Remembering a Pack of Cards

I am often asked how is it possible to remember a pack of Playing Cards and so this month I decided to explain how I apply some of the techniques that I have already covered to do just that. The process for remembering streams of numbers is exactly the process to use for remembering a sequence of playing cards. You will recall from the article on the Dominic System for Numbers (March 1999) that it uses images of people performing some sort of action with a particular prop to turn digit pairs (eg 56 , 94 ,82 etc) into something memorable. Well exactly the same process is applied to remembering cards. Before we go on, now is probably a good time to go to that article to refresh your memory (Remembering Numbers).

So how do we use the number system and apply it to cards? Well if we take the first letter of each suit name and give it a number as we did for the Dominic System we get Clubs = C = 3, Diamonds = D = 4, Hearts = H = 8 and Spades = S = 6. So to utilise the number system for cards the three of spades becomes 36 (3 for the card number and 6 for spades) and the six of diamonds becomes 64 (6 for the card number and 4 for diamonds). So if we were to turn all of the number cards into 2 digit numbers (taking Ace = 1 and 10 is represented by 0) we get:

 Clubs (C=3) Diamonds(D=4) Hearts (H=8) Spades (S=6) A = 13 A = 14 A =18 A = 16 2 = 23 2 = 24 2 = 28 2 = 26 3 = 33 3 = 34 3 = 38 3 = 36 4 = 43 4 = 44 4 = 48 4 = 46 5 = 53 5 = 54 5 = 58 5 = 56 6 = 63 6 = 64 6 = 68 6 = 66 7 = 73 7 = 74 7 = 78 7 = 76 8 = 83 8 = 84 8 = 88 8 = 86 9 = 93 9 = 94 9 = 98 9 = 96 10 = 03 10 = 04 10 = 08 10 = 06

And then all that we do is use the images that we have already created for our number system. So where Charlie Sheen and his parachute represented 36 and Sharon Davies and her rubber ring represented 64 now we can use Charlie Sheen for the 3 of Spades and Sharon Davies for the 6 of Diamonds.

But what about the Court Cards (Jack, Queen, King etc) I hear you ask? Well we can either apply the same principle of creating images from the initials created (JC for the Jack of Clubs or KH for the King of Hearts) or we can use members of the Royal Family (I use Prince Charles for the King of Clubs for example). It really does not matter what you do as long as you have a vivid image of a person performing a unique action with a unique prop and that this image is easily triggered when you see the card. The court cards will take a bit more work to generate the images and a bit more practice to convert the card to the relevant image automatically but the effort is worth it.

So having generated an image set for a pack of cards how do we memorise their order? Well now is a good time to review the article that I did on the Journey Technique. In that article I showed you how to generate a 10 stage journey to memorise a list of 10 items. Now this will be insufficient to memorise 52 cards without causing a great deal of confusion so you will need to generate a journey of 26 stages (each stage will contain an image combining two cards). Again this will take a bit of effort but the rewards will be worth it. Before you try and memorise your first pack of cards I would strongly suggest that you practise the generation of your card imagery (both person and prop/action) and journey stages (forwards and backwards) so that it becomes automatic. This will avoid the frustration of using the wrong image or getting lost on your mental journey. It will also mean that you will cut down the time that it will take you to remember the cards.

Before we go onto actually memorising the pack let me summarise what need to do:

1. First of all we need to turn the number cards into images of a person performing an action with a unique prop using the same system that we use for numbers.

2. We then have to generate unique images for the court cards in a similar fashion, either relying on the use of initials or by using members of the Royal Family.

3. Finally we must generate a 26 stage mental journey so that we have somewhere that we can put our mental imagery.

To actually memorise the cards we must use the same technique that we did for the numbers. I have already explained that Charlie Sheen and his parachute represent the 3 of Spades and that Sharon Davies and her Rubber Ring represent the 6 of Spades. When we memorise the pack we link pairs of cards together. So the key to generating our image is the first card of a pair gives us the character and the second card gives us the prop and action.

We link these two images together using the principles of a good memory which are:

1. Synaesthesia/Sensuality
2. Movement
3. Association
4. Humour
5. Imagination
6. Number
7. Symbolism
8. Colour
9. Order and/or sequence
10. Positive images
11. Exaggeration.

So if the first two cards were the 3 of Spades followed by the 6 of Diamonds I would see Charlie Sheen (3 of Spades) swimming with a big rubber ring (6 of Diamonds) around his waist. I would then link that combined image to the first stage of my mental journey. And then for the rest of the pack I would do the same with pairs of cards, linking then together and placing the image at the next location on my mental journey until I had completed the journey and finished the pack. When we recall these strange images we just reverse the process. We mentally walk along our journey and translate the images that we see at each stage into cards. The person that we see gives us the first card and the prop and what he or she is doing with it gives us the second card. That way there is no confusion or doubt about the order of the cards.

As with all of these techniques, explaining it actually makes it sound more complicated than it actually is. On the other hand it will require some work for you to be able to memorise a complete pack of cards but you can do it, it just takes practice.

Editor's Note: See also Michael Tipper's feature article, "An Interview with Dominic O'Brien", May 2002.