How to Memorize a Deck of Cards – 4 Different Ways

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How to memorize a deck of cards
How to memorize a deck of cards – 4 different ways

Have you ever wondered how some people can memorize a whole deck of cards? Or have you seen someone memorize an entire deck in a couple of minutes or less and were super impressed? Maybe you would like to learn Mnemonica Stack or another card stack for card magic tricks?

Well, I’ll show you my method for memorizing a deck of cards and how I’ve been able to accomplish this feat. Let’s begin!

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Is There a Secret to Memorizing Cards?

So yes, there are methods that will allow you to memorize cards (or really anything) at a much better and faster rate. If you just try to memorize cards by flipping through them and trying to remember them, you will probably not get very far.

The way I first learned to memorize cards and also to just improve my memory as a whole, was when I read Harry Lorayne’s How to Develop a Super Power Memory book.

I cannot completely remember (haha!) but I think I may have heard of Harry Lorayne’s memorization work from another magician named Sal Piacente, whom I was discovered around this time. Sal was an expert with a deck of cards and was famous for doing gambling demonstrations and feats of deck stacking. But, I saw a lecture in which Sal did an entire show that was nothing but memory work. And it was impressive!

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He discussed how he gets just as much attention and applause from his memory work as magicians get for their magic tricks. And it truly looked like real magic. He had actually become obsessed with studying the real-life Rain Man. And in his performance, he looked like a real-life Rain Man.

When I read Harry’s book I wasn’t trying to learn to memorize a deck of cards from the book. I was just interested in improving my memory. And the book made some pretty interesting claims. Some people also said it helped with school or that his book changed their lives.

I was also interested in Mnemonica and memorized deck magic at the time. When I got to the section on card memorization, I became pretty interested.

After reading his method and practicing it for a while, I got to the point where I could memorize half a deck, and then a full deck!

But just know, that even though there is a method to memorize a deck of cards, it is not instant, and you still have to put work in to develop the ability.

Developing an Image for Each Card

So the first trick in memorizing a deck of cards is to associate a word or image with each card of the deck.

Why do you need to do this?  Because this will allow you to create a visual story in your mind, which is much easier to remember than card numbers and suits.

So, for let’s say, the 2 of Hearts, in the system that I used from Harry Lorayne, I connected the 2 of Hearts to the word, ‘hen’.  So for me, the 2 of Hearts brings up the image of a hen or chicken.

But, here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be a hen.  It could be anything that you want.  The important thing is that for each and every card you have a different object in your memory, connected to that card.

The Major System

In Harry Lorayne’s system, he took what is called the Major System, in which every number is connected to a sound.  It looks like this:

  • 0 = s, x, z
  • 1 = t,d
  • 2 = n
  • 3 = m
  • 4 = r
  • 5 = l
  • 6 = sh, ch, j, soft g
  • 7 = c, k, hard g, q
  • 8 = f, v
  • 9 = p, b

So the first step is that you have to memorize all of these sounds for each letter.  Once you do that, you can move on to the next step.

Here’s a video from a memory specialist who is very good at memorizing cards.  He breaks down the Major System for you here, if you want a deeper look.

In the next step, Harry devised a system in which he uses the Major System in order to create a word for each card in the deck.  Basically, he took the first letter for each suit, which is either H for Hearts, D for Diamonds, S for Spades, C for Clubs.  (After this I will show you another method, this is just the one that Harry used and that I learned.)

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He would use that letter as the first letter of the new word, and the second letter of the new word would be whatever is the sound or letter that is connected to the numbers as shown above.  It sounds a little confusing, but basically, here is an example.

So for the 2 of Hearts, to create a new word to connect to this card, we would use the H from Hearts as the first letter.  For the second letter, we would use the sound or letter that is connected to the number 2.  From the list above, we see that is the letter ‘N’.

So we have the first letter as ‘H’ and the second letter as ‘N’.  We now need to create a word using these two consonants.  We can basically use whatever vowel we might like between the letters in order to form a word.  So we add the vowel ‘E’ in between these letters because it works to create an actual word, and now we have the word ‘Hen’.  You could also make the word ‘Honey’ if you wanted since that adds the vowel ‘O’ between the consonants and the vowel ‘Y’ at the end.  It’s really up to you.

