How to Memorise a Pack of Cards in 5 Minutes


A few days back I received a Tweet from @LeighStirrup asking if it was possible to learn how to memorise a pack of cards in 4 weeks and then do it live on an internet radio show in just 3/4 minutes. It was late so I said “tough, but possible”.

The next morning I saw another tweet and this blog post. My first thought was, wow he’s serious! My next thought was, “mmm, how much training will he have to do to accomplish this or get close?”

So, I did the rough maths and estimated about 15 hours per week for 4 weeks. Leigh said he could commit about 7 hours realistically. So to give him the best chance of success I’ve broken down a suggested strategy to follow. 

WARNING: This is not for the faint hearted! Think of it like the training scene in Rocky where he's getting in shape for the big fight but without the raw eggs...

If you fancy taking this challenge yourself, then here’s what it will take... Leigh, this is for you. Good Luck!

Here’s the 10,000 foot view

To memorise a pack of cards you need:

  • A picture to represent each of your cards
  • Somewhere to store each of those cards in your mind in order
  • A technique to make them ‘stick’. That’s it!

Here’s the ‘slightly’ bigger picture...

WEEK 1: The Recipe

In order to stand the best chance of success a number of things have to come together. You could think of this like preparing a tasty baguette with your favourite fillings. While putting the sandwich together maybe simple, how good the sandwich tastes depends on the quality of the ingredients.


Let’s think of this as the baguette, it holds everything in place, without it you’ve just got a bunch of stuff thrown on a plate.

Memorising in the comfort of your own home is one thing, memorising in front of other people, let alone on stage, radio or TV is a whole different ball game. You see when you start to experience anxiety, the old fight or flight system kicks in and that’s going to mess with your head. Perhaps you have observed this when someone giving a talk forgets what to say next, or maybe you have experienced this yourself? It’s painful, right? When this happens, it doesn’t matter what strategy you have, if you are not able to relax and focus then its going to be an uphill struggle. This is why rehearsal (mental and physical) in as close to real life conditions is important.

TIP: Once you have got your system in place to memorise a pack of cards (you'll learn about this in a moment) test it out with people watching


If the mindset is the baguette, the cards are your mouth watering fillings!

The thing to understand is, if you can convert the card you want to remember into a picture, it is much easier to remember, whereas If you tried a whole pack of cards with repetition it is fairly futile.

Here's how it works.

You are going create a 'word' for each 'card' (these are your pictures). To do this you have a few options:

  • Make pictures up for each card through natural associations ie. "What does this card remind me of?". The challenge with this is it can become time consuming and complex to think up a picture for every card
    • eg. The King of Clubs - A CaveMan (person) with a Club (object)
    • King of Spades - Death (person) with a Sythe (object)
  • Use a code like 'The Major System' or the 'Dominic System'. I'm going to opt for the Major System as an example but use whatever you feel fits best. Here's how it works
    • Each number from 0 - 9 has a sound associated with it (some actually have several however I'm going to simplify it and use just 1 sound per number)
      • 0 - S (Imagine an S wrapped around the number 0)
      • 1 - t (1 looks like a t)
      • 2 - n (because it has 2 downstrokes)
      • 3 - m (it has 3 downstrokes)
      • 4 - r (r is the last letter of fouR)
      • 5 - L (imagine a number 5 wearing a learner plate)
      • 6 - sh (imagine a 6 saying "SHHHHHHHHH!!!")
      • 7 - k (imagine you use a 7 to hacK something)
      • 8 - f (imagine an 8 on Fire)
      • 9 - p (a p looks like a 9 flipped)
    • Now you need a letter to represent each one of the card suits
      • Hearts - H
      • Diamonds - D
      • Clubs - C
      • Spades - S
    • Finally the vowels A, E, I, O, U won't have any value, in a moment you'll see how we'll combine all of this to make a word for a card

Let's pull it together with some examples

  • The 2 of Diamonds would be DaN because D stands for Diamonds, A has no value and N is the number 2
  • 7 of Clubs would be CaKe because C stand for Clubs, A has no value and K is the number 7
  • 3 of Hearts would be HaM because H is Hearts, A has no value and M is 3

Make sense? You now create a picture for every card. For the jacks, queens and kings I tend to use 'natural associations' meaning I ask myself what does it remind me of, like the Kind of Clubs example above.

