Simple guide to memorizing a deck of poker cards in less than 5 minutes

memorizing poker cards

Last year in September 2012 I was in one of my journeys to the local library to see if some new and interesting books have made their way to the bookshelves. As I was reading titles and introductions to the books, I reached one that caught my attention. It was Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. He is a journalist at New York Times.

I noted the title down into my smartphone so that I would later check on it. Back home, after doing some research I decided it was a book well worth reading. There are several important techniques and tricks that I learned from the book and since it is full of references and resources, I started reading other books (Rhetorica ad Herennium by Cicero is one of them) which relate to our ability of memorizing large chunks of data.

So, one of the techniques that I decided to try out was the PAO (Person-Action-Object) technique and it is mostly used in memorizing entire decks of 52 poker cards. Some people use this method to cheat on poker games or on other card games with the purpose of making money.

You first need to create you own PAO system and then you start practicing the technique until you are able to stick to memory one or more decks of cards in the least amount of time possible.

Here are the steps into creating your own PAO system (assuming you now have the deck of cards):

1. You need to assign to each card a person doing an action with/on a certain object. For example, you start with the hearts:

PAO system ace of hearts

In my PAO, the ace of hearts is Sylvester Stallone punching a speedball. This is the image in my head:

Rocky punching speedball

So, the Person is Sylvester Stallone, the Action is Punching and the Object is the speedball.

Then, let’s take the Ace of Diamonds:

Ace of Diamonds - PAO

In my PAO, the Ace of Diamonds is Charlie Sheen drinking whisky. So, the person is Charlie Sheen, the action is drinking, and the object is whisky. This is the image in my head:

Charlie Sheen drinking whisky

Thirdly, let’s take the Ace of Clubs:

Ace of Clubs

In my PAO, the Ace of Clubs is Johnny Bravo calling the police. The person is Johnny Bravo, the action is calling, and the object is the police. Here’s the image:

Johnny Bravo calling 911

Now, you need to do this will all the cards from the deck: all the clubs, all the spades, all the hearts, and all the diamonds. You should write down onto a piece of paper each card with the PAO assigned to it.

2. Be inventive. Try not having similar images and similar places assigned to more cards because it will make you confused when applying the technique.

3. After having the PAO system ready, you should start practicing with the deck of cards by looking at each card and the PAO assigned to it and trying to memorize them.

I really suggest that when you start memorizing, do it with all senses, not only with the eyes. For example, my Ace of Diamonds is Charlie Sheen drinking whisky. When I try to memorize this PAO, I’m also trying to hear Charlie Sheen talking and I’m also trying to think of how it feels like drinking whisky.

When you do this, you engage all your senses into creating memories and I have learned that this type of memorizing is far more efficient than just trying to photographically (only with the eyes) stick something to memory.

4. Now, assuming you are good to go and you know most of the cards and the PAOs assigned to them, you are ready for the next step.

Shuffle the deck of cards. Now start browsing through the cards starting from either side of the deck. You will create groups of 3 cards, which means there will be 17 groups of 3 cards (51 cards) and one card that is alone, which makes up for the 52 cards in the deck.

To get a better understanding, let’s assume that the first group of 3 cards from your deck is: Ace of Hearts, Ace of Diamonds, and Ace of Clubs. You will stick to memory the PAO applied to the entire group like this:

P (Person) from the first card. – Sylvester Stallone
A (Action) from the second card. – Drinking
O (Object) from the third card. – Police

So, you will have an image of: Sylvester Stallone drinking police. Kind of weird, right? 🙂

That’s great because the weirder it gets, the more rapidly it will be stuck into your memory.

You can imagine Sylvester Stallone drinking whisky with the police. Or you can imagine Sylvester Stallone drinking from a bottle of whisky that has a police badge on it. It’s up to you. Be inventive!

Just start memorizing and sticking to memory and I’m really sure that you will find and adjust the best PAO system for you.

In my case, it took me approximately an hour to define and refine my PAO system. Then, the first time that I tried to memorize a deck of cards it took me 20 minutes (to stick to memory) and I had only 3 cards wrong.

