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 Maltese FFFFalcon -- FFFF 2011
Reported by Robin Dawes Photographed by Dale Farris

Sure, blue-eyes, park your heels. What's a gorgeous doll like you doing in a joint like this? Oh, you heard I have a story to tell? Yeah I'll tell you for a drink. Hey Joe, bring me another Shirley Temple; the lady's buying.

Okay Angel, here's my story. I was cruising down I-90 on a weather-heavy day at the end of April. The sky was like lead and the wind was howling like a move-monkey when he realizes that he's just spent five years perfecting skills that not even his mother can pretend to be interested in. Yes, it was a dark and stormy afternoon when suddenly a beam of light burst through the clouds and lit up my destination, the Clarion Hotel in Batavia, New York. I was on my way to Obie's FFFF (Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic, the original close-up convention, by invitation only). Seems there were mysterious things going on and Obie wanted me to investigate 'cause that's what I do. I didn't know what I was in for that's life, ain't it but I wasn't going to leave town without some answers.

Obie hadn't told me much about the case something about tee-shirts and a shopping centre. I figured I'd find out more when I got there. No sooner had I stepped in the door than half a dozen shady characters came up to me. Every one of them asked me to pick a card. Then they shuffled my chosen cards back into their decks then they found them again. I looked around the joint the same kind of stuff was happening everywhere. Obie was right: there were strange things going on here for sure.

There was a whole lot of whistle-blowing around 8:00 p.m. and everyone stopped whatever they were doing and sat down on chairs on risers around a stage. Then Obie O'Brien the guy who invited me came out and said as how he had invited everyone there and that this was the biggest FFFF gathering ever.

Richard PinnerObie introduced a British dude named Richard Pinner who was gonna give us a lecture. I figured we was going to get some moral education, which I thought might do me some good. But this Pinner guy, he taught us some fantastic magic tricks. There was a beauty of a holiday location prediction called Travelogue, and a sweet effect where Richard and a volunteer both predicted where each other's cards were located in another deck.

Axel HecklauAfter that lecture ended, Mr. O'Brien (I figure I better be polite 'cause he was blowing the whistle) told us that we was going to hear another lecture right away. This time the talker was Axel Hecklau from Germany. He taught us this amazing Torn & Restored Newspaper, and a topnotch routine with a cup and a die, and a bunch of other clever stuff.

As soon as the applause ended I aimed to button-hole a couple or ten of the palookas in the crowd to get some clues as to what was going on here but they all disappeared. I tracked 'em down though; about half of them were in a joint called "The Dealers' Room" ain't that an interesting name? and the other half were upstairs in a little speak-easy called "The Hospitality Suite," knocking back sodas and doughnuts. Everywhere I looked, there was magic going on.

My head was spinning maybe a little too much of my old pal Jim (Beam that is) and I called it a night.

Jon AllenThursday morning, the alarm woke me like a firebell inside my aching head. I sneered at the ugly guy in the mirror and lurched off to the first event of the day, a lecture by a British cat named Jon Allen. He made my brain hurt by asking how many different ways you can arrange a deck of cards, then showed a prediction about a genuinely shuffled deck. He also made a borrowed bill jump around inside a wine-glass (I could identify), and taught us what may be the best card trick ever to perform for the happy couple at a wedding (and I don't mean the parents of the groom who's finally moving out of their basement).

After lunch (I was on a liquid diet at the time) it was time for the Roger Klause Memorial Teach-a-Trick session. The emcee was a long, lean side of bacon by the name of Steve Beam. Turned out he was the Guest of Honor this year. This fellow has written a serious pile of books, and he published a magazine of close-up stuff for fifteen years I guess this Beam is pretty bright. He taught us a nifty little number using four Queens, then started introducing the other teachers. My old pal David Corsaro explained his advanced thinking on the old "baby gag" (are those still legal?). With a little work you have a chance of creating a miracle.

