How to memorize 52 playing cards (and why to do it)

How to memorize 52 playing cards (and why to do it)

Memorizing 52 playing cards is not only a very difficult exercise, but also a very useful one. Now, I know that maybe you are saying to yourself:

"Anthony, but why would anyone learn a method of memorizing 52 cards?"

Well, first of all memorizing the random order of a deck of cards in a couple of minutes is cool for several reasons:

  • it seems impossible to do
  • it is the theological summa of memory techniques, in the sense that to do it you apply the main ones, and you have to do it very quickly
  • it's a great workout for the mind
  • it's an incredible shot of self-esteem to be able to do it

Me there is a reason that is even more important of all these ...

The importance of always having a method

Being able to memorize 52 playing cards with memory techniques shows that, if you have an effective method, almost nothing is really impossible. 

Of course, learning the method isn't easy.

But if you invest some time to do this, then you will be able to remember any deck in a couple of minutes.

While without method each new deck will be as difficult and long to memorize as the first time. So, remember: 

  • Method: time and effort to learn it, but then you save time and effort forever
  • No Method: you save yourself the initial effort, and then you beat yourself more forever.

So, in the study but also in life in general, before leaving the field or being massacred by fatigue, it's worth figuring out if there's an easier way to get things done.

And of course invest the time to learn it. 

Now, in a previous post of mine, I had talked about the basic method of memorizing a deck of cards.

In today's one instead, I will talk about the sample method, that is, what is used in high-level memory competitions. 

Just to point out the fact that a method, even if it is good and gives results, can always be improved.

The method of samples

First of all, you must have built a course of 18 loci. If you don't know what it is, read the articles on the technique of loci and the palace of memory

Then, you have to move on to encoding the information to remember.

And in this case it is a matter of finding, first (then there will be others), an image that represents a person, and that you will associate with each card of the deck.

I do it like this:

  • For Quadri cards, use of artists, including actors and directors
  • For the cards of Hearts, people I love
  • For cards of Clubs, Singers / bands
  • For Spades, sports cards

The difficult thing is, as always, to find images that associate well with the paper. Take your time, use your imagination, and one after another you will have 52 images for 52 cards. 

Examples of construction of images

I'll give you some examples:

  • 'Sace of spades I chose Lionel Messi, who for me is at the moment the football ace par excellence.
  • For the two of spades, I chose Cristiano Ronaldo, the eternal second after Messi (I chose him before he won the Champions League final and the European Championship).
  • For the three of spades, the Abbagnale brothers and the helmsman Peppino di Capua, Olympic heroes of my youth.
  • For the four of spades, LeBron James

Now, let's pause for a moment to reflect on how I built these images. 

The difficulty is in fact to find images that are well associated with the paper, and it takes a lot of imagination.

For me Lebron James is the 4 of spades because I see the 4 symbols on the card as if they constitute a basket!

As well as the 6 of spades is the Olympic champion sled runner Armin Zoeogler, because I imagine the two lines of parallel symbols that represent the 6! As if they were the sliding surfaces of his sled.

Finding good images of this type is the hardest part of the method, and often a whole day is not enough to find all 52.

Why you have to build your own images

Now, I won't bore you with my images; also because you don't necessarily need them.

For example, if you don't know who Armin Zoegler is, it's useless for you to use him; in fact, you will have a hard time both remembering it and developing the next phase of the method.

Remember that memorization techniques work by attaching short-term memory to long-term memory. But the long-term memory in question must be yours, not someone else's.

Other examples of building images

At the end of the post we will simulate together how to memorize a deck of cards. And so we need a few more examples: 

  •  K of hearts: my dad. Just as the woman of hearts is my mother (she always tries to choose a couple for K and a woman of the same color).
  •  Kappa of of clubs: John Lennon
  • Flower Woman: Yoko Ono
  •  4 of clubs: the Beatles, who were nicknamed the Fab Four.
  •  8 of diamonds: Giotto (here is the assonance to help me)
  •  K of Diamonds and Donna of Diamonds: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
  •  7 of diamonds: the seven dwarfs (I assimilate them to actors)

 And so on.

This image preparation is really, believe me, the most difficult and subjective part of the method for memorizing the deck. 

But you only have to do it once in your life, because you can then reuse the same images every time you memorize a deck of cards.

Once you have prepared your 52 images well, and you remember them well, it is time to "develop" them according to the PAO method

The PAO memory technique

PAO stands for person / action / object.

Now, in the previous step we have identified the people. Now, each of them you have to make do an action in respect of an object.

The action and the object must be something very typical of the person in question.

And so you can only find them if you know the person you have chosen for each card well.

