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Hobbs Playing Card Mnemonic System

2014 Stephen Hobbs

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Stephen Hobbs

Although I dont consider myself a memory expert, I want to teach you my method for easily and almost
automatically creating and remembering key (or peg) words for every card in the deck. Having a key
word for each card will allow you to more easily memorize a memorized deck, to recall large numbers
of cards named by a spectator, and with practice to remember the order of a shuffled deck.
The traditional method for creating key words for cards involves assigning a different consonant to
represent the numbers one through thirteen. The first letter of the suit of the card is then combined with
the consonant that represents the cards numerical value to create a key or peg word for each card.
Vowels are neutral and are used between the consonants to form the key word. For example, if the
consonant sound for three is m, then the word for the three of hearts might be ham (h for hearts,
a as the neutral vowel, m for three).
This system works (many people have made good money selling this idea), but it has some drawbacks. It
takes time for the association between the card and the key word to become automatic. Until the
association does become automatic, a calculation of sorts is required (transforming the numerical value
to a consonant and then creating the key word). Even after the necessary association has become
automatic, it tends to be easily forgotten unless you are constantly using the system.
In addition, the traditional approach is very similar to the usual system for creating key words for
numbers. This can be confusing when you are trying to link card key words to number key words; as is
required, for example, when memorizing a full-deck stack.
In an effort to avoid the above difficulties (which may, of course, be unique to me), I wanted to devise a
system that would allow me to create simple and easily remembered key words that could be recalled
without calculation even when I was not using the system on a consistent basis. Here is the result; it has
worked well for me and I hope it can do the same for you.
Hobbs Playing Card Mnemonic System
2014 Stephen Hobbs
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The Mnemonic System
Because this system relies to a large extent on the sound of the key word, it is a lot easier to teach in
person than in print. Fortunately, the attached charts, particularly the basic charts listing the key words
for the all of the cards in the deck, tell you just about everything you need to know. Im going to take the
time to explain all the details, however, so that there is no chance of confusion.
We begin by breaking each key word into two parts: the suit sound (the first letter of the word) and the
number stem (the rest of the word).
The Suit Sound. Each key word begins with the first letter of the suit of the card or the equivalent sound.
Suit Sound Example Note
Diamonds D D (oor) ---
Spades S S (ee) ---
Clubs C or K C (ore), K (ey) Always hard c
Hearts H H (en), Wh (en) Always soft h
In practice, as soon as you know the suit of the card, you can begin to recall the key word by simply
saying the first letter of the suit as you would normally pronounce it. This is the same as the traditional
mnemonic system for cards.
The Number Stem. My innovation begins with the second part of the key word, which I will call the
number stem. The number stem is derived from the word that represents the numerical value of the
card (one, two, three, . . . ten) or the name of a court card (jack, queen, and king).
To create the number stem, drop the first consonant, or group of consonants, of the cards numerical
value and say the rest of the word that represents the numerical value of the card. When the first letter of
the number is a vowel, there is no need to drop a consonant; the word itself is the number stem.
Examples: For the number ten, the t is dropped and the number stem is - en (rhymes with hen).
For King the k is dropped and the stem is - ing (rhymes with ping). For seven, the s is dropped
and the value stem is - even (rhymes with heaven).
When creating the number stem, dont worry about spelling, it is the sound of the stem that matters. The
number stem should sound, or rhyme with, the numerical value of the card or the sound of the name of a court card.
Thats what makes this system easy to learn and hard to forget.
For convenience, the following chart details how the basic number stems are created. It shows how the
basic number is stripped off the first consonant, how the stem should sound phonetically, and the final
number stem itself.
The number stems are largely, but not entirely, regular. Be sure to compare this chart with the actual list
of key words to see what words have an irregular number stem. Remember, it is the sound of the
number stem that is important, not its actual spelling.

