History of the multi-pack playing cards memorisation records

by Dominic O'Brien

Recommended Book:
Learn to Remember
by Dominic O'Brien, record holder in a lot of memory categories

ORDER from amazon.com
from the UK:
ORDER from amazon.co.uk

You might like to know the history behind the Multiple deck record attempt. Its conception was wonderfully serendipitous.

I was first inspired by Creighton Carvello memorising a deck of playing cards on a TV show in 1987. There is a long history of card fascination throughout my family tree: My great aunt played Bridge for England and my Grandfather spent two years dealing and analysing 100,000 hands of Bridge as well producing a book on the subject. Seeing a shuffled deck of cards memorised in 2mins 59secs in 1987, I guess, is equal to cricket fanatics as watching Botham hitting a sixes at Lords - absolute magic and intrigue. I immediately went to Guildford library to research memory records and found an entry in the Guinness Book of Records stating 6 decks with 24 errors.

Dominic O'Brien
world record holder Dominic O'Brien

Let's now jump to the gorgeous part:
In Creighton's own words:

" 21st July 1985 on the Japanese TV show "Guinness World of Records I memorised 6 packs ALL SHUFFLED TOGETHER with 24 errors.

My intention was to memorise 6 separate packs, but when my memorisation started I noticed the cards hadn't been shuffled enough and were mostly still in sequence. So the girls from Japanese TV started shuffling them again, but the cards fell off the table onto the floor. They were picked up all jumbled up in a pile, then reshuffled, all six packs in one random pile. So a new record was born----6 packs of cards all shuffled together instead of 6 separate packs!"

Surely, serendipity at work in its most exquisite form. Creighton then bettered this (19 December 1987) with 6 decks and 12 errors.

Now enter the superb Jonathon Hancock. Jonathon, my great rival and only man to defeat me, then memorised 6 decks with 6 errors (30th April 1988).

Enter Dominic. My first World Record was the memorisation of 6 decks shuffled decks in 1988 with no errors. Incidentally, I remember Norris McWhirter saying to me, "I can't see this record being broken for a long, long time"

Here's what happened next:

Shortly afterwards my record was broken with 7 decks and 7 errors. I was peeved to say the least. Which is better 6 and 0 or 7 with 7? Guinness went away and returned with a compromise solution: "Let's introduce a half per cent margin of error".

This formula then accommodated the 7 with 7 and opened the possibilities for greater numbers of decks. Here's how the record, off the top of my head, went:

12 decks Alan Griffiths, West Lothian, Scotland 10 April 1989
13 decks Some guy in Ramsgate
20 decks O'Brien
21 Decks
25 Decks O'Brien
26 Decks
30 Decks O'Brien
31 Decks Uhrin (USA)
35 Decks O'Brien
36 Decks Uhrin (USA)
40 Decks O'Brien 1993

Now comes the tricky bit. Dave Farrow from Canada claimed 52 decks with six errors. I always intended to break his record and then one day, all set to challenge it, I asked Guinness for the Record Guidelines. Somehow, the all important 'single-sighting' was not mentioned. My suspicions aroused, I contacted Dave and to cut a story short the question of single-sighting was not resolved. Therefore, for the past two years I have stated that I am the current record holder for 40 decks with 1 error until proven otherwise. Comment by Dave Farrow: "I did do that record all in a single sighting.  The suggestion from Dominic that I did not do it in a single sighting was unfounded."

Enter David Thomas. David gave a fantastic performance of memory and display of physical stamina whilst attempting 54 decks. I then decided, what the hell, my next-door-neighbour doesn't give a damn about 52 decks single or quadruple sightings as does not the rest of the world. So I abandoned my stubborn Irish stance and instead went for 54 decks myself.

The rest is and will be history.

World Records for Memory and Mental Calculation,
Back to the World Record Homepage