The Standard Deck

What is common to all games of cards is the need for the deck or card stack. This is the collection of the individual cards which are used for the play of the game, piled neatly in a stack with the backs of each card all facing the same direction. A number of cards from this deck are usually randomly distributed to the players in the game before the game begins or during actual play. In the following article we will explore various important aspects of this deck or stack of cards.

Every card in a deck should have the same back design Although there are a number of proprietary card decks used for specific games and numerous styles of novelty card decks, by far the most common type of deck used is the traditional French style deck which is used for the vast majority of card games played around the world. While the specific makeup and number of cards in a deck used for a specific game may be different, the types of cards are going to be the same. Similarly, while the style and images on the cards (front and back) may be different for specific playing card manufacturers, the representations of the cards and the concepts are exactly the same.

A deck consists of some number of cards with one side of the card uniformly identical for every card in the pack. This is called the card back. The other side (called the face) will vary depending on specifically what that card is meant to represent. This is done such that, from the back, no card can be distinguished from any other. The most common deck used for the playing of card games is called the Standard Deck so we will describe this deck first.

The Standard Deck: The standard deck is the deck that is the most commonly used for games of cards. When buying a deck of cards at any retailer, this is usually what the buyer will purchase. Most any normal card game can either be played with this deck as-is, or with the removal of some of the existing cards to make a shortened or stripped deck.

A Full Standard Deck of Cards This deck consists of 52 cards consisting of four different suits. These suits are Spades, Hearts, Clubs and Diamonds. In each suit, there is one card bearing each of the following markings: A for Ace, K for King, Q for Queen, J for Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2. Each numbered card, in addition to the number marking, usually displays a number of suit marking on its face corresponding to its ranking (which is usually also printed on the card face). The Ace, marked by the letter A usually shows just one such marking, which is usually a bit larger than normal. The King, Queen and Jack usually display a profile of a figure, often in courtly attire. These are called the court cards or face cards, as they usually have a caricature of a royal figure, including the face along with the other distinguishing markings. The Jack card in the deck was originally called the Knave, but due to its similarity in alphabetic marking with the King, over time was changed to "Jack" (in which this card had long been called in the game of All-Fours).

Card Denomination and Ranking: In the deck are a collection of cards, each bearing a number or letter on its face along with a certain number of "pips" representing that number. The royalty cards (Jack, King, Queen) however are usually represented by a picture along with a suit pip on each side. Pips are essentially small representations of a cards suit marked somewhere on the face of the card. The number (and a smaller representation of the cards suit) is usually found near the upper left and lower right of each card. The Ace usually has one large pip in the center of the card face. The Ace of Spades in most decks is also often further ornamented with a logo (inside the central spade) of the company or printer who manufactured that particular deck of cards. In the vast majority of games these values have a ranking or ordering amongst themselves. In most games the cards are ranked numerically in the following way from highest to lowest: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Sometimes, however the Ace may be set as the lowest card in the ranking instead, resulting in a ranking order of: King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace. Certain games or stages of a game may alter this rank, and this will be described in the game description itself of any game that does so.

The fours suits in a standard deck The Suits: As noted previously, the standard deck is divided into four different and distinct suits. These suits are Spades, Diamonds, Hearts and Clubs. Each of these suits contains one card of each numerical ranking in the deck, including the face cards and Ace. Some games may also have a secondary ranking of the suits within the game beyond the normal ranking by the number marked on the card. The Hearts and Diamonds suits are red in color and so are called the red cards and the Spade and Club suits are black in color and are thus called the black cards. In a standard deck of cards there would be 13 cards in each suit. The diagram to the right shows the standard representation of each of these suits. In France, the playing cards suits of Clubs and Spades sometimes are known by alternative names; Clovers and Pikes respectively.

The Picture Cards: As described above, the Kings, Queens and Jacks (originally called Knaves) usually show a figure on the face of the card. This is usually some type of courtly type figure to help portray what it represents. The actual pictures, although having been drastically changed since the original decks of cards, still do carry a very similar pattern to that found on early cards of the French deck. For instance, some of the specific cards show a side profile, while others face forward and certain of these figures carry specific items in their hands on any card of the same rank and suit. These cards are often described by a number of names including; court cards, picture cards, face cards and royalty cards. While originally these face cards were meant to represent specific historical individuals of royalty, in modern card packs they are not intended to represent anyone specific.