Hobbs Playing Card Mnemonic System
2014 Stephen Hobbs
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Strip First Consonant Basic Sound Number Stem
One - one - wan - wan
Two t - wo t - oo - oo
Three thr ee thr ee - ee
Four f our f ore - ore
Five f ive f - ive - ive
Six s ix s - ick - ick
Seven s even s -even - even
Eight - eight - ate - ate
Nine n ine n - ine - ine
Ten t en t - en - en
Jack j - ack j -ack - ack
Queen q - ueen q - ream - ream
King k - ing k - ing - ing
Creating the Key Word. Combining the suit sound with the number stem creates the key word. This
sounds complex, but in practice is simple, as a few examples will demonstrate.
Suit Sound Number Stem Key Word
Five of Diamonds D ive Dive
Four of Spades S ore Sore
Two of Clubs C oo Coo
Ten of Hearts H en Hen
Remember, we are concerned only with the sound of the word when creating the number stem, not the
precise spelling of the number stem. Twist the pronunciation of the number stem to create a key word
that rhymes with numerical value of the card.
Suit Sound Number Stem Key Word
Ace of Diamonds D wan Dawn
Nine of Spades S ine Sign
For the nine of spades, you could even use sine and visualize a sine wave, but that may be a little
abstract. For me, the image of a stop sign is easer to work with.
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2014 Stephen Hobbs
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Remember to drop the first group of consonants from the number word when creating the value stem. In
practice, this is really only an issue with the number three, whose value stem is ee.
Suit Sound Number Stem Key Word
Three of Spades S ee See
Three of Clubs C ee Key
When the number word does not begin with a consonant, simply create the value stem using the number
word itself. This occurs with only two sets of cards, the aces (which are treated as ones) and the eights.
Suit Sound Number Stem Key Word
Ace of Spades S - wan Swan
Eight of Hearts H - ate Hate
The five of clubs and spades are irregular, their number stem being - ave (not - ive).
Suit Sound Number Stem Key Word
Five of Clubs C ave Cave
King of Diamonds D ave Dave
Jacks and kings are handled in essentially the same manner, but we use the name of the card (jack and
king), not its numerical value, to create the number stem. Again, we drop the first consonant to create
the number stem.
Suit Sound Number Stem Key Word
Jack of Spades S ack Sack
King of Diamonds D ing Ding
Queens are the exception to the general rule of number stem creation. In order to make meaningful key
words, the value stem for the queens is -ream (which rhymes with queen). The queen of hearts is the
exception to the exception.
Suit Sound Number Stem Key Word
Queen of Spades S ream S(c)ream
Queen of Diamonds D ream Dream
Queen of Clubs C ream Cream
Queen of Hearts H ream Harem (Hareem)

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2014 Stephen Hobbs
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The Key Word Lists. To pull this all together, here are the complete key word lists for all of the cards, by
suit. Irregular key words are italicized. Ive included the image I use for each key word. See the
discussions below for additional thoughts on creating images for the key words.
AS S + one S + wan Swan A white swan
2S S + two S + oo Soo Chung Ling Soo
3S S + three S + ee See A huge eyeball
4S S + four S + ore Sore An oozing sore
5S S + five S + ave Save Goalkeeper making diving save
6S S + six S + ick Sick A disgusting pile of vomit
7S S + seven S + even Seven Star Treks Seven of Nine
8S S + eight S + ate Sate A huge sated belly
9S S + nine S + ine Sign A red stop sign
10S S + ten S + en Send A gigantic envelope
JS S + jack S + ack Sack A gigantic sack
QS S + queen S + ream Scream The Scream painting
KS S + king S + ing Sing Fat Lady Singing

