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Have you ever wondered how card decks came to be the way they are these days? The truth is that their past is quite murky and hard to decipher due to a lack of a clear historical record, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try to do so anyway! Here’s the history of the evolution of playing card decks:
Depending on who you ask, playing cards as we know them today emerged in either the ninth, 11th or 13th centuries. As you’ll come to know in this blog, their history is rather vague! One deck dominates modern playing cards, namely the French one – it consists of 52 cards, four suits, two colors and inflexible dimensions. With that being said, there are numerous others that exist, and include suits consisting of bells, acorns and swords, different card shapes, more than 100 cards in some instances, and less than 25 in others. The burning question, however, remains where playing cards were invented, and by whom.
Numerous different theories as to their origins exist. What scholars have established with a certain degree of certainty is that playing cards originated in Asia, but it’s not clear specifically where, nor is it clear how they first arrived in Europe. It’s believed that playing cards have their origins in either China or Persia (modern-day Iran), but there’s nothing concrete to prove or disprove this definitively.
A study conducted back in 2009 cites the very first time that playing cards were definitively referenced was an arrest that happened in China back in 1294. Two male gamblers were arrested in Shandong, with the consequence of their playing cards and printing blocks being confiscated.
One of the major problems with establishing the origins of playing cards is that when fragments are discovered purporting to be playing cards are discovered, it’s usually unclear if said fragments are actually playing cards at all. For example, there are fragments of card-sized parchment dating back to the 13th century that can be found in a couple of museums, such as the Keir Collection of Islamic Art in Dallas, but it’s difficult to determine whether these were actually playing cards, or are just scraps of parchment that happen to look like playing cards.
The oldest-known complete deck of playing cards is called the Cloisters Deck, which resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It dates back to the late 15th century, and is believed to have been made in Burgundian Netherlands. It’s very recognizable by modern standards, with 52 cards in four suits containing both numbered and face cards.
Another world-famous old playing card deck is the Mamluk Cards, which is located in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s not complete, having only 43 of the 52 cards it should, and some scholars contend that some of the cards were replaced with cards from other decks at a later date.
What’s for certain is that playing cards appears in Europe fairly suddenly – sometime during the last quarter of the 14th century. This was a time when there was significant interaction between Christian Europe and Islamic powers due to the Crusades. Although huge numbers of Christian and Muslim soldiers fought each other, it’s likely that they were playing cards when they weren’t fighting. That why it seems wholly possible, albeit unproven, that playing cards were introduced to Europe by bored soldiers during the Crusades.
This theory is supported by the fact that the Mamluk cards in Istanbul are practically identical to the arrangement found in modern Spanish cards. Southern Spain was home to the Emirate of Granada, the last independent Muslim state in Western Europe, until 1492.
Regardless of how playing cards ended up in Europeans’ hands, they certainly loved playing them! Initially, playing cards were for the rich, because they were hand-painted and could be extremely elaborate, employing exotic dyes and ornate designs. The Mamluk cards, for instance, are so elaborately decorated that it’s hard to tell which is which!
Throughout Europe, individual countries and regions created countless different playing card decks, meaning that there were countless different variations in colors and suits. For example, the Cloisters deck uses hunting-themed suits – think of hunting dogs, stags and lures. Other playing card decks had suits representing the ruling families of Europe, but by the end of the 15th century following the advent of the printing press and the popularity of playing cards achieving critical mass, the design and layout of the cards began to be standardized.
Nevertheless, a dominant standard hadn’t emerged just yet. Four standardized playing card decks prevailed in Europe, namely the German, Swiss, French and Latin decks, from the 1400s onwards. It’s presumed that the Latin deck was the first to emerge, seeing as it’s almost identical to the Islamic Mamluk cards, followed by the Swiss, German and then French.
The Mamluk Cards, together with the modern Italian and Spanish decks, usually consist of 40 cards, however they sometimes consist of 48 or 52 cards. These playing card decks are split into four suits, which are Cups, Coins, Swords and Baton (also known as sticks or cudgels). A 40-card deck has “pip cards”, or number cards from one to seven, together with three face cards for each suit, which are fante (knave, or jack), cavallo (knight), and re (king).