Two main types of card widths
Size Comparison: A four of diamonds shown in Poker size (top) and Bridge size (lower).
Card Size and Makeup: Although many novelty sized and shaped decks of cards can be found, most cards used in serious play conform to specific sizes. This is usually determined by the specific type of card being used. Playing cards usually come in either Bridge Size or Poker size. The only difference between these two types is the actual width of the cards in the deck. Bridge size cards are usually 3.5 inches (8.89 centimeters) in height and 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) in width while Poker size cards are also 3.5 inches in height but are slightly thinner at 2.25 inches (5.715 cm) in width. Bridge size cards are thinner to make it easier to hold and view all of ones cards in a game where a fairly large number of cards might need to be held in the players hand (such as Bridge with 13 card hands), while Poker sized cards are wider for games with a potentially smaller number of cards in the hand (such as Poker, often consisting of 5 card hands). Other than this size discrepancy (Bridge size cards being one half inch thinner than Poker size cards), there are no other differences between the two types and either deck type conforms to the makeup of a standard deck and can be used for any game calling for a normal deck of playing cards.

In addition, most cards are approximately .25 millimeters (.0098 inches) thick. Standard playing cards are usually manufactured from pasteboard (multiple layers of thin paper glued tightly together) and then are often coated with a thin plastic coating to help them withstand normal wear from usage.

Common Modifications to the Standard Deck

Sometimes for peculiarities of a specific game or to accommodate differing numbers of players in a game, changes are made to this standard deck by adding or removing cards from it to make a larger or smaller deck size. The following are some of the most common changes that are made to this standard deck.

Wild Cards: Many games include the addition of one or more wild cards to the deck. These are generally cards that can be used, through the course of the game to represent any other card that the holder wants it to represent (although these cards can also be given other special significance or usefulness for the holder in the game). These cards often also carry other special abilities within the game. Although any card or type of card in the standard deck can be used as a wild card, the most commonly used are the following:

A collection of Wild Cards
A variety of wild cards are commonly used in a number of games which can be used to represent other cards of the holder's choice.
Games with a larger number of players often employ two or more standard decks Multiple Decks: Many games, particularly those with a potentially larger number of players may require the use of multiple decks. This usually consists of two or more standard decks shuffled together and treated as one larger deck. In most cases these should be decks that have the same back design so as to keep all cards indistinguishable, although in some circumstances it is necessary to intentionally have the decks be of differing designs to distinguish and separate the decks throughout play of the game. Players must keep in mind the additional number of each denomination and suit of card when using such decks, as his can change their strategy considerably throughout the game. Also in these games, multiple Jokers may also be added to the combined deck to make an even larger stack.

Stripped Decks: Many games may use a smaller subset of the full, standard deck. This requires, before beginning the game, stripping the unneeded cards from the deck. This usually consists of removal of some of the smaller denominational cards in the deck (such as the 2's, 3's, 4's, etc). These cards are then set aside as they would not be used during play of the game. See the section titled "Variations of the Standard Deck", below for a specific description of some commonly used Stripped Decks.

When using secondary decks, they should have differing back designs Secondary Deck: Even for some games in which one deck is sufficient for the game to be played, it is fairly common practice to make use of a second deck of cards. Although only one deck is used at any one time in the play, the additional deck is a secondary deck. This secondary deck is usually shuffled by another specific player and set aside before the current hand begins. Then, when ready for the next hand or game, this secondary deck already shuffled is then ready for immediate cutting and dealing. Then, when the secondary deck is used in a hand, the other deck can be shuffled and set aside for the next hand. This is done to decrease the time between deals as well as speed up the general proceedings. This is very common in tournament and partnership game settings, such as with Contract Bridge. In addition, this alternating of decks between hands also helps such that players may not remember the specific layout from a previous hand of a sloppily shuffled deck. The decks should have differing card backs from each other to ensure the cards from each deck do not become unintentionally intermingled. The second deck is usually being shuffled by another player while the current deck is being dealt. In partnership games, the secondary deck is usually shuffled by the current dealers partner and placed to his right such that the next dealer will have it immediately ready for the next deal. In non-partnership games, any other player can perform this shuffle.

