The Amazing Doctor Who Wanted to Cure His Patients By Memorizing A Deck of Cards

Image of a doctor with a seven of spades to illustrate a story about a medical professional who wanted to memorize cardsWould You Like A Memory Exercise That Will Give You Outstanding Mental Fitness In Just Minutes A Day ? 


I’m talking about an exercise that gets you using one of the world’s richest memory techniques.

It involves nothing more than something called the Major Method (see below) and 52 small objects you can take with you anywhere you go.

If that’s something that interests you, then here’s a great question about the Magnetic Memory Method approach to memorizing a deck of cards. My answer follows.

Thank you for taking my email.

I reviewed your methods in your book on memorizing a deck of cards and am having a little trouble digesting the method or details.

I admit I’ve gone over your method rather quickly and probably have not given it a fair test – meaning I’ve skipped to the end before completing each step.

I was wondering if you had or could break your steps down further (if that makes sense) – so that I can actually practice each step slowly over time (or do I just need a coach?)  I’d really love to learn this ‘trick’.

I am really interested in your methods.  I am a family physician and generally, as the joke goes, we are taught by someone who sprays information like a fire hose! So if I could use some of your ‘tricks’ that would  be very helpful.

Thanks in advance.



9 Ways To Makes The Most Powerful Sounds On The Planet (Without Learning To Play Heavy Metal)


To memorize cards using the Magnetic Memory Method, we first need to learn the Major Method. It’s simple and as I talk about in the episode you can listen to above, Mark Channon has some great ways to memorize the follow list (give the episode a list for some of them):


0 = soft c, s or z

1 = t or d

2 = n

3 = m

4 = r

5 = l

6 = ch, j, sh

7 = k

8 = f or v

9 = b or p

For an alternative explanation and tips on making these associations stick in your mind fast, watch at least the first video from my Get Good At Remembering Numbers playlist:


The Shocking Truth About Memorizing Playing Cards


Without having the Major Method learned and committed to memory, the rest of the Magnetic Memory card memorization method simply won’t work.

You could try rote memorization or Juan Tamirez’s singsong method, but that takes forever and a day. And as much as I love the ideas Woody Aragón puts forth in Memorandum, I think the Major System approach will be faster for most people (though you can certainly give other approaches a try).

After you’ve memorized the sound-number associations, focus on just one Suite. For example, start with the Spades.

You can review my book on the matter for further details, but by now you know that this particular approach to card memorization requires that you assign each suite with a value after having memorized the sound-number associations.

In this case, Spades are 10, Diamonds are 30, Clubs are 50 and Hearts are 80.

Since we don’t actually count these numbers, each Suite begins one number up (Ace of Spades is 11, Ace of Diamonds is 31, Ace of Clubs is 51, Ace of Hearts is 81).


Rabid Zombie Bambi?!?


The answer is simple. We’re going to use the sound-number association  method to create memorable images.

Let’s say that you’re starting with the Spades.

You need an image for the Ace of Spades.

Ace of Spades is represented by 11, so that means you can make an image from “ta ta” or “ta da” or “da ta.”

In my memory system, I always use “toad.”

But not just any toad!

It’s very specifically this toad:




Specificity In Your Associations Makes Them Magnetic


But you need to come up with whatever works for you because your personal life will always serve up the most memorable. It could be Data from Star Trek, a dozing doe like Bambi, or better yet, a rabid, zombi doe attacking Data.

The point is to see the image you create as specific and concrete. This is as true as when you’re memorizing cards as when you’re using a peg system.

But if you use a verb like “doze” for 11, you’ll be working with an abstract concept.

A dozing doe is better, but also kind of boring, though you’d now be heading in the right direction because you’re compounding an object you can sense in your mind using the Magnetic Modes:

Magnetic Memory Method Magnetic Modes And Magnetic Imagery Infographic For Powerful Memory Palace creation


And a big, bright and colorful image of a rabid Zombie Bambi is not only exceedingly specific …


She’s Going To Be VERY Hard To Forget!


