Fun Playing Card Facts to Impress Your Friends With

min read
Header image, friends sitting around a poker table laughing and playing poker
BetMGM Jun 13, 2023, 3:09 AM

A deck of cards is essential to many iconic online casino games. But do you know how modern playing cards, with all their suits and characters, came into existence? And are you aware of the simply staggering number of ways to shuffle a deck?

In this blog, you’ll discover intriguing facts to impress your friends with at your next home game. But first, here’s a look at the history of the humble deck of playing cards.

A Brief History of Playing Cards

The origins of this popular pastime probably date much further back than you’d expect! Let’s take a quick trip back in time and plot the evolution of playing cards.

9th Century

The earliest record we have of card games is from China’s Tang Dynasty in the year 868 AD. A princess was documented to have played what was called “the game of leaves.” While some scholars believe this involved playing cards, it’s also possible that it could have been dice.

14th Century

By this time, the concept of playing cards had made its way to Europe, where designs acquired a new lease on life. Probably arriving with traders from the East, suits eventually evolved to have more French and Germanic themes.

15th Century

The invention of the printing press brought cheap and accessible playing cards to the masses. As a result, a flurry of new games and further changes in the card designs emerged.

17th Century

The French-style deck we’re all familiar with today had become the dominant style at this point, while increasingly intricate and elaborate depictions of the court cards began appearing.

20th Century

Popular culture led to the creation of novelty decks. A whole host of designs based on music, movies and other themes helped to keep playing cards alive in the public consciousness.

Playing Cards Facts You Can Impress Friends With

Now that you’re up to speed on the history of playing cards, here are some fun playing cards facts to impress your friends with!

The Number of Ways To Shuffle a Deck Is Mind-Blowing

Believe it or not, every time you shuffle a deck of cards properly, you’ll end up holding a totally unique deck. Probability suggests that no other game in the history of playing cards will have ever used a deck consisting of your specific sequence of cards.

The number of ways to shuffle a deck is 52! (yes, the math includes the exclamation point.) That amounts to approximately 8 x 10^67.  Written out in full, the figure begins with an 8 and is followed by 67 other digits — imagine that! For context, there are more possible permutations of shuffling a deck of cards than there are atoms in the observable universe — a truly mind-boggling statistic.

Card Suits Represent Society

The suits in a deck of cards are thought to represent the four key sectors of the medieval economy:

  • Hearts: Church
  • Spades: Military
  • Clubs: Farming and agriculture
  • Diamonds: Trade and the merchant class

If we’re being completely honest, we don’t know with 100% certainty that this is the case. Historians have put forward other theories for what the suits might represent, including the four seasons and even states of human energy. However, in some card games, the suits are ranked, with the club as the lowest and the spade as the highest. Coupled with the fact that the designs emerged during the Middle Ages, such societal theories make a lot of sense.

Kings and Queens Are Mostly Based on Real Monarchs

We’ve already mentioned that designs changed many times over the years. But did you know that the original kings and queens in the modern deck are based on historical and cultural figures? The male rulers in a French deck (now the standard design) were inspired by Charlemagne, David, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

The queens, or “dames” as they were previously known, are thought to be based on Judith of Flanders, Rachel from the Bible and Pallas from Greek mythology. However, the queen of clubs is known as Argine — an anagram of ‘Regina,’ which is the Latin word for ‘queen.’ The earliest decks didn’t actually contain any female characters and instead used a king, knight and knave.

Tarot Designs Evolved From Regular Playing Cards

You may have seen a special deck of cards that, at least these days, is associated with fortune-telling. Known as ‘tarot cards,’ these would never be used to play casino games such as blackjack, but they certainly were used to play trick-taking games shortly after their invention in the 1430s!

First created in Italy, tarot cards were essentially an experimental design that found a degree of popularity. A fifth suit, containing an additional 21 cards, was added to the standard deck, along with a single standalone card dubbed “the fool.”

Jokers Are Not Linked to the Fool

A modern deck contains four suits of 13 cards, for a total of 52. But there are always two jokers included as well. While most casino games do not use them, they’re vital to a handful of card games, most notably Euchre. This game, thought to be the first to use a joker, arrived in the United States from Europe in the 19th century. In it, this special card serves as the highest-ranking trump.

A common misconception about the history of playing card designs is that the joker evolved from the fool in a tarot deck. But although it, too, features a depiction of a court jester, this card is actually just an unsuited jack. There’s no link between the two. 

Playing Cards Were Valuable Sources of Information

The primary purpose of playing cards is, of course, entertainment. But over the years, cards have been used to convey all kinds of vital information. During the Second World War, for instance, prisoners of war shared decks of cards containing hidden maps, facilitating their escape. 

In fact, the complex designs on the backs of modern playing cards can still be used to communicate information of a different kind. For instance, there have been several high-profile examples of “edge-sorting,” that is, the exploitation of minor design flaws to identify the value of certain cards. Poker legend Phil Ivey was famously involved in a court battle with multiple casinos, having won an eight-figure sum playing baccarat using this kind of information.

Play Popular Casino Card Games at BetMGM

There’s much more to the humble deck of playing cards than first meets the eye. With a long and storied history, they continue to play a key role in society, bringing friends, families and colleagues together.

Register to play casino games online at BetMGM and discover dozens of the most popular card games. Enjoy blackjack, baccarat and Texas Hold’em, as well as a comprehensive collection of the latest online slots.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
About the Author


Read More

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.