Playing cards are difficult to remember because they are abstractions; they’re like numbers. There’s really no way most people can picture a card, so again the concept here is to make an intangible tangible. The trick is to have each card of a deck represented by a definite, concrete item—just as you did with numbers. Once that’s accomplished you’ll be able to picture playing cards, and then they can be associated to other things just as numbers can. There’s a different, very easy way to remember cards —the “missing card” or “mutilation” idea—which we’ll get to shortly.

Incidentally, you should learn the ideas in this article whether or not you play cards. You never know, you may become interested in cards in the future—but more important, trying the ideas is a great mental exercise.

How To Remember Playing Cards

The pattern used is almost obvious. The Card Word for each card (up to the 10’s) will begin with either C, H, S, or D—for clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds. The very next consonant sound in that word will be the sound that represents the value of the card. So, the word can could represent only the 2C. That’s the pattern, and once you understand it, there are no decisions or choices to make. Can represents the 2C because it begins with a C for clubs, and the next consonant sound is n, for 2.

The word (or picture) sail must represent the 5S, because it begins with an s (for spades) and is followed by the l sound, for 5. The 4H is hare; 6D is dash; 4C is core; 8S is safe; 9D is deb; AD is date (ace is 1); 6C is cash; and so on.

The s sound is used to represent the 10’s. Since there is no zero of any suit, we might as well use that sound for the 10’s. So, the pattern or system holds for all the cards from ace to 10.

Don’t worry about the ds in suds, for the 10S. It’s really one sound dz, which represents 0. And even if you break it into two sounds, that’s d-s, which is 1-0. It can represent only 10.

AC—cat   AH—hat         AS—suit   AD—date
2C—can   2H—hen       2S—sun   2D—dune
3C—comb   3H—hem   3S—sum   3D—dam
4C—core   4H—hare      4S—sewer 4D—door
5C—coal   5H—hail         5S—sail 5D—doll
6C—cash   6H—hash       6S—sash 6D—dash
7C—cake   7H—hog          7S—sock 7D—dock
8C—cuff   8H—hoof          8S—safe 8D—dive
9C—cup    9H—hoop        9S—soap 9D—deb
10C—case 10H—hose      10S—suds 10D—dose
JC—club    JH—heart       JS—spade JD—diamond
QC—cream  QH—queen     QS—steam QD—dream
KC—king      KH—hinge       KS—sing KD—drink

Besides, the words up through the 10’s fit the pattern and can be pictured, the court card words also can be pictured—so the word itself isn’t that important. It’s the picture the word creates in your mind that matters—after some use, you shouldn’t think the word but simply see the picture it creates.

memory tricks to remember playing cards and win

Once you’ve seen a picture in your mind for any word, that’s the picture you should (and will) see each time. A few suggestions: For core, picture an apple core; for cuff, trousers; case, either a briefcase or a crate; hem, a dress; hash, corned-beef hash; hoof, a horseshoe; hoop, a basketball hoop; hose, nylons or a garden hose; suit, a man’s suit jacket (this is to distinguish it from cuff); sum, an adding machine or a sheet of paper covered with numbers; sash, a window sash or just a window; suds, a tub full of sudsy water; date, the fruit or a calendar; dune, a sand hill; dam, Boulder Dam or a waterfall; dash, a track star running the 100-yard dash; dock, a pier; deb, a debutante; dose, a spoonful of medicine—we simply picture a spoon.

For the picture, or court, cards we could have stayed within the pattern, but it gets a little sticky to come up with words like hated for the JH (since jack is 11, queen is 12, and king is 13), and cotton for the QC. It can be done, and we’ll give you a list of words that stay with the pattern, so don’t decide yet which method you’ll use for the court cards.

We prefer to use the Card Words as listed. For the jacks, simply use the suit words themselves; they each have meaning—a club, a heart (the organ, or a Valentine card), a spade (shovel), and a diamond. For the QH and KC, we use the words queen and king, respectively. Just be sure that you differentiate between the two pictures since they’re similar, both royalty. For queen, picture a lady wearing a crown and a gown on a throne; for king, picture the crown but be sure he’s wearing trousers.

