No matter the trick, San Antonio man comes up aces

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Seeing is believing. But for Richard Turner, a world-renowned card mechanic who is blind, and the wide range of audiences he performs for, that isn’t the case.

Turner, 59, lives in San Antonio and is regarded as one of the best-known card sharks and up-close magicians in the world. He’s performed his astonishing sleights of hand for more than 40 years, and his movie-script-like life story, which goes far beyond his card skills, is the subject of a new feature-length documentary.

Turner’s magic touch, candid humor and sheer performance skills can awe just about anyone, from movie stars and Fortune 500 CEOs to friends, troubled teens and some of the best in the magic and gambling industry. His balance of finesse, control and power with a deck of cards is unbelievable, regardless of his lack of vision.

“Richard can do things with a deck of cards no other person on the planet can do,” said Bruce Samboy, former director of New York’s state division of gambling regulation. “Picking up a deck of cards in front of a guy like that is like going to the driving range with Tiger Woods.”

Turner, who has more than 50,000 decks of cards in his home, began his interest in and cheating at cards at age 7 and has put in more than 135,000 hours of practice, he told the San Antonio Express-News ( ).

“I’m kind of hyperactive - my wife would say that’s putting it mildly - so I have no problem practicing day after day and hour after hour,” Turner said last week. “And the great thing about cards being small is you can practice anywhere and everywhere; standing, talking, walking, riding in the car, in church, shopping … If I’m not practicing, I start shaking.”

He employs hundreds of sleights of hand, unique shuffles and tricks.

For example, a partner can specify how many players and which position he wants for a game of poker and which hand he’d like dealt. Turner can deal the cards, hand the cards over to have another person to shuffle and even keep some of the cards, then deal the original hand his partner wanted.

In another crowd favorite, Turner asks a person to choose a number between 1 and 52, and within a split second, he is able to separate the exact number of cards with a finger and throw them on the table.

“Richard is an extraordinary talent … He actually lives with a deck of cards and can destroy one in just a few hours,” said Steve Forte, one of the most respected sleight of hand artists in the world, as well as a leading gaming protection researcher and consultant. “Just like in any other field, you meet people that are crème de la crème … I’ve met the best artists from across the world, and I’m talking about the very best card guys on the planet, and there is nobody like Richard.”

Although Turner is blind, most people who see him perform do not know because it is not discussed and he learned through theater classes how to appear as if he is looking directly at someone when speaking based on sound.

Turner contracted a retina degeneration disease when he was 9, and his sight quickly diminished.

“One day I could see the chalkboard, the next day I couldn’t,” said Turner, who retained blurry peripheral vision for a few years but eventually lost all sense of sight. “I can see the same thing with my eyes closed as I can when they’re open.”

In his late teens, Turner began using drugs and, as he describes it, heading down a dangerous path “mostly because I was feeling sorry for myself” because of losing his sight.

Turner was pulled out of the downward spiral by a karate teacher and a church, and after a few years, he got hooked up with Dai Vernon, who is one of the most well-known and influential magicians in the 20th century.

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