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Editorial: Playing Card Facts and Trivia

If you're a blackjack or poker fan then you probably think that you know the classic 52-card deck pretty well. You know the cards, you know the hand rankings, you might even know the odds of getting each of those hands, but we're willing to bet that there are some card facts your casino experience hasn't taught you.

If you've read our gaming history series, then you already know that the concept of playing cards is an old and even ancient one. The first playing cards were made in China on long, thin sheets of papyrus and were hand-illustrated using natural dyes. Did you know that the deck we use today—namely its suits and its face cards—is derived from ancient tarot decks? In fact, some modern tarot readers still use everyday playing cards to predict the future.

Playing CardsThe four suits—clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds—are also derived from tarot cards, but their meaning was distorted by early European card players who attached each symbol to a different social class. For example, being a rudimentary weapon, clubs are said to represent members of the military. Diamonds are seen as currency and thus represent traders or merchants. Since spades are a tool, they represent the working class, and since hearts represent beauty and the abstract concept of love they are associated with the educated elite. In most modern card games, suits now have no ranking, but this explains why in some older games the hearts are the highest suit and the spades are the lowest.

Speaking of spades, have you ever wondered why the ace of spades is frequently depicted more elaborately than the other aces? More than 300 years ago, England charged a tax on each deck of cards. As proof that the tax had been paid, they would stamp the top card of every deck, which is of course the ace of spades. In later years, some players began forging their own cards, so the government pre-printed the stamped ace of spades so they could tell the difference between taxed and untaxed decks.

The invention of the printing press in the 15th Century revolutionized the availability of card games (in much the same way as the internet has today). When cards first appeared, each deck was a unique labor of love. Today, approximately 70 million decks of cards are printed and sold every year. Las Vegas alone goes through hundreds of decks of cards every day. Many casinos actually give out their in-house card decks; the hole punched in the middle of the cards signifies that they came from a canceled deck, so that no one will try to cheat with them later. It's hard to believe that our cheap novelty decks are so full of history, and that once they were so rare and expensive that they were often traded in lieu of currency.


31-Oct-2009, 11:49

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