Joker (playing card)

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Four joker cards

The Joker is a unique playing card found in most modern card decks, as an addition to the standard four suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades). The often colorful card has a rich history, and varying interpretations depending on specific card games and their rules. Jokers also appear as tiles in some Mahjong game sets, primarily in the American version of Mahjong.


An example of a joker playing card.

It is believed that the term "Joker" comes from Jucker, the original German spelling of Euchre. The card was originally introduced in about 1860[1] for games of that family to be used as the highest trump.[2][3][4] Catherine Perry Hargrave documents jokers from 1862 and 1865 in her book A History of Playing Cards. The 1862 card has a tiger on it and the label "Highest Trump," while the one from 1865 is inscribed "This card takes either Bower" and "Imperial Bower," or "Highest Trump Card."

An alternate theory[by whom?] is that the Joker was originally developed for the game Poker as a wild card; however, this is largely discredited[by whom?] in favor of the Euchre theory. Confusion on this issue may[vague] stem from the fact that both games spread simultaneously northward on the Mississippi.[5]

The Joker came to be represented as a clown or court jester by the 1880s,[2] due to its assumed name and also probably[vague] borrowing from The Fool in tarot cards (predecessors to the French Tarot Nouveau, which depict The Fool as a lute-playing jester, were becoming popular in Europe around the same time).[6]


These Jokers, or extra cards, were first introduced into American packs around 1863, but took a little longer to reach English packs, in around 1880. One British manufacturer (Chas Goodall) was manufacturing packs with Jokers for the American market in the 1870s.[7]

The Joker is usually depicted as a court jester. There are usually two Jokers per deck, often noticeably different. For instance, Bicycle Playing Cards prints their company's guarantee claim on only one. More common traits are the appearance of colored and black/non-colored Jokers. At times, the Jokers will each be colored to match the colors used for suits; there will be a red Joker, and a black Joker. In games where the jokers may need to be compared, the red, full-color, or larger-graphic Joker usually outranks the black, monochrome, or smaller-graphic one. If the joker colors are similar, the joker without a guarantee will outrank the guaranteed one. With the red and black jokers, the red one can alternately be counted as a heart/diamond and the black is used to substitute clubs/spades.

In the USA-Produced Bicycle brand of playing cards, the Joker sometimes bears an S superimposed over a U as its index symbol. This is a trademark of the U.S. Playing Card Company. Most other decks simply use a stylized "J" or the word "JOKER" in the corner index. While most decks don't provide the Joker with an index symbol, of those that do, the most common index symbol is a solid five-pointed star or a star within a circle. The Unicode symbol utilizes a star.

In Australia, the Joker in the Queen's Slipper brand of playing cards depicts a Kookaburra, a bird native to Australia with a call that famously resembles human laughter. In Australian games of 500, the Joker is often referred to colloquially as "The Bird". In Portugal, Litografia Maia has printed French decks where the Joker figure is substituted by a donkey head. It is intended to be used in Burro em pé ("standing donkey").[8]When Club Nintendo released the Platinum Playing Cards, Bowser appears as the Joker, a nod to his role as Mario's archenemy in the video games.

The publishers of playing cards trademark their jokers, which have unique artwork that often reflect contemporary culture.[9]

Like sports trading cards, jokers are often prized by collectors. Many unusual jokers are available for purchase online while other collectible jokers are catalogued online for viewing.[10]

Tarot and cartomancy[edit]

The Joker is often compared to "(the) Fool" in the Trumps of the Tarot deck. They share many similarities both in appearance and play function; the Fool is often the highest trump, or else an "excuse" that can be played at any time but cannot win. Though the inspiration for using the "jester" imagery on the joker may have derived from the Fool card, they have differing origins as stated above; the Tarot deck has included the Fool since its invention in the 15th century while the Joker is a relatively recent (re)addition to the French/Anglo-American 52-card deck.

Because of the above correspondence, practitioners of cartomancy often include a Joker in the standard 52-card deck, with a meaning similar to the Fool card of Tarot. Sometimes the two Jokers are used: one approach is to identify the "black" Joker with the Fool and the "red" Joker with "the Magician," also known as the Juggler, a card which is somewhat similar in interpretation and is considered the first step in the "Fool's Journey."

Use of the Joker in card games[edit]

In a standard deck, there are two Jokers. The Joker's use varies greatly. Many card games omit the card entirely; as a result, Jokers are often used as informal replacements for lost cards in a deck by simply noting the lost card's number and suit on the joker. Other games, such as a 25-card variant of Euchre, make it one of the most important in the game. Often, the joker is a wild card, and thereby allowed to represent other existing cards. The term "joker's wild" originates from this practice, as does the game show of the same name. The Joker Is Wild is also the name of a 1957 film starring Frank Sinatra.[11]

The Joker can be an extremely beneficial, or an extremely harmful, card. In Euchre it is often used to represent the highest trump. In poker, it is wild. However, in the children's game named Old Maid, a solitary joker represents the Maid, a card that is to be avoided.

Specific ranks[edit]

  • Euchre, 500: As the highest trump or "top Bower".
  • Canasta: The joker, like the deuce, is a wild card. However, the joker is worth 50 points in melding, as opposed to 20 for the deuce.
  • Gin Rummy: a wild card, able to be used as any necessary rank or suit to complete a meld.
  • Chase the Joker: An alternative version of Old Maid where the Joker card is used instead of the Ace.
  • War: In some variations, beats all other cards.
  • Pitch: A point card in some variations. Jokers usually are marked as "High" and "Low", one outranking the other.
  • Mighty: Second most-powerful card in the game, though it cannot be legally played on the first or last trick.
  • Daihinmin: a wild card, or a deuce (which ends the round and clears the discard pile).
  • Crazy Eights: a "skip" card, playable on top of any other card, that forces the next player to lose a turn.
  • Spades: uncommon, but can fulfill one of two roles. When playing with three or six players they are added to make the cards deal evenly (18 or 9 cards each, respectively). They are either "junk" cards playable anytime that cannot win a trick, or they count as the two highest trumps (the two Jokers must be differentiable; the "big Joker" outranks the "little Joker"). They also can be used in conjunction with teammates cards to create a pseudo-"trump", i.e. an Ace of Hearts and Joker played together would be counted as an Ace of Spades, inferior only to a natural Ace of Spades.
  • Double King Pede: As the lowest-ranked card, but worth 18 points.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, David Parlett, pg. 104 Oxford University Press (1996) ISBN 0-19-869173-4
  2. ^ a b "A Brief History of Playing Cards". US Playing Card Co. Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. 
  3. ^ Beal, George. Playing cards and their story. 1975. New York: Arco Publishing Comoany Inc. p. 58
  4. ^ Trumps The modern pocket Hoyle. 1868. New York; Dick & Fitzgerald. p. 94. 
  5. ^ Hoyle Card Games 2007, pg. 108
  6. ^ "International Playing Card Society - The Bourgeois Tarot". 2010-09-09. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  7. ^ Wintle, Simon (10 April 2008). "The Evolution, History, and Imagery of Playing Cards". Collectors Weekly. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Donkey Playing Cards at the shop of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.
  9. ^ "playing card joker collection". dotpattern. 2003-06-07. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  10. ^ "joker web sites - alphabetical order". dotpattern. 2003-10-18. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  11. ^ "The Joker Is Wild (1957) - Overview". Retrieved 2012-11-13.