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

Reported by Robin Dawes • Photographed by Dale Farris


The cavernous warehouse was empty and very dark. A single bulb with a heavy shade cast a pool of light on the young man seated on a simple wooden chair. The man did not move -- mostly because of the many ribbons of duct-tape that bound him down.

A raspy voice came from the darkness. "Vinnie, Vinnie, Vinnie. We ain't happy wit youse. On account of youse, we got to be here instead of down on the Boardwalk. Now, how's about you just tell us what we want to know?"

The young man spoke in a tired voice. "I've told you already. I spent that weekend with my friends in Podunk, at Oktoberfest. Beer and pretzels. Schnitzel and strudel."

"Come on, Vinnie -- that ain't gonna cut it. We checked into your story and it don't hold up. For one thing, you ain't got no friends in Podunk -- nobody has friends in Podunk, and if they do they don't admit it. And for another thing, you was missing for a weekend in April… and I found out Oktoberfest happens in October. Quit clowning around, Vinnie. Don Mascarpone wants to know where you really was that weekend."

"Don Mascarpone?" cried Vinnie. "You didn't tell me he sent you!"

Another voice, this one with a distinct British accent, came from the darkness. "Seymour, you fool, we were not supposed to mention Don Mascarpone!"

Seymour replied, "Nigel, you idiot, you were not supposed to mention my name either!"

Nigel responded, "And now, you imbecile, you have mentioned MY name!"

Seymour continued, "Ok, so he knows our names. Never mind that now. Listen Vinnie, here's how it is. Don Mascarpone tinks maybe you was selling out on him to another organization. He axed us to find out. Now be a good little punk and tell us where you was -- or you're gonna make like a frog… and croak."

"Ok," sighed Vinnie, "I'll tell you. I have joined another outfit -- but it's different. It's not in competition with Don Mascarpone."

"My word," said Nigel, "Don Mascarpone is going to be most disappointed. Tell us the whole story, Vinnie. And explain what gives you the idea it's acceptable for you to join some other syndicate."

Vinnie took a deep breath and began his tale. "This outfit I joined, it's called "Obie's 4F Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic". We get together at the end of April every year in Batavia, New York. It's kind of like a big annual family reunion."

"I ain't never heard of it," said Seymour. "It must be new."

"No, this was the 47th year. But here's the thing -- it's kind of an undercover gathering. You can't get in unless you're invited, and only about 200 people get invited every year. Your first time, you have to prove yourself in front of all the others. You get one chance."

"What do you gotta do… grease somebody? Pull a heist?" asked Seymour. "I gotta tell you, these 4F guys sound like pretty serious enforcers."

"No, listen, I'm trying to tell you, it's a magic convention. You have to prove yourself by doing something magical. We don't grease people or pull heists."

Nigel said, "Vinnie, this 4F organization… what's it for? What's the racket? There's got to be an angle somewhere."

"Let me try to explain. You may not know this but most magicians belong to special societies. They take oaths to follow their Code, and they treat each other like family. The FFFF gang are even more closely-knit than the rest of them. One of them, a guy named Johnny "Bananas" Bannon, even refers to magic as "our thing" but he puts it into Italian… you know... "cosa nostra". What I'm trying to say is that there may be a lot of similarity between the 4F organization and Don Mascarpone's -- but they ain't in the same line of business. But let me tell you about that missing weekend -- maybe then you'll understand.

"Here's how it played out in April. The convention got underway at 8 PM on Wednesday night. Obie O'Brien, the one they call the Head Forker, used a whistle to gather up the 200 or so magicians who were there. He announced the first event: the Opening Gala Show, with the irrepressible Henry "Elderberries" Evans as Master of Ceremonies. Evans wasted no time introducing Martin Braessas, who performed card magic themed around the passage of time. The next performer was Gustavo Raley, who entertained with incredible ombromanie(1). Then Nicolas Pierri did a twisting routine in which each card represented an aspect of life: Luck, Work, Money and Love. Next on stage was George Iglesias who left his volunteer with an unresolved mystery in the form of a card sealed in an envelope -- maybe it was the chosen card, but we'll never know. Bond Lee finished the first half of the show with a silk and ball manipulation routine.

