Magician Brian Brushwood Out-Thinks Chess Champs

Woman Hiding Chess Piece for MagicianMagician and television star Brian Brushwood filmed a segment for his very cool “Scam School” series at Stanford’s Chess Club last Friday night.

The fact that the club was packed with players is either a testament to Mr. Brushwood’s fame or because most of us hard core chess players do not have other pressing social engagements on a typical Friday evening.  It is probably a combination of both factors. 

Mr. Brushwood started his presentation with a challenge to the assembled players; it was a puzzle. 

The puzzle was this: place eight queens on a standard eight-by-eight chessboard such that no queen is able to attack another.

By saying this is a classic chess puzzle, we do not mean to imply that it is easy.  We have seen the answer and still cannot replicate it. 

Mr. Brushwood filmed the students in their respective piques of frustration for his very popular internet series, “Scam School.”  We want to enjoy the series but have significant reservations about Mr. Brushwood’s exposure of substantive effects.  Unfortunately, his time with Stanford’s chess club exemplified his disregard for one magic’s most important doctrines. 

Mr. Brushwood demonstrated his powers of mental telepathy after claiming he and a chess club member had been “’struck by radioactive lightning’ and gained the miraculous ability to read each other’s minds.”

The trick is a standard but it clearly got the imagination of the reporter covering the event.

While his co-conspirator looked away with his ears plugged, another chess player selected a piece and placed it into Brushwood’s mug. Brushwood slammed
the mug onto the chessboard and told his accomplice to turn around and take a guess. “White rook!” his accomplice said to the stunned disbelief of the other club members.

Mr. Brushwood confesses an “intense interest in chess”  that surfaced whilst in college himself.  He believes chess players may have an advantage over non-chess playing magicians.

A magician maps out these probabilities and possible audience reactions in the same way that a chess player maps out moves. According to Brushwood, having a chess player’s intuition aids him in his performance. It allows Brushwood himself to “begin acts without having any idea how [he’ll] be
proceeding,” because he has enough tricks up his sleeve for every move and outcome.

He justifies his blatant exposure of magic’s secrets saying, “

“When I first started out with magic, it was hard to find tricks,” Brushwood said. The shortage of magic tricks motivated Brushwood to spread his own knowledge. This “open source” approach to magic can capture an audience as much as a well-executed act, Brushwood argued.”


If Mr. Brushwood was exposing effects also available in Boy’s Life or Bill Severn books found in most children’s libraries, we could at least consider the position tenable.  But the effects he performs and teaches are more sophisticated and invented for working magicians.  We might be tempted to excuse his victim-based apologetics if he exposed only tricks he invented.  Even then, if his trick used a sleight or technique used in other effects, it should not be exposed.

The article notes Mr. Brushwood taught the chess club members a “classic ploy: a con man walks into a chess club and demands 10 simultaneous matches with the club’s 10 best players, knowing that he will win or draw in at least half of the games.”

We are familiar with the effect but never thought of it as a “classic ploy.”  In fact, its secret has been pretty well hidden from public knowledge.  Derren Brown performed the feat a few years back on one of his television shows.  We do not know where Mr. Brown obtained the method but imagine he would not have been happy to have the secret taught by Mr. Brushwood.

Read the full article in The Stanford Daily here.

Mr. Brushwood’s web site and streaming video show, Scam School can be found here.

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