Jack (playing card)

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Jack cards of all four suits in the English pattern Jack playing cards.jpg
Jack cards of all four suits in the English pattern

A jack or knave, in some games referred to as a bower, is a playing card which, in traditional French and English decks, pictures a man in the traditional or historic aristocratic or courtier dress, generally associated with Europe of the 16th or 17th century. The usual rank of a jack is between the ten and the queen. As the lowest face (or "court") card, the jack often represents a minimum standard — for example, many poker games require a minimum hand of a pair of jacks ("jacks or better") in order to open wagering.



Knave of coins from the oldest known European deck (c.1390-1410). Knave of coins - Italy 2 deck.png
Knave of coins from the oldest known European deck (c.1390–1410).

The earliest predecessor of the knave was the thānī nā'ib (second or under-deputy) in the Mamluk card deck. This was the lowest of the three court cards and like all court cards was depicted through abstract art or calligraphy. When brought over to Italy and Spain, the thānī nā'ib was made into an infantry soldier or page ranking below the knight card. In France, where the card was called the valet, the queen was inserted between the king and knight. The knight was subsequently dropped out of non-Tarot decks leaving the valet directly under the queen. The king-queen-valet format then made its way into England.

A 17th century Knave of Spades Cavalier Knave of Spades.jpg
A 17th century Knave of Spades

As early as the mid-16th century the card was known in England as the knave which originally meant 'boy or young man', as its German equivalent, Knabe, still does. In the context of a royal household it meant a male servant without a specific role or skill; not a cook, gardener, coachman, etc. The French word valet means the same thing. Knave became a derogatory word because royal households had so many of these young men who went swaggering around the streets picking fights, molesting girls and generally making nuisances of themselves. It evolved to mean 'young manservant or henchman'. [1]

The word 'Jack' was in common usage in the 16th and 17th centuries to mean any generic man or fellow, as in Jack-of-all-trades (one who is good at many things), Jack-in-the-box (a child's toy), or Jack-in-the-Pulpit (a plant).

The term became more entrenched in card play when, in 1864, [2] American cardmaker Samuel Hart published a deck using "J" instead of "Kn" to designate the lowest-ranking court card. The knave card had been called a jack as part of the terminology of the game All Fours since the 17th century, but this usage was considered common or low class. However, because the card abbreviation for knave was so close to that of the king ("Kn" versus "K"), the two were easily confused. This confusion was even more pronounced after the markings indicating suits and rankings were moved to the corners of the card, a move which enabled players to "fan" a hand of cards without obscuring the individual suits and ranks. The earliest deck known of this type is from 1693, but such positioning did not become widespread until reintroduced by Hart in 1864, together with the knave-to-jack change. Books of card games published in the third quarter of the 19th century still referred to the "knave". (Note the exclamation by Estella in Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations : "He calls the knaves, jacks, this boy!" Nevertheless in a few European countries, the equivalent of name 'knave' for this card continues to the present. For example, in Denmark, it is the Knægt, symbol B (for Bonde); in Sweden, the knekt, symbol Kn.

The German nickname of Bauer ("farmer" or "peasant") often used for the Jacks, appears in English as the loanword, Bower, used for the top trumps (usually Jacks) in games of the euchre family as well as some games of German origin where the Jacks play a significant role e.g. Reunion.


In the English pattern, [3] the jack and the other face cards represent no one in particular, [4] in contrast to the historical French practice, in which each court card is said to represent a particular historical or mythological personage. The valets in the Paris pattern have traditionally been associated with such figures as Ogier the Dane (a knight of Charlemagne and legendary hero of the chansons de geste) for the jack of spades; [5] La Hire (French warrior) for the Jack of Hearts; Hector (mythological hero of the Iliad) for the jack of diamonds; and Lancelot or Judas Maccabeus for the jack of clubs. [6] [7]

In some southern Italian decks, there are androgynous knaves that are sometimes referred to as maids. In the Sicilian Tarot deck, the knaves are unambiguously female and are also known as maids. [8] As this deck also includes queens, it is the only traditional set to survive into modern times with two ranks of female face cards. This pack may have been influenced by the obsolete Portuguese deck which also had female knaves. The modern Mexican pattern also has female knaves. [9]


The figure of the jack has been used in many literary works throughout history. Among these is one by 17th-century English writer Samuel Rowlands. The Four Knaves is a series of Satirical Tracts, with Introduction and Notes by E. F. Rimbault, upon the subject of playing cards. His "The Knave of Clubbs: Tis Merry When Knaves Meet" was first published in 1600, then again in 1609 and 1611. In accordance with a promise at the end of this book, Rowlands went on with his series of Knaves, and in 1612 wrote "The Knave of Harts: Haile Fellowe, Well Meet", where his "Supplication to Card-Makers" appears, [10] thought to have been written to the English manufacturers who copied to the English decks the court figures created by the French.