It bears repeating: the words you construct from the sound-number system should be objects you can picture in your mind – or at least describe in your mind using words.

Here are the rest of my images for the Spades (remember: 1 is ta/da, so each word will start with one of those sounds).

Because most people won’t identify with the concrete examples, I’ll just give you the root Magnetic Imagery for the majority of them before diving into a specific example.

2S (12): Tin can

3S (13): Dam – as in the Hoover Dam

4S (14): Tire

5S (15): Tail

6S (16): Dish

7S (17): Tack

8S (18): TV

9S (19): Tape

Now for the following cards, we move to 20. That means each will start with a “na” sound followed by the sound of the next number in the digit. Therefore:

10S (20): Nose

JS (21): Nut

QS (22): Nun

KS (23): Enemy

The rest of the 20s you simply leave blank until the Diamonds, which are represented by 30 start at 31 with the Ace of Spades.

I know that sounds a bit complex, but it’s actually very elegant once we’ve sorted it all out in our heads.

Again, I cannot stress enough that you come up with your own images.

But can you spot the one major weakness in my Spade number associations?

It’s Enemy.


Why Is It A Weakness?


Because it’s not specific. I can’t see the concept of an enemy. Can you?

Since writing the first version of this post, I’ve since “compounded” Enemy with the author and painter Wyndham Lewis who edited a journal called The Enemy. Here’s a self-portrait he painted in which he looks very much like an enemy indeed.

Self Portrait of Wyndham Lewis

Now, this compounding of a specific figure to the concept of “enemy” has certainly helped, but it does require two steps rather than one to encode the card.

To take another example, in order for this system to work as well as it can (and it will if you put in the small amount of effort required), you need to be able to say that the 7 of Spades is a tack within a second of seeing it.

And put it this way: if you put in the effort just one time, you’ll never in your life have to do it again.


Here Comes A New Idea For Using More Than One Memory Palace


Think of four cars, ideally the first four cars you owned so that you can mentally line them up in the order that you owned them. The historical order will help you remember which order they should come in your 4-part Memory Palace.

If you haven’t owned four cars, then perhaps you can use four cars owned by your parents, your best friends, your neighbors, etc.

Or you can come up with something else.

The important point is that you select four “Memory Palaces” and that each has a 13 station journey.

The stations I have on each car are:

  • Driver-side headlamp
  • Passenger-side headlamp
  • Hood
  • Windshield
  • Steering wheel
  • Driver’s seat
  • Passenger’s seat
  • Seat behind driver
  • Seat behind passenger
  • Top of seat
  • Back windshield
  • Trunk
  • Exhaust pipe

That’s enough stations for one quarter of the deck. With all four Memory Palaces together, there are 52 stations, one per card.

Here’s an important tip: the journey from station to station has to be clear in your mind.

The journey should be direct: you should not cross your own path, nor should you trap yourself in any way. That just leads to mental confusion later on when you’re trying to recall the order of the cards.

If you haven’t by this point memorized a set of images for the entire deck (52 in total), then at this point, just use the Spades. Shuffle them up and practice placing them at the 13 stations you’ve identified.


Give It Some Practice And Then …
Practice A Little More!


Before you know it, you’ll have the entire deck memorized and will be able to memorize new orders within 15 minutes or less. You can push yourself to do it in under 5. The world’s best can do it in under 20 seconds.

Where preparation meets opportunity, there is no ceiling.


How To Apply Memorizing Cards To Memorizing Foreign Language Vocabulary, Japanese and Chinese Characters And Other Seemingly Difficult Sets Of Information


One of the questions I’m asked the most is how to memorize Japanese Kanji and Chinese Hanzi.

The answer is not simple, but there are possibilities.

There are also existing mnemonic approaches, such as those found in Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig. I recommend checking it out, but I’m concerned by two things in the book:

  1. The sounds of the Kanji are not covered.
  2. There is no location-based mnemonic strategy, such as using one Memory Palace (or ideally more)

What memorizing playing cards can do for you, however, is get you accustomed to memorizing abstractions by using sounds.

