How to memorise Playing Cards – 2

The Lorayne system

The Lorayne system for how to memorise playing cards is so cleverly constructed that it’s almost obvious, and very simple. Each word starts with the letter that starts the suit (C for Clubs, H for Hearts, S for Spades, and D for Diamonds). Additionally, the word then includes the sound associated with the value of the card. So, for example, the Ace of Spades is represented by Sid, which starts with S (because it’s a Spade), and includes the ‘d’ sound to indicate 1 (the sounds are those that are assigned to numbers in the Major System).

Memorise playing cards - it takes some mental work

In order to memorise playing cards, a lot of mental work takes place

In “The Memory Book”, the Ace of Spades is represented by Suit, and you can use that word if you like. For this card, as for several in Harry Lorayne‘s system, I chose different words and images. For Sid, the word I settled on for the Ace of Spades, you could visualise the sloth character from the Ice Age movies. If you got a kick out of Ice Age and its sequels, you won’t have any trouble visualising Sid. Use things that can become clear mental images and you’ll find it much easier than if you chose things just because of how they sound.

Another example of how the system works would be the 7 of Clubs. That card is represented by Cake, which starts with C (for Clubs) and includes the ‘k’ sound to indicate 7. It could also include the ‘g’ sound, so you could use ‘cog’ if you like. There’s a lot of scope for choice. Once you’ve settled on your Card Words, the idea is to familiarise yourself with all the cards and their associated words and images. To be proficient at using the cards, you have to really know the related words and images very well – they should come instantly to mind.

Sid, from Ice Age - an image that helps me memorise playing cards

Sid the sloth, or as I like to think of him, Mr Ace of Spades!

I’ve displayed them all here, on this page, interactively, so you have both the card and its associated word and image right there in front of you. It’s very easy to learn the system using these card images – all you have to do is hover your mouse pointer over each card and you’ll see the ‘reverse’ of each card, showing the associated word and image. If you go through them a few times you’ll soon get the hang of them.

Make sure you understand why I’ve used each word/image for each particular card – that way you’ll be able to ‘translate’ them back in your mind if you ever get stuck. In other words, if you see the 9 of Clubs and you can’t remember the word, think Clubs=C and the 9 sound is ‘p’ or ‘b’, so it’s c-p … cup. Of course, you might be using a different word, such as cop, cob, cab, or cape.


(It may take a few moments for all the card images to load)

Move your mouse over the cards to see the corresponding memory images.
For a full list of all the Card Words, see How to Memorise Playing Cards – 1



Use whichever images work for you

The important thing is to get into the habit of seeing the image, not just knowing the word. When you see the 5 of Diamonds, you should almost immediately see a mental image of a doll. For the 6 of Spades, a sash. For the 2 of Clubs, a can. It’s important to ‘see’ these mental images, not just be aware of the words.

Also, be aware that there is no card numbered zero, so it’s okay to use the ‘s’ or ‘z’ sound for the 10, rather than bother with a double-digit sound for 1 and 0.

all the aces are numbered 1, so the associated word for an ace always begins with the ‘t’ or ‘d’ sound, as in Date for the Ace of Diamonds (for which you could see a calendar, or the fruit).

For the 10 of Spades, I’ve used saz, which is a Turkish musical instrument, rather like a long-necked guitar. For the 2 of Diamonds, I’ve used Dane, and the image is of a gigantic Great Dane, although you could use an image of a Danish Viking, or the winged or horned helmet that Vikings wear in popular mythology.

For the 4 of Spades I’ve used Saw, which includes the ‘r’ sound, even though that’s not reflected in the spelling (it’s a clear and easy image to come up with, which is more to the point). For the 5 of Hearts I’ve used Hell, and the image is of a devil. The 3 of Diamonds is Dome, for which you could visualise the Millennium Dome in London, or any domed building you’re familiar with.




The court cards

The four jacks are represented by the suits themselves, in other words for the Jack of Clubs the word/image is a club (a golf club or a club-type weapon), for the Jack of Hearts, a heart (a stylised romantic heart, or a valentine card, or alternatively the physical organ), for the Jack of Spades, a spade, and for the Jack of Diamonds, a diamond.

The King of Clubs and the Queen of Hearts are represented by a king and queen respectively. For the Queen of Clubs, the word/image is Cream (starts with C for Clubs and rhymes with queen), and for the Queen of Diamonds it is Dream (D for Diamonds, and rhymes with queen). The King of Spades is Sing (S for Spades, and rhymes with king, and for which you could visualise Sinatra, or Pavarotti, or any great singer). The King of Diamonds is Drink (D for Diamonds, and rhymes with king … well, almost!), and the King of Hearts is Hinge (H for Hearts, and again the rhyme is a bit of a stretch, but maybe that’s what will help make it stick in your memory).

So the court cards break with the system of numbering used for Ace to 10, but they have a sort of system all their own.

Remember, you could actually use any words and images for the cards (whether numbered cards or court cards), but it makes sense to use some sort of organised system. It will help you memorise the words, and pretty soon you’ll know them anyway, and it won’t matter that they start with a particular letter or include a particular sound, they’ll just be the right words and images. But while you’re memorising them, the system will be there as a back-up to aid memorisation.




How to use the system to memorise the playing cards

a hand of cards - if you memorise playing cards they mean so much more!

Pondering a hand of cards … and seeing much more than just playing cards

To memorise playing cards, you need to learn all the mental images that represent the cards, you need to be able to link them and to be fairly fluent with both the 100 List and the Major System, and most of all, you need to be prepared to spend time practising.

