New Documentary 'Dealt' Shows How to Play Your Cards When Life Gives You A Tough Hand
Richard Turner—obsessive, brilliant, burning with energy even at the age of 62—is likely the foremost living expert in "cardistry", or, as he prefers: card mechanics—"Car mechanics fix cars, card mechanics fix card games. I'm the reason you never play poker with someone you don't know," he quips. In practice, that means he can do things that are almost impossible to describe or to understand with cards—shuffle them into perfect order, dealing trump cards in a poker game without anyone knowing, and generally performing amazing feats of precision and coordination.
What Turner might not volunteer, but which makes his already incredible skill unfathomable, is that he is totally blind. It is this colorful character and his unique life that Dealt, a moving and deeply fascinating new documentary by director Luke Korem, celebrates. We see Turner's incredible dedication—he has a 3-6 pack a day habit (meaning he shuffles through and wears out 3-6 packs of cards every day during his standard 16 hours of daily practice), he practices one hand shuffles as he exercises, and there's even a hilarious anecdote about a time when his wife realized that he was practicing shuffles as they made love.
We also get a sense of the issues he wrestles with as a deeply proud individual, who loathes special treatment or pity, as he comes to terms with the reality of being blind. He doesn't let it stop him in any way, however—he earns a black belt in a brutal initiation ceremony despite being able to see his opponents. He remembers (unwisely) driving a motorcycle when he still had a bit of residual vision. But in his attempts to downplay the inherent difficulties that being totally blind impose on a person, he comes close to denial, which strains himself and his family. As the film goes on he comes to terms with his condition, but in fits and starts. In a particularly touching scene, Turner says goodbye to his son, who became his confidant and primary assistant, as he leaves for college. He's unmoored and clearly sad after this departure, but eventually he fills the space (at least partially) with a seeing eye dog.
The screening could not have been held in a more appropriate environment. The Magic Castle is held, in certain circles, as a place of almost religious significance. For magicians all over the world, the old victorian in Hollywood is the center of the universe. Going back to the '60s, legendary practicers of the "magical arts" have stopped in to show their stuff and to talk shop with a tight-knit global community of magicians. The Magic Castle is strictly invitation only, and it was a wonderful experience to get a glimpse into this world where magic reigns supreme. I befriended Elliott Terral, a talented and generous magician and podcaster, who, after showing me a minor magic act that I could perform myself, took me to shows, introduced me to other magicians, and steeped me in the lore of this place that he so clearly loves.
Leaving Dealt and The Magic Castle, I was inspired by Turner’s incredible story, and I carried with me a renewed appreciation for those of us who decide to dedicate their lives to spreading mystery, delight, and wonder in a world that sorely needs it.
Written by Sid Feddema