In most countries the designs are not necessary to identification, since the card makers have labeled the court cards with initials.  This innovation was internationally adopted in the 19th century, as was the French and German invention of double-headed figure cards.  Spain, also in the 19th century, was the first country to use figures as well as the lucky number of symbols to indicate the value of a non-court card.

Six cards, selected from two 19th  century packs made of hide by southwest American Indians, betray their Spanish ancestry.

That, then, is a thumbnail historic of the cards themselves.  The fact that all modern cards have their roots in the Tarot pack, with all its occult connections may be responsible for the permanent flavor of evil that for many people clings to these small pieces of pasteboard.  John Wesley, founder of the methodist Church, forbade the use of cards entirely among his flock.  Some old shipmasters won’t allow “the devil’s picture-books aboard or, if they do, they’ll have them thrown overboard at the slightest indication that anything is going wrong.  (Their attitude is based on an unsubstantiated story about Columbus’s sailors, who allegedly got the notion that their cards were bringing them bad luck.  As soon as they flung them overboard, so the legend says, they sighted land.)  Coal miners won’t take cards down the shaft.  Burglars won’t steal them if they can help it.  Of all forms of gambling, in fact, cards are the mot resentfully regarded by moralizers and by those whose lives involve a special degree of risk.  But, in spite of this stern disapproval on many sides, card games have remained one of the most popular of all forms of gambling.

Games played with cards have ranged through wide degrees of simplicity and complexity.  Many have lost favor in some countries kept it in others.  Some have vanished altogether.  New games and variations of old ones are continually being invented.  In Europe, America, Africa, and Australia there are more than 50 different games currently played, excluding solitaire and other non-gambling games.  In Eastern countries, where both European and many oriental varieties of cards are used, at least a hundred different games are played.  Oriental cards game are often elaborate and beautiful and of many shapes other than the normal European rectangles: They can be narrow strips, circular , triangular, or octagonal.  The only thing they have in common is that they invariably seem to be made of pasteboard. (The word “card,” as a description of a material, is derived from the Greek word for “papyrus.”)

The kings of Coins and Clubs from an Apache pack; right, the queens of Clubs and Cups and the five and seven of Swords from a pack used by Yuma Indians.

In most card games, players aim either to make specific card combinations (or “melds”) as in rummy, or to take tricks, as in whist.  A diagram sets out the basic card combinations used in games of the rummy family: the “straight” or “run,” and “three (or four) of a kind.”  Imagine four players seated at the four sides of the red square and each holding four cards.  The cards inside the red square have been arranged in three straights (10, jack, queen of clubs; seven, eight, nine of Spades; and two three, four of Diamonds) and in one three-of-a-kind (three kings).  Players may add to these sets from their hands: For example, the five of Diamonds from the bottom hand may be added to the Diamond sequence.  Prearranged “wild” cards can be played in place of any card in the pack.  Thus, if two were wild in this game, the two of Hearts from the bottom hand could be played as the six of Spades, and with the five, be added to the Spade sequence.

Only a very few card games exist in which chance plays no part.  One of them is Russian and is called svoyi kozin; the other quintet, is English.  Both are played 32-card packs (that is, with all the numbered cards from two to six omitted), and both require great skill.  In these games, chance is eliminated because the players have identical hands.
The games involving the maximum of chance and the minimum of skill are those based on the random selection of a card from the pack.  In the most elementary form of this kind of game the players simply bet and then each draws one card, and the holder of the highest (or lowest, whichever is pre-arranged ) takes all the stake money.  Should more than one player draw a card of the same value, the ranking of the suits decides the winner.  The usual order of ranking runs Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, clubs (though this also may be pre-arranged). 

This game, probably the oldest of all card gambles, has been the occasion for some dramatic bets.  Typical of these is the case of William Jones, an English-man who emigrated to Canada in the middle of the 19th century and made a crooked fortune out of playing three-card monte on railway trains.  He died in poverty after staking $ 180,000 on the draw of one card-the only time in his life he had gambled without cheating.

The diagram illustrates the type of game in which tricks are made.  A trick consists of four cards (one from each player’s hand), and is won (or taken) by the player who produces the highest card.  The four players- who compete in partnership,  A and C against B and D – are each dealt 13 cards, which they arrange in suits.  (The suit selected as “trumps” has a higher value than any of the others.)  A leads with the ace of Clubs; B “follows suit” with the 10; C (as A’s partner) discards his lowest Club, as does D.  So A wins the first trick.

A more exciting version of the same basic gamble is the game now called chase-the-ace.  In this the players all stake an equal amount, each player’s stake being divided into three equal portions (three one-dollar bills, three pound notes, three 10-franc pieces, or whatever).  The dealer gives one card to each player, face down.  The object of the game is to get rid of cards of low value (and in this game the ace is the lowest ).  The first player to the dealer’s left either exchanges his card with the next player, keeps it in his hand (in which case he says “stick”), or, if it is a king, lays it face up on the table.  The other players each try in the same way to get rid of low cards until it becomes the dealer’s turn.  He lays his card face up and may either stick or change it for the first card in the remainder of the pack.  Everyone then shows the card he holds and the player with the lowest card puts one third of his stake in the middle.  Similar rounds are played (the deal passing clockwise each time) until all the players except one have lost their stake easy money and are out of the game.

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