Howie Schwarzman taught us some powerful sleight-of-hand from Benzais and Dowd. Then Prof. Rem gave us a great tip for practicing card magic. Eric Jones was next with a clever application of Oullet's Crook Pivot, which he called the Ishkabibble Sandwich. Then Scott Robinson knocked our socks off with a super clean transposition of two borrowed coins. Tom Craven was up next, using a "double drop" technique for a version of CAAN. The unflappable Raj Madhok applied the Matsuyama Principle to predict a volunteer's preferred liquor. Closing out the session was David Solomon, teaching us how to make a King and Queen jump back to the middle of the deck.

We took a break to get some circulation back into our butts those chairs are as hard as the bread rolls at the Day-Old Diner. Then the first show started. The emcee was a tough-looking bird named Hank "Hard-boiled" Moorehouse. You could tell just by looking at him that he wasn't going to put up with no guff. He called up the performers and kept them all in line.

First up was Steve Shain, who made magic around the story of Soapy Smith. Next was sound-man extraordinaire Jimmy C., who perked everyone up with Lime and Coconut magic. Eric Roumestan made coins appear in his pocket mine usually do the opposite. Then Will Gray pulled a solid billiard ball out of his wallet. Astor performed magic with Aces and Kings as he talked about his magic teacher. Andi Gladwin made his cards separate out into reds and blacks. Then Will Houstoun told us about bad advice from old magic books, and amazed us with a very visual coin routine.

As soon as that show ended, another one started no time to even unbutton my collar. This show was helmed by Gary "GMan" Morton, who went fishing in midair and caught a live goldfish. Joe Capon took the stage and sent some Kings crossing. Then Steve Friedberg gave a magical lesson in poker dealing. Andost took us into the realm of weird science with cards that were attracted to red and blue lights. Next George Saterial successfully attempted three-way mind-reading. I was of two minds about that. Actually, it takes single-minded determination to do mentalism as well as George does.

Tony Montana gave an audience member the power to predict the color of cards in a shuffled deck. Jerome Bourgeon gave a comedic history of coin magic, then used a zipper to open a hole in the table. Yumi (from Japan), tiny and perfect as a porcelain doll, performed a Japanese style cups and balls routine. Then the droll Peter McLanachan performed strong card magic. Christian Schenk (the Cardshark hombre) used an MIB Neuralyzer to modify the memory of everyone in the audience. Closing the show, Karl Hein was able to instantly solve a scrambled Rubik's cube.

Steve BeamBy this point we was all exhausted and thirsty. Luckily there was a dinner break; then at 8:00 p.m. we was back in the chairs for the Guest of Honor Lecture, presented by Steve Beam. I already told you about his books and all now I'm telling you that those books are full of solid magic. In fact they are so solid that I have it on good authority you could use those books for housing. His lecture was outstanding: a ton of great semi-automatic stuff, and some super-practical sleight-of-hand, including the real work on the third finger buckle.

After the lecture I tried to track down some answers. I'll tell you sister, those guys were the oddest bunch of swans I ever did see. I watched them spend hours hunched over a deck of cards or a handful of coins, saying stuff like "That looked good, I didn't see anything." I spent most of the night just trying to see the same things they wasn't seeing or was it the other way around?

Next morning I woke up with a headache that felt like I walked right into a concrete ceiling beam. I mainlined about a gallon of coffee and carried my skull back to the main hall. There was another teaching session starting up, this one called the Pat Page Memorial Workshop. The boss was a guy named Mike "Make My Day" Powers. I'd heard of this guy dangerous as they come with a corner on the cardmagic game. The workshop was all about Give-aways souvenirs to give your clients so as they will remember you.

