Playing Card Memorization

Published on Sunday, October 10, 2010 in , ,

Playing Card Memorization

Playing cards are an impressive tool with which to demonstrate a trained memory. Their random nature is well known, and playing card memory demonstrations (when properly performed) can evoke fantasies such as breaking the bank at Las Vegas card tables.

Playing cards, like numbers, are difficult to visualize because, like numbers, they're abstract. The mnemonic alphabet shows how even numbers can be visualized. In what ways can playing cards be made into visual images? There are many methods. There's versions using the Major System, the shapes of the numbers themselves, and even one using celebrities!

These methods can and do work (especially the last one, used by 7-time World Memory Champion Dominic O'Brien), but all require several mental steps to go from the images to the cards.
For ease of learning and quicker recall, I prefer a system in which there are as few mental steps between the card and the image as possible. I even put off learning to memorize playing cards until I could find a system that met those requirements.

Thankfully, there is now such a system available. Bob Farmer, author of MAGIC magazine's "Flim-Flam" column, created and published just such a system in his January 1999 column!

I will be teaching this system, followed by a feat that will help you show off your new-found mastery of playing cards.

Click here to learn the playing card system.

Bob Farmer's Playing Card Mnemonic System

In most systems of card mnemonics, there are a few simple rules for generating an image from a given suit and value. In the Farmer system, there are no hard and fast rules. The basic idea, though, is to find words that use similar sounds to the name of the card. For example, the four of clubs in the Farmer system is represented by the word "FORK" - the "FOR" sound INSTANTLY suggests "4" and the strong "K" at the end could only suggest "clubs"! When you think of "NOSE", you can only be thinking of the nine of spades!

Below is a chart containing an image for each playing card. You'll note that not every card easily generated a word. Unlike the mnemonic alphabet, extra consonants and vowels often have to be thrown in to make a legitimate word. The three of clubs keyword, for example, does employ the "THR" sound to suggest 3, and does use a hard "K" for clubs, but it still comes out as "THRowbaCK". It may not seem simple, but every word is chosen for uniqueness of image and proximity to the sound of the card name. Also notice that "ACe" doesn't use a hard"K" sound, but still easily suggests the ace of clubs. Due to the similar initial sounds of 6 and 7 (both use an "S" sound), all the sevens are given a word beginning with "SEA" in order to separate them from the other "S" words used for 6.

Once you learn the keywords, and get used to the system, you'll see how easily the images suggest the card names by their sound.

QQUaKerQUEEN of HalloweenQUaSarQuaD

To quiz yourself on the keywords, click here. To learn a feat using the Farmer mnemonics, click here.

Card Pairs

There are a many different ways to use these card mnemonics. I'm going to teach one here that is simple in execution, powerful in appearance, and will actually help you use the card mnemonics under fire.

Here's the idea: You spread the deck face-up, and have several people (10, 15 or more!) each take a pair of cards. As the pairs are taken out, you memorize them. After several pairs are taken, you ask each person to hold up one card of their pair, and you instantly recall the other one in the pair! This is very impressive, especially once you work your way up to all 26 pairs! Audiences find this feat spectacular because it's a live demonstration - you are remembering new random information very quickly and recalling it with total accuracy!

The best way to learn this feat is to start with 10 pairs (20 cards). As the cards are selected, you link the keyword names with each other in a funny way. If one of your audience members selected, say, the 8 of spades and the 4 of clubs, you'd link EINSTEIN to FORK - perhaps picturing Einstein as being stuck on the end of your fork. It's important, as always, to make the mental link memorable by using action and exaggeration. Once you've made a strong mental link between the two cards, just go on to the next pair. Once you've made the strong link, don't think about it anymore and move on to the next pair, until all the pairs have been remembered.

On the following page is a quiz that will help you learn all of this. One button will quiz on the card mnemonics themselves. To help learn the card pair stunt, select either 10 pairs, 15 pairs, 20 pairs or 26 pairs. Once you've chosen how many pairs you'll attempt to remember, your browser will bring up an alert box displaying a pair of cards. Make your link with these two cards as quickly as you can, and then click "OK". Your browser will then continue to bring as many card pairs up as you've chosen, one by one. After the last pair is brought up, you will be quizzed. The computer will name one card from each pair, and ask you to name the other one.

Again, start with 10 pairs to get comfortable with the stunt. Once you can get 100% on a regular basis, move on to 15 pairs. Eventually, you should work your way up to all 26 pairs, getting 100% everytime. You may be surprised how quickly this happens.

Grey Matters reader Michael Frink has a nice blackjack presentation for this feat, which is detailed in my Quick Snippets post from February 2009. Anyone who watches you perform this will probably believe you possess unbelievable skill at blackjack!

To go to the quiz page, click here.

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