Learn How to Memorize the Order of Black & Red in a Deck of Playing Cards (Easy)

This is the first memory technique that I learned, and the one that introduced me to memory techniques. I’ve found that it’s easy to teach in 15 minutes, and most people enjoy learning it.

If you teach it to someone, please leave a comment below and let me know your experience. There are many variations of this technique. I’m just showing one way to do it that I think is relatively easy for beginners.

I learned about this technique from the book, Mind Performance Hacks by Ron Hale-Evans.

The Memory Technique

This technique can be used to memorize any type of binary data. The order of red and black in a deck of playing cards is a fun way to introduce people to it, but the technique can also be used to memorize a limited number of binary numbers. A person might be able to memorize 60 binary digits on a first or second attempt, since this version of the technique uses 6 digits/cards per location and 10 locations in a memory palace.

The Memory Palace

The first thing to do is create a “memory palace” — also known as “mind palace” if you’ve seen the TV show, Sherlock. You can do this on the spot with the Nook & Cranny Method. Just look around the room that you are in and choose 10 locations in the room in order. The way I do it is to start at the door and go clockwise around the room:

  1. near left corner
  2. left wall
  3. far left corner
  4. far wall
  5. far right corner
  6. right wall
  7. near right corner
  8. doorway (where you are standing when forming the journey)
  9. ceiling
  10. floor
Roman room memory palace

Roman room for nook & cranny method

You will store the information in these locations of the memory palace.

Encoding the Information

If you have three pieces of information and two possibilities for each piece of information (zero or one, black or red) there are only eight possible combinations. Below are the eight combinations with their names. Ones represent black cards and zeros represent red cards. You can reverse it if you prefer as long as you’re consistent.

  1. 100 = Bottom
  2. 110 = Lower
  3. 010 = Middle
  4. 011 = Upper
  5. 001 = Top
  6. 101 = Outer
  7. 111 = All
  8. 000 = None

Fanning Through the Cards

Hold the cards facing you and go through them from top to bottom. In the example below, the cards are read from right to left: Outer and Top.

Card Colors

Fanning through the cards

If you are memorizing binary numbers, those cards are equivalent to 101 and 001 — Outer (O) and Top (T) 1.

Now pick two persons, animals or objects that begin with those letters. For the letter “O” I might choose something like Oscar the Grouch, an opera singer, an onion, or Oprah Winfrey. For the letter “T” I might choose tango dancers, a television, or a tangerine. The images should be visualized.

Placing The Images

The next step is to place the images in your memory palace. For Outer and Top (the first six cards in the image above), I chose images of  “Oscar” (Outer) and “Television” (Top).

To preserve the sequence of the images, always place them in a consistent order such as: left-to-right and/or top-to-bottom. To remember that Oscar the Grouch comes before the Television, he should be visualized to the left of the Television or on top of it.

The image of Oscar and the Television gets placed in the first location of your memory palace. In the example memory palace above, the first location of the palace is the near left corner of whatever room you happen to be in. The locations in the memory palace are placed as if you were standing in the doorway.

The Actions: Funny, Obscene, Shocking

The weirder a mnemonic image, the more memorable it will be. Things that are funny, obscene, shocking are memorable. You don’t have to tell anyone what your images were, so be creative. 🙂

Tips

  1. Be consistent: one image per chunk of data, and two images per location.
  2. Remember to preserve the order by arranging the images from left to right, top to bottom, or other method that makes sense to you.
  3. Visualize the images. These techniques work because visual memory is very strong.
  4. Be aware of the direction that you start in. I recommend having the deck facing you, and starting with the the cards closest to you.
Give it a try (or teach it to someone), and let me know your experiences in the comments below.

Read More

Share and Enjoy

    Related posts:

    Notes:

    1. 101 and 001 could be read as Outer and Top or Outer and Bottom, depending on your perspective. It doesn’t matter which way you read it, as long as you’re consistent.

    43 comments

    • This is a neat one 🙂 I’ll get a card deck and try it with a friend.

    • Ok, I get it. Seems pretty simple. Question, though. there are 52 cards. If we can store 6 cards in each memory palace spot, we will have 48 cards when the 8th spot is filled. That leaves 4 in the deck. How do you handle that?