Dan Garrett was first but he must have been a little shy about appearing in public he was projected on a screen, being filmed in an undisclosed location. Dan explained how he borrows a bill, tears it up, does magic with it, then restores it with Scotch tape. Mike Powers showed us how to make holes move around on your business card before you hand it out. Dave Neighbors bent a couple of coins, one while it was held in a volunteer's hand. Joe Turner passed along two tips: getting your face printed on fake currency (not counterfeit!) and getting a QR code printed on the back of your business card. Scott Robinson showed us a little magical toy that can be made from a couple of playing cards. Wes James was with us in spirit, and recommended finishing Card Warp by creating a hyper-card and giving it to your volunteer. Joe Rindfleisch taught us part of his excellent Jumper routine, ending with an intriguing memento. The always dapper Gene Gordon gave us the idea of presenting your volunteer with an origami bunny. Closing out the marathon was Bruce Kalver. He taught us how to produce any flat object for a give-away from between two flat pieces of cardboard.

Marcelo InsuaAfter lunch we had another lecture. I tell you, babe, I never learned so much in one weekend. This one was by Marcelo Insua, who goes by the moniker Tango. He specializes in coin magic really slick stuff. He even made a signed coin appear inside a green pepper.

Before we knew what hit us, we were into the Friday afternoon show. Head honcho for this round was Oscar "Ornery" Munoz. I'd seen Oscar before, and I'm happy to say he's half the man he used to be and he's ten times better. He had a line-up of real heavy-hitters with him. First up was Matthew Garrett, making magic by linking finger rings onto large silver rings. He was followed by Don Wiberg who told us of gems found in old magic catalogues. Then Marty Kane introduced us to the furniture kings. Kelvin Chow demonstrated the uncanny ability to cut to named cards. Jack Browne proved to be a man after my own heart: he produced a glass of whiskey from an empty bag. Derek Finn took the stage and presented a strong card routine. Next up was Hector Mancha, with a wonderfully creative act in which he tried to lull his cards to sleep. Neil Croswell used a can of spray-paint to effect a colour-changing deck. The inimitable Boris Wild performed his super ACAAB (B for Birthday) very very strong! After Boris, Mark Weidhaas magically changed a stack of bills to ever higher denominations I wish I could do that at the end of every month. The show closed with Michael Dardant, who did the funniest sponge ball routine I have seen since I quit the FBI.

After dinner there was another show these close-up guys are like Energizer bunnies they keep going and going and going. There was a hush when emcee Meir "Mickey Finn" Yedid took the floor. Actually the hush fell after he told his first joke. Just kidding you babe, Meir did a super job of warming up the crowd. The show opened with Charlie Caper from Sweden, who did a great routine involving plucking lit bulbs from mid-air and dropping them in his hat while he told a touching story; very nice! Woody Aragon had us all rolling in the aisles with his personalized version of Cardtoon. Coinman Giacomo Bertini showed why he is so highly regarded he dropped coins into a black hole and brought them back. Then Bebel made our eyes bug out with the cleanest card magic in the world. Next out of the gate was the very funny George (from Japan) who produced and consumed many drinks and pulled one of the best gags of the whole weekend. Vincent Hedan closed the first half of the show with a demonstration of memorizing a shuffled deck in just a few seconds. That kind of skill would come in handy in my line of work.

By that time my legs were feeling as dead as a hustler who tries to pass off a $3 bill. After a break that was almost long enough to get some circulation back, Meir introduced Willy Monroe, the yo-yo master. Willy transported a selected card to the inside of a balloon. After Willy came Auke van Dokkum who was able to defy the law of gravity. Next up was Axel Hecklau who did something completely unique: he recited the poem Jabberwocky while eating razorblades dipped in Nutella! There's something you don't see every day.

Marcelo "Tango" Insua used coins to illustrate a Bible story. Johan Stahl drew a mental impression of a chosen movie and then his drawing became animated and changed from incorrect to correct. Closing out the show was the urbane Eric Jones who made coins fly from the hand of one volunteer to the hand of another.

Later that night I got to witness Joe Rindfleisch and Mark Fitzgerald take an idea and brainstorm it for twenty minutes, turning it into a very visual magic effect. I gotta tell you Angel, I saw a lot of magic that weekend but watching those two guys turn on the creativity was just about the most amazing thing I saw.

