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PlayingCardSystems

Memorizing Playing Cards

Playing cards, as used in this article, will refer to a standard deck of 52 cards (without jokers or advertising cards) consisting of 13 values (Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King), which are repeated in the deck in each of the 4 suits (clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds).

The more abstract something is, the more difficult it can be to memorize. Playing cards, being a mixture of abstract numbers, colors and symbols have a reputation for being especially difficult to remember. With proper memory training, even playing cards can be memorized.

Memorizing Color Order

This method, developed by, was developed as an easy way to remember the order of the colors (red and black) in a shuffled deck.

In this technique, the cards are first mentally divided into groups of three. In any group of three cards, there can only be eight different combinations of colors (in the following lists, B will refer to black, and R will refer to red): BBB, BBR, BRB, RBB, BRR, RBR, RRB, and RRR.

Next, each group is given a name, describing the location of the red cards in the group. Only the red cards are considered because if a card isn't red, it must, by definition, be black. Here are the names given to each combination of each grouping:

BBB - None (no red cards)
BBR - Top (when spread to the right, only the top card is red)
BRB - Middle (only the middle card is red)
RBB - Bottom (when spread to the right, only the bottom card is red)
RBR - Outer (the two outer cards are red)
BRR - Upper (when spread to the right, the uppermost two cards are red)
RRB - Lower (when spread to the right, the lower two cards are red)
RRR - All (all 3 cards are red)

To simplify things even further, each of these arrangements can be referred to by their first letters: N, T, M, B, O, U, L and A. Remembering a single letter will give you the color order of 3 cards.

To remember more than three cards with this system, you can simply remember a group of 3, 4 or 5 letters in order to recall 9, 12 or 15 cards, respectively. Let's say you shuffle the deck, and the top 12 cards come out in the following order:

RBBBRRBBBBBR

As you spread the cards to examine them, you first mentally break them into groups of three:

RBB BRR BBB BBR

Then, you go through and assign the appropriate letter to each group:

RBB - B
BRR - U
BBB - N
BBR - T

Now all you do is remember the word "BUNT", and you can easily recall the color order of the first 12 cards in the deck!

Getting existing words with this system does happen, but unfortunately, most of the time you won't get a proper word with this system. You might have to memorize a sequence like NMAU or TTLN. If this happens, you're free to insert extra i's and e's into the "words", as they have no meaning in this system. NMAU could become NIMAU (which you can thing of as the name of an imaginary country), and TTLN becomes TITELINE.

To recall an entire deck, simply create "words" of 3, 4 or 5 letters as described above, and then use the Link System to link those words together. With a short list of just a few 3 or 4 letter words, you'll be able to memorize the entire deck's color order faster than you would otherwise think possible.

Besides using this system to remember the order of playing card colors, it can be adapted for use with any type of information that always has just 1 of 2 qualities. You can use this system to remember the order of odd and even cards, high and low cards, or even face-up and face-down cards (or coins!). A little imagination will yield an amazing array of possibilities with this simple technique.

A similar technique is also described in BinaryNumbersSystem.

Memorizing Specific Cards

Moving from the general to the specific, we now turn to memorizing specific playing cards. Each card is described by a particular suit and value. Somehow, these cards must be given a memorable image that will distinguish them from each other, and make them easier to picture and memorize. Regardless of the particular methods and mental images chosen, practice is important to keep each image related to its card.

Major System Playing Card Mnemonics

The classic approach to memorizing specific playing cards is to use a modified Major System approach.

There are numerous minor variations to this systems, but the most common ones use the first letter of the suit, followed by the number of the card, for example C2 for the 2 of clubs. In this example, the 2 is coverted into its phonetic equivalent (N), and then a word is made (CAN). From then on, whenever you picture a can, when dealing with playing cards, you'll know it refers to the 2 of clubs.

This works well when dealing with only the numbers, but problems develop when applying this to the four cards denoted by letters (Ace, King, Queen and Jack). Besides having similar crossover sounds, we're also dealing with vowels, as well. COOK could be a mnemonic for either the 7 of clubs, or the king of clubs. To remember the ace of clubs by the above means, your options are limited to something like CA, which is difficult to picture.

To deal with the ace problem, aces are usually considered to be 1s. This gives them a T or D sound that is easier to make words with. Instead of CA, the ace of clubs can be remembered as CAT.

The problem of similar sounds with the court cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings) can be solved by taking a different approach with them. With kings and queens, you can solve the problem by using words that rhyme with king or queen, such as SING for the king of spades or DEAN for the queen of diamonds (and, as you'll see, sometimes a little fudging is needed here). You can't use the rhyming method with Jacks, because the sound for 7s is K, and you may already have words such as SACK for the 7 of spades. One simple solution to this is to use the suit name itself for the jacks. A mental image of a CLUB would substitute for the jack of clubs, SPADE for the jack of spades, and so on.

While 10s can be represented with a TS sound, but many systems simply represent it as an S sound, as if it was a zero.