Example cards

The cards shown here are from a Paris pattern deck (where the rank is known as the "valet"), and include the historical and mythological names associated with them. The English pattern of the jacks can be seen in the photo at the top of the article.

Trickster figure

The jack, traditionally the lowest face card, has often been promoted to a higher or the highest position in the traditional ranking of cards, where the ace or king generally occupied the first rank. This is seen in the earliest known European card games, such as Karnöffel, as well as in more recent ones such as Euchre. Games with such promotion include:

See also

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Tarot Cards used for games or divination

The tarot is a pack of playing cards, used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play games such as Italian tarocchini, French tarot and Austrian Königrufen, many of which are still played today. In the late 18th century, some tarot decks began to be used for divination via tarot card reading and cartomancy leading to custom decks developed for such occult purposes.

Minor Arcana

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An ace is a playing card, die or domino with a single pip. In the standard French deck, an ace has a single suit symbol located in the middle of the card, sometimes large and decorated, especially in the case of the ace of spades. This embellishment on the ace of spades started when King James VI of Scotland and I of England required an insignia of the printing house to be printed on the ace of spades. This insignia was necessary for identifying the printing house and stamping it as having paid the new stamp tax. Although this requirement was abolished in 1960, the tradition has been kept by many card makers. In other countries the stamp and embellishments are usually found on ace cards; clubs in France, diamonds in Russia, and hearts in Genoa because they have the most blank space.

Playing card suit Categories into which the cards of a deck are divided

In playing cards, a suit is one of the categories into which the cards of a deck are divided. Most often, each card bears one of several pips (symbols) showing to which suit it belongs; the suit may alternatively or additionally be indicated by the color printed on the card. The rank for each card is determined by the number of pips on it, except on face cards. Ranking indicates which cards within a suit are better, higher or more valuable than others, whereas there is no order between the suits unless defined in the rules of a specific card game. In a single deck, there is exactly one card of any given rank in any given suit. A deck may include special cards that belong to no suit, often called jokers.

Joker (playing card)

The Joker is a playing card found in most modern French-suited card decks, as an addition to the standard four suits. From the second half of the 20th century, they have also been found in Spanish- and Italian-suited decks, excluding stripped decks. The Joker originated in the United States during the Civil War, and was created as a trump card for the game of Euchre. It has since been adopted into many other card games, where it often acts as a wild card, but may have other functions such as the top trump, a skip card, the lowest-ranking card, the highest-value card or a card of a different value from the rest of the pack. By contrast, a wild card is any card that may be used to represent another card or cards; it need not be a Joker. The Joker is unique within the French pack in that it lacks an industry-wide standard appearance.

Queen (playing card)

The queen is a playing card with a picture of a queen on it. In many European languages, the king and queen begin with the same letter so the latter is often called dame (lady) or variations thereof. In French playing cards, the usual rank of a queen is between the king and the jack. In tarot decks, it outranks the knight which in turn outranks the jack.

Standard 52-card deck

The standard 52-card deck of French-suited playing cards is the most common pack of playing cards used today. In English-speaking countries it is the only traditional pack used for playing cards; in many countries of the world, however, it is used alongside other traditional, often older, standard packs with different suit symbols and pack sizes. The most common pattern worldwide and the only pattern commonly available in Britain and America is the English pattern pack. The second most common is the Belgian-Genoese pattern, designed in France, but whose use spread to Spain, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans and much of North Africa and the Middle East. In addition to those, there are other major international and regional patterns.

Spanish-suited playing cards Card deck used in Spain

Spanish-suited playing cards or Spanish-suited cards have four suits, and a deck is usually made up of 40 or 48 cards. It is categorized as a Latin-suited deck and has strong similarities with the Italian-suited deck and some to the French deck. Spanish-suited cards are used in Spain, southern Italy, parts of France, Hispanic America, North Africa, and the Philippines.

