“No matter what hand someone’s dealt in life, don’t let anyone tell you. . .you can’t play, or something is impossible,” said world-renowned card manipulator Richard Turner to the MIT and Greater Boston community on February 25. “I would take [the] ‘possible’ out of ‘impossible.’” A crowd of over four hundred gathered in 10-250 that Saturday afternoon to see self-proclaimed card mechanic perform and speak.
Since watching the television western Maverick as a child, Richard has been obsessed with card manipulation. “My dream was to be a card shark,” he explained. “Many times I’ve been asked, ‘Growing up, did you really want to become a card shark? Weren’t you normal like the rest of us who want to be something more respectable like a doctor, lawyer, hamburger flipper? Perhaps the most feared of all—an MIT professor? I didn’t want to be any of those things. . .my most daunting aspiration was to be a card shark.” And so he did.
At the age of nine, Richard lost his eyesight as the result of scarlet fever. But that didn’t deter him from his dream. If anything, it made him practice more. “When I first started losing my sight, I was really mad. But the loss of vision turned out to be a blessing, and one of my greatest assets,” he reflected. “If we defeat adversity with our integrity, we can turn adversity into an asset that leads to prosperity.” Richard then devoted himself to practicing his card skills. He often played for several hours at a time. In fact, for twenty-five years, he would practice for up to twenty hours per day, seven days a week. During this time, he also began to learn martial arts; today, he holds a sixth degree black belt in karate.
Through his years of practice, Richard began to perform at live events, first at smaller venues like restaurants, and later at popular clubs like Los Angeles’ Magic Castle. The independent documentary Dealt—which recently premiered at SXSW—is based on Richard’s life and features him heavily. In recent years, Richard has spent time touring the country as a motivational speaker and performer. It was at one of these performances two years ago that Alan Oppenehim ‘61, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, saw Richard Turner perform at a magic convention in Reno, Nevada, hosted by their mutual friend and fellow magician, Larry Wilson. While that was his first time witnessing Richard’s skills, he decided instantly that he wanted him to bring him to MIT.
Oppenheim knew Richard’s visit would accomplish more than simply wowing students with card tricks. “As we all know, this place is tough,” he said. “I’m hearing stories of how people have had setbacks in their life, and then they accomplished terrific things. I think it’s just a great kind of message.” With that in mind, he set out to bring the world’s greatest—and more inspiring—card mechanic to the Institute. Through collaboration from the Student Activities Office, the event was made possible thanks to funding through the MacVicar Faculty Fellowship program, from which Oppenheim, a fellow, receives $10,000 in funding for academic and co-curricular pursuits. The event was hosted in collaboration with the MIT Poker Club, who expressed admiration and awe for Richard’s skills and story.
“I was blown away by how Richard was able to perform with me sitting right next to him,” said Annie Chen ‘18, co-president. “I looked carefully for any signs of hidden cards or any special technique but saw nothing the entire time.” Cameras were set-up above Richard’s hands for the entire audience to watch every move he made. To the naked eye, there were no noticeable manipulations of the cards—every move looked seamless. The audience erupted in cheers each time Richard correctly picked out a card after it had been reshuffled into the deck, or when he effortlessly controlled a blackjack game.
“Do what you love, and if you are passionate about [it], you don’t have to work at it,” he advised students as he performed. “Find out what you are passionate about, and let that be your guide.”
The audience was in awe over what they were seeing. Richard would even slow things down for the audience to show exactly what techniques he used to manipulate the cards, but even then, his maneuvers were barely noticeable. The performance itself was proof that Richard was good at what he does—adding that to with his inability to see, and his journey to get to where he is now, was even more powerful and thought-provoking for students. “Richard Turner’s story is quite amazing,” said David Zheng ‘18, co-president. “I feel like a lot of MIT students definitely could use that inspiration.”
“We don’t become world class if we are filled with self-doubt,” said Richard. “Rather, if we have a portrait of success firmly embedded in our brain, [then] whatever we set our mind to—despite the naysayers—we still achieve our dreams.”
Written by Isabella Dionne. Video by Stephanie Tran.
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