So for the Japanese and Chinese character sets, card memorization is great preparatory and ongoing memory exercise. Because you practice associating sounds with numbers and images (and what are numbers other than images?) in a constantly rotating pattern that is never repeated, your ability to manage cognitive overload in learning stretches.

So does your stamina.

Not only that, but there is good reason to believe that priming our mind with small creativity exercises before engaging in large ones increases the quality of our creativity.

Whether or not you’re learning a language or want to give your memory a major boost, give this approach a try.

Remember: when preparation meets opportunity, there is really no end to the heights you can reach.

Further Resources

Interesting article in search of Wang Feng’s card memory system. He’s the guy who can memorized a shuffled deck in less than 20 seconds. Alex Mullen is another.

Memory Sport article on Wikipedia.

How to Memorize A Shuffled Deck In Less Than 60 Seconds on Tim’s Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week.

11 Unexpected Answers To Your Questions About Mnemonics.

System for Remembering Cards? 13 Reasons You Should Have One.

2 Responses to " The Amazing Doctor Who Wanted to Cure His Patients By Memorizing A Deck of Cards "

  1. y says:


    I am working on learning the Card Memorization technique mentioned here. I began with the Master Class version and now looking for more ways you have approached the Card thing. I became interested because you mentioned that it is like daily weight lifting for my brain to be able to tackle other projects.

    My surprise is how long it is taking me to actually “get” the “toad” or the “data” or ta/dah, or tattoo (my own fun image ) to stick to the sound OR the card I saw. I have lists … like Toad… and then a picture of a Toad and the Ace of Spades and the major sounds right there… and then I see the Ace of Spades… and (whatever I use) and nothing arrives in my brain.

    The good news is that after quite a number of days, something are sticking. Like your NuN… Then I thought maybe i could focus on attaching sounds to the Face Cards…

    Maybe if I recited the Major Method and attempted to see the card faces?

    Just saying… I have my nose to the page, and it is not speedy. I may just use your images until i can learn to choose better and more sticky images… or sneak in one of my own images when one occurs to me. ???

    I hesitate to ask questions because i am not sure i have been sufficiently clear.

    I think i have to be better at this basic level to follow you and Angel and Chinese.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences here!

      First up: Please never hesitate to ask questions. You have the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass. That means I can go in to the FAQ area and create a tailor-made tutorial for you.

      One of the challenges of memorizing cards is that you need to first memorize a system. In this case, there are two: The Major Method itself and then the system that attaches counterintuitive numbering to the cards.

      But there is wisdom in that numbering and it is designed to lock onto the potential of the Major Method.

      One thing I suggest is that you perhaps go through the course in the Masterclass on numbers and math. In it, you’ll find my personal 00-99 list. It sounds like creating this system for yourself would be:

      1) Great brain and memory exercise

      2) A great way to “see” the number to which every card belongs

      3) Have an image already in place

      I like your idea of starting with the face cards because they’re the least abstract. However, I would still recommend that you do this with a good command of the Major Method for at least the numbers 11-23, 31-43, 51-63 and 81-93 for the cards. (In which case, why not do all of 00-99)

      Please note that my list changes over time and so don’t resist making modifications. I’m going to put time aside and create a tutorial for the Masterclass FAQ section on this for you later this month and talk about this in greater detail.

      If you could email me any further questions you have about cards and the Major Method, that would be great.

      In the meantime, I appreciate what you’re saying about getting this nailed before using the Magnetic Memory Method with Chinese.

      However, if you can still find time for about 5-10 minutes a day on creating Chinese mnemonics for your Memory Palaces, I’m confident that it will actually make you stronger with the Major Method, and vice versa. The more you use these techniques, the more you’ll see how deeply interrelated they are and take much greater command over them.

      I’ll talk more about a trick you can use in the FAQ session I’ll make to make sure that you’re not overwhelming yourself, so stay tuned for that, hopefully before the month is through! 🙂

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