The words for the remaining queens and kings each begin with the vital suit letter, but then each word rhymes as closely as possible to queen and king. They’re not exact rhymes (except for sing), but close enough. Don’t worry about these; you’ll probably remember them easily because they are exceptions. For steam, picture a radiator; for dream, a bed or someone sleeping.

As was the case with Peg Words, if you go over the Card Words a few times you may be surprised at how quickly you’ll know them.

Now. As promised, here are the words for the court cards that stay within the pattern. You have choices for all of them, and you’ll have to decide whether you want to use these or the ones we use. Again, it doesn’t really matter. We had to use phrases for three of the kings, and take a bit of license with the JH and QH, but they will work just as well because they do create a picture in the mind.

JC—cadet, coated
JH—hothead, hated, hooted, hooded
JS—steed, staid, sated
JD—dotted, doted, dead
head, dead heat, dated
QC—cotton, codeine
QH—hootin’, heatin’,
hatin’, headin’, Hayden
(Planetarium), hoe down
QS—satan, satin, sit in,
sadden, sedan
QD—detain, deaden, dotin’
KT—cute Ma, caddie me
KH—head home, high dome,
hit me, high time, hide me
KS—steam, stem
KD—dead aim, tea time (the
t will still remind you of
d for diamond)

Make your decision as to which method to use for the court cards, and then put in a little time learning all the words or phrases. You’ll find the Card Words just as effective an aid for remembering playing cards as the Peg Words are for remembering numbers. Obviously, they can’t be much help until you know them fairly well. As was true of the Peg Words, any words would serve the purpose. But because these are patternized, you eliminate rote memory. If you know the pattern and the phonetic sounds, the chore is half done.

If you like, you can easily make up a deck of flash cards. Simply write the correct Card Word on the back of each card. Shuffle them and look at them one at a time— either back or face. If you see the face, call out the Card Word, then turn the card over to see if you’re right. If you see the back, the Card Word, call out the name of the card and turn it over to check. When you get to the point where you can do this with all fiftytwo cards, without hesitation, you know the Card Words fairly well.

All right, assuming you know the Card Words, how do you apply them? Well, now you can remember cards as easily as you remember items. You can use the Link to remember cards in sequence. A Link of a gigantic apple core taking a drink, a doll drinking, a gigantic cake rocking a doll in its arms, a cake acting as the sail of a sailboat, a sail(boat) shining in the sky like the sun, the sun having long ears and hopping about like a hare, a gigantic cup hopping like a hare, a large cup wearing socks, and a gigantic sock being a radiator (steam), would help you remember the 4C, KD, 5D, 7C, 5S, 2S, 4H, 9C, 7S, and QS—in sequence, forward and backward.

mnemonics techniques to win at playing cards

Or you can use the Peg system to remember cards by number, in and out of order. This is quite an impressive memory demonstration, because you are memorizing two abstracts, numbers and cards. You need to know two things—the Peg Words from 1 to 52, and the Card Words. You can do it with a full deck; but it’s just as impressive with half the deck, or even twenty cards.

Just to show you how it works, assume a friend shuffes the cards and calls off ten of them, from the top. Make these associations or use your own pictures:

You’re wearing a large horseshoe (hoof) instead of a tie.

A man’s beard (Noah) is made up of millions of dollar bills (cash).

Your Ma is singing at the Metropolitan Opera.

A hen is laying a bottle of rye instead of an egg, or it’s drinking from a bottle of rye.

A gigantic comb is wearing a uniform; it’s a policeman (law).

A gigantic shoe is sitting on a throne, wearing royal robes; it’s the king.

It’s hailing cows instead of hailstones.

Millions of cups, instead of ivy, are growing all over a wall; or, ivy is growing all over a gigantic cup.

You open a safe, and millions of bees fly out and sting you.

You’re wearing toes instead of a hat; or hats are growing between your toes.

If you’ve really tried to see these or your own pictures, and if you’re fairly familiar with the Card Words, you’ll know ten cards by number. It’s quite easy. Think of the Peg Word for number 1, tie. What does it make you think of? It should make you think of horseshoe, or hoof. Hoof can represent only one card, and that’s the 8H.