In contrast, German decks usually have either 32 or 36 cards divided into four suits – Acorns, Leaves, Hearts and Bells. The closely-related Swiss deck has 36 cards divided into four suits, with Roses in place of the Leaves suit. Neither of these decks divide those suits by color – only the French deck does that. The German cards consist of numbered cards from seven to 10, and face cards unter (under knave, a junior officer), ober (over knave, a senior officer), konig (king) and ass (ace). The numbered and face cards are essentially the same in the Swiss deck.
The French playing card deck is by far the most popular in the world. It consists of 52 cards of four suits – Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades. They’re further split into two colors – black and red. There are a number of reasons why the French deck is the most popular. Firstly, it suits are the simplest in design, which makes them easy and cheap to print. Secondly, the French deck has been the deck of choice among the world’s foremost military powers of the past two centuries, namely France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Thirdly, some of the world’s most popular card games, such as bridge and poker, are played with the French deck.
As to how and why the suits developed for each of the European decks, no-one is quite sure. Some theorize that suits are meant to represent aristocracy and peasantry (Diamonds and Spades), whereas other say the represent peace and war (cups and swords). What’s more likely is that certain suits came about as whims of noblemen in Italy, Germany or elsewhere who decided it would be fun to have their own deck created.
The worldwide popularity of the French deck has a stranglehold on most of the other decks out there, in spite of a clear division that existed just a century ago. For example, although a German deck exists, the French-suited cards are actually more popular in Germany. And that story is true in countries throughout the world.
The world’s most successful card players didn’t get to where they are purely by chance. In addition to their obvious skill at their card game of choice, these elite players share a number of common traits that have led them to fame, riches and respect. Let’s take a closer look at the psychology behind the most successful card players:
To be a success at any card game, particularly the more complex ones, you have to have a certain amount of mental toughness to be able to outmanoeuvre your opponents. Such toughness is also handy if you happen to go on a bad run of form that you need to turn around. Any professional playing career is actually just a series of upswings and downswings, and having a certain amount of mental toughness allows the best players to cope with the ups and downs they will inevitably go through.
Psychology in the context of card games is very much influenced by collective thoughts and feelings. Games are often lost or won on the basis of collective mistakes that are made by participating players. In a card game, it’s inevitable that one or two players will stand out above the rest due to their perceived higher skill level. This perception can put the supposedly weaker or less skilled players on the back foot before a game even starts, and the most successful card players take full advantage of how others perceive them.
The most successful card players make it a point to ensure they’re fighting mentally fit before they get themselves involved in any kind of game. Fatigue is a card player’s worst enemy – when they’re not able to mentally focus, completely, playing their best game is next to impossible. In addition, a lack of focus also results in players struggling to assess table dynamics correctly, which in turn will inevitably lead to losses. If a successful card player feels they’re in such a mental state, they are highly likely to just sit out games for a while until they feel they’re ready to go again.
Although card games play a big part in the most successful players’ lives, these games are not the be-all and end-all of them. These players all know that card games are merely a means to an end (if being played on a professional basis). They play their favorite card game for a living, as opposed to living to play their favorite card game.
This isn’t to say that passion isn’t important – it’s crucial, but the best card players don’t base the entirety of their self-worth on the skills they have at the playing table. They know that there will be both good times and bad times, and that it’s vital to have other aspects of life that bring them joy and fulfilment.
Analysis of previous form is also a crucial part of becoming a successful card player. The best in the world go back and analyze their games and form in minute detail to see where they can improve. They are constantly thinking of new ways to beat their opponents, and take the time and invest money in their game (coaching, for example) to ensure they’re playing at their very best. In fact, such players are known to actively encourage a second pair of eyes to take a closer look at their game from time to time to make sure that they haven’t missed anything.
A hunger to play and win is a hallmark of the most successful card players. It has to be there every single time they play. That doesn’t mean that they love the grind of their playing careers, but they never sit down at a table with hatred or dread. With that being said, it’s inevitable for even the best players to suffer burnout from time to time, and that’s where the importance of having a balanced life comes into play.