AC K + one K + wan Kwan Figure skater Michelle Kwan
2C C + two C + oo Coo Cooing doves
3C K + three K + ee Key Gigantic house key
4C C + four C + ore Core An rotten apple core
5C C + five C + ave Cave A cave man
6C C + six K + ick Kick Jackie Chan doing a flying karate kick
7C C + seven K + even Kevin Kevin Costner
8C C + eight K + ate Kate Kate Blanchet
9C C + nine K + ine Kind A large hand stroking a small kitten
10C C + ten K + en Ken A Ken doll (Barbies date)
JC C + jack C + ack Crack The earth splits open
QC C + queen C + ream Cream A huge bowl of whipping cream
KC C + king K + ing King A fat King (Henry VIII)
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AD D + one D + wan Dawn Sunrise (or woman named Dawn)
2D D + two D + oo Doo Dog doo doo
3D D + three D + ee Dee Dee Derek Dingle (DD)
4D D + four D + ore Door Your bedroom door
5D D + five D + ive Dive A high dive
6D D + six D + ick Dick Dick Clark
7D D + seven D + even Devon British countryside
8D D + eight D + ate Date Two teenagers kissing
9D D + nine D + ine Dine A fancy table, ready for dining
10D D + ten D + en Den A lions den
JD D + jack D + ack Dax (Deck) Star Treks Dax (or a deck of cards)
QD D + queen D + ream Dream A fantastic dream
KD D + king D + ing Ding A large ding in your windshield

AH H + one H + wan Hawn/Hun Goldie Hawn/Genghis Kahn
2H H + two H + oo Hoo Cindy Lou Hoo of Hooville
3H H + three H + ee He He-man (action figure)
4H H + four Wh + ore Whore Woman of the Night
5H H + five H + ive Hive A swarming bee Hive
6H H + six H + ick Hick A country Hick
7H H + seven H + even Heaven Your image of Heaven
8H H + eight H + ate Hate Robed KKK = Hate
9H H + nine H + ine Hind A large hind (deer) or hindside
10H H + ten H + en Hen A gigantic Hen
JH H + jack H + ack Hack Hacky Sack
QH H + queen H + ream Harem A sheiks Harem
KH H + king H + ing Hang The Hanged Man (tarot card)

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Notes on the Hobbs Playing Card Mnemonic System
The rhyming element of the key words is very important. Because each key word essentially sounds like
the numerical value of the card it represents, it is very easy to run through all the key words for a given
suit with extreme rapidity. You literally count from one to king, adding the suit sound to the beginning
of each number stem. Thus, the diamonds, in order, are: dawn, doo, dee, door, dive, dick, Devon, date,
dine, den, Dax, dream, ding. I can rattle off the key words for each suit in less than five seconds.
Moreover, the key words for each four-of-a-kind also rhyme. The fours, for example, are core, whore,
door, and sore. The tens are Ken, hen, den, and send.
So far I have just spoken about the key words in the abstract. As you create the key words, it is important
to generate a clear image for each word in your mind. This image must be grand and outlandish,
something that you will instantly recall when you say the key word.
Moreover, it is extremely important to tailor the key words to images that are personal to you; dont feel
limited or restricted to the words or images I have suggested. In fact, in some cases, I have tweaked the
key words to be slightly more general from the key word I personally use. For example, the key word for
the ten of spades should be sen which has been modified to send with the suggested image of an
envelope. I actually know someone whose last name is Senn, however, and I use an image of that
person for the key word. The more you can adapt the key words to personal images, the easier they are
to remember.
Finally, one advantage of this system is that having understood the basic concept, you can actually forget
your key words and it doesnt matter; just re-create them on the fly. Normally, the key word you come
up with will be one you have used before. If not, so what? Just use it in the context of whatever effect
you are doing. You will find that you will remember the new image at least until the completion of the
