How I became a grandmaster of memory in only 22 hours

On November 1, 2016, I asked myself the question: With only one month of practice, can I memorize the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards in less than two minutes (the threshold to be consider a grandmaster)?

On November 24, 2016, after 22 hours of practice, I found out that the answer was yes.

Watch the extended video here

This article is the Table of Contents for the 30 daily blog posts I wrote during the month of November, which document my progress, insights, frustrations, learning techniques, and triumphs.

To relive my month, you can can either start on Day 1, and then click the “Read the next post” link at the bottom of article.

Or, you can pick and choose which articles sound interesting to you from this Table of Contents. I’ve written a short description for each post.


November 1 , 2016

Completing 12 ridiculously hard challenges in 12 months

“Memorizing cards” is the first of 12 challenges I plan to conquer as part of my year-long accelerated learning project Month to Master. This first article introduces the project.

If you’re familiar with the project, or want to read specifically about “memorizing cards”, you can skip this article.


November 2 , 2016

Becoming a grandmaster of memory in 30 days, sort of

In this article, I officially introduce November’s challenge: Memorizing a shuffled deck of cards in less than 2 minutes. I explain why I chose this goal, my previous experience with memory techniques, and what a grandmaster of memory is.

I encourage you to read this article. It will help you better understand the rest of the month’s challenge.


November 3, 2016

To memorize a deck of cards, you need to visualize a lot of weird stuff

In this article, I describe, in detail, the system I use to memorize cards, and how you can do the same. This is one of the longest articles of the month, but it’s quite an important one: If you understand how the system works, you will better understand how I optimize the system over the remaining 27 days.

Namely, I introduce the PAO (person-action-object) system and the concept of Mind Palaces.


November 4, 2016

My first full memorization attempt, and other timed experiments

After four days, I finally have my system fully created and somewhat practiced. Thus, in this article, I describe the series of experiments I run to establish baseline measurements for the month.

Most importantly, on this day, I memorize a deck of cards in 6 minutes and 18 seconds, and correctly recall 48 out of the 52 cards. This first memorization attempt is documented on video and included in the article.


November 5, 2016

Practicing with a metronome, practicing to fail, and other ideas

In this article, I introduce the metronome as a critical part of my training regime. With the metronome, I’m able to receive faster feedback about my progress (i.e. I don’t need to memorize and recall the entire deck to measure my abilities / find inefficiencies), which helps me set small interim goals.

November 6, 2016

I wear the dorkiest glasses while commuting on the train to work

I start practicing during my commutes to and from work, but find that there are a lot of distractions on the train. So, in this article, I describe the different methods I experimented with in order to regain focus.


November 7, 2016

I can’t remember anything anymore, and it’s starting to freak me out

On Day 7, I experience my first major setback: My brain is completely full with memorized cards, and as a result, I’m unable to successfully memorize any new decks. Basically, I start confusing the cards I previously memorized with the cards I most recently memorized.

This setback was mainly the result of using only one Mind Palace for every memorization attempt.


November 8, 2016

Mind palaces on mind palaces

To address my struggle from Day 7, I create four new Mind Palaces, which seem to solve the problem… at least, for now.


November 9, 2016

Aggressively pushing my pace to reveal my less-obvious weaknesses

Now that I’m back on track, I turn my attention to optimizing my PAO system. I use exaggerated metronome speeds to identify my bottlenecks and hidden weaknesses.


November 10, 2016

I’m starting to see patterns (& some mindblowing math about cards)

On Day 10, for the first time, I start to notice explicit progress, which I discuss in this article. I also use this article as an excuse to discuss the underlying probabilities/math associated with memorizing a deck of cards, which I find pretty mindblowing.


November 11, 2016

Ahead of schedule?

In this article, I share all the raw data from my practice logs. Based on the data, it looks like I’m progressing faster than expected.


November 12, 2016

No more metronome stress

After a week of effective use, I stop using the metronome as part of my training. It turns out that I’m able to perform much better when there isn’t a constant clicking in my ear.