Spend time really learning the cards and it will richly repay you. Once you’ve memorised all the card words and images, you can use that knowledge to good effect, for example, using the Link Method. You can easily link a string of cards together simply by using your imagination to make crazy and ridiculous images that link one to another. Let’s take a few cards at random and see what crops up …

6S, 2D, KH, 3C, 5D
(6 of Spades, 2 of Diamonds, King of Hearts, 3 of Clubs, 5 of Diamonds)

Imagine a long, heavy sash around the neck of a gigantic Great Dane (which is tripping up over it!), and then see the Dane opening like a huge hinge … It picks up a comb and tries to comb that sash right out of its hair, then it’s distracted by a delightful little doll (Huh? You didn’t know Great Danes were specially partial to little dolls??)

Of course, this is a completely ridiculous string of images, but that’s precisely what will make them stick in your memory. As Harry Lorayne repeatedly points out, your brain seems to love the strange and ridiculous, so don’t settle for any old mental image, make it odd, peculiar, weird, even impossible. Make your brain stare at it, wide-eyed with amazement! Go through that sequence again and really ‘see’ the mental images the words bring to mind this time. They’re the kind of images that your brain will find fascinating and unusual, and that’s why you’ll find them pretty hard to forget!

Try it yourself. ‘Deal’ yourself several cards (mentally, or using a real deck of cards), maybe about ten this time. Then, without rushing, link them all together in a sequence. Create the most outlandish images you can think of, and link each card (image) to the next in the most creative and ludicrous way you can think of. I guarantee that the more ridiculous the images and the links you come up with, the easier it will be to remember the sequence of the cards. If you can make the images funny, so much the better. If you can involve plenty of action, that’s a memory booster too.

Here’s a random sequence of 10 cards (and it really is random, I’m using a deck of cards as I write this):

10H, QS, 7D, AD, 8S, 5D, 3D, QD, 9C, QH
I see a long hose (10H), the big kind used by firefighters, and it’s spewing steam (QS) out of the end … right into the shocked face of Daffy Duck … the steam knocks him back against a massive calendar (AD), which in turn gets blasted right into an open safe (8S) … a little animated doll (5D) locks the safe, and then the safe morphs into the Millennium Dome (3D), which towers above them and sweeps down on all sides … or was that just a dream (QD)?? … the doll isn’t sure and picks up a cup (9C) to have a cup of tea and think about it … with theQueen (QH) of England.

After reading the last paragraph, you might be able to remember the full sequence, or you might make one or two mistakes (or even more). No problem! Don’t be hard on yourself. With practice, you’ll be able to come up with suitable images, and links, very quickly, so don’t worry if it doesn’t work out perfectly right away. The thing to keep in mind is that once you have the images formed (even if only for the tiniest fraction of a second), they’re likely to stick in your mind.

Why? Precisely because they’re unusual, ridiculous, even weird, and your brain just naturally loves novelty (why would it waste time and energy on the boring and mundane)? It’s naturally drawn to the unusual. And, perhaps just as important, because you had to think about the images, and the words and the cards, even if only for that fraction of a second, and it’s that paying close attention to those things that makes them stick in your memory. You see, one of the most important aspects of memory is actually focusing your attention on the subject matter, and this method forces you to focus.

Some of the hardest work you can ever do is thinking. Most of us don’t do nearly enough of it (we confuse mere mental activity with thinking)! If you put in the time to really study this system that allows you to memorise playing cards, you will indeed be thinking, and very creatively. The mental exercise your brain will be undergoing, creating all those fascinating mental images and scenarios, is absolutely invaluable. Learning how to memorise playing cards is one of the most challenging and most satisfying tests of mental agility that you could undertake.

A bonus of using this system is that you now know the sequence backwards as well as forwards. You know the last thing was the doll drinking tea with the Queen, right? So queen(QH) was the last card, the cup (9C) was before that, “was it all a dream?” (QD), before that, then came the image of the Dome (3D), the doll (5D), the safe (8S), the calendar (AD), the duck (7D), and the steam (QS) coming out of the hose (10H).




Harry Lorayne - he taught us all how to memorise playing cards

We’re all indebted to Harry Lorayne for showing us how to memorise playing cards … and anything else!

Once again, a sincere “Thank you!” to Harry Lorayne for this wonderful system. It might just be the most useful of all memory exercises. Don’t underestimate it!

Be assured, if you apply yourself steadily to learning how to memorise playing cards, you will achieve prodigious feats of memory that will amaze you (not to mention anybody who witnesses what you can do).

Remembering a stack of cards, or even the whole deck, will still remain just a small part of the deal. The main part is that your memory will benefit massively from all the mental gymnastics that you put it through.

You need never be without a pack of cards again – once you learn them, you can always have them with you, wherever you go (even if only in your mind!), and you’ll be able to set yourself new challenges. Learning how to memorise playing cards might be the most effective memory exercise you ever undertake. Do it regularly and you’ll get better and better at it, and it will soon stop feeling like memory work, and more like memory fun!

Still think it’s too hard? Dominic O’Brien memorises more than twenty packs (well over a thousand cards!) when he competes in the World Memory Championships. Others have managed similar feats of memory. On occasions, he has memorised over fifty packs!

If you put this system into practice, you can certainly memorise just one full pack, right?! And as a result of the work you put into it, your memory
will improve beyond your wildest dreams!


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