Since this is exactly the same as doing a regular Peg list, you also know the cards out of order. If you thought of cow (7), the picture of hailing cows should come to mind, and hail can only be the 5H. If your friend called the KS, you’d transpose that to its Card Word, sing, which should make you think of Ma, and that tells you that the KS is the third card. Test yourself—number or card. If you made the associations originally, you’ll know the position of each card, and which card is at which position. If you didn’t form the associations, go back and do so now. Otherwise, you’ll never know whether or not this really works!

Knowing the Card Words makes the cards of a deck tangible and easy to picture in the mind. Once they can be pictured, they can be associated so that you can be Originally Aware of them.

Here’s some more practice for you, although you can easily do it on your own. Use the Peg Words from 11 to 20 and remember the following cards. Then you’ll know twenty cards by number. After you’ve formed the associations, test yourself.

11. 4D (tot to door)
12. JS (tin to spade)
13. 3H (tomb to hem)
14. 8D (tire to dive)
15. 10C (towel to case)
16. 6S (dish to sash)
17. 10H (tack to hose)
18. 7H (dove to hog)
19. 5D (tub to doll)
20. KH (nose to hinge)

Now that you’ve impressed yourself, you’re ready to learn a fascinating application of the Card Words.

A Cool Application Of Card Words

Neither the Link nor the Peg would come in too handy in most card games. For any “discard” game such as gin rummy, bridge, hearts, or canasta, you need the “mutilation” idea. We’ll teach it to you as a stunt, and then we’ll discuss its use in different card games.

Assume that a friend shuffles a full deck of cards. He removes, say, five cards, which he puts into his pocket without looking at them. Now, he calls off the remaining fortyseven cards. When he’s done that, you tell him, one by one, the cards he has in his pocket—in other words, you tell him the names of the missing cards.

There’s no need to use the Link or the Peg in order to accomplish this; it would take much too long. The mutilation idea is faster and easier because all you need to know is your list of Card Words. You simply do this: When you hear a card called, transpose it to its Card Word and mutilate that word (the picture, really) in some way.

Say the KD is called, see a spilled drink; the 4H is called, picture a hare without ears; the 5D, see a doll with an arm or leg missing; the AC, see a cat without a tail; the 2S, see a cloud obliterating the sun, and so on. Simply mutilate the picture that represents the card in your mind, in some quick way. This will become easier and faster to do as you keep doing it, for two reasons: You’ll get to know the Card Words better, and once you see a mutilation of any Card Word, you’ll use that same picture all the time. It has become an instantaneous picture in your mind.

This is probably the best example of pinpointed concentration and Original Awareness that we could demonstrate. That instantaneous picture of the mutilated Card Word has forced you to be aware of that particular card at that moment, as clearly as is humanly possible. You can prove this by trying it. After you’ve mutilated the called forty-seven cards, all you have to do is to go over all your Card Words, mentally. Any Card Word that has not been mutilated will stand out like the proverbial sore thumb!

Go over the Card Words in a specific order; we always use CHSD, which is easy to remember if you think of the word “chased.” Perhaps you’d prefer the HSDC order— think of the phrase “his deck.” You might want to use the bridge, or alphabetical, order of suits (CDHS), it doesn’t matter. Always using the same suit order will save you the time and possible confusion of possibly going over the same suit twice. Why take the chance of going over, say, the club Card Words, calling the one or two club cards that are in your friend’s pocket, then the hearts—and then not being sure which suits you’ve already done? Going over the suits in the same order every time eliminates that possibility.

It doesn’t matter how many cards you tell your friend to take from the deck. Actually, the more cards he removes, the easier it is for you; there’ll be fewer cards for you to mutilate. Five cards is a good demonstration for poker players; for gin rummy players, have someone remove ten cards. For a bridge demonstration, you can have someone shuffle and then deal out the four hands of thirteen cards each. He then takes three of the hands, shuffles, and calls them off to you a card at a time. You should be able to name all thirteen cards in the fourth hand.

To gain speed, you should first work at making the Card Words second nature; the better you know them, the faster you’ll be able to do the missing-card demonstration. After you’ve tried it a few times at a rate and speed you and comfortable, push yourself a bit—have a friend call the cards to you at a little faster pace than you think you can handle. Tell your friend not to slow down or stop for any reason. Then you have no choice but to “see” each mutilation within that particular slot of time. We think you’ll find, believe it or not, that not only will you do the stunt (you’ll know the missing cards), but you’ll do it better.