November 13, 2016

My brain is demanding a completely new recall strategy

Up until this point, I mainly practiced memorizing and recalling 26 cards at a time (i.e. half the deck). This helped me iterate and learn faster, but it also prevented me from realizing a major problem: When I try to memorize and recall the entire deck, I struggle to recall most of the cards.

In this article, I describe a new recall approach that I hope will address this issue.


November 14, 2016

I memorize again on video, am surprisingly fast, and make no mistakes

After two weeks of practice, I decide to film myself memorizing again. This time, I memorize the entire deck in 2 minutes and 34 seconds, without making any mistakes.

The video is included in the article.


November 15, 2016

Forcing myself to take a break

After my successful memorization, I decide to take the next day off. The day off isn’t only celebratory, but also necessary. I explain why in the article.


November 16, 2016

I need more time to practice, so I’m spending more time at work…?

While I’m making steady progress, I still feel like I’m not practicing optimally. In this article, I describe how I rework my schedule in order to improve my practice sessions. Mainly, I stay longer at work, which is an odd twist.


November 17, 2016

I figured out why my recall isn’t so good…

I’m still struggling with consistent recall, so I readdress my PAO system, and particularly how I mentally visualize the PAO mnemonics.


November 18, 2016

On a plane

With my challenge still incomplete, I get on a plane from San Francisco to New York, in order to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I’m a bit worried that I’ll have less time to practice in New York, and I discuss these fears in this article.


November 19, 2016

Heartbreakingly close (another memorization attempt on video)

Right before my flight, I decided to take out my camera and film one last memorization attempt in San Francisco.

I memorize the deck perfectly in 2 minutes and 2 seconds, which is exciting and heartbreaking. The video is included in this article.


November 20, 2016

Why am I breathing so heavily? And other answers

It’s hard to fully appreciate the videos of my memorization attempts because all the interesting stuff is happening in my brain. So, in this article, I try to share some “inside commentary”.

November 21, 2016

I’m rewiring my brain

After practicing for three weeks, I start developing this oddly-specific type of synesthesia, where real-life things automatically trigger mental images of playing cards.


November 22, 2016

One mistake away!

On video, I memorize a deck of cards in 1 minute and 50 seconds, but I mix up the order of two cards.


November 23, 2016

Silence

I’m still in New York at my parent’s house, which is much more isolated than my San Francisco apartment, and, as a result, is very quiet. Actually, not just quiet, but silent.

It turns out that practicing in complete silence makes a big difference.


November 24, 2016

Challenge completed in 1:47!

I complete the November’s challenge in 1 minute and 47 seconds. The memorization was captured on video and included in the article.


November 25, 2016

What now?

Now that I’ve completed the challenge, I discuss my longer-term ambitions.


November 26, 2016

I went trapezing (which might answer a few questions)

Over Thanksgiving weekend, as an interlude from memorizing cards, my extended family (16 of us) decided it would be fun to take a trapezing lesson. I think this explains a lot about my upbringing and the kind of person I am.

The article includes a video.

November 27, 2016

Still a bad party trick

While seeing my extended family, I was asked many times to perform Speed Cards as a party trick. I found that I had trouble performing the standard feat in front of an audience, so, in this article, I discuss some clever modifications that make Speed Cards as a trick much easier.


November 28, 2016

I only spent 22 hours becoming a (pseudo) grandmaster

With only three days left in the month, I am curious how much time I actually spent on November’s challenge. After aggregating the data from my practice logs and summing everything up, I find that I only spent 22 hours, which isn’t so long.


November 29, 2016

Speed Cards in 59 seconds

In this article, in order to continue motivating my Speed Cards process, I set another ambitious goal. Sadly, I’ve been distracted by other goals, and have largely ignored this one.

November 30, 2016

This has been a great month (plus, a book recommendation)

To finish off the month, I reflect on the challenge and the positive effects it’s had on my life. I also recommend a book.



Max Deutsch is a product manager at Intuit, the creator of Somebody.io and Rightspeed, and the guinea pig for Month to Master.

If you want to follow along with Max’s year-long accelerated learning project, make sure to follow this Medium account.