How to Memorise Playing Cards – 3

Memorising the full deck 

I hope you’re enjoying this memory meal, because learning how to memorise playing cards is definitely more than a memory snack! The starters and early courses were tasty, I think you’ll agree. We now come to the main course – how to memorise a full deck of playing cards, as devised by Harry Lorayne in his seminal work, The Memory Book! And what a main course this is – a monumental memory exercise. Bon appetit!

You can use your 100 List to memorise a longer sequence of cards, yes, even the full deck. That really is an impressive feat of memory since you’ll be using two lists simultaneously. You’ll be using the 100 List, which, hopefully, you’ve already memorised, and the new list (the images of all the playing cards), and you’re going to be combining the two. If you haven’t yet learned the 100 List, now’s a good time; it gives you scope to memorise any list, up to 100, in numerical order, which is more useful than merely linking each item to the next (of course, for a deck of cards you actually only need the numbers 1 to 52).

A word of warning: Don’t attempt to memorise the full deck right away, unless you’re really confident of your abilities. This is more than just a stunt – this is a major memory exercise, and it takes a certain amount of work and practice. Be content to work your way up to it by memorising playing cards of shorter sequences for a while. Build your skills gradually, as you build your confidence.

To see how this works, let’s take a look at a short sequence of cards and how you might memorise them using the 100 List.

2C, JD, 4D, 7S, AC, 2D, 9S, 3H, 10S, 5D

One-Round is using his cosh to bash a can almost flat …
Laurel and Hardy are amazed that one of their daft schemes has actually paid off … now they’re arguing over what to do with the massive diamond they’ve somehow ended up with … they’re tossing it to one another as though it’s literally hot (they probably think it really is ‘hot’) …
Granny Clampett is breaking up a door and using the wood to feed the fire under her pot …
Uri Geller is performing an amazing feat for a TV audience … he’s bending a fork and making it turn into a sock! …
Sgt. Bilko is cheating at cards (again!) … he’s got a trained cat under the table and it’s ‘handing’ him cards just when he needs them …
Dirty Harry is threatening to shoot a Great Dane, who’s holding up a bank …
Professor Marcus is stumbling over his long, trailing scarf, and ends up slipping over completely on a bar of soap …
Joe Pesci is stuffing a gigantic baked ham into his duffel bag …
Herr Flick is serenading his sexy assistant with his wonderful saz playing …
Mike Tyson is in his second childhood, and playing contentedly with a little doll.

N.B. If none of this makes any sense to you, please review The 100 List to gain an understanding of the method I’m using here.

You don’t have to link the 100 List images to each other, since you already know them in a numerical sequence.
In other words, why bother to link One-Round to Laurel and Hardy and then to Granny Clampett , since you already know they represent the numbers 1, 2 and 3, in that order.

Hopefully these images and associations worked pretty well for you. I remembered the sequence, and I don’t regard myself as particularly good at this (yet!). If you managed to create the mental images to memorise the sequence, you now have them in and out of order. If someone asked you which was the seventh card, you just have to think … 7 … Prof. Marcus … oh yeah, he was slipping on a bar of soap … that’s the 9S (9 of Spades). If asked which card was third, you’d think … Granny Clampett … her pot was on a fire being fed by the wood of a smashed door … 4D.

Practise it with ten cards time and again, till it becomes easy (and eventually too easy), then move on to fifteen or twenty. Once you can do that, you can probably do the full deck. It’s just a matter of becoming more adept at creating and manoeuvring the mental images quickly. Learning how to memorise playing cards calls for mental agility, and it’s just the kind of exercise that results in exactly that.

Using the Journey Method
An alternative way of memorising the entire deck is to use the Journey Method. Map out a special journey of 52 locations or ‘stops’ and get very familiar with it. Then all you have to do is mentally place each card (using the card image) at the next available location. Naturally, you have to make your images as weird and ridiculous as possible to make them stick in your memory.

When you revisit the journey, you’ll ‘see’ all 52 cards in the places you left them!
As long as you have a well-rehearsed mental journey, and create vivid images, this method is very effective.

Improve your memory learning to memorise playing cards

Just as experienced removal men make handling heavy, awkward boxes and furniture look deceptively easy, pretty soon you’ll be mentally handling dozens of apparently cumbersome mental images as though it was nothing at all.

Actually, it’s quite a big deal. What you’re doing is quite an impressive mental feat, but you’ll make it look easy, and it’ll be exercising your brain as you do it. And like a muscle that gets regular exercise, it will get more capable of handing heavier poundages, and doing it with consummate ease.

With the ten card sequence we tried just a few moments ago, test yourself …

The fourth card was …
The card following the Ace of Clubs was …
Sgt. Bilko was linked to …
The card that came before the 10 of spades was …
One-Round was linked to …
The 5 of Diamonds was the … -th card

That’s the basics of the Lorayne system, but the real magic comes into play when you actually put it into practice! Learn how to memorise playing cards, and practise memorising a sequence of ten or twenty cards (or even, eventually, the entire deck), time and again. You’ll probably find certain images keep cropping up again and again, and the entire process will speed up because of that.

Of course, there’s more to the system than the basics. We’ll ‘deal’ with that as we go on!

The ‘mutilation’ technique with playing cards

Ripped or mutilated playing cards stand out in your mind

By mutilating a card in some way you make it instantly memorable

You ready to ‘rip it up’? Then let’s take a look at the mutilation technique!

A particularly impressive use of your knowledge of the cards is to employ the ‘mutilation’ technique. All that means is that whenever you see a card being discarded in a game, for example, you should immediately form a mental image of that card being mutilated or damaged in some way.