For the 3 of Hearts, I have the word ‘Ham’ memorized.  That’s because you will take the first letter of the suit, which is ‘H’, and then for the second letter, we will use the 3 and the sound connected to that.  In this case, the letter is ‘M’ that is connected to the number 3.  So we have ‘H’ as the first letter and ‘M’ as the second letter.  Now we just need to find any vowel to go between these letters.  In this case, ‘A’ works because it will give us the word ‘Ham’. 

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You could also form the word ‘Hum’ by using a ‘U’ instead of an ‘A’, but that word would be harder to visualize so it isn’t an actual object.  It’s best to use actual objects as our words.

There is also another method to associate a word with each card.

Second Method for Card to Word Association

There is another method to associate a word with each card.  I’ll include a video of this method as well.

It is very similar but slightly different.  Instead of memorizing a word for each card, you will memorize a person.  It also uses the Major System for all the number cards (so it’s important to learn).  But, instead of using the first letter of each suit, it uses the suits as categories.

Basically, the suits are grouped into categories.  The categories are Hearts for your family members, Diamonds for famous people, Spades can be friends or a wild card category (even cartoon or fictitious characters), and Clubs can represent famous athletes.

Then the Major System is used for each of the number cards.  That will represent the first letter of the person you are trying to picture, based on whichever category you are in, which is based on the suit.

So if you had the 2 of Hearts, the sound connected to the number 2 is the letter ‘N’.  The Hearts suit represents friends or family members.  So then you would try to think of a friend or family member whose name starts with ‘N’, such as Nancy.

The Jacks could use the letter ‘J’, and the Kings can be anyone who is male, and the Queens could be a wildcard for anyone who is female.

Notice that he mentions the POA system when talking, which we will get to later as a method to use, ONCE you start trying to memorize the order of the cards.

Here is another video explaining this system of the card association.

And in this next video, you can discover some further tips on memorizing cards faster.

Memorizing the Order of the Deck of Cards

Now that we have associated a word or person to every card in the deck, and can recall those fairly well, the next step is to learn how to memorize the actual order of the cards from a randomly shuffled deck.

There actually is another trick to this.  There are two different methods.  I will go over the method I learned from Harry Lorayne first.

Visual Story Memorization Method

In the first method, you will create a vivid story in your mind in order to memorize the order of the deck of cards.  Note: You are not memorizing the place number of every card, as you would when learning a memorized deck stack like Mnemonica.  You are instead, just memorizing the order of the cards.  Basically which card comes first, and then what’s the next card after that, and the next card after that, and so on and so on.

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To be honest, it’s been a while since I read Harry’s book, so this may not even be the way that he teaches, I cannot remember.  But this is what I learned to use, so I’ll just teach it here.

What you want to do is start with the first card of the deck, get the object or person you have connected to that card, and then think about the person or object doing something, or just sitting there.  Then look at the second card in the deck.  Think about this next person or object coming into the scene with the first person or object, and doing something very silly, crazy, or visual.  The more visual or crazy it is, the better you will remember this.

For example, let’s say your first word is a mailman, and your second word is a dog.  You could make a visual story in which the story starts with a mailman walking down the street to deliver some mail, and then a dog comes running out of nowhere and jumps on him.

Then look at the next card in the stack.  Let’s say it’s the card that you’ve associated with the word pen.  Now you want to continue this crazy story, by adding a pen into the next sequence of events.  For example, you could have the mailman pull a pen out of his pocket, maybe even a giant pen to make it more visual and memorable, and then have him throw the pen down the road as the dog goes chasing after it.

So continue to do the visual story creation in your mind by going through each card and adding that object into your story next.  Then, when you are ready to recall the order of the cards, you just have to replay the story in your mind.

First, you will see the mailman walking down the road and you will know the first card because it’s whatever card you have connected to a mailman.  Then you will see the dog jumping on the mailman, and you will think of the next card in the order since it will be whatever card you have connected to a dog.  And so on, and so on.

