Why do playing cards have suits?

By Jo Phillips

Card games found their way from the Middle East to Europe in the 14th century. It is not easy to track back exactly who brought the card game to Europe and the Chinese, Indian and Persian all claim to be its inventor. While the original cards differed somewhat from the standard 52-card deck we know today, there were already a lot of similarities. Even the earliest card games already included four different suits and royals, the so called court cards. This begs the questions of what the kings, queens and jacks in a deck of cards mean.


The court cards in today’s card decks do not represent anyone in particular but there was a time in history, when names were given to them. When the the French became a major manufacturer of playing cards in Europe, they started assigning the names of European royalty to the characters featured on the cards. According to the Guardian, there was no real consensus at first when it came to naming each character. But later the king of hearts was knowns as Charlemagne, the king of spades was David, the king of diamonds was Caesar and the king of clubs was Alexander the Great. The queen of hearts was Judith or Judic, the queen of spades was Pallas, the queen of diamonds was Rachel and the queen of clubs was Argine. The name of the jacks, which are also known as knaves, are more of a mystery. However it is believed that the initial was changed to avoid confusion with the King, as stated in this article by Ladbrokes.Today however, the cards no longer represent a real historical king or queen. You need the court cards for almost any games, especially the really popular ones in Europe such poker, blackjack and skat. In many games the court cards rank between the numbers and the aces. In blackjack, the court cards all count as ten points.


Today, kings, queens and jacks are absolutely essential to popular games such as poker and blackjack. If you ever want to have a Royal Flush you need the jack, queen and king, as well as the ten and the ace of the same suit. With blackjack, the best hand you can have is an ace and a court card or an ace and a ten. Both times they need to be of the same suit. It is impossible to imagine card games without them today.

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