This page dedicates to the so-called Symbolic Method, a universal notation for card tricks. Based on a categorization of the technical elements employed in card magic it allows to describe their technical backbone in a most concise manner. It is to card magic what notes are to music.

The Método Simbólico, as it is originally named, was designed by Juan Tamariz, who published it in 1978. Mostly ignored, silently forgotten, and uncontradictedly declared as too specific, difficult, theoretical and obsolete, it may be considered the maestro's most fundamental, most practical, highly intuitive and visionary contribution to card magic, ranking among the most intellectual and groundbraking ever delivered to the inner circle.

It was not before 2022 when the method gained new attention with the publication of the 2nd edition of Sonata, Juan Tamariz's masterpiece first released in 1991. Included with Sonata is the reprint of the New Mini-Symbolic Method booklet that provides an excellent introduction to the essential elements of the notation. A full set of references is provided further below.

The concept of a notation, as opposed to the use of words, has been introduced and established in many artistic disciplines such as music, dance, choreography. In all these places notation is unquestioned and fundamentally anchored as it allows for fast workflows and efficient studies. The underlying idea is a strict separation of the artistic and technical elements, the latter ones which are addressed by symbolic notation. This approach is also applicable to card magic.

The artistic jacket of a performance aside, card tricks can be primarily described as a sequence of position checks and actions. Along with those, there are secondary elements such as patter (statements, questions, responses), structural elements (e.g. the set-up, phases, repetitive loops), dramatical elements (e.g. pause, effect) and compositional elements (e.g. in-transit, synchronized, intersecting actions). Notation is the best way to reveal all this in a most accurate, consistent and transparent manner, visually and holistic. As if x-raying the card trick while it evolves, its technical backbone gets drafted, step by step. Dissected and layed out in this way, the student is in a best position to elaborate over all aspects of the performance - approaching tricks in this manner literally opens up new perspectives to the students. Traditional formats, books and videos, serve as the primary source to introduce the trick, to discuss sleight details and, in a more or less tideous manner, to explain the trick's backbone. Notation serves for the practical work in the same way notes serve the musician during the daily rehearsals.

The symbolic approach

Three ideas are applied:

1. Trick sequences are formulated by means of symbols for position checks (e.g. the sequence of cards in the piles) and symbols for actions (e.g., turn card, take a break, do a double lift, etc.)

2. The symbols are parametrized for additional context: the card's suit and value, its position in a deck (e.g. a break below the 3rd from top), whether a position is face-up or face-down, or whether an action delivers a card in either face-up or face-down condition (e.g. deal a card in face-up or face-down manner).

3. Some amazingly powerful rules apply:

- on position checks, dots/circles on the left signal a face-down condition, dots/circles on the right signal a face-up condition.

- on actions, arrows pointing up signal an action that delivers a card in a face-down (i.e. in an back-up) condition, and vice versa.

An example

All this allows for efficient visual formulations, illustrated on the following simple example, which may represent a typical trick sequence embedded into a larger routine. An ace of hearts, followed by a king of spades is located topmost on a face-down deck. Ace and King are reversed (i). A double turnover is executed (1), followed by a push-off (2) of the now top card which is dealt (3) face-down to the table. The ace remains on top of the deck, while the king is tabled instead (iii). This description encloses three position checks, i), ii), iii), and three actions, 1),2), and 3). In notation, top-downwards:

Item Symbol Comment
i An ace of hearts, followed by a king of spades is located topmost on a face-down deck. Ace and king are reversed.

A double turnover is executed...

... followed by a push-off of the now top card...
ii King and ace, in this order, are now face-down on top of the deck
3 ...which is dealt face-down to the table.
iii The ace remains on top of the deck, ...
iii ... while the king is tabled instead.

The above serves to give a first idea. Even though the symbolic vocabulary has not been disclosed yet, the reader may spot the radically different approach.

Taken further, that is, rearranged into a grid layout, the symbols shown below represent the same sequence. Additional details were included to specify the performer's patter; that the turnover and the pushoff are synchronized actions; and where the card was dealt to (to the upper right table segment). Also, some boxes for closely related actions and position checks were combined vertically. Read each row from left to right before moving downwards. You may want to tilt your iPhone to see the grid arrangement.

Symbolic Overview

What follows is a list of the most frequently used symbols.

Item Symbol Comment
1 Position Checks
1.1 single card, face-down

1.2 single card, face-up
1.3 an ace of spades, face-down
1.4 double face card, AC is face-up, and 2H is face-down
1.5 double backer, blUe back showing-up, and Red back showing-down
1.6 a pile of cards
1.7 a sequence of cards (aces) on top of a deck, all face-down
1.8 a sequence of cards, face-down aces on a face-up deck
1.9 a sequence of cards, all face-down except face-up ace of clubs
1.10 same as above, in image 1.9, but with break below the aces
2 Deck, generic symbol
2.1 a deck, face-down
2.2 a deck, face-up
2.3 a deck, face-down
2.4 a deck, face-up
3 Turns
3.1 turning a single card face-down (back-up)
3.2 turning a single card face-up (back-down)
3.3 turning a deck face-down (back-up)
3.4 turning a deck face-up (back-down)
3.5 double turnover, ending face-down
3.6 triple turnover, ending face-down
3.7 quadruple turnover, ending face-down
4 Breaks, Arrangements
4.1 taking a break below 3rd from top
4.2 taking a break above 3rd from bottom
4.3 combining right hand pile over the left hand pile
4.4 splitting the deck, taking top part into right, and bottom part into the left (hand)
5 Deals, Takes, Push-offs
5.1 deal face-down (back-up)
5.2 deal face-up (back-down)
5.3 lifting one card (face-down)
5.4 double-lifting two cards (face-down)
5.5 single card push-off
5.6 double push-off
5.7 stud dealing a card, so it ends face-up (back-down)
5.8 stud dealing a card, so it ends face-down (back-up)
5.9 forcing a card, here: the KH
5.10 selecting a card
5.11 returning a card
5.12 counting n cards without reversing the order
5.13 counting n cards reversing the order
5.14 buckle the bottom three cards
6. Cuts
6.1 straight cut
6.2 false cut
6.3 a pass
6.4 a half pass
6 Controls
6.6 controlling a card