POA Memorization Method

If you watched the previous videos, they talk about the POA method for memorizing the order of the deck of cards.  Here’s how this method works.

POA stands for Person-Object-Action.  So whenever you memorize your card association, you need to add an extra two steps to the process.  Basically, instead of just memorizing a person or object for each card, you will memorize a person, an object, and an action.

So, for the King of Hearts, you might memorize your dad hugging a bear.  Your dad is the person, the action is hugging, and the object is a bear.  Those three items will all be connected to the King of Hearts in your mind.

Then, you will memorize the deck of cards in groups of three cards.  So you will start by looking at the first three cards of the deck.  The first card will be the person, the next will be the object, and the third will be the action.

You will think of the person that is connected to the first card in the group, the object that is connected to the second card in the group, and the action that is connected to the third card in the group.  Then you will create a scene in your mind using that set of person, object, and action.

So if you visualized your Uncle Jack flying on a bear, when you recalled that scene in your mind, you would be able to remember the card connected to your Uncle Jack, the card that is connected to the action of flying, and then the card that is connected to the object that is the bear.  In our example, we know the King of Hearts is connected to the bear, so the third card in the group would be the King of Hearts.

You would then proceed to memorize the entire deck of cards in groups of three cards, using this system.

Memory Palaces

The next method for memorizing the order of every card in a deck is by using what is called, Memory Palaces.  Essentially, you create 52 different locations in your mind, usually ones that you encounter each day.  You then go through each of those locations in sequential order, remembering the card that you connect to that location.

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So, you might have your Memory Palaces follow your daily routine.  So, you wake up in the morning, which means that your bed could be number 1, or the first Memory Palace.  Next, you get out of bed, so your bedroom could be the next Memory Palace.  Then, you go to the bathroom, so your bathroom could be the next Memory Palace.

Basically, you remember this sequence of locations, and this is your Memory Palaces.  Then, when you want to memorize the deck, you remember the first card by connecting it to your first Memory Palace in a vivid story.  So, that would be your bed.

Then, you would connect the second card to your bedroom which is your next Memory Palace.

I don’t prefer this location because for a deck of cards, you have to create 52 Memory Palaces, which to me is a lot, but for some people, they might prefer this method.

Memorizing a Deck of Cards and Each Card Location

If you are trying to learn Mnemonica or Aronson stack for card magic, then you will want to learn the number location of each card in the deck.  This is different than memorizing the order of the cards, as we looked at earlier.

In the previous methods, you can recall which card comes after a certain card, and which card after that.  But, you do not know what number location in the deck the card is at.  That is, you could not tell what the 26th card in the deck is.

For memorized deck magic, you need to be able to know at what number location all of the cards are.  This takes a different method of memorizing a deck of cards.  I go into greater detail about this at How to Learn Mnemonica Stack.

Here are the two methods for doing this.

Mnemonic Peg System

I believe this is the system that Sal also uses, but I could be wrong. This is Harry’s system he teaches, and here is how it works.  It’s called a Peg Memory System or Mnemonic Peg System.

So in order to memorize a list of things, you need to create a word or object that you associate with each number in a list. There are different methods to do this.

Basically, you want to associate the number 1 with a word or object, then the number 2 with another word or object, then the number 3, and so on.

In the case of Harry Lorayne, he uses the Major System to create words for each number.  For example, the number 14 could be represented by the word ‘tree’.

Sal does it a little bit differently.  Instead of the Major System, he will use objects that correspond to that number in his mind.  For example, the number 4 could be associated with a chair, since a chair has four legs.  Whatever you associate with each number is your mind is fine, there are no rules.

If you want to know how to connect these pegs to the cards in a deck, you can read more about it as I go into greater detail in The Mnemonica Stack Guide.

Final Thoughts

We have looked at a couple of different ways to memorize a deck of cards.  It’s important to choose the one that works best for you.  Or, try them all.  Each way is unique, but they all have the same result.

Also, we learned that if you want to memorize the actual location of every card in the deck, you have to do some extra work with a Peg Memory systems

Are there any other ways that you know of?  Or have you tried any of these methods and did you have success?  Let me know and comment down below!

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