    • Sorry, I made the diagram quickly and it’s a bit rough. There are 10 locations in this kind of memory palace: the 8th location is the door, then I go to the floor in the middle of the room, and then ceiling…

    • I decided to group cards by their binary value instead of a symbolic letter value, and then just use my regular PEG list (00-07).
      I do this because I haven’t made my PEG list yet and thought this might help me get started (and memorize it aswell).

      See any flaws in this?

    • @Tobias: that is a good way to do it.

      The method I described isn’t the most efficient way to memorize binary numbers, but is just an easy technique that can be quickly taught to beginners.

      If you have a mnemonic system for numbers, then I think that it’s better to convert them:
      001-110 = 16 = [use your mnemonic image for 16]
      111-101 = 75 = [use your mnemonic image for 75]

    • I guess I still don’t get it. I see how you can easily remember 6 cards per location… but what do you do with the leftover 4 cards when you get to the end?

    • Ah… sorry — now I see what you meant. You can take 3 cards and make an image with the letter (e.g., “Lower”). There is one card left. That can be an image created with “B” or “R” (black or red).

    • I made a system for this once. It is cool. I was told later that it is a known performance which magicians do. I agree that it is a good way to get started.
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/memoryskillsandthebrain/message/57

    • Well, thanks! True beginner here, and I have to say this little trick was easy to learn and quite effective. Just the kind of touchstone I’ve been looking for.

    • Glad to hear that the technique worked! 🙂

    • i didn’t understood
      can u explain with the example

    • I will make a video example soon. What part didn’t you understand? The part about turning the card colors into images or the part about placing the images in locations?

    • Yeah i can understand why James doesn’t understand, I was really confused the first time that I read it but after really trying to understand it a few times i got it down, pretty cool, thanks!

    • If you have any suggestions about how I could make it easier to understand, please let me know. 🙂

    • Great, just started diving into memory techniques and gave this a try. It took me 15 minutes to understand and translate to a dutch system (1=red, 0=black):
      1 0 0 links
      1 1 0 west
      0 1 0 midden
      0 1 1 oost
      0 0 1 rechts
      1 0 1 buitenste
      1 1 1 allemaal
      0 0 0 geen
      Next I memorized a pack of cards in 5 minutes and made only 1 mistake. This indeed is fun “trick” to learn in 20 minutes. Thanks!

    • I think you jumped to a lot of conclusions here when teaching this. You need to walk explain each step a lot better. I was lost right from the beginning. So really have no idea what you are doing here, interested in learning. Hope the feedback helps.

    • @Rob: Have you used a memory palace before? If not, check out this short video:
      http://blog.artofmemory.com/an-introduction-to-mnemonic-number-systems-4782.html

      You don’t need to understand everything in the video, but it will give a quick visual introduction to the concept of a memory palace. It also introduces the idea of converting data into mnemonic images.

      Basically with the red and black card technique you are looking at the cards three at a time and creating a letter from them based on the eight possible combinations of three cards. You can then combine every two letters together to create an image. Each image is then placed in one location in your memory palace.

      If you watch the video and try going through this tutorial again, and it still doesn’t make sense, let me know which part you get stuck on and I will try to word it in a different way.

    • Pingback: The Method of Loci Technique and Depression — Mnemotechnics.org

    • Just taught myself this method. My first baby steps in mnemotechnics! Thanks for the walk-through.

      In case you were wondering my cues were

      Bottom = bacon
      Lower = lemon
      Middle = map
      Upper = umbrella
      Top = t-shirt
      Outer = octopus
      All = apple
      None = a person named Nick

    • Hi Josh,
      Could you please clarify this point?
      If there are10 stops in a room, and you put only two images in it for 6 cards, then what is the point in having that many stops (10) in the room and not just two, left and right?

      Simon

    • There are 52 cards, so if there are six cards per location, it requires nine locations inside the room. I generally make 10 locations per square room, so this specific memory palace can hold 60 binary digits.

      Edit: a 10-location memory palace can hold 60 binary digits with this method. 10 locations can hold 120 to 300 binary digits with more advanced mnemonic systems.

