The world's best 'card mechanic' happens to be blind and he can cheat any card game

Richard Turner (Photo: Getty)
Richard Turner (Photo: Getty)

Cardsharp Richard Turner has taken a literal approach to the age-old expression "play the hand you've been dealt" with his incredible sleight of hand, and card manipulation abilities. 

But what makes this world-class card mechanic's achievements even more astonishing is that he is legally blind.

Having entertained millions of people across the world, including celebrities such as Johnny Carson, Brad Pitt and Muhammad Ali, Channel24 was lucky enough to catch a private show. 

We met Richard ahead of his performance at the Cape Town International Comedy Festival, and even though we knew we were about to witness something astounding, nothing could prepare us for the mind-blowing one-on-one close-up performance we experienced.

During our interview, Richard doesn't stop fussing with the deck of cards in front of him, and his quick fingers are always between fancy flourishes. Mesmerised by the intricate cardistry, Richard's wife Kim tells us that she sometimes has to remind her husband to put the cards away when she hears the cards shuffling in company. But Richard's obsession with cards go beyond just the deck, in fact the couple named their son Asa Spades. 

After our introduction, Richard starts off a series of one-handed shuffles, and riffles, laughingly saying: "Never take the decks and shuffle them in one hand like this, it makes the other players nervous.    

He then gives the cards a standard casino shuffle, and then evenly spreads the deck across the table in one smooth motion, asking if he shuffled it well enough.

The kicker: When he shuffled the cards, he rearranged the deck back in perfect numerical and suited order - spades, then hearts, diamonds and clubs.

What Richard can do with a deck of cards is different from any other close-up magician. He is a card mechanic - somebody who can control the outcome of a card game. 

He proves this when he "fixes" a game of blackjack. He makes sure that I'm dealt "21" every round. Even when I choose the number of players and my position at the table, the result remains the same. 

It's no wonder Richard has been named the mafia's most wanted magician, having been offered millions of dollars to fix games at casinos across the world 

Richard emphasises: "A card mechanic is somebody who can take a deck of cards in the middle of a card game with a thousand eyes. Well, with a dozen eyes staring at you and sometimes six-shooters on their hips. You are making moves and hopefully not getting caught!"

The 66-year-old started playing with cards when he was just seven years old and said he dreamed of becoming a "cool gambler" at the time.

"I started as a little boy. We came from a very poor family, and our house literally was a box. If you can picture this deck as a box, it sat on top of a ditch that was six foot deep. In the wintertime, my dad poured concrete down there so that I could have a room. And in the wintertime, the water would come in, and my bed would be sitting on top of four, five, six inches of water."

"But, but we did have four games, Monopoly, chess, checkers and a deck of cards. I was the oldest, and I wouldn't say I liked to lose. In 1961, we got a black and white TV about that big, and there was a show on called Maverick starring James Garner. He played this cool gambler that would go from town to town. People would try to hustle him, and he would out hustle them. I wanted to be a cool gambler like Maverick. And so that's what got my interest with cards," he explains. 

Richard 'The Cheat' began losing his sight at the age of nine, following a bout with scarlet fever, but he believes that his blindness has become his advantage because it has heightened his sense of touch.

So much so, that the United States Playing Card Company uses him to test the quality of their playing cards.

He explains that he can identify differences in moisture levels in cards that even the company's computers aren't able to detect.

"Bicycle started messing up their cards in 1988, I exposed them, and in 1993 they started messing up again. I exposed them again, and in 1997 they said: Put him on retainer. He's been proven right every time'," he exclaims, saying that his fingers can feel one one-thousandth of an inch.

The loss of Richard's sight never held him back from living his life to the complete fullest, he has a fifth degree black belt in Wado-Kai karate and he was later introduced to stuntman Bobby Yerkes, who taught him to swing on the trapeze, walk a tight rope, and take high falls. Not to mention the time when he drove a motorcycle and got pulled over when he mistaken for a bank robber... 

Richard says he feels "honoured" to be part of the Cape Town Comedy line-up, saying: "I thought: 'I'm not even a comedian?' Even though during my show people are continually laughing because I'm a goofball. Certified, that is. The documentary I am the subject of, Dealt, has aired in all 54 countries but I have never been here before. When I received the call, I told my wife: 'Let's go to South Africa!'," he exclaims.  

During his show at the Cape Town International Comedy Festival, Richard will be showing the audience the many different ways he can use the deck to take your money.

Because he can fix the card game, much like a car mechanic can fix a vehicle.

DEALT will run at the Artscape from 2 to 8 March. 

Time: 19:30, Tickets: R150 - R190, Age restriction: All ages