Obie gave me some more info about those mysterious shirts seems an ex-con tried to steal them but the shirts were too heavy and he collapsed all of a sudden I knew the explanation it came to me semi-automatically it was as easy as a stacked-deck reverse-faro down-under speller. I'll tell ya later.

AstorSaturday started around 11 a.m. with a lecture from Astor. He designs and makes a lot of very clever equipment that you just don't see anywhere else, and he explains his thought processes very interesting.

The first show of the day started at 2:00 p.m., emceed by Dan "DA" Garrett. The show started with Shin Lim, who literally made cards vanish in a puff of smoke and received the first standing ovation of the weekend. Then Corbett Troyer performed elegant magic with an Okito Box. Brad Jacobs followed up with a classic "Drunken Gambler" routine. After that Dr. Jeff Pearson illustrated memory loss with cards that went blank. Next batter at the plate was Mike Dedee, with coins that went through the table, and then a table that went through the table. Hide Kimoto drew audible gasps as he linked solid rings together with just one hand. Christian Painter and Katalina Absolom responded to some of Steve Beam's earlier comments about mentalism, then knocked our socks off with some killer effects.

Vancouver's Rod Chow presented a well-structured act in which a signed insurance policy transformed into a signed bill that previously had been destroyed. Then the intensely charismatic Ice McDonald took the stage and made a ripped-up card appear, properly restored, inside a fortune cookie, inside a locked box that was sitting at the back of the bleachers. The rope magic that Vladimir brought to the stage was creative and charming, and included several moments of what I have to call rope-agami making and animating animal figures with a length of rope one of the coolest things I have seen. Those tired jaded magicians must have agreed with me, because Vladimir was rewarded with a standing O. Tony Polli followed up with coins that disappeared when he hung them in the air. To close the show, the unpredictable Geoff Williams smashed and ate a functioning light-bulb.

The Grand Finale show was emceed by none other than Obie "Outlaw" O'Brien himself. The show opened with a hilarious video in "honor" of Steve Beam, put together by Leon Etienne and Matt Episcopo. This was followed by a number of tributes and presentations to Steve, after which the crowd rose to its collective feet to show him their respect.

First up was the eloquent Joe Turner with a smooth cards to pocket routine. Then the sophisticated Jean Emmanuel Franzis performed magic with coins and a cylinder in honor of John Ramsay. David Stone, still covered in dust from his visit to Columbia, discovered a borrowed ring in a lemon. Henry Evans astonished everyone when a chosen card transposed with a hundred dollar bill held securely under his shoe! Then Bob Sheets uncorked his Tunnel of Logic and brought the house down.

After a short break the lights went out then came back to reveal Yann Frisch, who performed cups and balls in the style of a madman and received a loud standing ovation for his work. Oscar Munoz gave his professor a nightmare with a transposition of two sets of ropes very creative! Speaking of creativity, Paul Gertner went high-tech: he attached an iPad to his face. His face appeared on the screen singing a sad song while he did sleight-of-hand on the table. The crowd loved it and gave Paul a standing ovation. Next up, Francis Tabary presented his superlative classic rope magic and received a standing ovation when he was done. Closing the magic for the show and the convention was multiple FISM winner and the only person ever to win first place in close-up and stage from the I.B.M. Shawn Farquhar. Shawn presented excellent card magic, concluding with one of his signature effects: the discovery of a signed card in its proper location in a sealed deck. The final act of the show was the wild and crazy comedy of Steve Bargatze and Rick Merrill. Obie O'Brien called the whole cast back for a standing ovation. And then it was over. Another amazing FFFF convention came to a close.

Oh, the shirt mystery sure thing, Angel, the answer was right there: "Shopping Center Shirts Defeat Criminal" ... or in other words "Mall Tees Foil Con". That's my story, and I'm sticking to it or my name ain't Trick Dacey, Private Eye. How about another Shirley Temple? Oh, you gotta go? Well, here's looking at you, kid.

--For a complete list of formal performers click: HERE.

*The video was made by Matt Episcopo and Leon Etienne.

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