4 Playing Card FAQs Answered

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Use these facts at your next card game, and no one will be able to keep a poker face.

1. Who are these kings?

Nobody! The face cards in today’s decks don’t represent anyone in particular. But cards used to have a prouder lineage. From the 16th century until the French Revolution, Parisians identified face cards with specific epic figures. The king of spades was the biblical King David, and he kept good company: Charlemagne (the king of hearts), Julius Caesar (diamonds), and Alexander the Great (clubs).

2. Why do aces beat kings?

It’s a tricky question, but the guillotine may figure into the answer. Prior to the French Revolution, many games were played using the king as the highest card in a suit. As real kings’ political powers dwindled, His Highness’s dominance at the card table waned, too. According to some historians, the king got bumped down in favor of the ace as an act of civil defiance.

3. Who let the joker in?

The joker is the deck’s newest element. During the mid-19th century, euchre players introduced a blank card that would serve as the game’s top trump. Researchers speculate that the new trump was called the “Jucker card.” (Juckerspiel was the original German name for euchre.) Over time, the Jucker became the “joker,” and by the 1880s, companies had begun incorporating jesters into their packs.

4. Why is this ace so fancy?

Blame the British tax system. Beginning in 1711, the government levied taxes on the production of playing cards. And because taxmen needed to stamp one card to show that the government had gotten its cut, that task fell to the “duty ace” of spades. Although an 1862 change made duty aces unnecessary, card makers continued to decorate the ace with ornate seals.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Subscribe here!