(1)Editor's note: Ombromanie = hand shadows

"After a short intermission, Yumi performed the graceful and elegant Owan To Tama, which is the Japanese version of the Cups and Balls. Then Thomas Barthes found a selected card at a freely chosen position in the deck. The always unpredictable Jimmy C. introduced his pet chicken who used psychic powers to find a chosen card. Dick Cook took the stage with a monologue that was both funny and inspirational, and performed his version of the 3-shell game. Next up was Astor with elegant card and coin magic. Closing out the show was a 4F first -- Yan Yan Ma performed in full ballerina costume, doing card productions while pirouetting en pointe(2). The audience rewarded her with a standing ovation."

(2)Editor's note: Pat Page once wore a tutu on stage at 4F -- a sight that has proved impossible to forget.

Seymour said, "Ahhhh, it's show biz… now dat's a good racket! But you know Don Mascarpone ain't gonna like you treading on his toes in that game. I'm calling him now. You're gonna make like a gambler … and cash in your chips."

"Wait, wait! It's not like that. After the gala there was a lecture from Gustavo Raley… "

"The same Gustavo who had just performed?" cut in Nigel. "Hold on Seymour, I want to hear some more."

"Thanks!" gasped Vinnie. "Yeah -- all the lecturers at 4F also perform. Gustavo lectured about the advantages of performing magic with everyday objects. He made magic with breakfast cereal, Rubik's cubes, M&M candies, drinking straws and soft-drink cans, and taught all of his methods. The crowd responded enthusiastically to his creative thinking and clever gimmicks..

"After that, everyone split up -- some went to the Dealer's Room, some went to the Hospitality Room for donuts and soft drinks, and some went to out to bars and restaurants."

Nigel sounded thoughtful. "So, it's like a training session… to learn how to fool people and con them out of their money? Is that it?"

"No," said Vinnie, "you still ain't getting it. Let me tell you about the next day. Thursday started with a lecture from Pierric -- he is the current World Champion of Magic (FISM Grand Prix Close-Up). Pierric lectured on how to use timing to increase the strength of your magic effects. He talked about the value of understatement: how and when to let the audience fill in the gaps so they stay more engaged with the show. He advised us to assume that our audiences are smarter than we are. He illustrated all of these ideas with beautiful magic with coins and silks. All in all this was a wonderful and thought-provoking lecture."

"Timing and understatement," repeated Nigel. "Two things Seymour doesn't ..."

"Heck yeah I do!" interrupted Seymour. "I have the best timing in the whole world, the best timing in the history of dis planet! There ain't nobody with better timing than me."

Vinnie continued, "The day's shows began after lunch. Gary "Mangoes" Morton was the MC for the "Friends Old and New" show. The line-up started with Garrett Thomas who magically transported a borrowed driver's license into a sealed compartment inside his wallet. Then Sam Slaven performed a powerful effect in which three selected cards found the 4 Kings. Ken Abbott followed that with cups and balls magic. After that, Gene Gordon performed "The Move" and found a chosen card inside a balloon dog. Clemens Ilgner performed his hilarious "How to Win a Magic Contest" act, fueled by many sips of Killepitsch(3). John Dahlinger..."

Editor's note: Killepitsch is a very potent German liqueur, flavored with 98 herbs, berries and fruits.

"John Dillinger was there?" asked Nigel incredulously.

"No, Dahlinger with an 'a', but it surprised me too. John performed the classic coins and cylinder routine. He was followed by Marcus Taylor, who offered a skilled act of card magic including a clever version of Jazz Aces. Closing the show was the great Auke van Dokkum, performing with paper, scissors, light bulbs and (of course) coins.

"After a short break the "Magical Moments" show started, coordinated by IBM Past International President Joe "Tangerines" Turner. The show began with Steve Brundage presenting his famous Rubik's Cube magic and receiving a standing ovation for his efforts. Then Neil Stirton demonstrated the ability to identify cards using only the sense of touch. Neil was followed by Shamon Lay who performed with cards and rice bowls. Then Jiang Zhenghua presented an integrated act that began with a book test and ended with a freely-chosen number that became a word. Chong Huang performed an amazing Okito Box routine with coins and a ring. Gyula Czili followed with his trademark colorful magic involving coins, rings, chips, wands and a tiny bunny. Max Sinbad was almost removed from the show because of overbooking (a la United Airlines) but he returned to perform an excellent Okito Box routine. The final performer was Derek Ostovani, presenting a very creative chop cup routine using a jigger and an olive.