A full potential chart of images for each playing card might look something like this:

Clubs Hearts Spades Diamonds
Ace cat hat soot date
2 can hen sun den
3 comb ham sam dome
4 car hair sewer door
5 coal hell soil dial
6 cash hash sash dish
7 cook hook sock duck
8 cave hive safe dove
9 cape hip spa debbie
10 case house sis dice
Jackclub heart spade diamond
Queencreamqueen steam dream
King king hinge sing drink

Dominic System Playing Card Mnemonics

The Dominic System can also be used for playing cards. If you've developed your list of people and actions for the Dominic system, then you already have images for the ace through 10 of every suit. Simply use your images for each of the cards as follows:

|| Clubs | Hearts | Spades | Diamonds |
Ace (1) AC AH AS AD
2 BC BH BS BD
3 CC CH CS CD
4 DC DH DS DD
5 EC EH ES ED
6 SC SH SS SD
7 GC GH GS GD
8 HC HH HS HD
9 NC NH NS ND
10 OC OH OS OD

Because the Dominic system uses people, you have a multitude of choices for the jacks, queens and kings. Each of the kings could be represented by men who are at the top of a field suggested by the suit. For the king of clubs, you might choose your favorite comedy club performer, for example. The same could be done with queens, and top women in the respective fields, like a successful model for the queen of hearts. For jacks, I suggest using children who have achieved success in a given area. Don't forget, of course, that for each person you choose, you should also choose an appropriate action for that person.

Bob Farmer Playing Card Mnemonics

Bob Farmer first published this system in the January 1999 issue of MAGIC magazine, in an article entitled "Tuesday Night with Ahab, Einstein, and the Queen of Halloween". The advantage of the Farmer system is that fewer mental steps are required between the card and the image.

With the Major and Dominic systems are used for memorizing playing cards, there are several intervening steps before you can even get to playing cards. Before you can develop images for the cards, you must know how to apply each number to a letter or sound, and then you must learn how to combine them. The Farmer system circumvents this prior learning by using images that sound as close as possible to the original card. There are no hard and fast rules to the Farmer system, except that each image should be chosen so as to relate to only one particular card. Here are the Bob Farmer card mnemonics:

Clubs Hearts Spades Diamonds
Ace ACE AHAB ASTROLOGER ADAM
2 TOUCAN TOGETHER TOMBSTONE TUESDAY
3 THROWBACK THOUGHT THURSTON THURSDAY
4 FORK FOREHEAD FORCE FORD
5 FIX FIGHT FIST FIEND
6 SIX SIGHT SIS SID
7 SEACOAST SEAHORSE SEASHELL SEADOG
8 ECHO EIGHT EINSTEIN EDDY
9 NARC NIGHT NOSE NED
10 TENTACLE TENDERHEART TENNIS TENDON
Jack JACK JAYHAWK JAZZ JADE
QueenQUAKER QUEEN OF HALLOWEEN QUASAR QUAD
King KEYCARD KEYHOLE KOSMO KODAK

Note that not every card easily generated a word. Unlike the Major System, extra consonants and vowels often have to be thrown in to make a legitimate word. The three of clubs keyword, for example, does employ the "THR" sound to suggest 3, and does use a hard "K" for clubs, but it still comes out as "THRowbaCK?". Also notice that "ACe" doesn't use a hard"K" sound, but still easily suggests the ace of clubs. Due to the similar initial sounds of 6 and 7 (both start with an "S" sound), all the sevens are given a word beginning with "SEA" in order to separate them from the other "S" words used for 6.

Recalling Cards

If you have pegged the cards to key symbols, it's easy to tell if you've seen a card before or not!

When you see a card, "destroy it."

Suppose you were going by the Farmer system. You see the Nine of Hearts, which is pegged to "Night." Now you need to "destroy" the night. So, you imagine a sun in the middle of the night, burning away all the darkness.

Suppose later you ever wonder, "Have I seen the nine of hearts?" You think about the night, and get a flash of the sun burning away the night. Yes: you've seen it.

Remembering Locations

In some card feats, you may need to know the order or the exact location, as well as the name of a particular card. There are several ways to do this. For a strict list of which card is where, you'll probably want to use a peg system. For a relative list of simply which card comes after which card, you would probably prefer a journey system.

Peg Systems

With the major system, you can quickly link each numbered peg to each card image. If you see the 4C come up first, you would link your image for 4C to your image for 1 (say, "tie").

Similarly, with the Dominic, if you were to see the 9D come up as, say, the 10th card, you would link your image for 9D to your image for 10 (whoever "AO" is in your system).

Journeys

An alternative method to using the major system as pegs is to use a journey (locus). A sequence of 52 familiar locations is memorized - such as a walk around your house - and one image is placed in each location. An advantage of this is that you can easily create more journeys to memorize more cards.

Memorizers who compete for world record performances in memorizing cards generally use the journey system. The best memorizers usually memorize two or three cards in each location.

Further Resources

See PlayingCardFeats for uses of these techniques...