Standard 52-card deck
The most common deck of fifty-two playing cards in use today, usually known as the French deck, includes thirteen ranks of each of the four French suits, clubs (♣), diamonds (♦), hearts (♥) and spades (♠), with reversible Rouennais "court" or face cards. Some modern designs, however, have done away with reversible face cards. Each suit includes an ace, depicting a single symbol of its suit; a king, queen, and jack, each depicted with a symbol of its suit; and ranks two through ten, with each card depicting that many symbols (pips) of its suit. Anywhere from one to four (most often two) Jokers, often distinguishable with one being more colorful than the other, are included in commercial decks but many games require one or both to be removed before play. Modern playing cards carry index labels on opposite corners (rarely, all four corners) to facilitate identifying the cards when they overlap and so that they appear identical for players on opposite sides. The most popular style of the French Deck is sometimes referred to as "English" or "Anglo-American playing cards".
It has been suggested mathematically that, because of the huge number of possibilities from shuffling a 52 card deck, it is probable that no two fair card shuffles have ever yielded exactly the same order of cards.
Design of the cards and nicknames
The fanciful design and manufacturer's logo commonly displayed on the Ace of Spades began under the reign of James I of England, who passed a law requiring an insignia on that card as proof of payment of a tax on local manufacture of cards. Until August 4, 1960, decks of playing cards printed and sold in the United Kingdom were liable for taxable duty and the Ace of Spades carried an indication of the name of the printer and the fact that taxation had been paid on the cards.[notes 1] The packs were also sealed with a government duty wrapper.
Though specific design elements of the court cards are rarely used in game play and many differ between designs, a few are notable.
- Face cards - Jacks, Queens, and Kings are called "face cards" because the cards have pictures of their names.
- One-eyed Royals - The Jack of Spades and Jack of Hearts (often called the "one-eyed jacks") and the King of Diamonds are drawn in profile; therefore, these cards are commonly referred to as "one-eyed". The rest of the courts are shown in full or oblique face.
- The Jack of Diamonds is sometimes known as "laughing boy".
- Wild cards - When deciding which cards are to be made wild in some games, the phrase "acey, deucey or one-eyed jack" (or "deuces, aces, one-eyed faces") is sometimes used, which means that aces, twos, and the one-eyed jacks are all wild.
- The King of Hearts is the only King with no mustache;
- Suicide kings - The King of Hearts is typically shown with a sword behind his head, making him appear to be stabbing himself. Similarly, the one-eyed King of Diamonds is typically shown with an axe behind his head with the blade facing toward him. These depictions, and their blood-red color, inspired the nickname "suicide kings".
- The King of Diamonds is traditionally armed with an axe while the other three kings are armed with swords; thus, the King of Diamonds is sometimes referred to as "the man with the axe". This is the basis of the trump "one-eyed jacks and the man with the axe".
- The Ace of Spades, unique in its large, ornate spade, is sometimes said to be the death card, and in some games is used as a trump card.
- The Queen of Spades usually holds a scepter and is sometimes known as "the bedpost queen", though more often she is called "Black Lady".
- In many decks, the Queen of Clubs holds a flower. She is thus known as the "flower Queen", though this design element is among the most variable; the standard Bicycle Poker deck depicts all Queens with a flower styled according to their suit.
- "2" cards are also known as deuces.
- "3" cards are also known as treys.
Characterization of the personages on the cards
There are theories about who the court cards represent. For example, the Queen of Hearts is believed by some to be a representation of Elizabeth of York—the Queen consort of King Henry VII of England. The United States Playing Card Company suggests that in the past, the King of Hearts was Charlemagne, the King of Diamonds was Julius Caesar, the King of Clubs was Alexander the Great, and the King of Spades was the Biblical King David (see King (playing card)). However the Kings, Queens and Jacks of standard Anglo-American cards today do not represent anyone in particular. They stem from designs produced in Rouen before 1516, and by 1540–67 these Rouen designs show well executed pictures in the court cards with the typical court costumes of the time. In these early cards the Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, and King of Diamonds are shown from the rear, with their heads turned back over the shoulder so that they are seen in profile; however, the Rouen cards were so badly copied in England that the current designs are gross distortions of the originals.
Other oddities such as the lack of a mustache on the King of Hearts also have little significance. The King of Hearts did originally have a mustache but it was lost by poor copying of the original design. Similarly the objects carried by the court cards have no significance. They merely differentiate one court card from another and have also become distorted over time.
Size of the cards
The most common sizes for playing cards are poker size (2.5 × 3.5 inches (64 × 89 mm), or B8 size according to ISO 216) and bridge size (2.25 × 3.5 inches (57 × 89 mm)), the latter being narrower, and thus more suitable for games such as bridge in which a large number of cards must be held concealed in a player's hand. In most casino poker games, the bridge-sized card is used; the use of less material means that a bridge deck is slightly cheaper to make, and a casino may use many thousands of decks per day so the minute per-deck savings add up. Other sizes are also available, such as a smaller size (usually 1.75 × 2.375 inches (44.5 × 60.3 mm)) for solitaire, tall narrow designs (usually 1.25 × 3 inches (32 × 76 mm)) for travel and larger ones for card tricks. The weight of an average B8-sized playing card is 0.063 ounces (1.8 g), and a 52 card deck 3.3 ounces (94 g).
Rank and color
Some decks include additional design elements. Casino blackjack decks may include markings intended for a machine to check the ranks of cards, or shifts in rank location to allow a manual check via inlaid mirror. Many casino decks and solitaire decks have four indices instead of the usual two. Many decks have large indices, largely for use in stud poker games, where being able to read cards from a distance is a benefit and hand sizes are small. Some decks use four colors for the suits in order to make it easier to tell them apart: the most common set of colors is black (spades ♠), red (hearts ♥), blue (diamonds ♦) and green (clubs ♣). Another common color set is borrowed from the German suits and uses green Spades and yellow Diamonds with red Hearts and black Clubs.
When giving the full written name of a specific card, the rank is given first followed by the suit, e.g., "Ace of Spades". Shorthand notation may list the rank first "A♠" (as is typical when discussing poker) or list the suit first (as is typical in listing a single card ("♠K") or several cards ("♠AKQ") when writing about bridge, to help differentiate between the card(s) and the contract (e.g. "4♥", a contract of Four Hearts.) Tens may be either abbreviated to T or written as 10.
As of Unicode 6.0 playing cards are now represented.
Unicode.org chart (PDF)
- Stamp Act 1765 imposed a tax on playing cards.
- Snopes.com "Rumour has it http://www.snopes.com/history/world/cardking.asp"
- International Playing Card Society. "The design distorted by bad copying". FAQ. IPCS. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- KemCards website