Here’s something for a bit of weekend fun. The secret to memorizing playing cards.

Memorizing playing cards is fairly easy and requires only 3 steps;

  1. Creating Card Images
  2. Memorizing the images in a memory technique
  3. Recalling the cards

First we need to create images for each playing card so that they mean something. This means you will have 52 images for 52 playing cards. For example the 7 of Diamonds can be a “Dog”, or the Ace of Spades a “Hat”. From this we attach images and meanings to a memory technique and then voila! – playing cards memorized. You can create any image for each card, however it will be harder to memorize and recall.

The simplest method is to use the Major System to create your card images. The Major System helps you to remember which image a card was by working phonetically to encode the card. Learn more about The Major System here

Below is a matrix of all 52 images associated to the cards created by the use of the Major System. Note that the King cards are images of the suit. You can feel free to make up your own images.

Memorizing the above shouldn’t be too hard as it is worked out phonetically from the Major System. For example, 9 of Clubs = CAP. Clubs = “C” or “K” sound and 9 = P in the Major System. Hence we have “CP”. We can use Cap, Cape, Captain, Caption, you get the drift.

So all you need to do is look at the card and encode the image using the matrix. Once you have done this for all 52 cards you are ready to memorize them!

Ok so we have our 52 images. The next step is to create a story or a bunch of links from those images. Let’s take the 5 cards as an example:

8D, 4H, 7C, KS, 9S

These cards associated images from the Card Matrix are:


Just imagine DAFFY duck pulling on your HAIR. He lets go and you go flying backwards toward a CAR. This is no ordinary car as it is a Ferrari, so the owner comes out with a SPADE and starts to chase you with a huge SOAP!

My 5 cards above are highlighted in capital letters and used in a story. Look away and see if you can remember the story and the cards that is it associated with. Once you have done that the next challenge is to try making a story for all the 52 cards!

The Journey system

The journey system is a powerful technique for remembering. It is based upon remembering locations you select in a familiar path and associating the items to be memorized, to the locations in your path.

An example of a journey could be one around your house. The Living room being one location, the Kitchen being the next, Bedroom, Bathroom, Backyard, and so on. You can have many journeys and as many locations in each journey as you like.

Try making up a journey with 10 locations now. Make sure you can visualize and remember the locations clearly and with as much detail as you can as this will help with the recall process.

Once you have made your 10 location journey, it is time for the fun to begin. The aim is to associate the item to be memorized with a corresponding location in your journey.

Let’s try remembering the below items:

Tennis ballPianoCDBookMobile phoneGuitarPlaying CardsGlueChocolate and Cake.

Location 1 – Living room: I’d imagine it filled with TENNIS BALLS to the ceiling with family and friends falling about and playing games. You see Roger Federer popping out from underneath a pack of balls. You throw the tennis ball at his head.

Location 2 – Kitchen: You carry a large PIANO across the kitchen when suddenly it slips and goes flying into the kitchen sink.

Location 3 – Bedroom: You wake up one morning hoping you’d find money from the tooth fairy, but instead there’s a cheap pop CD that you hate.

Location 4 – Bathroom: Reading your favourite BOOK in the toilet when Oh noo it slips out of your hands and falls into yes you know where.

Location 5 – Backyard: You’re having a huge barbeque in the backyard when all of a sudden your MOBILE PHONE slips out of your front pocket and onto the hot barbecue plate. (You wonder why you had put your phone in your front pocket in the first place)

Location 6 – Study: Your annoying friend comes into your room while you’re doing some research and shows he can GUITAR really loud. You snatch the guitar off him and throw it across the room.

Location 7 – Balcony: You decide to memorize a deck of PLAYING CARDS. You make a mistake by forgetting a few cards and flick them out of the balcony in frustration. The cards shower a pedestrian crossing by.

Location 8 – Swimming pool: You decide to lie down and tan beside the pool. You ask your little brother to bring you some suntan lotion but instead he brings GLUE. You apply the glue thinking its suntan lotion. You end up stuck and can’t chase him.

Location 9 – Garage: As soon as you open the garage door, tons and tons of melted CHOCOLATE ooze out and cover your whole house. Yum.

Location 10 – Gymnasium: You’re going for a record 350 kilo bench-press. On your eighth rep your evil little brother comes running in out of nowhere and slams a massive CAKE into your face.

As you are making up your stories try to relax, do not rush anything, take as much time as you can. The more detail you imagine while developing your story, the easier it will be to remember.

Use your senses to touch, smell, hear, see, and taste the item to be remembered. Try picturing the item as being extremely big, maybe even as big as the universe. Imagination is endless.

Exercise: Make up a journey with 52 locations in your own home.

Your house is good to start off with as it has emotional attachment and it’s the location you most likely know best.

We now come to the fun part. The memorization.

Firstly let’s do a check. You should have:

1. Created your 52 images for each card 2. Create a 52 location journey

Once you have done these you are ready to memorize using the Journey technique. All you need to do is make a story and associate each card with a location. Same as what we did in the last lesson.

For example we want to remember the cards:

7D, KS, 5H, 2C, 3D

Living room: I picture a DOG (7D) running around in the living room biting and tearing the couches with his ferocious teeth.

Kitchen: There were no spoons in the kitchen so I used a SPADE (KS) to eat dinner.

Bedroom: I suddenly wake up to a huge flurry of HAIL(5H) all over my bed.

Bathroom: I ran out of shampoo in the shower so I ended up using a CAN(2C) of coke to shampoo.

Backyard: My backyard has a huge DAM(3D) for canoeing, kayaking and all other leisurely activities.

Now all you have to do is associate all 52 cards to your 52 locations with some kind of story and recall them back.

A few common questions:

My associations are not strong Build them up by using your senses, movement, association, etc. Read more about SMASHIN SCOPE

I sometimes miss locations Go through close your eyes and visualize your journey. With a little practise you won’t be missing any locations.

I cannot recall my card images Use your matrix as a reference next to you while you make associations. After a while you will have memorized your card images and won’t have the need for the reference.

I take very long creating a story and linking it to the location It takes a while at first, but each time you practise you get much faster.


Tansel Ali is a 4-time Australian Memory Champion most famously known for memorizing two Yellow Pages phone books in only 24 days. An international bestselling author of the books, ‘The Yellow Elephant’ and ‘How to Learn Almost Anything In 48 Hours’, Tansel is a sought-after memory expert, keynote speaker and memory coach.