The second time it took 18 minutes and I got only 1 wrong. The third time it took 18 minutes and I got all of them right. Then, in a matter of two weeks and 6-7 trials I managed to do it in 8 minutes and have all of them correct. I guess that a month or two of regular practice can get you to memorize them in 1-2 minutes, or even less.

5. One of the most important steps is to combine PAO with the Palace of Memory Technique.

Here’s the idea. When you memorize a deck of 52 poker cards, you will have 17 PAOs combined (like the example above) and another PAO (for the card that’s left). So you have 18 images.

Through the Palace of Memory technique, you will place all these images inside a place or on a route that you are very familiar with. Let’s say, your house.

You can start going from the balcony, in the first room, then in the kitchen, and then in the bathroom. For example, our first PAO will be Sylvester Stallone drinking whisky with the police. I will put this image in the balcony.

So, Stallone is drinking whisky with the police in my balcony. Can I join you guys? 🙂

Then, you have the next PAO in the bed or on the couch of the first room, then the third PAO on the kitchen table or on the fridge, and so forth. Make sure you know well all the 18 points in your Palace of Memory.

I suggest you write them down as well. So you should have written down your 52 PAOs for the cards and the 18 places in your palace of memory.

Combining the PAO system with the Palace of Memory technique helps you create an order in the actions and in the deck of cards and it also helps you efficiently be able to recall the cards in the right order.

Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s actually pretty simple. You just need to get started and spend a little time creating these two systems. Then, it’s all practice! And you’ll have a lot of fun on the images that you get from combining the cards.

Everyone can do it and everyone can do it pretty well. Here’s Simon Reinhard memorizing a complete deck of 52 poker cards in 22 seconds:

You don’t have to use these techniques to cheat on games and I really recommend not doing that. However, you can impress your friends with it after practicing for a while.

This is also a good memory exercise that engages all your senses and various regions from your brain, which helps you keep your memory in a good condition besides that it really improves it.

Here’s the best website (in my opinion) that helps you create your own PAO system, if you’re out of inspiration. There are also dozens of other resources to help you with memory palaces, number systems, and playing cards systems.

If there’s something that I am not clear about or if it’s something that you don’t understand, please let me know in either of the comment sections below. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on this and how you have been able to practice and to apply this technique.

How much did it took you, for the first time, to memorize a deck of cards?


Photo: here

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10 Responses to Simple guide to memorizing a deck of poker cards in less than 5 minutes

  1. Mohamed Adel says:

    hi friend , thanks for the awesome article concerning how to memorize a complete deck of cards . is there any chance of uploading your full PAO list for converting cards to characters , actions and objects ?

    I really need to take a look at your list to get an idea of how it works .
    I appreciate your effort .

    Thanks so much

    • Chris Chris says:

      Ok Mohamed, now let’s see. I wont post all of them because some may not be relevant to you as I have created a PAO from my friends doing some weird stuff.


      Ace of Diamonds – Charlie Sheen drinking whisky
      2 of Diamonds – Courage the cowardly dog dancing and wearing a green dress
      3 of Diamonds – Eustace (from Courage the cowardly dog) having a mask in his hands
      4 of Diamonds – Muriel (from Courage the cowardly dog) cooking stu
      5 of Diamonds – Superman flying with a cape
      6 of Diamonds – Chuck Norris scissor-cutting a flower
      7 of Diamonds – Pamela Anderson running with the red floater in hands – I have to admit, this one is easy to remember 🙂

      Now, you get the idea

      With the rest of my cards I’ve been using all sorts of movie and cartoon characters which are very familiar to me, like: bruce lee, donald trump, silvester stallone, jean claude van dame, dexter from dexter’s lab, dee dee, warren buffet, bugs bunny, daffy duck, etc.

      All of them doing all sorts of weird stuff which makes it easy to remember them. After you have your system up and ready, it should take you some time to stick them to memory.

      Try memorizing them for an hour, then jump, shuffle the deck of cards and start practicing. You’ll be amazed.

      Hope I’ve been helpful!