TIP: I'm going to suggest you create 2 pictures for each playing card; a person and an object. For example 7 of Clubs could be CaKe (object) and Gordon Ramsay (person, because you could naturally associate him with baking a cake). I'll explain 'why' this is beneficial in a moment.

Memory Networks

Now you have a system to make cards memorable, you need somewhere to store them in your mind so you can easily remember the sequence. To continue the metaphor, if the Mindset is the Baguette and the Cards are the fillings, then the Memory Network is the plate you put it on; it gives it somewhere to live.

'Memory networks’ go by many names; memory palace, method of loci, peg systems, roman room method (the list goes on). They are powerful techniques that allow you to store and recall ‘large’, sometimes ‘very large’ pieces of information in sequence. In our case that information is cards. 

We are going to use the Method of Loci

  • Think of a journey (let's say your home to your work)
  • Pick out 26 locations along that journey (eg. outside your front door, shop on the corner, inside the shop, the train station, the train etc.)
  • Learn this by running it forwards and backwards in your mind

TIP: In order to have a chance of being successful in this challenge you will most likely need about 5 - 10 memory networks each with 26 files. What you will find is once you have used a memory network to remember some cards they will stay there for about a day or 2 if you have strong connections, so you have to wait a while before using it again, hence it makes sense to have a number of them to practice with.

Bring it together

You now have the complete recipe

  • The right Mindset
  • A system to make cards memorable
  • A place in your mind to store the cards

Now let's imagine you want to remember the following cards (We are going to use a person and an object for each card)

  • King of Clubs (Caveman/Club)
  • 3 of Hearts (Pepper Pig/Ham)
  • King of Spades (Death/Sythe)
  • 7 of Clubs (Gordon Ramsay/Cake)

You will connect a person for the first card and the object for the next card together and then imagine them on your first location in your Memory Network e.g

  • Imagine a Caveman (KC) eating HaM (3H), outside your front door (the first location)
  • Imagine Death (KS) throwing CaKes (7C) at the shop on the corner

Once you learn what card the pictures represent its easy to recall who is outside your front door and what they are doing, likewise for what is happening on the shop corner. 

To memorise a pack of cards using this method you will need 26 locations and put one of these small stories into each location.

The first 10-15 hours of week 1 should be dedicated to getting this system in your body. This is like the beginning of the Rocky film where he runs up those stairs for the first time... Don't worry like in the film, it gets easier!

WEEK 2: Making it Sticky

Let's whiz through some high level tips for weeks 2 - 4!

Week 2 is about continuing familiarising yourself with your card/pictures, working on your stories and making them feel sticky.

TIP: Practice running the whole process (even if its slow). Take 10 cards, 5 locations and create small stories in each of your locations. Don't spend to long though, set yourself a time limit of 5 minutes to do these 10 cards and test yourself. If you have time to spare try another 10

WEEK 3: Stamina and Speed

This week you are going to focus on drills! Specifically your speed at recognising card/pictures. The quicker you know that the King of Clubs is a Caveman for example the quicker it will be to memorise and the easier it will be to recall.

TIP: lay out a whole pack of cards on the table. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Grab yourself and pen or a chopstick and in a steady rhythm point to the cards 1 by 1. Each time you touch a card say the person or object out loud and in your mind see the person and object. Increase the rhythm of your hand. Here's what is going to happen, your brain will find it hard to keep up, don't worry if you can't remember one, try the next, then the next. Eventually your brain will catch up. This is one way to increase your speed. 


Continue working on your stories/connections and your speed. Most importantly though get your mindset in shape, rehearse for 'real'.

TIP: Try it out in front of people and see how you do. Set yourself goals in your head. 20 cards in 4 minutes, then 30, then 40, you get the idea. 

Note: Each week after you have spent about 30 minutes on drills you should also spend time attempting to remember a whole pack of cards, this will build your stamina. It's also extremely valuable to spend time running through the Memory Networks forwards and backwards in your mind so they become second nature.


So there you have it, a 4 week system to memorise a pack of cards in under 5 minutes. I'll be honest with you, I don’t know if this experiment will work. I am confident that if you play along, full out as suggested you will have a very high hit rate with memorising a pack of cards in under 10 minutes. 


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