etienne and Matt Episcopo (finally, a name that actually sounds like a hockey player!). Leon and Matt use the arena's giant replay screens to show us a video that unveils the Masked Magician. Oh-Oh ... or should I say O. O. ? Steve Duperré picks up the puck at his own red line and powers it forward with strong card magic. David Corsaro receives the pass and engages a volunteer in an hilarious game of "Win Dave's Stuff" -- Dave gets a bit chilly before it is over. Entering the fray next is Atsushi Ono, with Samurai coin magic. Atsushi passes the pill to Tony Montana who socks it to the opposition with a clever mentalism routine. Now Brad Lancaster has it -- with crackers, cards and coins he carries the play forward, then puts the puck on the stick of Bill Walsh. Bill bamboozles with a gambling routine where the volunteer never finds the money.

On we go with a face-off, and FISM President Eric Eswin comes up hot with the puck. Eric hits hard with his dry humour and strong magic. The ever-cool and collected Eric Jones sets up the play with a stunning version of Bizarre Twist. The puck goes over to Albert Tam, who offers a clever Mah Jongg routine. Dick Steiner hits the ice at speed and floors the fans with an astonishing feat of mental magic involving Reader's Digest magazines. Dick floats the puck in front of the net and it is scooped up by Chris Capehart, who outflanks the defence with his magical thumbcuffs.

Few minutes remain in this game and the players still on the bench are clamouring for ice-time. Hank "Hockey is My Life" Moorehouse MC's the "Grand Finale Show" with a line-up of league all-stars. First up, Kelly and Karen O'Brien speak movingly about their father and his life in magic. Karen tells us  "My dad has a passion job" -- may we all be so fortunate. Then Eric DeCamps puts blades to ice with sophisticated coin magic and rope magic. Mike Robinson and his little buddy Terrance dazzle the defence with their verbal stick-handling … all the more impressive since they share the same vocal cords. Boris Wild, le seigneur du baton, picks up the puck behind the goal-line and brings it into play with a magical review of FFFF Guests of Honour. Boris passes the puck off to the Mighty Men of Mirth, Gene Anderson and Dan  "Garnak the Magnificent" Garrett. This beloved act brings the house down, as always.

Saturday Night Show

Subbing in at the last minute for the injury-sidelined Steve Bargatze, Rick Merrill, bravely enters the game. But wait, who is that wheeling onto the ice -- it's Steve himself. Chaos ensues as these two friends battle hilariously for possession of the puck. After the ref clears the ice, Paul Gertner gets emotions building with a touching poem for Obie. The crowd is getting excited -- the game is in its last minutes and it looks like a shutout for the FFFF Phantoms. What's this? The opposition has pulled their goalie! With six opposing skaters on the ice, the Phantoms are in trouble. Within the space of two minutes, the opposing team scores an astonishing 10 goals -- the Phantoms are down by three points -- can they come back? Does this incredible team have anything left to give?

Obie and his familyHappily the opposition puts their goalie back in the net. Hank sends in his final line-up. Oscar Munoz finds a chosen card with the help of a blow-gun, and sends the puck bouncing over the goalie's shoulder. Score! The laconic Steve Beam gets the crowd roaring with his break-away comedy -- he's going in all alone … Score! And suddenly the man of the hour is on the ice. Obie O'Brien, Head Forker, Guest of Honour, Most Valuable Player (by popular vote during the time-out) and perhaps the only real hockey player at FFFF, comes flying down the boards. Obie speaks his heart to the crowd, and receives two standing ovations. Obie scores … the game is tied, and there is only one play left to make.

On the ice now to close the show and close the convention, it's all up to the one and only Rocco. Rocco performs as only he can -- pure visual magic. There's rice, there's popcorn, there's water, smoke, flowers, ribbons, confetti, and too many other things to mention. Rocco seems nonchalant as he slap-shots the puck from centre-ice. The defencemen dive helplessly and the goalie stands awestruck as the puck floats past his nose and lights the beacon just as the siren sounds to end the game. The Phantoms win! The crowd leaps to its feet and Rocco receives a final standing O.

What a game! The crowd retires to suites and lounges to happily debate, discuss and dissect the amazing convention we have just enjoyed. All are determined to reconvene next year for Obie's FFFF 41, with Guest of Honour Steve Beam.

PS: In homage to Annemann (who may or may not have been a hockey fan, but who certainly loved good magic), please read the first letter of each paragraph of this report.

*The first video was made by Matt Episcopo and Leon Etienne. The four Behind The Magic videos were made by Tim Ellis and Sue-Anne Webster.

© Copyright 1971-2022 by Obie O'Brien. All rights reserved.