STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – A German illusionist levitates a table covered with a purple cloth, as fellow magicians scrutinize his every move.

“Even though I know how it works, I just can’t understand how it can work,” mutters a rival. “That’s magic for you.”

Tables floating shoulder-high, cards sailing through the air, rabbits pulled out of hats: every old trick in the book and plenty of new ones are being conjured up as over 2,000 magicians from China to the Virgin Islands take part this week in the World Championship in Magic.

Stakes are high for the 156 top magicians competing in the main event for best illusionist stage show and sleight-of-hand routine: three top finishers are guaranteed contracts for lucrative shows in Las Vegas, Paris and Monaco.

“This is like the Olympics of magic,” said Connecticut magician John Connelly. “If you win (the main event) you’re made. You’ll probably make a million dollars.”

The championship, which started Monday and ends Saturday, is not open to the public – only to magicians registered for the event. It’s held every three years in a different city; winners get a gold medal and a trophy but no cash prize.

Arthur Trace of Chicago is one of the hopefuls to become the next Lance Burton, the celebrated Las Vegas magician who won the event in 1982 when it was staged in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Trace, 26, said he worked four years to perfect the 10-minute routine he performed in the stage competition – a conceptual artist interacting with a painting while balls and cards keep appearing and disappearing in his hands.

“I am both an artist and an athlete,” he said. “Magic is just like a painting. I use it to say what I want.”

For most magicians here, the gathering is just a fun way to share trade secrets, learn new tricks and peddle their magical tools – the vast majority are not competing in the main event.

But the influx of magicians has suddenly turned Stockholm into a conjurers’ capital: Visiting magicians are giving public shows, conducting workshops and performing street acts throughout the city all week.

In the hall, dozens of professionals have also set up booths to display their skills and products. This part of the event is open to the public, and it gives the layman a chance to discover the secrets of famous magic tricks.

Want to know how to shove a bottle cap through the bottom of a bottle? Rey Ben of Argentina is happy to explain it – and sell the device to pull it off.

Israeli Menny Lindenfeld illustrates how to tease a waitress by giving her a credit card with a small hole over the magnetic strip, and then making the hole wander across the card to a different spot. “It is great for talking to girls,” he said.

While peddlers and performers have come from all over the world, many of their tricks are similar. Magic, it turns out, is much the same anywhere you go.

“It is all based on the same secret,” said Dirk Losander, the German levitating illusionist. “It is like there are only seven notes (in music), but you can arrange them in different ways.”

Or according to top Las Vegas magician Jeff McBride: “Magic is an international language … It transcends all the language and cultural barriers.”

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