"The last big event of the day was a lecture from the 2017 Guest of Honour, Rocco Silano. He lectured on some of the finer points of sleeving, a specialized thumbtip, and the Ultimate Sleeving Device. He demonstrated with bubbles, a carrot, a chocolate rabbit, pretzels and Twizzlers. He explained some of the precise choreography that goes into his nonchalant, spontaneous-looking stage demeanor, and how he uses that in his misdirection."

"Wait, wait," interrupted Seymour. "There was booze, rice, olives, carrots, chocolate and pretzels? You're driving me crazy -- I didn't get no lunch today. Hurry this story up or you're gonna make like a teenager… and sleep past the alarm."

Vinnie continued nervously, "Well that was almost the end of Rocco's lecture. He taught some advanced productions and vanishes, then wrapped everything up. I think he could have gone on for another hour but his time was up. The audience gave him a huge standing ovation.

"After that everyone gathered in small groups for sessions that lasted well into the small hours of the morning. FFFF has a great tradition of camaraderie and sharing. Everyone there is generous with their knowledge and it's like..."

"Yeah, we get it," interrupted Seymour sharply. "It's like a family. Skip over that crap and get to the next day, or you're going to make like a guy who wants to grow potatoes… and buy the farm."

"Ok, ok… the next day started with the Pat Page Memorial Workshop, coordinated by Mike "Pomegranates" Powers. This year the theme was "Double Face/Back Cards" The workshop started with Mike teaching us his Magnetic Card routine. Next up, Eric DeCamps taught us a wild card routine that ended with the cards transforming to cash. Then Mark Zacharia presented a "Do As I Do" sobriety test. John Luka performed and taught a great version of Carlyle's Homing Card, called Repeat Card to Pocket. John always thinks carefully about the details that turn good magic into excellent magic. After that, Alain Ianonne taught a routine based on Ortiz's Dream Card. Alain's version involves a signed card changing its back, and ending up inside a sealed envelope. Next, Doug Gorman taught a version of Twisting the Aces that ends with the cards transforming into a Royal Flush. Closing the workshop was the debonair Gene Gordon, with his excellent "Temporal Agents" card routine."

Nigel spoke up. "I'm still not seeing the point. What were you getting out of this?"

"It's hard to explain. We do learn from each other, and teach each other… but it's also a chance to see the best close-up magicians in the world do their stuff -- that's inspiring."

"So it's just about learning tricks, teaching tricks, and watching tricks?"

"It's also a chance to hang out with friends that you only see once a year."

"Aw, ain't that nice," cut in Seymour. "I ain't buying this hooey. There's something else going on here that you ain't told us. Listen kid, you are about one minute away from making like a hockey player… and hanging up your skates."

"Well, wait until you hear what happened next. See, normally the next thing would have been another show… but this year, it was different! Christian "Peaches" and Katalina "Persimmons" Painter introduced a kind of TED Talk event, called "Recognizable Faces": six mini-lectures in a row, none of which were about tricks! First up, Karl Hein gave us a detailed history of magic with Rubik's Cubes, from the 1970's up to the current day. It was fascinating to trace the development of the various effects that are currently popular. Then David Corsaro gave a passionate talk about marketing for magicians. He stressed that marketing is hard and that we should be wary of anyone who says otherwise.

"Then Scott Robinson talked about a magic organization he set up in his home town. The group is focused on helping each other improve as magicians, using honest feedback and high standards. He stressed that a group like this is not for everyone. Christian and Katalina gave an amazing talk about their experiences performing for troops on duty in Iraq and Kuwait. The challenges and the rewards were incredible. Christian Schenk talked about the fire that destroyed his warehouse, workshop and inventory in Germany, and the process of rebuilding. He emotionally expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of support from all around the world that helped the company get back on its feet. Finally, Steve Bargatze told us what it was like to go onstage as a last-minute, unannounced fill-in for Mac King in Las Vegas. He explained the techniques he used to successfully win the audience over as quickly as possible.

