By Dominic O’Brien – Eight Times World Memory Champion.

I took up memory training relatively late in life, aged thirty, after watching ‘Memory man’ Creighton Carvello on TV memorize a shuffled deck of playing cards in just under three minutes after looking at the sequence just once.

To me, this was the most fascinating mental feat I had ever seen performed and I wanted to know if I too could do that.

Well, after many hours of trial and error I came up with a strategy that formed the basis of all my memory systems. In May 1992, I became the first person to break the one-minute barrier by memorizing a deck of cards in 55 seconds at the Guinness World Records head office in London. My personal best is 26 seconds.  That’s the time it takes to deal through all 52 cards before recalling them in the correct order.

Here’s how it works:

The idea is to create a mental image for each playing card and then place each of those coded cards along a familiar mental route. I call this the ‘Journey Method.’

One way is to look through a deck and pick out any cards that you can easily associate with a person. The picture cards are probably the easiest to start with. You might also attach certain criteria to particular suits. 

You could link Spades with brunettes, Diamonds with wealth, Hearts with heart-throbs, Clubs with something a sporty theme or a certain club.

Take the Queen of Clubs for example. Who is the queen of night clubs?  Paris Hilton or Miley Cyrus maybe?

Queen of Spades could be Kate Middleton, and Johnny Depp could be your Jack of Spades (he played Captain Jack Sparrow). 

The King of Diamonds could be Bill Gates and the Queen of Diamonds could be the Queen of England. For millions of girls, the Jack of Hearts could be Justin Bieber, although he’s getting on a bit now! 

As for the number cards, Ace to Ten you could try to find a link such as the Seven of Hearts. How about James Bond 007, another heart-throb for some. 

You might associate the 10 of Diamonds with British PM, Boris Johnson as he lives at number 10. 

However, if you start to struggle finding associations, the alternative way to make associations is by translating them into pairs of letters which then represent the initials of names. This is the basis of the ‘Dominic System’ which I describe at length in my books and courses.

Without going into too much detail, it works something like this:

The Ace of Clubs, AC, gives us gangster, Al Capone AC. 

The 5 of Clubs gives us EC, guitarist Eric Clapton’s initials. The fifth Alphabet letter is E and C represents clubs.

The 7 of Diamonds translates to G for 7 and D for Diamonds. That’s French actor Gerard Depardieu.

The 8 of Spades gives us HS that’s cartoon character, Homer Simpson.

As well as picturing the faces of your characters, it helps to include a prop and an action to reinforce the mental connection.

For example, you could use golfer Tiger Woods to represent the King of Clubs. His action and prop would be swinging a golf club.

All my card characters are a mixture of famous people such as pop singers, politicians, comedians, actors and so on as well as family, friends, and work colleagues.

Giving each character their own action and prop will help if you can’t always conjure up a mental picture of their face.

Creating your own cast of card characters is the first part of the process. 

The next phase is to memorize the order of the cards using the Journey Method.

Your route could be around your house:

  1. Front door
  2. Landing
  3. Kitchen
  4. Sitting-room

If the first four cards are, Jack of hearts, 5 clubs, 7 hearts, and 10 diamonds imagine the following series of events:

Justin Bieber is knocking on your door and singing with a microphone. Eric Clapton is in the landing serenading you with his guitar. James Bond is doing the washing up in the kitchen and Boris is watching the TV in your sitting-room.

The process of coding playing cards and then placing each one along a journey sounds complicated. However, with practice amazing results can be achieved and it’s a powerful way of exercising your memory. 

In 2017 I witnessed Zou Lujian from China set a new world record by memorising a randomly shuffled deck of fifty-two playing cards in just 13.96.

His method? Card coding and the Journey Method. 

Try it for yourself. How many could you memorise?

Dominic O’Brien