How Card Architect Bryan Berg Creates The Ultimate Stack

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the noun phrase ‘house of cards’ is defined as “a structure, situation, or institution that is insubstantial, shaky, or in constant danger of collapse.” Welcome to Bryan Berg’s world. Trained as an architect, the 36-year old American has turned his house of cards into a mansion, a city, and even a universe. He has mastered the art of overcoming ’shaky’ ground. In fact, he’s the only person in the world to make a living constructing buildings with free-standing playing cards.

“I have a very strange line of work,” he explains on his website cardstacker.com. “It can be very interesting to explain to someone who has never seen it, or who has no idea how big and crazy the Marketing and Events world is.”

Bryan Berg Stacking Cards

Cardstacking has been his profession since 1994, but it’s been his passion for much longer than that. You might call it a lifelong love affair. His designs are solid, too. Berg was introduced to the art form by his grandfather, a dedicated poker player, who loved to play tournaments on weekends. To pass the time between games, he’d stack cards four to five stories high right at the table before they’d come crashing down. For Berg, who was just 8-years old at the time and watching along, it was love at first sight.

He practiced and practiced. And spent the years that followed honing his stacking game, and even pursued studies in architecture. He has a professional degree from Iowa State University. As well as a Master of Design Studies from Harvard.

People usually assume that my academic training is the real reason I can build freestanding structures out of cards the way I do. But, in reality, it was the opposite: my love of cardstacking led me to pursue architecture.

Devine Designs

Berg has successfully managed to turn his passion into a money-making proposition. And one that’s seen him stack cards in countless cities around the world for clients in fourteen countries on six continents. He’s also stamped his authority on the craft on more than one occasion. You might call him the Wayne Gretzky of his chosen profession because he holds all the records. Berg has etched his name is in the Guinness World Records four times:

  • Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards
  • Largest House of Freestanding Playing Cards
  • Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards Built In 12 Hours
  • Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards Built in One Hour

Berg has held that first record, ’Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards,’ for nearly 30 years. Since 1992. It’s been broken multiple times, but each time the mark was bettered by the previous owner, Berg himself. His last attempt came back in 2007, in Dallas, during the annual State Fair of Texas. As most people were enjoying carnival rides and tasty barbecue, he was slowly building a masterpiece from the foundation all the way up. When all was said and done, his tower measured in at 7.86 metres (25 feet 9 7/16 inches). A remarkable feat. Keep in mind, he doesn’t use any tape, glue, or tricks. And relies only on his imagination and precise architectural designs, using playing cards as bricks. He can’t afford any wrong moves or disastrous nervous twitches.

Tallest Card Stacking World Record

Macau Masterpiece

As for the largest playing card structure, Berg achieved that record in March 2010. Once again bettering his own mark, when he built a complete replica of The Venetian Macau, The Plaza Macau and Sands Macau. It’s a signature showpiece.

“Don’t breathe on it,” screamed the headline a decade ago at Britain’s Daily Mail. “Architect spends 44 days creating world’s biggest house of cards.”

Venetian Macau Card Structure

And, it almost came crashing down a few times. Imagine the patience and steadiness required. For a month-and-a-half, and one at a time, Berg used a staggering 218,792 cards (4,051 decks) to finish the replica. Which is now on display inside the Venetian, and sits at the heart of Macau’s Cotai Strip, the China-ruled city’s version of the Las Vegas strip. Ready for this? It measured in 10.39 metres (34 feet 1.05 inches) long, 2.88 metres (9 feet 5.39 inches) tall and 3.54 metres (11 feet 7.37 inches) wide.

Ace of Praise

His accomplishments are no fluke. There’s no miracle river card to save the day in cardstacking like there is in a game of poker. Just as Phil Hellmuth can dodge bullets, Berg can dodge miscalculated placements and gusts of wind. His designs are fortified from the ground up, with some strong enough to support 660-pounds per square foot.

So good, he’s been featured in newspapers and magazines around the world, publications like the New York PostWall Street Journal, and USA Today.Reader’s Digest, too. He’s made appearances on Good Morning AmericaThe Ellen Show and MTV. His book, Stacking the Deck: Secrets of the World’s Master Card Architect, is available on paperback on Amazon for $23.63. It “will teach you to make strong, tall buildings that are also beautiful and, at times, whimsical,” according to an excerpt. “You’ll become accomplished at techniques you never dreamed of.”

Ups & Downs

It must take a certain type of mindset to be a professional cardstacker. As mentioned, off the top, he’s the only one in the world. Why? It’s a weird job. In 2013, Berg spent several days recreating the Cincinnati skyline. He painstakingly used some 40,000 cards (800 decks) to erect the structure at the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, as part of a $3 million casino promotion. He placed the last card on a Thursday, and it was destroyed the following Friday.

Cincinatti Skyline of cards

Now that’s an implosion, even the hot-tempered Phil Hellmuth could be proud of.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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