"The session ended with two performances: Bob Bengel presented a powerful multiple selection routine, ending with a tribute to Daryl. Miguel Puga performed an excellent routine with the four Aces -- the backs changed color, then the cards went blank on both sides, then the printing returned.

"After a very short break the convention continued with another show: the "Friday's Frolics" show with Steve "Blueberries" Beam as MC. Steve announced that the first performer was Michael Dardant, but in fact it was his Cajun Cousin Mike who came on stage. CCM performed a routine that involved hypnotizing frogs using D-Flash Lights. The next performer was Diego Allegri, who performed a very funny rendition of the torn and restored card. Diego was followed by Fukai, who played his cellphone like a violin. Then Matt Baker magically predicted the exact outcome of a card game. The following performer was Antonio Zuccaro who combined Triumph with a color-changing deck, and performed it blindfolded. Matthew Whittaker performed a two deck Triumph routine. Continuing the Triumph theme, Jimmy Ichihana predicted exactly how many minutes and seconds it would take him to perform the effect. Willy Monroe magically tore and restored an inflated balloon. Closing out the show was the great Howard Hamburg, sharing his memories of Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Ray Grismer, Larry Jennings and others.

"At 8PM we all gathered for the FISM Gala Show, with Meir "Yuzus" Yedid calling the shots. All the performers in this show were FISM winners. First up was Pierric, in whose hands an apple transformed into a pear. Then Edoard Boulanger performed with flaming coins, and earned a standing ovation. Next up was Andost, with an incredibly visual routine in which the backs of cards changed color to match different light bulbs. Andost also received a standing ovation. The intense Hungarian magician Galambös performed a version of the MacDonald Aces to the accompaniment of Rodrigo's Concerto de Aranjuez. Then Lodewijc deWidt magically caused four torn pieces of different cards to restore into a single mixed card -- he received a standing ovation for this extremely magical effect. The inimitable Boris Wild took the audience by storm with a wonderful ACAAN routine, and was rewarded with a standing ovation. With the crowd on their feet, a brief intermission was called.

"The first performer after the intermission was Woody Aragón performing a two deck version of CAAN. Then Jaque presented a wonderful act with coins, dice, poker chips, ice cubes and water… and received a standing ovation. Kelvin Chow shared powerful magic with cards that transformed visibly to other cards, stickers that became holes, and a deck that became a piece of paper… and received a standing ovation. Rick Merrill performed with US coins, Chinese coins and Sharpie markers… and received a standing ovation. Henry Evans had five volunteers each shuffle and reduce a deck of cards to just one card, and the five cards formed a Royal Flush… and received a standing ovation. Closing the show was David Stone, who produced many bottles while making magic with billiard balls, cards and cigarettes… and received a standing ovation!"

"And that was it, I suppose?" asked Seymour. "This endless story is over at last? I ain't heard nothing yet to convince me that it ain't time for you to… errr … make like a flight attendant and say ‘Bu-bye'".

"Calm down," said Nigel. "I think Vinnie has more to tell us. Go on, my boy."

"Thanks. You're right -- there was another full day -- a lecture, two afternoon shows and the grand finale evening show. The day began with a lecture from Boris Wild. Boris taught the effects he performed the night before, and more. Boris's philosophy for designing magic is "How would it look if it were real magic?" and this thinking shows very clearly in his routining and presentations.

"After lunch we reconvened for the Mini World Show, MC-ed by Dan "Grapes" Garrett. First up was Takamiz Usui, with amazing Rubik's Cube magic -- he received a standing ovation. The next performer was Vincent Mendoza, who made magic with small rings that linked and unlinked. Then Lorenz Schär predicted three chosen words from a torn scrap of newspaper. After that, Marc Trudel performed all the card tricks in the world -- moving very quickly! Brian Curry was next, with a very funny Multiple Selection routine that earned him a standing ovation. Ludovic Julliot performed an astonishing version of Card Warp. Then Albert Chen presented a gambling-themed routine, ending with the production of a Royal Flush. Adrian Vega discovered a signed card in a sealed bottle -- and earned a standing ovation. The final performer in this show was Kevin Bethea, performing magic with money, beans and a golden egg.