Here are some examples, putting the Person, the Action, the Object in brackets and in order.

  • Cristano Ronaldo gets the gel on his head (Ronaldo, get on his head, gel)
  • Lebron James crushes the basketball (lebron, smash, the ball)
  • John Lennon plays the piano (John Lennon, play, piano)
  • Angelina Jolie injects silicone into her lips (angelina, inject into lips, silicone)
  • The seven dwarfs stand out in the mine. of place than a complement object. But there is no problem, the image for me is very good to remember, so ok)

And so on. I already tell you that over time you will change some of the people, images and actions because you will realize that they do not satisfy you.

We memorize the deck of cards

Let's recap:

  • You've made your own 18-loci sequence. And so few are enough for you precisely because, to go fast, you will compress the information in a very, very strong way.
  • You have associated, to each of the 52 cards, the image of a person who performs an action on an object. And you will have done it so solidly that you never forget any of these three elements, which from now on will always be associated with that card.

Now is the time to remember the deck. Let's see how.

You are in first place, let's put both the door of your house. One after another you quickly turn 3 cards:

  • 4 of spades (Lebron that crushes to the basket)
  • Woman of Diamonds (Angelina Jolie Che is injected into the lips silicone)
  • Two of spades (Ronaldo takes the lead of ice)

As you turn the three cards you construct a skit that takes the Person from the first card, the Action from the second, the Object from the third.

So, in my example:

Lebron injects gel into the lips.

This absurd scene, which you have to imagine vividly, therefore brings you the information of 3 cards.

With training it is not at all impossible to build these skits, three cards at a time, in about 8 seconds. And since there are 18 skits, if you build each in 8 seconds (and associate it with its locus), you'll memorize the deck in 144 seconds. Just over two minutes!

Let's take another example. You are in your second locus, and the next three cards you turn are

  • K of hearts
  • 7 of diamonds
  • K in fiori

If you remember the PAO of each of the three cards you can reconstruct the corresponding sketch:

My dad (in this case, yours), stands out a piano!

Let's remember the deck

Memorizing and remembering are two different things:

  • memorizing is when you imprint a memory in your mind. 
  • remembering is when you recall a memory that you had previously imprinted.

So, let's try now remember the cards starting from the two skits you have memorized:

Go to the first locus, and see vividly, real (it is essential to stimulate your visual memory):

  • Lebron james (the character of the four of spades)
  • that is injected into the lips (the action of Angelina Jolie, la woman of quadri)
  • of the gel (the object of Cristiano Ronaldo, the two of spades)

Then go to the second locus, where you find:

  • your dad (the K of hearts)
  • that stands out (the action of the 7 dwarfs, i.e. the 7 of diamonds)
  • a piano (the object of John Lennon, the k in fiori).

Strong in? 

Last tips for memorizing 52 cards

In order to memorize 52 cards in about two minutes you need to work hard on the people you choose, the actions they do, and the objects on which you do the action.

E find stuff that is as immediate and rememberable as possible. That is, that it is better connected in your long-term memory. 

As always, everything is valid, as long as it is effective. For instance:

  • For the 4 of spades 6 of spades I used the shape they have.
  • For the 2 of spades I used an opinion that I have of Ronaldo
  • For John Lennon he who plays the piano, because it is the best and most sculpted image I have of him.
  • For Angelina Jolie, I focused on her striking physical appearance, her swollen and redone lips.
  • For the 3 of spades I used the Abbagnale brothers and their helmsman precisely because there are 3 of them, and I made them do what I remember them for, rowing, but in the river that passes near my house, the Po.

Of course, many absurd images and skits will be built; but there is no problem, quite the contrary. The fact that they are absurd helps you visualize them better. 

In fact, if you really saw Cristiano Ronaldo rowing in the mine, you would never forget it!

Just as you would not forget the cards that correspond to this skit: 2 of spades, 3 of spades, 7 of diamonds.

What if you saw the seven dwarfs put a basketball on their head?

You would know that the cards are 7 of diamonds, 2 of spades and 4 of spades!

The ability to see scenes vividly is also what allows you to reset the memory every time, so as not to get confused if you memorize more than one deck at a time, or different decks over time. (Although this reset is sometimes not exactly easy to do).


While it sounds daunting, memorizing 52 playing cards is easier than studying for an exam! In fact, these are two very different activities:

Cards are beautifully packaged information, very understandable, always the same, and the order of which at most changes.

What you study instead varies continuously, you have to understand it, and no one tells you what is important and what is not.

In both cases, however, what makes the difference between succeeding and failing is whether or not you have a good method. A greeting. Anthony.

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