The “27 Card Trick” explained step by step (chart included)

The “27 card trick” is a self-working math card trick that makes a spectator’s card appear at a randomly chosen number in the deck. I’ll explain exactly how the trick works and show you the easiest method if you want to perform it yourself.

How does the “27 Card Trick” work?

The spectator can choose any card at random and shuffle the deck immediately after. You ask him for his favorite number between 1 and 27, create three piles a few times and the chosen card will be at the appropriate position in the deck.

I’ll explain this trick as easily as possible, and I’ve included a chart that will help you when learning the math of this trick.

Quick note: this is an advanced version of the “21 Card Trick“.

Let’s dive in.

The 27 card trick explained: How it works

This trick is based on math and therefore requires no sleight of hand, secret card counting, or any other sneaky moves.

Before I start with the explanation, I just want to point out that there is a simpler version of this trick. It’s called the “21 Card Trick” and is based on the same principle, but it’s significantly easier to perform. It might be a good idea to check it out before learning the advanced version.

I created a tutorial for “21 Card Trick” or the “Three Pile Card Trick”, you can find my post about this trick by clicking this link.

But with the “27 Card Trick”, the ending is way better because the spectator can choose a random number, and you will put his card in this position in the deck.

This trick was developed by the Mathematician Matt Parker who made this video, showcasing and explaining the entire card trick. But to be honest: he does a really good job explaining how it works, but it can be quite confusing if there is too much math at once.

After watching some videos about the trick, this is the one I liked the most:

27 Not 21 BRILLIANT Card Trick Tutorial

One thing I have to point out before I start with my tutorial: the math for this trick is not as hard as it seems! Don’t give up if you don’t get it immediately, it will be worth your time, trust me.

With that being said, let’s get started.

My tutorial for the 27 card trick (step by step)

All you need for the trick are 27 different cards, it doesn’t matter how they look, they just have to be different. When learning the method, always make sure to count your cards correctly, it will only work with exactly 27 cards.

You don’t need any preparation, you can really just count 27 cards from a deck and you are good to go.

When selecting the spectator’s card, you don’t have to do anything. You can hand him the deck over, ask him to think of any card he likes and that’s it. The deck can be shuffled anytime, you will still be able to find the chosen card.

The other thing you’ll need is a number between 1 and 27, which can be selected by the spectator. It’s a free choice, so just ask him to pick anyone he likes and you can get started with the trick.

To sum things up:

The spectator has chosen a card and a random number, and you will place the card in this exact position in the deck. Without evening knowing the card.

Here’s how you do it.

Spreading the cards and creating the piles

When your spectator has selected a card and a number, you have to create three piles with the cards facing up. I’d recommend you to spread to cards a little bit so it’s easier to see them all.

This is how I do it:

Three piles done
Please note: There should be 9 cards per pile, this is just a photo from another card trick to show you how to spread the cards

Once you are done, ask the spectator to show you the pile that has his chosen card in it (only the pile, not the card itself!).

Next, you put the three piles back together and repeat this two more times (create the three piles, ask the spectator to show the pile with his card, and put them back together).

The way you put the piles together defines the final position of the spectator’s card in the deck. You can control his card to any position in the deck.

If this part is too fast for you, watch the video above or read my post about the easier version (the 21 card trick) by clicking this link. Once you know how to do the simple version, it’ll be a lot easier to understand this trick.

But let’s get to the interesting part now: how can you control the card to the right position in the deck?

Controlling the spectator’s card to the right position (his chosen number)

The spectator has chosen a number in the beginning, and you will control his card to this exact position in the deck.

You achieve this by putting the pile with his card in the right spot three times.

We’ll only focus on the pile with the spectator’s card, I’ll call it the “main pile” from now on. The other ones don’t matter at all. There are three options when putting the piles together, the main pile can be

  • at the top (T)
  • in the middle (M)
  • or at the bottom (B).

The only thing you have to do when performing this trick is putting the main pile in the right position three times, and it will work. Every single time.

However, you have to know where to put the main pile as soon as the spectator calls out his number. I’ve created a table down below with all the possible positions and where you have to put the main pile, but don’t worry – you can calculate it in a few steps as well.

Explaining the calculations – where to put the piles

To make this trick work, you only have to put the main pile with the spectator’s card in the right position three times. Everything else will work because of math, so just make sure to get this part right!

Quick tip
It looks a little complicated when you read the explanation for the first time, but you'll get there, trust me. When I first saw how to do the trick, I was confused and was convinced that I will never be able to perform the illusion, but turns out I was wrong. So take some time to learn it! 

Now, as I already mentioned, there are only three ways of putting the piles together. The main pile can be on top of the other ones (T), between them in the middle (M), and below both of them (B).

You deal the cards onto the table three times, so you have to put them back together three times as well. This means you have to calculate three positions to make the trick work.