control the chosen card to 2nd from top
6.7 glimpse the 3rd card from the top

glimpse the 2nd card from below
7 Hidden Maneuvers
7.1 squaring the deck
7.2 switch in AH, and switch out 2C
7.3a palming once card in left hand
7.3b palming once card in right hand
7.4 culling, here: the Kings
7.5a crimping at lower left corner
7.5b crimping at lower right corner
7.6 out jogging a card, here: the chosen card
7.7a inserting a card, here: below the 4th from top
7.7b tilting a card, here: below the 2nd from the top
8 Open maneuvers
8.1 spreading a deck face-down
8.2 fanning a deck face-down
9 Detailed Counts Numbers indicate the original positions,
dashes mark the separate counts or beats,
asterisks mark hidden cards.
The arrow indicates the order in which cards are sequenced from the top after the count. The positions within each beat are always sequenced from left-to-right. Of course, cards can only be sequenced once, even if the were counted twice.
9.1 Jordan count
count 5 as 4
the 4th card is hidden at the 3nd beat
the arrow indicates that the final order is: 1,2,3,4,5
9.2 Elmsley count
count 4 as 4
the 3rd card is hidden at the 2nd beat
the arrow indicates that the final order is: 1,4,2,3
9.3a Rhythm count - the left hand card falls last
count 4 as 4
cards actually shown are 2, 4 and 2, 4 again
the arrow indicates that the final order is: 4,2,3,1
9.3b Rhythm count - the right hand card falls last
count 4 as 4
cards actually shown are 2, 4 and 2, 4 again
the arrow indicates that the final order is: 2,4,3,1
9.4a Ascanio count
count 5 as 4
3rd card is hidden
the arrow indicates that the final order is: 1,2,3,4,5
9.4b Ascanio count - the double is replaced on top
count 5 as 4
3rd card is hidden
the arrow indicates that the final order is: 2,3,1,4,5
9.5 Standard reverse count (to table)
count 5 as 4
4th card is hidden at 3rd beat
the arrow indicates that the final order is: 5,3,4,2,1
10 Shuffles
10.1 Out faro
10.2 In faro
10.3 riffle shuffle, left pile runs last
10.4 riffle shuffle, left pile runs first
10.5 push through

strip out
10.6 Shank/Zarrow shuffle
10.7 ovrhand shuffle
10.8 running cards
10.9 milking cards
10.10 OLRAM subtlety
11 Objects
11.1 table
11.2 pen
11.3 case
11.4 coin
11.5 left hand
11.6 right hand
11.7 spectator
11.8 magician
11.9 Pockets
11.10 left outer breast pocket, 5D in outer right breast pocket
11.11 left jacket pocket, AH in right jacket pocket
11.12 left jacket pocket, 3S in right jacket pocket
11.13 left inner jacket pocket, right inner jacket pocket
12 Miscellaneous
12.1 watch
12.2 say
12.3 think
13 Generic
13.1 a generic move or action in verbose form
13.2 Ascii art for the rare case illustration is needed, more of a joke :)
13.3 patter
14 Drama and Compositional overlays
14.1 Effect
14.2 Acción: initial
14.3 Acción: in-transit
14.4 Acción: final
14.5 Fidget
14.6 Affirmation
14.7 synchronized
14.8 intersecting
15 Place, Coordinates overlays
15.1 upper left table segment
15.2 center table segment
15.3 lower right table segment
16 Structure
16.1 pause
16.2 open loop
16.3 close loop
16.4 end

Symbolic Method in Praxis

Tamariz originally devised the method as a shorthand script for pencil and paper. This way it serves to annotate books and publications, and to take notes during lectures, during creative sessions, and to pin down ideas. Only a few attempts are needed to achieve accurate and concise results.

Additionally, the symbolic method is available in digital format on iPhone. Documents can be finetuned, extended, if needed printed to paper, shared by email etc. The digital application uses vector graphics for the symbols and allows the student to configure the number of rows and columns on the screen, to set the colours and font sizes to allow for the best possible rendering. Documents are encryptet in xml file format. The iPhone app (ideally launched on an iPad, supported by a stand while you practise with the cards in your hand) serves to manage an entire repertoire, making it available for the daily dedication to the tricks and ideas. Symbolic Method is available on the Appstore, here.


A set of example documents, rendered to PDF but also available to be imported directly into Symbolic Method, are given in the App's area of this website, here.

Authorization and Credits

Item Description Year
1 Credit: Juan Tamariz for the original formulation of the symbolic notation for card tricks ca. 1975
2 Authorization: to publish, lecture, and commercially offer the electronic version of the symbolic notation
through handshake agreement with the maestro, olé!


Nr. Author Title Year Editorial
1 Juan Tamariz Método Simbólico Vol. I 1978 Escuela Mágica de Madrid

Juan Tamariz

Método Simbólico Vol. II 1978 Escuela Mágica de Madrid
3 Juan Tamariz El Nuevo Método Simbólico ca. 1985 Editorial Frakson
4 Juan Tamariz Sonata 1991 Editorial Frakson
5 Juan Tamariz Sonata, 2nd edition, including The New Mini-Symbolic Method 2022 Hermetic Press, Inc.