    • I tried this method with my Toronto memory club. Six of us participated in this memory exercise. From that experience, I would like to suggest a few things. First, I would recommend that you use 26 cards with a black cover and 26 cards with a red cover and to aim more simply to try remembering the color of the cover. Some people seem to be confused at seeing the numbers on the cards and it takes a bit of time to explain to them that they don’t have to remember that. My suggestion eliminates this possible misunderstanding.
      Second, I would suggest that you use a memory technique to decide which color (the black or the red) is used to represent 0 or 1. Since black is generally known in physics as being the absence of color, I think it should represent the zeros and then tell the audience to focus on the red which represent the ones.
      It would also have been useful if I had a prepared sheet to hand out to everyone explaining the value of the each letter: L means Lower 100, etc. (with a drawing of the cards’ series for each of the 8 possibilities)
      This system is like building an acronym but the acronym that we build isn’t a word but a series of letter that turn out to be a Key. I think that one of the main goals of this exercise is to show how it is easier to remember visual objects than it is to remember abstract words such as All, Top, Middle, etc. and that this should be stated.
      There are 8 ways in which a series of 3 black or white cards can be arranged. All these individual arrangements can easily be described using a single word. This means one of 8 words will always be able to “memorize” the correct order of any series of 3 cards. So, the 8 key words start with a different letter and by using those letters to build a key acronym, and remembering this acronym by using objects that start with the same letter, we can show that it is easier to remember objects than it is to remember abstract commends. In my opinion, all this needs to be stated out clearly.
      The object which we place on the journey will give us, with its first letter, the correct acronym letter of Top- Bottom- Middle, etc. We use the objects on the journey to remember a letter and this letter will be appropriately transferred into either one of seven words that then will give us the correct binary order.
      It became obvious that a number of people need all these explanations to understand what is going on there.
      Simon

    • Good suggestions. Here are the two handouts that I use with my memory club for this exercise:

    • Thanks for the article, I had never tried binary cards before, and sort of made it up from scratch, being a little familiar with the idea of taking groups of three cards. I had been practicing on and off for most of the day and I noticed that two of my patterns where the same I guess I assumed that three times three would be the number of possible patterns. – anyway I logged on to check, and poof the information I needed was here.

      I knew I didn’t want to use the middle top bottom type words, I settled on the idea of RRB being 1 and RBB being 2 because that is how many blacks I count as I go across. likewise BBB is 3 then I count a red card as 4 and continue the count of blacks, for #4 RBB was 5. That helped me remember those quickly. then I had to just remember BRR is 6 and BRB is 7 RRR is 8. I was converting these numbers to the major system but putting 4 number digits in a location. Which isn’t that difficult to remember but when you go to recall them it is easy to get ahead of yourself.

      Anyway Thanks for this post it was helpful.

      – Brian

    • hi…
      I used the number-shape system for this mentioned in the book by ‘Dominic O’ Brien. like number 2 becomes a ‘swan’. Would that help?

    • Ok, I’m a little confused.. when you fanned out the cards, you said the cards are read from right to left. You said your cards were 101 and 001, but when I read the cards from right to left i see 101 and 100. Sorry this just got me hung up and I’d like to know if its a typo or if I’m just not getting it.

    • If you go right to left here, it’s “outer” and “top:
      http://blog.artofmemory.com/files/2011/09/card-colors-300×182.jpg

      It might help to think of them just as colors instead of numbers. One black card is on top of two red cards, so you end up with “top” or the letter “t”.

      Does that make sense? If not, I can explain it a different way or make a quick video.

    • I dont quite understand this. I’m familiar with the Loci system, but the first thing i learned was a list of objects f.ex. a shopping list, and that was insanly easy to learn… i think i remember 90 word list the first time i tried out the method..

      Anyways with abstract stuff as this, do you have one object ALWAYS ?

      Like for bottom ( 100, or Black Red Red ) you take one single word ?

      For example for 100 i took Biggy Smalls.. but if i place Biggy everywhere in my loci, it seems that i mix him up most of the time, and after all its just 8 People/Objects that i imagined, and it seems like i cant remember those at all..

      So do you just think of a word everytime you see a combination? Like 100 can be Biggy smalls, then it can be Boris becker, then it can be Breasts or whatever..

      You write nothing about that in the article..

    • Also, i feel really uncomfortable with putting more then 3 things in a single room, i think that has to get fixed aswell.. i would advice to use a full House and a clear way you go through that house instead of a room, because you can take whatever room you like it would still be too small for the things you put into ( atleast for me

    • Yes… you can change the image for the letter if that helps. 🙂

      The explanation in this post is just a basic, temporary method that helps people learn some basic concepts. When you are comfortable with the technique then move on to something like the Major System.