      • Mohamed Adel says:

        Hi Chris , thanks so much for the reply ! you are an awesome man my friend 😀

        I’ve been facing a common problem when creating my PAO list :

        The problem is that , for example my ace of clubs is roger federer hitting a tennis ball . Person is federer , action is hitting , and the object is the tennis ball . when this card comes in the second place which means that I will have to use its action , its action will be just hitting which may confuse with another action which is punching or smashing , this means that the action for roger federer needs to become (hitting a tennis ball) so as to keep its meaning . but I’ll have also to add an object to that because ball was my object but ball is now included in my action . is it ok if the action like in this case becomes formed of an action+ object altogether because it will be irrelevant to use the action as hitting , as hitting can have so many meanings !?
        so that is gonna be PAOO because there will be two objects then .
        I hope you’ve got the idea 😀

        Best Regards Chris ,
        Mohamed Adel

        • Chris Chris says:

          That’s brilliant Mohamed. I’ve been facing that problem as well with my PAO system. One solution is choose completely different actions for all the cards so that you wont have one card as a man smashing something, other card as a man hitting something, and another card for someone punching something. It will confuse you.

          You can have for example actions like: dancing, flying, scubadiving, singing, and many others. Try making them very different from each other.

          I also did something like you for some of my cards and what I’m trying to say is that you shouldnt stick to the rules. If you see that your PAOO really works better, then just follow it.

          Have you succeeded memorizing and recalling a deck of cards yet?

  2. Mohamed Adel says:

    Dear Chris ,

    Thanks so much for your reply . I appreciate it . There are two more problems that Iam facing when creating my own PAO list .

    1-First problem is that I use some people as objects ! this could create a problem afterwards as I am going to have two people at a single loci which may cause confusion , like ( Julia Roberts kissing Richard gere ) , here the object is a person not a real object , is this ok to use a person as an object ? I believe it may lead to confusion afterwards ! any idea how can i overcome this ?

    Second problem is that some actions like flying and sailing would include the objects as sky and sea respectively . I don’t know really how to visualize sky or sea when they come as objects !
    And by the way I didn’t start yet memorizing and recalling a complete deck of cards ! Iam still in the process of creating my list 😀 😀

    Thanks Man 😀
    Best Regards

  3. Chris Chris says:


    1. It is indeed really confusing to use people as object. So, I would suggest you not do it anymore.

    2. Not necessarily. Be more creative. For example: one card could be: Superman flying with a cow on his back. So you have the person (superman), the action flying, and the object cow.

    The idea is that actions do not imply objects: flying does not imply sky as the object, sailing does not imply sea (example: Popeye sailing in a bathtub 🙂 )

    Be creative and let me know when you have the list ready.

  4. Mohamed Adel says:

    ok thanks so much chris although i didn’t really get the part of using sky and sea as objects ! like superman flying in the sky , where my object is the sky for example .
    But you helped me a lot
    Best Regards 😀

    • Chris Chris says:

      Mohamed, try using superman flying with a cigar in hand for example, where:


      Same as, Popeye sailing in a bathtub:


      Still dont get it? 🙂

  5. Mohamed Adel says:

    Aha Now I get it 😀 You know its always not easy for a beginner to start creating his PAO system 😀 Iam a bit new to this ,but it starts to appear that there’s large room for flexibility and creativity in this 😀 there are absolutely no rules as long as you practise and can visualize it .

    Anyways thanks so much for your effort (Y), awesome website by the way !
    I’ve read the article about power of introverts 😀 and i like it .

    I would appreciate it if you could post more articles about other memory techniques for remembering decks of cards , longs strings of numbers , binaries and names and faces . That would be amazing !

    Thanks Bro (Y)
    Best Regards ,
    Mohamed Adel

  6. Chris Chris says:

    Mohamed, yes. I have to research more on that. However, I got very interested in this subject by reading Joshua Foer’s – Moonwalking with Einstein – The Art and Science of Remembering Everything and also Rhetorica Ad Herenium which is a very, but very old book on creating memory palaces.

    If there’s a man nowadays who knows a lot about memorizing, that is Tony Buzan, a leading expert on the brain and learning.

    Man, thanks for stopping by and reading the other article as well. You can leave a comment over there and tell me what you think!

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