The only reason why you do the math is to know where to put the main pile. Every number from 1 – 27 has its own “combination”, e.g. top, top, and bottom, which means you put the main pile on top two times, and below the other ones for the third time.

You can either understand how to calculate it or just memorize all the 27 different possibilities (which is pretty challenging, to be honest).

So here’s the easiest way to do it (in my opinion):

First of all, this trick is based on math. The number 27 equals 3 x 9, which is 3 x 3 x 3. That’s why you create three piles, by the way. But I don’t want to bother you with math, I’ll just tell you what to do.

The math might look complicated at a first glance, but trust me, it’s worth it once you can perform the trick.

You just have to check how often the numbers 9 and 3 “fit” in the spectator’s number. I know it sounds weird, so let me just show you an example.

First example: number 24

Let’s take the number 24. First of all, subtract 1, leaving you with 23, this will be the number you use for the calculations.

The 9 fits in there two times (2 x 9 = 18), leaving a remainder of 4 (22 – 18 = 4). Now, you check how often you can fit the three in this remainder, which is one time, and calculate the remainder again, which is 1 (4 – 3 = 1). This will now give you three numbers.

The first number is 2 (the 9 fits in 22 two times), the second one is 1 (the 3 fits in the 4 one time), and we are left with the final number 1 (the final remainder).

  • First number: 2
  • Second number: 1
  • Third number: 1

This will give you the “code” 2 – 1 – 1. To know where to put the piles, you have to first reverse the order of the code, resulting in 1 – 1- 2. Next, you only have to translate the numbers into positions.

  • 0 = top
  • 1 = middle
  • 2 = bottom

This means, for the code 1 – 1 – 2, you have to do middle – middle – bottom when putting the piles together.

Second example: number 15

Another example: number 15. Before you do anything else, subtract 1, so you start with 14.

First, you check how often you can fit the nine in there, which is one time, so the first number is 1 (14 – 9 = 5).

Second, take the remainder and check how often the number three fits in there, which is one time as well, the second number is 1 (5 – 3 = 2).

The third number is the remainder of the second calculation, which is 2.

This means your code is 1 – 1 – 2. Reverse it, and you are left with 2 – 1 – 1. Now, translate it to get the right positions: bottom – middle – middle.

One last example: the number 4

Let’s do one last example, the number 4. Again, subtract 1 to get the number you use for the calculations: 4 – 1 = 3.

First, check how often the nine fits in there. Nine is larger than three, so it doesn’t fit in there, leaving you with the first number being 0. (3 < 9).

Second, use the remainder (which is the number itself in this case) and check how often the number three fits in there, which is one time (3 – 3 = 0).

The final remainder is your third number, which is 0.

So, your code is 0 – 1 – 0. Reverse it (it doesn’t make a difference for this one, but you have to do it for other codes): 0 – 1 – 0. Translate it, and you’ll get top – middle – top.

Here’s a table with how to translate the numbers into positions:

The number of the codeThe equivalent position
0Top (T)
1 Middle (M)
2Bottom (B)

You can try it yourself and few times with other numbers and check if you are right with the table at the end of this post.

If your calculations don’t work, make sure that you don’t forget to subtract one and reverse the code before translating it!

Check the examples I’ve listed above one more time if you still can’t find your mistake.

By the way, there’s another way to get the positions, you can watch the video above to see it. But I liked this version the best because it’s the easiest (in my opinion) and you don’t have to do any complex calculations.

Complete chart: How to put the three piles together (all numbers from 1 – 27)

Here’s an overview of how to put the piles together.

Each position from 1 – 27 has its unique combination.

Final position of the cardWhere to put the main pile
Position 1Top Top Top
Position 2Middle Top Top
Position 3 Bottom Top Top
Position 4 Top Middle Top
Position 5 Middle Middle Top
Position 6Bottom Middle Top
Position 7Top Bottom Top
Position 8Middle Bottom Top
Position 9Bottom Bottom Top
Position 10Top Top Middle
Position 11Middle Top Middle
Position 12Bottom Top Middle
Position 13Top Middle Middle
Position 14Middle Middle Middle
Position 15Bottom Middle Middle
Position 16 Top Bottom Middle
Position 17 Middle Bottom Middle
Position 18 Bottom Bottom Middle
Position 19 Top Top Bottom
Position 20 Middle Top Bottom
Position 21 Bottom Top Bottom
Position 22 Top Middle Bottom
Position 23 Middle Middle Bottom
Position 24Bottom Middle Bottom
Position 25 Top Bottom Bottom
Position 26 Middle Bottom Bottom
Position 27 Bottom Bottom Bottom
Credit for the table to Mismag822 (video linked above)

If you don’t like counting cards or doing math, don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of other (card) tricks on this website.

You can check out the “Snap Change” to visually change a card in less than one second, or take a look at the easiest mind-reading card trick I’ve learned since I started with magic.

Image source (header image):