How to Memorize a Deck of Cards Like a Memory Master : Smart Memory Power

How to Memorize a Deck of Cards Like a Memory Master

One of the more impressive feats of memory you can do is to memorize a deck of cards. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to memorize a deck of cards using a simple method.

First of all, let’s take a look at this method in action, courtesy of Dutch TV and memory champion Dominic O’Brien:


Just before I explain more about how to memorize a deck of cards, a quick disclaimer…

It’s going to take you a little while to learn the system you need to be able to remember a full deck. However, once you learn the system behind it, you can use it to memorize loads of other things.

OK, with that said, let’s get on with it!

How to Memorize a Deck of Cards

We’re going to start easy, by remembering just 10 cards and then building up from there. Eventually, we’ll build up to a full deck of 52 cards.

Step One

Create your Memory Palace:

  • Come up with a journey that has 10 stops or points along the way. It’s easiest to start by having the journey in a building that you know well, like your current or childhood home.
  • Run the journey in your head a few times, making sure you stop at each point. See it clearly in your mind before moving on.
  • Make sure that once you leave a room or place on your journey, you don’t revisit it. If you do, it will only confuse you.

You’re going to place an image along each point of the journey that will remind you of each card. The next step will show you how to create those images.

Step Two

For me, this is the really fun part of the process. Incidentally, the more fun you have with this, the easier you’ll find it to remember.

You’re going to use a method of coding the cards into your memory by associating people with them. The people need to be familiar to you, either because they’re known to you personally (friends, family etc) or because they’re famous in some way.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

First of all, you need to learn the suits of the cards and convert them into just their first letter.

Clubs C
Hearts H
Spades S
Diamonds D

Step Three

Next, you need to learn this short sequence which converts the card numbers into letters too. There is no zero in cards, but we’ll be using 0 to represent 10. We’ll deal with the court cards (also known as face cards) in a moment.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

You’ll notice that the first 5 numbers convert into their equivalent letters in the alphabet, as do 7 and 8. However, 6 converts to S because it has a strong S sound at the start of the word ‘Six’. The number 9 converts to N for similar reasons – There are two N’s in the word ‘nine’.

Finally, 0 translates into the letter O, simply because they look the same.

This is known as the Dominic System and it was created by none other than memory master Dominic O’Brien (featured in the video, above).

You can now use these two keys to convert each card into the initials of a person.

how to memorize a deck of cards

The 2 of Spades

For example, the 2 of Spades converts to the initials B.S. which could signify actress Brooke Shields.

Remember the people you picture must be familiar to you and you must be able to picture them clearly in your mind.

If Brooke Shields isn’t familiar to you, come up with someone you know or someone famous that you recognise with those initials. (You could have Ben Stiller, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen or even Bugsey Seigel)

Remember, the first person you think of with those initials is often the one that’s easier to remember, although it’s worth going to Google and typing in:

‘Famous people initials BS’

…And then simply changing the initials for each card. This will speed up the process.

By the end of this section, you should have 52 different people in mind. Now all you need to do is learn them by looking at each card and picturing the associated person by finding their initials.

So, you’ll see the 10 of Clubs, convert it into initials (OC) and you get Oliver Cromwell.

The people you come up with will now always be associated with those cards. You should eventually reach the stage where you see a playing card and immediately see the person that’s associated with them, without needing to find the initials.

Step Four

Now we need to deal with the court cards. These are the Jack, Queen and King of each suit.

In his excellent book ‘How to Develop a Brilliant Memory‘, Dominic O’Brien says that you need to form characters for each card, which he bases on the suits.

how to memorize a deck of cards

The King of Clubs

He makes the clubs aggressive or sporty, the hearts romantic (like the romantic leads in movies), the diamonds become wealth or actual diamonds and the spades are bad guys because they ‘resemble inverted hearts’.

The characters you choose are up to you, but if they’re doing an activity, it will help you remember them.

To give you a strong example from Dominic’s book, he makes the King of Clubs (aggressive) into the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

As always, choose associations that make sense to you.

Step Five

Now it’s just a question of seeing those people you’ve imagined in Steps 2 and 3 along the journey that you’ve created.

  • We’re starting with just 10 cards, so get a deck of cards and deal off 10 cards.
  • Shuffle the cards, then turn them over one by one. As you do, work out the initials, then see the person.
  • Once you have the person in mind, place them at the right point along the journey. So if Adolf Hitler is the 4th card (Ace of Hearts!) then place him at the fourth point along your journey.

Testing Your Recall

Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a familiar journey with 10 clear stops and 10 clear people at each of those stops.

Before you try and recite them, do a quick review and make sure that you can see each person along the route.

Now it’s time to see if you’ve really learned how to memorize a deck of cards! Turn the cards over (retaining their order) and deal them one at a time, saying the card that you see in your mind before you turn it over.

How did you do?

Scaling Up to a Full Deck

If you got all 10, then congratulations, it’s time to move on to 20 cards. If you crack that, move on to 30 until eventually you reach 52 cards.

Obviously, as you increase the number of cards, you’ll need to increase the number of stops on your journey. Eventually you’ll have a journey of 52 stops or places, and 52 people to go along with it.

You could eventually memorize several decks of cards by having a number of 52-stop journeys.

There are also ways to increase the number of people you remember in a journey, but I’ll save those for another time when I write more about the Dominic System.

For now, go and get yourself a deck of cards, and start assigning people to the cards. You’ll have them remembered in no time!

So, how did I do? Have you learned how to memorize a deck of cards? How far did you get on your first attempt? Let me know in the comments section below and make sure you share this post on Facebook and Twitter.

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Category: Memory Exercises

About the Author ()

I'm James Gladwell, chief contributor and editor of I'm fascinated by the human mind and I set this site up in order to help people increase their memory power, while I learned how to improve mine. Feel free to leave a comment on the site and let me know how you think I can make the site better.

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  1. The Journey Method in Action Around Your Home - : Smart Memory Power | 6 October, 2012
  1. Kirk says:


    I’ve just done this and it worked a treat! It took me about 3 or 4 sessions over the course of 24 hours but I just managed to memorise 52 cards. Thanks a lot for this info. My goal now is to make my memorising quicker and longer lasting.

  2. Eek van Mechelen says:

    Very approachable guide. I’m building my own as was able to get to a full deck in 84 seconds. How can I reach you? I’d be interested in getting your thoughts on my approach and tactics.

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