Italian playing cards Playing card deck used in Italy

Playing cards have been in Italy since the late 14th century. Until the mid 19th century, Italy was composed of many smaller independent states which led to the development of various regional patterns of playing cards; "Italian suited cards" normally only refer to cards originating from northeastern Italy around the former Republic of Venice, which are largely confined to northern Italy, parts of Switzerland, Dalmatia and southern Montenegro. Other parts of Italy traditionally use traditional local variants of Spanish suits, French suits or German suits.

Tarot Nouveau

The Tarot Nouveau, French Tarot Nouveau or Bourgeois Tarot deck is a pattern of tarot cards of German origin that is still used for playing card games today in western Europe and Canada. It is not used for divinatory purposes, for which tarot cards are most commonly known outside continental Europe. This deck is most commonly found in France, Belgian Wallonia, Swiss Romandy and Canadian Québec for playing French Tarot; in southwest Germany for playing Cego and Dreierles; and in Denmark for Danish Tarok. The name preferred by the International Playing Card Society for this pattern is Bourgeios Tarot.

A knight or cavalier is a playing card with a picture of a man riding a horse on it. It is a standard face or court card in Italian and Spanish packs where it is usually referred to as the 'knight' in English, the caballo in Spanish or the cavallo in Italian. In these packs, it ranks between the knave and the king within its suit. The card also features in tarot and tarock packs. In French-suited tarot packs it is usually called the 'cavalier' in English, the chevalier in French or the Cavall or Reiter in German. and ranks between the jack and the queen.

Glossary of card game terms List of definitions of terms and jargon used in card games

The following is a glossary of terms used in card games. Besides the terms listed here, there are thousands of common and uncommon slang terms. Terms in this glossary should not be game-specific, but apply to a wide range of card games. For glossaries that relate primarily to one game or family of similar games, see Game-specific glossaries.

German-suited playing cards

German-suited playing cards are a very common style of traditional playing card used in many parts of Central Europe characterised by 32- or 36-card packs with the suits of Acorns (Eichel), Leaves, Hearts and Bells. The German suit system is one of the oldest, becoming standard around 1450 and, a few decades later, influencing the design of the now international French suit system of Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds.

Tarot card games

Tarot games are card games played with tarot decks, that is, decks with numbered permanent trumps parallel to the suit cards. The games and decks which English-speakers call by the French name Tarot are called Tarocchi in the original Italian, Tarock in German and various similar words in other languages. The basic rules first appeared in the manuscript of Martiano da Tortona, written before 1425. The games are known in many variations, mostly cultural and regional.

French-suited playing cards

French-suited playing cards or French-suited cards are cards that use the French suits of trèfles, carreaux, cœurs, and piques. Each suit contains three face cards: the valet, the dame, and the roi (king). Aside from these aspects, decks can include a wide variety of regional and national patterns, which often have different deck sizes. In comparison to Spanish, Italian, German, and Swiss playing cards, French cards are the most widespread due to the geopolitical, commercial, and cultural influence of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. Other reasons for their popularity were the simplicity of the suit insignia, which simplifies mass production, and the popularity of whist and contract bridge. The English pattern of French-suited cards is so widespread that it is often also known as the International or Anglo-American pattern.


Scarto is a three player trick-taking tarot card game from Piedmont, Italy. It is a simple tarot game which can serve as an introduction to more complex tarot games. The name comes from the discarded cards that were exchanged with the stock, which is also the origin of the name for the Skat card game.

Russian playing cards

Russian playing cards are cards that were used predominantly in Russia and in the former Soviet Union. Unlike the internationally known standard French 52-card deck, most Russian card games employ either the 36 card or the 32 card decks.


  1. https://qr.ae/pG7uqs
  2. Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society, p. 290, Rodney P. Carlisle - Sage Publications INC 2009 ISBN   1-4129-6670-1
  3. English pattern at the International Playing-Card Society. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  4. Berry, John. (1998). "Frequently asked questions". The Playing-Card. Vol. 27-2. pp. 43-45.
  5. Games and Fun with Playing Cards by Joseph Leeming on Google Books
  6. The Four King Truth at the Urban Legends Reference Pages
  7. Courts on playing cards, by David Madore, with illustrations of the English and French court cards
  8. Tarocco Siciliano, early form at the International Playing-Card Society. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  9. Scotoni, Ralph. Mexican Pattern at Alta Carta. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  10. The Knave of Harts: Haile Fellowe, Well Meet, where his Supplication to Card-Makers by Samuel Rowlands (1600)
    Good card-makers (if there be any goodness in you), Apparrell us with more respected care,
    Put us in hats, our caps are worne thread-bare, Let us have standing collers, in the fashion;