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An ace is a playing card. In the standard French deck, an ace has a single suit symbol (a heart, diamond, spade, or club) located in the middle of the card, sometimes large and decorated, especially in the case of the Ace of Spades. This embellishment on the Ace of Spades started when King James VI of Scotland and I of England required an insignia of the printing house to be printed on the Ace of Spades. This insignia was necessary for identifying the printing house and stamping it as having paid the new tax. Although this requirement was abolished in 1960, the tradition has been kept by many card makers.
The word "ace" comes from the Old French word 'as' (from Latin 'as') meaning 'a unit', from the name of a small Roman coin. It originally meant the side of dice with only one mark, before it was a term for a playing card. Since this was the lowest roll of the die, it traditionally meant 'bad luck' in Middle English, but as the ace is often the highest playing card, its meaning has since changed to mean 'high-quality, excellence'. This connotation has seen the word applied to an unreachable tennis serve, a successful fighter pilot and more generally as a person proficient in their field, especially a sporting field.
Historically, the ace had the lowest value and this still holds in many popular European games (in fact most European decks, including the French Tarot Nouveau, do not use the "A" index, instead keeping the numeral "1"). However, in most games popular in the English-speaking world, aces have the highest value of all cards in a suit. Many games, such as poker and blackjack, allow the player to choose whether the ace is used as a high or low card. This duality allows players in some other games to use it as both at once; some variants of Rummy allow players to form groups, or "melds", of rank K-A-2 or similar. This is known colloquially as "going around the corner".
The folk tradition of "ace high" existed in some games as of the late 15th century, for example Three-card brag, a precursor to modern forms of Poker. It was not only the French deck which experienced this promotion, but some games involving the German deck also evolved into using the Daus (two) as the highest card. The use of the ace as the highest card in the French deck gained more widespread acceptance as a result of the French Revolution. Examples of the ace being a high card include the game Hearts.
The promotion of the ace symbolised the removal of the nobility (especially King Louis XVI) and the promotion of the common man. In addition to this move, the traditional court card imagery of the nobility had the crowns removed so as to give human personifications to chosen democratic ideals (Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité). Upon the rise of Napoleon to Emperor, royalty became more popular once more and the royal court was re-established on the imagery of the cards. Napoleon commissioned an artist to depict a more historically-correct court, but the move proved unpopular and the medieval court figures were quickly reinstated.
- Knuckle, White, A Brief History of Playing Cards
- John McLeod. "Games played with German suited cards". pagat.com/. Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
- International Playing-Card Society. "Playing-card History: French revolutionary cards". Retrieved 2012-03-05.
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