Richard Turner is one of the world’s greatest card cheats in the world. He’s so quick with cards that if you ever played with him, you just couldn’t see him cheat. But then, neither could he. That’s what makes his skill even more special – he’s completely blind.
The card shark, or ‘Card Mechanic’ as he prefers to call himself, has been cheating at cards since the age of seven. “A mechanic is somebody who could control the outcome of a card game,” he says. He never loses at cards. Not even when someone else is shuffling. And the only way he got that good is by practice. “For years, I practiced 10 to 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, which boils down to around one-third of my entire life 24×7,” he said. Kim, his wife, added: “There are times when he’s doing like a one-handed shuffle and he makes a little ‘prr’ sound. You might be at church and then you just have to do the gentle touch like – not now.”
Richard, a native of San Antonio, hasn’t had an easy life. He began to lose his eye sight at the age of nine and was bullied by his school mates. He’s also struggled with drug and alcohol problems. But none of these obstacles got in the way of his passion. “I’m always practicing,” he says. “Liberace couldn’t carry his piano with him, but my act can fit in my pocket.”
Photo: Dealt Documentary
“I’m never fooling around with cards. I’m always actually practicing moves. I’ve done one move between 50 and 60 million times,” said Richard. The move that he’s referring to is called the Turner Sweep Second. I’d like to explain it here but I’m not sure I understand it entirely. You’d have to watch the video to get it yourself.
What makes Richard so good at cards is his extraordinary touch sensitivity that developed as he lost his sight. “Most of those moves take such a delicate touch, if you miss one move by the thickness of a single card, everything’s messed up.” He’s constantly shuffling, removing cards from the middle of the deck with a flip of his wrist, flipping aces on the table, all the while keeping conversation with the person across the table.
Photo: Dealt Documentary
In fact, Richard says that his lack of eyesight has actually helped him see with his mind’s eye. “It’s like looking at a kaleidoscope. I see the most brilliant colors and shapes and can arrange them into phone numbers or complex building plans so I can remember them later,” he said. “To be able to see everything makes us lazy. Sight dominates our brain,”
“There’s nobody else like Richard Turner,” says Lance Merrell, director of research and development at the United States Playing Card Company. “He’s provided us insight into the feel of a playing card. I don’t know if I would have ever gotten that from anyone else.” Because of his achievements, the company has given him with a lifetime supply of free playing cards. He always has about 6,000 decks stocked up at home.
Richard is so obsessed with cards that he even named his son ‘Ace of Spades’. No, I’m not kidding, it’s true. “Most people will remember my name, which is really helpful,” said Ace.
These days, Richard prefers to use his skills primarily to entertain, instead of playing for money. He has performed for some big names during his 30-year career – Jimmy Stewart, Muhammad Ali, and former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. He also made a brief appearance in the 2011 Brad Pitt film, The Tree of Life.
Filmmakers are in the process of creating a documentary about Richard’s life, called ‘Dealt’. It’s the story of a man who has learned to deal with the hand he has been dealt in life. Richard seems unfazed by all the attention, though. “They can record me all day long. I don’t care, no one can do what I do.”
It’s not just cards Richard knows, he is remarkably good at a whole lot of stuff. He’s a black belt in Karate, for instance. And he’s also bit of a gym freak. But cards are the first love of his life. His philosophy is simple, yet profound – “No matter what hand you’re dealt, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t play, or that it can’t be done.”