For example, let’s say someone just discarded the 7 of Spades (7S), which is represented by sock, then you should see a sock that’s been torn to shreds, or is unravelling into long, dangly threads. If the Jack of Hearts (JH) is discarded, see a Velentine’s card, complete with a romantic heart on the front, but the heart is split asunder, or the card is torn to pieces. For the 6D, see a broken dish, for the 2C, see a crumpled can, for the 5D, see a doll with an arm torn off or an eye missing, for the AS, see poor ol’ Sid getting flattened by a falling rock.

Harry Lorayne - the Master at memorising playing cards

Harry Lorayne, displaying his complete mastery of playing cards

The trick is to take the original image and mutilate it in some garish way, and to do it as quickly as possible. Naturally, if you spend time practising this technique, you might very well come up with the same mutilations time and time again, so it will be quite easy to create these images and see them forming in your mind’s eye.

To complete the process, simply go through the range of cards (mentally), and see the images as they spring to mind. Any mutilated images are discarded cards! In a number of games this will give you an important edge. If you need to know if it’s safe to play a seven, for example, you’ll probably only have to mentally scan the cards in the 7-9 range to see if they’ve already been played. You don’t need to go through the entire deck to check something this specific, so it can be done with almost lightning speed.

Identifying the missing playing cards

A nice demonstration of this ‘trick’ is to let someone take, let’s say, five cards from a shuffled deck and put them aside (it makes no difference whether he’s looked at them or not). Then ask him to read out the names of all the other cards, one at a time as he deals them out. If you’ve practised this trick, you’ll be able to mentally mutilate the cards as they are read out (but be aware, this does take practice!). When he’s finished, you can tell him, in just a few moments, the five cards he’s put to one side.

It shouldn’t take long – all you have to do is whiz through the deck (mentally), calling out the cards that are untouched! Because you’ve paid close attention to the cards (which you must do to do this trick successfully), the images will be fresh in your mind. You will see the mutilated images, one at a time, even though you only saw them mentally for a fraction of a second.

Remember, whether or not you attempt this as a demonstration of your talents or not, the essence of it is as a memory exercise. Anything else, as they say, is gravy!

Incidentally, if you mean to scan through the entire deck at any time, it’s always as well to use the same ‘route’. Harry Lorayne suggests a simple mnemonic to make sure you always follow the same path; just think of the word CHASED … the four suits are right there, in order, Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds. Not that you need to use that mnemonic, or even that order, but it’s just a simple way to keep a specific order in mind, if you want to.

One of the greatest memory exercises

Now do you understand why I said that learning how to memorise playing cards is a great memory exercise? Firstly, to even work with the cards, you have to learn the associated images, and you have to know them so well that they spring to mind immediately. Then, to use the mutilation technique, you have to be able to quickly take the image that springs to mind and mutilate it in some way in an instant.

If you want to become really proficient at this technique (whether to use it in card games or just as a memory exercise, or a demonstation), ask someone to work with you. Get him or her to call out a number of cards (ten, twenty, even the entire deck), slowly at first, so that you can get destructive and mutilate to your heart’s content. Then see if you can correctly say which cards are missing. With practice, you can allow your partner to speed up, little by little, until you’re virtually flying through them as quickly as they are spoken.

I’m not saying this is easy (it’s not, trust me!), but it can be done, and if you want to do it, then it’s all about practice.

Can you do the ‘mutilation’ trick more than once?

If you’ve done the mutilation trick and try to do it again immediately afterwards you’re asking for trouble! It would be too easy to get confused (Did I just rip the arm off that little doll a few seconds ago, or did I do that last time round?? Err … lemme think …). However, there is an answer, thanks to Mr Lorayne!

All you have to do is have a specific mutilation for the second round. For example, after you’ve done the mutilation trick once, if you want to do it again, then this time make all the mutilations involve fire, or water, or ice, or tearing. Say you’ve started the second round of the same trick and you have to deal with the 4H, then see the poor little hare encased in a block of ice … then, for the 5D, see that little dolly frozen solid, and so on. Or, if you’re using fire, see the diamond (for the Jack of Diamonds) burning with a sparkling, glinting fire, and see the cup (9C) burning and cracking with the heat, and so on.

You can apply the fire, or ice, or whatever mutilation to each and every card, and with practice (always with practice!), it can become second nature. The value of this memory exercise is that you have to come up with the correct images, then (if you’re mutilating) you have to add another dimension (fire or ice, or whatever), and you have to do this with speed and accuracy and without making mistakes. This is not easy! The system is very cleverly put together and fairly simple to understand, but putting it into practice, at speed, is definitely not easy! But think what a workout it will be for your brain!

The Memory Book

The Memory Book is perhaps Harry Lorayne’s best known book on memory, and deservedly so. Written way back in 1974, with Jerry Lucas, it has sold well over two million copies and has transformed the lives of countless readers by teaching them how to really use their brain power in creative ways. You can read more about Harry Lorayne and his extraordinary talents at his website.

The Memory Book - all aspects of memory work, including playing cardsIts many chapters on subjects as varied as the link system, peg words, vocabulary, speeches, names and faces, appointments, the arts, music, long numbers, etc (including, of course, how to memorise playing cards!), give a thorough grounding in all the various ways you can apply Mr Lorayne’s memory methods to learn and master virtually any subject.

I picked up my dog-eared copy many years ago from a charity shop, for just a few pennies. It’s been more than worth its weight in gold! Although I’ve never been determined enough (or sensible enough!) to work steadily and methodically through all the techniques it teaches, I’ve still learned a tremedous amount from it. If you want to really develop your memory, you owe it to yourself to get a copy.

We all owe a tremendous debt to Harry Lorayne. He has probably done more to develop our collective awareness of memory techniques than anyone else in living memory. I can guarantee that if you take his methods and apply them assiduously, regularly and with an attitude of creativity, they will quite literally change your life, as they have for countless others before you.


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