Opening Moves

The term gambit typically means an opening move in chess by which the player sacrifices something of minor importance in order to gain a positional advantage later in the game. But its more general usage describes a remark that is intended to start a conversation. Professional tarot readers (at least those who meet face-to-face with their clients) are usually under a time constraint imposed by the defined length of the reading session, so it isn’t wise to spend  a lot of precious time on introductory chit-chat. While we want to come across as affable and welcoming, we often have to shoehorn our on-topic remarks into what inevitably seems like too brief a brief span and we must constantly seek ways to sharpen our initial approach.

My favorite gambit when starting a session is to ask whether my sitters have had previous tarot readings. Hearing “yes,” I will spend considerably less time in laying the groundwork for the forthcoming dialogue. They will usually know what to expect, although my personal style is markedly different from what the average sitter is used to. Where I diverge, I will explain myself as I go along to avoid having to backtrack into question-and-answer mode.

Some of our cherished techniques (for example, the established convention for cutting the deck “with your left hand to your left”) amount to inconsequential flourishes that I consider window-dressing. I like to describe them as aspects of the “theater of tarot” that are part of the performance art of reading but that don’t add much of value to the results. My main objective is always to head off time-consuming forays into why we do things the way we do. My secondary goal is to engage my sitters in the process to the extent possible in order to maximize their ownership of the outcome, so I will prompt them in executing their part of the script. This may take a minute or two but pays off handsomely in improving their grasp of the unfolding narrative and shaving some time off the presentation. The more they participate, the greater the likelihood that they will take my observations to heart. Since – at least in my own practice – the purpose of a reading is to send the client away with the insight to chart their future course of action, anything I can do to optimize uptake of the message in the cards is time well spent.

There are probably as many variations in the conduct of the opening gambit as there are professional readers, but the common denominator is to walk a fine line between offering too much hand-holding and too little. In the first case the formal reading can become a breathless rush to the finish line as the clock ticks down, while in the second the sitter may walk away dissatisfied with the depth of the analysis. In my own case, I’ve decided not to accept any more 15-minute reading assignments, and 20 minutes is even stretching it a bit if I’m going to deliver full value to my sitters.

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