Variations of the Standard Deck

Certain games use a modified version of the Standard deck as described above. A few of the more common of these decks are described here.

Euchre Deck: This deck is used for the game Euchre and many of its variations. This deck has some of the lower denominations removed from the deck to reduce the stack to a 32 card deck. In the Euchre deck the following denominations are removed from the standard deck; 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Thus the deck will consist of all the remaining cards from A to 7, in ascending order. There are several games in addition to Euchre which will also use this standard deck and will refer to the deck needed for the game as an Euchre deck.

A Pinochle deck Pinochle Deck: The deck used for Pinochle and most of its variations is a sort of hybrid deck. It consists of TWO each of the following denominations in each of the four suits: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9. The usual ordering of the Pinochle deck for Pinochle is, in ascending order: 9, J, Q, K, 10, A. Thus, there are a total of 8 cards of each denomination making a total deck consisting of 48 cards. Pinochle decks are usually widely available, however a Pinochle deck can also be made from two standard decks that have the same back design: From both decks remove all the 8's and lower and then shuffle the remaining cards in both decks together. These Pinochle decks can often be purchased alongside standard decks at retailers of playing cards.

Double Pack Pinochle Deck: This is a deck which consists of two of the special Pinochle decks (described directly above) combined. Thus, a total of four standard decks are used with all of the 2's, 3's, 4's, 5's, 6's and 7's removed.

Skat Deck: This deck which is used for the German game Skat, Shafskopf and other related games is another deck in which certain denominations are removed. To create a Skat deck, the following card ranks are removed a standard deck of playing cards; 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The remaining cards, shuffled together, comprise the Skat deck. This deck is also well known for its use in playing the games Piquet and Écarté. This Skat deck consists of 32 total cards.

Bezique: This deck is similar to the Pinochle deck in that two standard decks with the same back design are shuffled together. However, before doing so, all 2's, 3's, 4's and 5's are removed from both decks and set aside, not being used in this special deck. This deck is primarily used for Bezique (a forerunner of Pinochle) and several other related games.

Canasta: The Canasta deck consists of two full, standard decks shuffled together with the addition of four Jokers. Both decks (and the Jokers) should have the same back design. This deck is used for the popular game of Canasta and many of its variations.

Spanish Deck: The Spanish pack or deck is another deck which is made by removing cards form the standard 52 card deck. In this case, all eights, nines and tens are removed from the deck leaving a total of 40 cards. With these middle range cards removed, the normal ranking for this deck is as follows, from highest to lowest; Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. The Spanish deck is used for such games as Conquian, Ombre and others.

Occasionally, players will construct a Spanish deck containing all the numbered cards but omitting the face cards instead. Thus, the ranking of the cards in this modified version of the Spanish deck would be as follows (from high to low); Ace, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Although this violates tradition with most games played using the Spanish deck, some players find this arrangement easier to work with.

Special Augmented decks contain extra cards such as these 11's. Augmented Deck: Although somewhat rare, another special deck sometimes seen is the augmented deck. This is a deck containing 62 cards. In addition to all the standard cards in the normal 52 card deck, this deck also includes an 11 in each suit, a 12 in each suit and a 13 in two suits (usually one red suit and one black suit). The usual ranking of the cards in such a deck are similar to that in a normal deck (from highest to lowest); Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 13 (in the two suits that contain it), 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. This deck is used for some special variations of Five Hundred, Cassino and several other card games. A Joker is also often added to this deck to create a 63 card deck.

In addition to these commonly used modified decks, the standard deck can be stripped or combined with cards from additional decks in a number of other ways for use in a variety of different games. In general the description of a game will indicate the specific makeup of the deck required in order to play that particular game. In some instances, a deck may be modified to accommodate the specific number of players in the game, and this will also be described with any game in which this is done.

