There is one thing that you definitely can’t start playing poker without – cards. These little pieces of coloured paper are the most important part of any poker game – without them all card games would be impossible. Let’s see where they come from and where they got their well-known design.
Playing cards were invented in China, being used as early as the 9th century. They came to existence back when the scribes started using sheets of paper rather than scrolls. They spread across all of the Asian continent in the next 200 years. This was the time when faces – characters from novels at first – started making it on the playing cards.
Europe was conquered by the playing cards in the 14th century, probably through Egypt. The first written reference to playing cards came to existence back in 1367 in Switzerland. These decks contained 52 cards, with four suits (sticks, coins, swords and cups), 10 valued cards (1 to 10) and three ‘face’ cards – the King, the Viceroy and the Deputy.
Cards were initally made by hand, but later a woodcut printing method adopted from printing on fabric was adapted for printing playing cards. The suits used on these cards were variable – those know to us came to existence in 1480, in France. Also, the face cards got their current faces – King, Queen and Knight or Knave, later changed to Jack in English-language decks. During the French revolution, when everything tied to the French royal family was undesireable, these face cards were changed to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Aside from this, the French language Jacks have the letter V on them (for Valet).
In modern times, the most well known card design in the world is the French one – with 52 cards featuring four suits, each suit with its own royal family, and aces with a single mark of their suit on them. Card values are the following: Aces are the highest cards in the deck, except for some games where they are considered the lowest, followed by Kings, Queens, Jacks, and numbered cards from 10 to 2.
Some of the face cards in the standard 52-card decks are thought to represent historical figures, for example, the Queen of Hearts is thought to feature the likeness of Elizabeth of York, the King of Hearts is said to be Charlemagne, the King of Diamons to be Julius Caesar and the King of Clubs to be Alexander the Great.