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2014 Stephen Hobbs
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Applications for the Hobbs Playing Card Mnemonic System
This is not intended to be a comprehensive treatise on mnemonic systems and key words; there are many,
many books on this subject if you are interested. I particularly recommend the Lorayne and Aronson, but
these are by no means the only relevant sources information on using key words for cards. That being
said, here are a few, somewhat cursory, thoughts on applications for the card key word mnemonic
Calling Out the Odd Cards. This is my favorite memory stunt, the one I designed my card key system to
do, and the one I have used repeatedly with success. The spectator shuffles and then deals ten to thirteen
cards face down to one side of the table. The spectator calls out the cards in the rest of the cards in the
deck, one-by-one. As he does so, you silently recall each cards key word and then mentally destroy the
image of the key word. When the spectator is done, you will tell him, slowly and dramatically, what
cards are in the pile he set aside at the beginning of the routine. This is accomplished by mentally going
through the key words for each of the suits in order from ace to king. You will find that you will simply
know which cards you destroyed in your mind. Call out the undestroyed cards. If you have never
tried memory work before, this effect is a great place to start.
It is also worth noting that within the key words that I have suggested, there are several natural pairs of
words. This was accidental, but actually proves beneficial in this effect. Examples of some natural pairs:
He-man and Ken (which I always visualize as two dolls); Dax and Seven of Nine (two Star Trek
characters); Kevin Costner and Kate Blanchet (the only two actors). Other pairs will occur to you as you
examine the key word lists. When both cards of a paired set appear, it becomes natural to link the image
of them being destroyed, which further facilitates the subsequent act of recall.
Memorized Deck. Most systems for memorizing a pre-set order of fifty-two cards require that you
mnemonically link the key word for each card with the key word for the cards numerical position in the
deck. Combining my system for card key words with the traditional system for creating key words for
the numbers one through fifty-two is a potent combination. It gives you a unique and quick way to
create images for the cards; these images are then linked to the numerical key words. By using two
different systems for creating the key words, one for the cards and one for the numbers, the possibility of
confusion is greatly reduced.
If you really want to try a different approach, combine my card key words with an idea of John Lovicks,
described in his Skinny Lecture Notes, for creating key words for the numbers one through fifty-two.
Briefly, John jettisons the traditional approach to creating key words for numbers and simply creates a
key word based on associations with the numbers that are meaningful to him. For example, you might
always associate the number three with trinity and the number six with your cousin Bernie who has six
After devising this system, I was in the process of learning Martin Joyals Six-Hour Memorized Deck.
Joyals system replaces key words with simple formulas for determining the position of each card. Very
quickly, however, the formulas are forgotten and you simply remember the position of the cards. Using
this approach, I mastered the number cards in a day or two. I sometimes had trouble with the court
cards, however, which have a rather different set of rules. The simple solution was to use my key words
for the court cards, linking them to images associated with their numerical positions. I created the
numerical key words using Lovicks create your own key word idea.