"There was a short break and then the next show began promptly at 3:30. This time "Apricots" Andost was the MC for the Fechter's Fabulous Frolics Show. He introduced Tomonori Kurokawa who performed a magical routine with giant dice props, for which he received a standing ovation. Then came John Jemola who produced the four aces from a well-shuffled deck, all to the accompaniment of evocative music. Quentin Reynolds followed with an excellent handling of the Slydini Silks. Next up was Alec Tsai, in whose hands cards transformed to other cards without any cover. Miika Pelkonen produced all the cards in any freely named suit. Then Luis Olmedo performed amazing magic with coins and cards. Fabio Marchegiano was next -- he magically found a selected card inside a balloon. Then Lion Fludd had a card selected, and in his wallet was a photo of Joan Caesar holding the selected card. Finally Jim Vines produced coins, bills, a gold brick and showers of coins… and received a standing ovation to close the show.

"8PM found everyone in their seats for the 4F 2017 Closing Gala. We began with the presentation of gifts to Rocco, after which Rocco gave a heartfelt speech in which he thanked everyone for all the brotherhood and love over the years. Then it was on with the show, with Obie "Oranges" O'Brien doing the MC duties. The first performer was Shoot Ogawa -- he made magic with coins and poker chips that transformed and changed size. Then Bill Cheung made four signed cards appear in a sealed deck in new deck order, for which he was rewarded with a standing ovation. Mike Finney presented his much-loved Big Card Little Deck routine. Then Shawn Farquhar did the Holy Grail card trick, and transported Rocco's ring to a sealed can of Pringles. Paul Gertner was next, performing his famous Steel and Silver routine with a new and very magical final production. Rocco himself closed the first half of the show with his inimitable style of productions, transformations and vanishes. Rocco is one of the few magicians who can make The Miser's Dream meaningful.

"After a short break, the 2016 MVP Award was presented to Jimmy C, and the 2017 MVP recipient for 2017 was named… except that this year there are two recipients: Christian and Katalina were judged by their peers to have made the greatest contribution to the success of the convention.

"The next performer was Will Fern -- he performed the Gypsy Thread with a length of thread that had been marked by a volunteer, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Then Seol Park performed Cups and Balls in fast-forward mode, and he received a standing ovation. After that Axel Hecklau vanished a volunteer's Driver's License and discovered it inside a sealed envelope that was hanging on the wall … he too received a standing ovation. Horrett Wu performed magic with giant cards which suddenly and visible shrank to normal size. He was rewarded with a standing ovation. Ed Kwon spoke movingly about the debt we owe to the great magicians who have gone before, and performed an Ace trick in memory of Larry Jennings. The audience gave Ed an enthusiastic standing ovation. Closing the show and the convention were Steve Bargatze and Rick Merrill giving a comedic review of the 2016 and 2017 FFFF conventions. And then… and then they…"

"Let me guess," cut in Seymour. "They received a standing ovation. Now you get one from me. But I ain't applauding. This whole story is a load of eye-wash. I'm coming over there and you're going to… uhhh… "

Nigel spoke up "May I suggest… make like an elevator, and go upstairs? Sorry Vinnie, you haven't convinced me either. It was a good story though."

"Wait!", cried Vinnie. "The 4F operation is no threat to Don Mascarpone. We just want to entertain people with magic, and maybe bring some amazement back into their lives. Don Mascarpone is a powerful boss, and everyone looks up to him. If he were here I would tell him ..."

Suddenly all the lights came on in the warehouse. Vinnie blinked, then gasped to see Don Mascarpone himself, seated in a comfortable chair with a glass of red wine in his hand.

Don Mascarpone spoke in a soft voice. "Seymour, Nigel, sit down. I believe Vinnie's story -- it's too crazy to be a lie. You can cut him loose. But Vinnie, what is it you want to tell me?"

Vinnie replied, "Thanks, Don Mascarpone. I just wanted to tell you... you're still the big cheese."


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