Here at Zarzilla Games, we love a good card game just as much as anyone! That’s why we created Gin Rummy Super, bringing the excitement of gin rummy to your very own smartphone! Why don’t you try keeping what you’ve just learned in mind and applying it to your Gin Rummy Super Game? Wishing you the very best of luck!
The beloved card game, gin rummy, is 112 years old this year. It was invented in the United States by Elwood Thomas Baker and Charles Graham Baker, a father-and-son duo from Indiana. After inventing gin rummy, Charles Baker went on to become a screenwriter and director during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with well over 30 movie credits in his name. All in a lifetime’s work for some!
According to the magician and writer, John Scarne, gin rummy evolved from 19th-century whiskey poker, and was created with the intention of being faster than standard rummy, yet let spontaneous than knock rummy.
To really understand where gin rummy came from, however, you have to look to the Orient. The rummy principle of drawing and discarding in order to meld later is common in Chinese card games from the 18th and 19th century. In fact, this principle is the essence of mah-jong, the Chinese card game that’s popular all over the world.
It was a relative of mah-jong, called kun p’ai, that inspired a certain W.H. Wilkinson to persuade Messrs Goodall of the UK to publish a Western adaptation of it called Khanhoo. A similar game, called Kon Khin, or Conquian to give it the name Hispanics used to refer to it, emerged in the southwestern United States just prior to the turn of the 20th century after being brought over by Chinese immigrants. Due to their similarities, Conquian is thought to be the definitive forerunner of gin rummy.
During the 1920s, the nightlife in New York was in full flow. Every lounge, saloon, hotel parlor and speakeasy had a game of gin rummy on the go. It can be said that the 1920s marked the first heyday for gin rummy. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, gin rummy went quiet for the better part of a decade until its re-emergence in the 1940s.
What’s even more interesting is that gin rummy was actually called gin poker during the Great Depression. Confusingly, this actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the card game of poker, but is believed to have its roots in the socioeconomic conditions that existed during that time.
The effects of the Great Depression meant that people in general had less money to spend on going out and enjoying themselves, and that’s why they had to rediscover the art of amusing themselves at home once again. Gin rummy is much simpler to learn that contract bridge, which was a card game at that was popular at the time, and more suited to a family environment than poker.
Gin rummy became very fashionable at the turn of the 1940s, with the who’s-who of Hollywood and Broadway being known to enjoy a game or two. Screen siren Ingrid Bergman, for example, was known to play gin rummy on the set of the classic movie, Casablanca.
Two features in particular made the game popular with actors. The first was that gin rummy is very fast to play, but could be paused at a moment’s notice, only for it to continue being played once the participants were free to do so again. The second was the introduction of an ingenious scoring device, whereby players could (in effect) play three games at the same time.
Gin rummy’s association with Hollywood and Broadway made the game explode in popularity, especially in the United States, where it seemed like everyone was playing it. The game’s popularity has endured to this day, however there was another great transformation it went through…
The early 1980s heralded the start of the personal computer age, and it wasn’t long before card games were digitized and made accessible to all virtually. Although personal computers are more associated with solitary card games such as Solitaire, other card games such as gin rummy weren’t long to emerge in a digitized format.
Although Nokia is credited with creating the first-ever app back in 1997 when it installed the game Snake on one of its mobile phone models, apps as we know them today emerged in 2007, when Apple launched its now ubiquitous App Store. As such, there wasn’t really a “first” app in the modern era, because the App Store was launched with 500 apps at once. Mobile card games have been emerging ever since that time.
We’re now well into the third decade of the 21st century, and here at Zarzilla Games, we’ve produced our own amazing take on the beloved gin rummy card game – Gin Rummy Super! Not only is it ridiculously colorful and fun, but it also allows two players to compete and match exclusive suits and sets of three to develop the best hands. Compete against your friend, or rank yourself against the rest of the world!
Along your Gin Rummy Super journey, you’ll earn rewards, complete challenging levels and climb the global leaderboard! Why don’t you try Gin Rummy Super today? It’s absolutely free and will provide you with endless hours of fun. Good luck!