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Lay Query on Learning Repetitive Tasks

Robin Allen rwa at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Thu Jan 20 08:18:56 EST 2000

Hello all. I have a somewhat odd request for info, and I'd be
grateful for any input! This post represents a brief intrusion
of alt.magic into the bionet groups - a rare occurrence, I 

For many years I've had an interest in sleight-of-hand with
cards, and I've often wondered about the optimal way to practise
various moves. Typically, such moves involve very repetitive
tasks. To take an example you've probably heard of, consider bottom
dealing; this is the act of taking a card from the bottom of the
deck while pretending to deal it from the top. Mastering this
move requires learning to grip the deck correctly and then
coordinating a number of finger actions: a slight loosening of
the lower card with the middle phalanxes of the hand holding the
deck, and a relaxing of the grip to allow the bottom card to be taken
by the right fingers (if right-handed); in parallel with the left
thumb pushing the top card of the deck over to the side
(mimicking the push off a fair deal) and then whipping it back
flush with the deck as the bottom card is taken. This move
usually takes quite a lot of time to do well. I do it well,
after years of sitting down and dealing cards over and over and
over again. A mirror provides feedback, enabling technique to be
corrected and finessed.

Another move might be the "riffle stack". Here, a card cheat
sets up a good hand for himself or another/others while
shuffling the deck on the table. Crudely put, competence in this
move requires the shuffler to learn how to hold back a certain
number of cards with the left thumb during the shuffle (anywhere 
up to ten, say); such a bunch of cards would be dropped between 
the cards to be stacked to set up the hand. It's hard enough
to do if you allow yourself to look at the cards as you
shuffle (i.e. to see if you're holding back the right amount -
a skill in itself, when it has to be done rapidly), but experts 
can do it entirely by touch. It takes many, many years to get 
*that* good.

Such skills, it strikes me, must be pretty complex at the
neurological level, and my query pertains to (1) what sorts
of neurological processes are at work in learning them, and 
(2) how best to train the body to develop them. I realise that 
(1) is a pretty stiff question to ask! Can anyone point me in 
the direction of some good layman's references on how such 
repetitive tasks are (best) learned? Is a little practice taken 
frequently best, or a long practice session taken occasionally? 
Does anyone know of any studies into the acquisition of
such skills? 

FWIW my background is in physics, latterly computing, so I'm not
put off by science or its literature; I'm just no neurologist...

I'd be most grateful for any pointers, even if they're only to
another, more appropriate newsgroup!


Robin Allen.

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