      You can change the memory palace to suit your preferences. Everyone has slightly different methods. The most important thing is that it’s memorable. 🙂

    • Gene Kissinger

      thanks great job. I got it this will be a great introduction for m friends to
      Help explain memory techniqes

    • I liked it, I am trying to use 4 bits at once, so we need sixteen different codes/images/mnemomics, and for the color order the whole deck, we need 13 places. I use the 8 corners and the 6 sides of the room, excluding the floor which I am sitting/standing on. So it it 1 image per locus.
      I would love some feedback from you guys trying. It wont be a problem if you know converting 4 digit bits to numbers, (1010 = 10; 1111=15) and then you can use major system for the images. If we use the PAO system here, we still may reduce the number from 13 to 5. So I want you pro’s to take a try and leave some feedback, coz btw I am a newbie.

      Thanks.

    • How did not I see this before,

      we add 6 bits to make two digits (000=0 to 111=7; 64 numbers in total)
      that means we have 9 images for 54( or 52) cards, and then we may use the PAO system, which drastically reduces it to 3 images, just 3 images and one per loci, what the hell, we dont even need loci for this, just link or peg the three images, and voila, we have the whole order of black and red order of a whole deck of card in three images encoded.

      And in the same way or the other, remembering random binary numbers, 6 digits give an image, and with PAO 18 bits can be encoded in 1 image. Fascinating these are. WOW

    • This is awesome. This was my first applied lesson in mnemonics. I used the Top Middle Outer methodology but applied the Person Action Object technique so that I had 9 cards in each Loci, every corner of the room, center, and ceiling. By the second time I can do it in one try. Need to time myself next.

    • Hello there,
      I have a doubt ! how my memory hooks/trigger should I put in a room ?
      thank you !

    • As the first mnemonic technique I’ve tried from your website, it yielded very good results for me – I was able to recall the whole deck on my second attempt! Thanks – I definitely will be doing some more reading here.

    • Good to hear that it’s working for people. 🙂

      @Hrishikesh: For this exercise I use two images per location in a 10-location room. The wiki has more information on memory palaces, and you can also ask questions in the forum.

    • This was a very good technique and tutorial .Thanks to you i learned it in less than 5 min.

      The only problem is people who don’t know what is a memory palace my get confused cause they don’t have any idea of what to do. But anyone would eventually figure it out.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I’ve added some links to more information on memory palaces for the new users.

    • Pingback: Book Review: Mindhacker by Ron and Marty Hale-Evans - Art of Memory

    • Thanks for this neat method explanation. I taught this technique to my 9 years young daughter and she learned it in 15 minutes or less. She is now able to memorize the deck of cards in less than 5 minutes by creating a story with our living room as her memory palace.

      The pegs we have chosen for her done with her help is as follows

      000 – None – Noddy
      111 – All – Alladin
      100 – Top – Tinker Bell
      001 – Botton – Bheem (Famous cartoon in India )
      110 – Unicorn
      011 – Lavarna (Villain from the film Fairytopia)
      101 – Outer – Oggie (From Oggie and the cockroach cartoon)
      010 – Indumati (Character from Chhota Bheem – famous Indian cartoon)

    • I am having trouble with the “journey” through the room. Wouldn’t a string of letters be easier? The whole idea of using pictures instead of words is odd to me. So the method RRRBBRBRB etc. would not work (because you’d have to memorize 52 letters) and somehow this does? Even then why not just store three letters at every location – brb – bbb- rbr – ? What are the mechanics behind it being an easier, simpler system?

      Thanks!

    • The technique works because visual images are easier to remember than abstract data (like letters that have no meaning) for most people. The human mind can generally remember 7 (plus or minus 2) items of information in short-term memory. If you try to remember 52 letters, even if chunked in threes, most will be forgotten.

      This technique (and related ones) have allowed some people to memorize over 1,000 random binary digits in five minutes. The technique I’ve mentioned here is an introductory one that provides a stepping stone to more powerful techniques.

      Give both methods a try. First try to memorize the card colors using letters. Then try the technique mentioned here. There should be a huge difference in how many items you can recall. If you have trouble with getting it to work, post an explanation of how you are doing the technique and where you get stuck in the forum. We could have a longer discussion about it there.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *