Next time you pick up a deck of playing cards, spare a moment to think about this fact. The very first time that anyone did the same thing was probably in China in the 9th century AD.
It was the emergence of woodblock printing techniques that allowed the first-ever cards to be created and they were quick to catch on.
What is truly remarkable is that now, twelve centuries on, playing cards are just as captivating for people as they were all those years ago. There are as many reasons for this as there are card games – and there are a lot of these. So, let’s start by taking a look at some of the most popular ones.
As the name suggests, this is generally a game for a single player and, after Snap! has been mastered, is often one of the first card games many children learn to play. Another name for the game is Patience which also reflects the slow and calming pace of the game as the player gradually tries to organise the cards into suits. First devised in the Baltic region in the 18th century, it’s also a game that has spread around the world and which many people find the perfect way to while away the time in a relaxing way.
While this game, especially popular in England, shares the same basic principle of solitaire in aiming to build up whole suits of cards, it’s a very different kind of experience. With a name like Racing Demon, you know that it’s going to be fast – and it’s also very competitive as players rush to get rid of all of their cards as quickly as possible. It’s a great favourite for families and other groups to play when they all get together – even if things do get a little heated.
Rummy is an altogether gentler kind of card game that up to ten people can play. The idea is to get runs of three or four of the same cards in terms of numbers or suits. Players score according to the values of the cards in their hands, so a little mathematics is required, making it a great way to teach children simple addition.
Arguably, one of the simplest of all card games, but one that has managed to captivate countless players over the centuries. The rules are ridiculously simple. Players compete with the dealer to get as close a score to 21 without going over. It’s a big favourite in casinos all over the world – and it’s one game that gives players a distinct advantage if they’ve mastered the so-called basic strategy, a set of probabilities that players can use to help them decide their best move.
For many people, poker represents the pinnacle of card games. That’s because it’s an alluring combination of skill, luck and psychology – and a game that can also lead to huge riches for the very best professionals. Of the many variations of the game played across the world, it’s Texas Hold’em that is undoubtedly the most popular. It’s also the card game with the greatest mystique and mythology surrounding it, boosted by the many movies from Cool Hand Luke to the more recent Molly’s Game starring Jessica Chastain as a poker night organiser for the rich and famous.
Cards and gambling
The fact that card games, and especially ones like blackjack and poker, offer good players the chance to win at gambling also adds to their appeal. Even fun games at home with players using coins or matchsticks to play with can add a certain extra edge to a game.
It’s also made poker a natural for online play and that’s why there’s been a proliferation of sites in recent years. The very best ones offer a wide range of poker games including variants that are designed to be fast and fun to play. Most sites also let players practice for free until they get used to the methods of online play and are ready to start playing for real money.
The fact that many professional poker players also choose to use the sites is a testament to how accurately the replicate playing the physical version of the game.
Cards around the world
The universal appeal of cards can be seen by the many different countries around the world where the games are popular. Obviously, the types of card differ and some games, like Uno, don’t use cards with suits at all.
But the fact that card games do seem to cross cultures is at the heart of what makes them so universally captivating. It’s also hard to think of another type of activity that is so infinitely flexible with fifty-two cards divided into four suits that can be used to play so many different kinds of game.
Also, the fact that they can create games that are suitable across the whole age range of players makes playing cards very remarkable objects.
But what really makes card games so captivating is the element of randomness and surprise that all involve – players simply can’t anticipate what the next card they or an opponent will turn over will be.
We can also be sure that, along with all the old favorites, new card games are being invented all the time. So, playing cards may be many centuries old, but they also have a very bright future ahead of them.
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