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Memorizing a Randomly Shuffled Deck. This is a very old idea. A spectator shuffles the deck and then calls
out the cards one at a time. As he does so, you mentally create a story that links each key word to the
next in an ongoing chain. By reciting the story back to yourself, each image is recalled to mind and you
repeat the cards in order. For example, the 2H, 5D, 7H, 6S might become: The Hoos of Hooville dove to
Heaven and become sick
I had no luck at all doing this using the traditional mnemonic approach. Using my system, I can
memorize half the deck with practice. Beyond that is just hard
One suggestion: when attempting to memorize the order of a shuffled deck, I find it helpful to break the
story chain into groups of twelve or thirteen cards. Look for a point where the story you are generating
in your mind naturally comes to an end, or where a card simply doesnt fit the story, and start a new
sequence of key words. Breaking the deck into several story chunks seems to make the process more
manageable. Pay special attention, however, to remembering the first card of each chain, or you will end
up in trouble.
Practicing this stunt (and thats what it is) is interesting because you simply cant do it too many times in
a row; all the images become blurred together in your head. For best results, practice remembering a
shuffled deck, or a bunch of cards, once a day, every day.
A Numerical Peg System. Im sure someone else has thought of this before, but it worth noting that once
you have a key word for each of the playing cards, you have key words for the numbers one through
fifty-two. You cant use this for memorizing a deck of cards, but these peg words can be used as a device
to remember a long list of objects called out by the audience (each object is mnemonically linked to the
peg word).
I keep this idea in reserve as an emergency back-up. I already have numerical key words for the numbers
one through thirty, which I learnt long ago and use as needed. If for some reason I want the audience call
out more than thirty objects, I start using the key words for the first ten club cards to take me to forty
objects. Ive never had to go higher, but if challenged to do so I would start using the rest of the suits to
memorize an additional thirty objects. Leave out the court cards, using only the ace through ten, to make
the numerical position calculation that much easier.
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Bibliographic Notes
The history of mnemonic systems stretches back thousands of years. In the past, such systems were of far
greater importance than they are today. For this reason, it is unlikely that anything that is has been
invented today is truly original. I certainly dont make that claim for the system just described; it is
simply the tool that I developed to accomplish a specific goal, one I hope that others can use as well.
For anyone interested in the history of mnemonics, I highly recommend Francis Yates, The Art of Memory,
(University of Chicago Press, 1966). This rather academic volume certainly doesnt qualify as light
reading. It is filled, however, with interesting historical information and speculation. For example, there
is an extensive analysis of the possibility that Shakespeares Globe theatre was intended to be a giant
mnemonic device. This sort of place-oriented mnemonic system, which was devised by the ancient
Greeks and involved associating the objects to be memorized with specific positions in a house or temple,
is I can attest from experience completely practical.
For an excellent contemporary description of the traditional mnemonic approach to memorizing a
stacked deck, consider Aronson, A Stack to Remember (1979); reprinted in Aronson, Bound to Please (1994).
This provides a very detailed description of how key words for cards are usually created and a superb
primer on using them to memorize a stacked deck. As a bonus, Aronsons memorized deck stack is
simply brilliant. I think you will see how combining my key words with the Aronsons numerical key
words would enable you to more quickly learn the Aronson stack.
Aronson mentions that his system for memorizing a deck of cards is not original and that its principles
are the same as those underlying previously published memory systems, including Roth, Zuffal, Nikola,
H. Adrian Smith, Furst, Lorayne, and others. The bibliography at the end of A Stack to Remember contains
references to these sources.
Another essential resource for understanding how to use key words is Lorayne & Lucas, The Memory Book
(Ballantine, 1974). Of particular interest is the entire chapter on playing cards. This outlines the
traditional approach to creating key words for cards. It then goes on to describe many applications,
including the mutilation idea described above. This is where I first came across this stunt, and Lorayne
and Lucass discussion of this trick, and its application to card games, is well worth reading.
Aronson, references Loraynes book How to Develop a Super Power Memory (Fell, 1947), and it may be that
the ideas in The Memory Book had already been discussed by Lorayne thirty years earlier.
Zuffal, also mentioned by Aronson, published a six-pamphlet series on memory work. Memory Trix No. 2
(1940) is entitled Memorizing a Deck of Playing Cards. Zuffals system is the reverse of the traditional
system: the first part of the key word is related to the value of the card (in the same manner as the
traditional system) and the last part of the word keys the suit of the card. Zuffal states that he abandoned
the traditional system because it contains too many exceptions; but his approach also contains a fair
number of exceptions to the basic rules that he sets forth.
The Nikola system established the classic pattern for the traditional key words for both cards and
numbers. The Nikola stack was originally published as a separate manuscript, The Nikola Card System
(1927). It can be found in Hugard & Gravatt, Encyclopedia of Card Tricks (1937) (Dover reprint, 1974).
I havent read Roth, Smith, or Furst, so cannot comment on their systems.
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Martin Joyals The Six Hour Memorized Deck (1997) presents a radically different approach to memorizing
a stacked deck. By its very nature, it is not concerned with key words for cards. However, it contains a
chapter, An Overview of Card Systems, that discusses many of the previous approaches to memorizing
a deck of cards.
It was in reading this chapter in draft form that I became aware of an approach to key words similar to
mine: Stanley Collins The Esscee Prearranged Pack. This was originally published in Collins book A
Conjuring Melange (1947). Collins system is the reverse of mine; the first consonant of the key word is
intended to remind you of the value of the card, the last letter corresponds with the suit of the card.
Strangely, I had considered Collins approach in my original attempts to devise a fast and furious key
word system. On the surface it appeared to make sense because the value preceded the suit, which is
how we normally say the name of the card (the ace of diamonds). I abandoned this approach for two
reasons: (1) As a practical matter, there were too many exceptions to the basic rules that I was trying to
devise. (2) It was impossible to make the value stems consistent across suits or, to put it another way, to
make all the cards of the same value rhyme. This was an important consideration for me, as it is what
makes the system so quick and easy to use. By structuring the key words the way I have, I feel that there
are only three (minimal) exceptions to the system (the five of clubs, the five of spades, and the queen of
hearts); otherwise, the sound of all the words for a given value rhyme.