There are also a number of proprietary card games which are played with special cards designed and marketed specifically for that particular game. These games can sometimes be satisfactorily played with a standard deck, usually with some substitutions occurring for certain cards in the deck. Another type of card game, currently very popular are a wide variety of collector card games. In these games, each players deck is usually different, and is built specifically by the player after purchasing special collector packs for a particular game.

Regional Playing Card Decks

The standard card deck most commonly encountered when playing cards is what is normally called the French deck. This is the deck which is most familiar to the majority of card players and is described in detail above. In addition to this French deck there are a number of other decks that will be encountered when playing games of cards. The are usually specific to certain countries, localities or for a specific game.

The Four German Playing Card Suits German Deck: The Germanic deck is a deck that is often used in Germany and other locations in central Europe. The German deck is similar to the French deck in that it contains four suits in various denominations. However, the standard German deck usually contains only 32 cards, and the suits, although somewhat similar, are of a different design. The fours suits in the German deck (in which the suit designs of the French deck were derived) are called Hearts, Bells, Acorns and Leaves. The denominations of the cards are also similar, however the Jacks and Queens are replaced by the Under Knave (called Unter in German) which resembles a Knight and the Over Knave (called Ober). There is one card of each denomination in every suit. The usual ranking of the cards in the German deck is thus as follows (from highest to lowest): Ace, King, Over Knave, Under Knave, 10, 9, 8, 7. This deck is often used for games of originally Germanic origin, such as Schafkopf and International Skat.

In the absence of such a deck, the more common French deck can be used for these games by removing from the deck all cards of denominations 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Sometimes hybrid decks are seen, particularly during International Skat tournaments. These feature the familiar French suits but the colors are different to somewhat resemble the German suits. In this case, the spades are colored green, Diamonds yellow, Clubs black and Hearts are red. These decks often (but not always) contain the usual Jack and Queen vice the Over and Under Knaves.

Swiss Deck: The Swiss deck is very similar to the German deck. The Swiss deck features the following four suits; Bells, Shields, Roses and Acorns. The denominations commonly found in a Swiss Deck are as follows (listed from highest to lowest ranking); Ace, King, Over Knave, Under Knave, 10 (called Banner), 9, 8, 7, 6. This deck is mostly used in the German speaking regions of Switzerland, and often used for playing the card game Jass.

Similar to the German deck, a regular French deck can be modified to resemble a Swiss Deck by removing all cards of the following denominations; 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Latin Deck: This deck, also often called the Spanish deck is the deck often used in Spain and many other Spanish speaking locales. This deck contains four suits and nine denominations in each suit. The four suits included in the Spanish deck are Cups, Swords, Gold Coins and Clubs. Additionally, the Jack and Queen are replaced with a Knave and Knight respectively. The usual ranking in the Spanish deck is thus (from high to low); 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Knave, Knight, King. These decks are usually packaged with two Joker cards which can be used as wild cards in many games. A Spanish deck consisting of 48 cards is also sometimes found. This deck adds one card in each suit of the denominations 8 and 9. The standard Latin deck is most often encountered in Spain, South America, the Philippines, Mexico and parts of North Africa, France and Italy. This deck is used for many Spanish games such as Ombre, Truco, and Brisca.

The standard French Deck can be used when playing games that require a Spanish deck by removing the following card denominations from the French deck; 8, 9, 10. The ranking in the Spanish deck is also somewhat unusual, with the usual ranking as follows (listed high to low); King, Jack, Queen, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace.

Italian Deck: The Italian playing card deck is almost identical to the standard Latin deck. It uses the normal suits from the Latin deck and the face cards featured are usually the Knave, Knight and King. The Italian deck consists of 40 cards in the following denominations (ranked from high to low); 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Knave, Knight, King. The only real difference between the Italian and Latin deck is that the cards in the Italian deck usually have a more Italian inspired design. The Italian deck is used in Northern Italy as well as in parts of Dalmatia, Montenegro and Switzerland. Games which might use this deck include Scopa and Briscola.
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