The Elmsley Count is one of the most useful sleights in all of card magic. It was invented by Scottish magician Alex Elmsley, and the good news is—it’s much easier than it looks.
In fact, within a few minutes of focused practice I’m sure you’ll start to get the hang of it—and once you do, there’s a whole new world of card magic waiting to be explored.
Today you’ll discover how to do the Elmsley Count in 4 simple steps.
But before any of that, what do we mean when we talk about the Elmsley Count?
The Elmsley Count is a sleight magicians use to make it look like they are counting cards fairly and displaying each one to the audience, when in reality they are actually hiding certain cards from view.
- Step One: Prep the Packet
- Step Two: Practice Counting Cards Normally
- Step Three: Do the Sleight
- Step Four: Get the Sound Right
Let’s get into how to do it…
Step One: Prep the Packet
The Elmsley Count is usually done with four cards, so that’s how we’re going to teach it. But if you wanted to, you could pretty easily do the Elmsley Count with more cards than this—the move is the same, you just need to adapt your handling a little.
You begin by making sure the card you want to hide is in the THIRD position. If you want to hide a face-up card, that means the order of your packet should be:
Face-down, face-down, FACE-UP, face-down.
Once you have your cards arranged like this, you’re ready to go!
Step Two: Practice Counting Cards Normally
This is a really important step that a lot of people skip right over.
Think about it like this…
You’ve just told your audience that you’re going to count through the cards. They’re expecting you to count the cards normally. But then you start shifting through them in this weird pattern so you get the sleight right. They’re going to be suspicious, simply for the fact that it doesn’t look like what they were expecting. You might have done the sleight perfectly with ZERO flashes, but they will STILL be suspicious, just because of how unnatural it looked.
When you’re performing card magic, you want your actions to be natural and ordinary. The last thing you want to do is call unnecessary attention to your hands as you perform the moves. The easiest way to make sure you look natural is to first practice counting cards WITHOUT doing the sleight. Really get a muscle memory of how to count cards.
The more you understand the mechanics of counting cards normally, the easier it will be to MIMIC this action and persuade your audience that you really are counting cards—and nothing more than that.
So before you get into the actual moves, I want you to practice counting out cards. Do it until you have a real feel for exactly how that motion should feel if it’s done naturally.
Step Three: Do the sleight
Okay. Now it’s time to really get into the core principles behind the Elmsley Count.
It sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple to do. In fact, before we talk about it, here’s a video you might find useful on mastering this sleight…
First, count the first card as you normally would. If you’re right-handed, that means sliding the card off your left hand, which is holding the packet, and into your right hand. Now comes the tricky bit. Using your left hand, push the next TWO cards off as one and take them both in your right hand and count it as ONE card. At the same time you do this, use your right hand to slide the first card BACK into the left hand.
This move will leave you with two cards in your right hand (one of them being the card you want to hide) and two cards in your left hand. Now all you need to do is finish counting the cards as usual, taking the third count and counting ‘three’, and finally taking the last card and counting ‘four’.
This move allows you to count three normal cards as four at the same time as hiding the special card, all in one simple move. If you found it hard to visualize that move, feel free to refer back to the video above.
Now you just need to practice that sleight until you can do it without thinking about it!
Step Four: Get the SOUND right
Once you have mastered the sleight, you’re almost there. There’s just ONE step left (and this is another one that a lot of people miss).
Even if you perform the sleight perfectly and make everything look natural, your audience might STILL be suspicious.
It doesn’t SOUND right.
When you count cards, there’s usually a pretty audible sound that goes with it as each card is counted. Just try it yourself and count some cards—you’ll be surprised by how much sound it makes.
When you perform the Elmsley Count, you need to take this sound element into account. It’s a simple enough thing to fix, just make sure that each time you count a ‘card’ it makes the appropriate noise. This is one of those simple ‘subtleties’ that will go a long way in making your Elmsley Count more effective.
Here’s a video of Aaron Fisher (co-founder of Conjuror Community) talking about this exact problem…
So there you are! I hope you enjoyed learning how to achieve the Elmsley Count sleight. It’s an essential tool for ANY card magician who wants to perform seriously impressive magic. If you have any questions about the Elmsley Count, feel free to get in touch with us with your questions!
If you enjoyed this tutorial, you might enjoy becoming a member of the Conjuror Community Club. We teach sleights like this (and beyond!) all the time, and that’s only the beginning of what you can find inside. You’ll get access to ALL our live lectures with some of the best magicians in the world, every one of our Amazement Plans, and much more!