How to Memorise Playing Cards – 1

Why learn to memorise playing cards?

Playing cards fanned out

Playing cards offer much more than an amusing pastime. They can be used for endlessly fascinating memory practice.

Learning how to memorise playing cards is a skill you might be really keen to develop … or, er … not. It’s not something that would immediately light everyone’s fire, and you might even view it as a complete waste of time.


It’s actually an amazing way to practise your memory skills, and the reason is that cards are, by their very nature, difficult to memorise, in much the same way as numbers are. They are essentially vague and indistinct (apart from, maybe, the court cards). I’m not saying it’s difficult to remember a poker hand, or any five or six cards you might see, but to be able to memorise a whole stack of cards, perhaps even the entire deck, would normally be well out of the range of most people. What’s needed, therefore, is a system. Something to make the intangible tangible.


Harry Lorayne’s playing card system

Enter Harry Lorayne, the acknowledged master of memory skills, and a master at everything to do with playing cards. The system I’m about to explain is based very closely on his system, as outlined in “The Memory Book”.

As usual, his method is very cleverly constructed and not too difficult to learn (Harry Lorayne is the Master of Memory, after all). It’s all about assigning a particular word and image to each card, and thereby immediately making them more individual, more tangible, and more memorable.

Harry Lorayne, the master who can memorise playing cards

The great Harry Lorayne, who devised this playing card memorisation method.

Each of the words gives a clue to the suit and the number, so they’re pretty easy to learn. I’ve changed some of his words and images to ones that work better for me (quite a few of them actually), and I suggest you do the same if you feel the need; if you work through the words and images I give you and you come across some that don’t seem ‘right’ to you, then change them. Select the most obvious word and image combination for a particular card, the one that actually means something to you, and which you’ll find easy to visualise and remember. That’s the one you should use!

Actually, it really doesn’t make any difference which words you use. Mr Lorayne’s system is designed to make the words fit logically to a framework, so that you’ve always got an indication of which word is assigned to which card, but that’s only to help you initially memorise the words (and images). After a while, you’ll know them anyway, so that becomes a lot less important.


Linking words and images to each playing card

As long as you can link a word and image to a card, any word and image will do. For example, you could assign four top sports stars to the four jacks, and four top female singers to the queens. The kings could be represented by four former presidents, or world leaders. You might want to use Hollywood stars from romantic films for the hearts suit, action movie stars for clubs, tradesmen and professionals for spades, and very wealthy individuals for diamonds. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you remember which is which! As long as you can give each playing card an identity, it becomes memorable.

10 of Clubs - learn to memorise playing cards

Each card is assigned a
suitable word and image. Once they’re memorised, you’re ready to 
memorise playing cards

In this way, it’s something like the 100 list. In creating the characters for the 100 List, I linked many of them to particular dates (Hitler – (19)39, Churchill – (19)45, Bruce Lee – (19)73, for example). It’s good to have a logical link so that your memory has something to work with. But it’s important that you feel free to use whatever list of words and images you like, whether or not they are actually characters. Just as long as you link them successfully with their assigned playing cards, that’s all that matters.

Like I said, it doesn’t really matter whether you use Harry Lorayne’s suggestions or not (or even his system), but there are 52 cards to commit to memory in order to memorise playing cards, and it makes sense to have some sort of system that helps you remember the words and images, in the early stages at least. After a while you’ll have them all locked in anyway, but if there’s no rhyme or reason involved in your choice of words and images then they’ll probably be difficult to remember, at least at the beginning.

Once you’ve successfully created images for the cards in your mind, you’ll be able to link them to anything – to each other (to remember a sequence), or to numbers (to remember them in and out of order), or to anything else.


Here’s a list of all the Card Words you need for all four suits. For the actual images, see How to Memorise Playing Cards – 2(although these are only suggestions, and you’re encouraged to use your own images).

Memorise Playing Cards with these Keywords
clubs symbol
hearts symbol
diamonds symbol


Is it really worth learning to memorise playing cards?

Why learn the card images and the playing card method at all? Well, as I already pointed out, you might not be particularly interested in cards, but it’s a great memory exercise anyway, and that’s the important thing.The memory exercise value far outweighs anything else, in my opinion. Although if you do ever plan a trip to Vegas, and if you fancy your chances at one of the big casinos, it couldn’t hurt to know the cards inside out.

Just be warned – casinos are notorious for not being overly fond of card counters, card sharps, card readers, or anyone displaying unusual (and, as they see it, suspicious) talents. In fact, they look on it as cheating! Actually, it’s only tilting the odds slightly in your favour, but that’s exactly what they don’t want! So, for safety’s sake, don’t get too ‘clever’ at the casino – you might live to regret it (if you’re lucky!).

On the next page, How to Memorise Playing Cards – 2, you’ll be introduced in greater detail to Mr Lorayne’s very cleverly designed system to help you memorise playing cards, where you will see every single card, along with its respective word and image, displayed interactively. And remember, it’s the images that are really important, much more than the words. The words are important, of course, but it’s the resultant images that are of much greater importance.

Quick Tip!
When you’re first learning the Card Words, it might help to work on one suit at a time. Divide a pack of cards into the four suits, and work on just one. Shuffle the 13 cards of the suit you’re focusing on and deal them one at a time, ‘seeing’ the related image as soon as you recall the Card Word.
Repetition pays off! Keep at it!

You’re not going to be linking the words – you’ll be seeing the images in your mind and linking them to each other (or to whatever you like). So you want to be able to create a relevant image for each card immediately, as soon as you see it (or hear it spoken), so that it’s ready to be linked in some way. This calls for speed and accuracy, and a certain amount of creativity, but when you can do this, you’re well on your successfully mastering memorising playing cards.


     Memorise Playing Cards 2 >>

<< Memory Techniques


Would you like to submit a page for RMI? It's easy, just fill in the details below.