Evolution: derived from the Latin verb evolvere: ‘to unfold’. In particular, the figurative meaning of ‘development’ is used in different contexts in Dutch. Evolution is therefore an upmarket word to indicate that things are changing, a situation with which we are all now confronted in a profound sense. But did you know that even something as small and insignificant as a card in a deck has also undergone quite an evolution in order to assume its now familiar form?
Probably originating in China, mixed with an Islamic version along the way, playing cards first appeared in Europe in the 14th century. Despite being cursed by the Roman Church and acquiring the nickname ‘the devil’s picture book’, playing cards gained in popularity everywhere. And thanks to the invention of the printing press a century later, were able to spread far and wide. A wide variety of playing cards, numbers and symbols was still used.
In the 16th century, a version with which we are still familiar appears for the first time in the French city of Lyon. The knights used previously are replaced with women and the four stylised symbols – hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs – represent the social classes of clergy, nobility, merchants and ordinary citizens.
The figures of the king, queen and squire eventually become commonplace as king, queen and jack because their order of rank in the game is clear and easy for everyone to understand. At first, they are still depicted standing but by the middle of the 18th century, the double image comes into use and it no longer matters how you hold the card in your hand.
Initially, the ace was simply a number card which had little value in many card games. However, thanks to French revolutionaries, it was promoted to the ace with which the king could be trumped. In 1850 the first cards with printing on the reverse side appeared in London. The joker is an American invention from 1865.
Card games can be classified in different ways, depending on the purpose of the game, the number of players, the main feature, etc. Over time, card games cross-fertilized and innovations arose in existing games. Trump, for example, originally a separate game with separate cards, proved so influential that many games adopted this idea.
The simplest form consists of the players ‘exchanging’ cards with each other or with a player with the stock. Cards can also be ‘played off’. This is when you try to be the first to get rid of all your cards. You can also ‘play away’ your cards on your own, as in Patience. Other games try to ‘avoid loss’. You must try not to get certain cards or tricks. The game ends with a loser, namely the one who gets the ‘penalty card’ or the cards to be avoided, and not with a winner.
In Europe, ‘trick games’ are especially popular. All players have the same number of cards, which they play card by card until all the cards have been played. The rules of the game about who may start and who may pick up the cards are clear. This is called a trick. Strategy and technique play a major role here. Skilled players can influence the game by observing the other players, counting the cards played, etc.
This does not apply to ‘gambling games’. Here the element of chance is decisive. You bet on the right card, the best hand or on convincing others that you have the best hand. Although, of course, some strategy and skill does help. Soon property and money were played for. The temptation to give chance a bit of help increased. Disagreements regularly arose at the card table, resulting in quarrels, fights, legal disputes and sometimes even murder and manslaughter. In short: all divine virtues were severely tested and the ‘devil’s picture book’ was burned at the stake.
Everyone gambled, children and adults, clergy and nobility, farmers and city dwellers. In England, the nobility faced ruin at the card table. For the card addict Lord Sandwich, a special arrangement of bread – the sandwich – was devised so that he could eat with his cards in the other hand. In France, Louis XIV encouraged his courtiers to squander considerable amounts. Evenings spent playing card games, with the possibility of ruining one’s fortunes, became fashionable. The last period in which professional gamblers made a lot of money was on the great ocean liners at the beginning of the 20th century.
At VIAGE we play by the rules. We are waiting impatiently for society to evolve into one in which we can try our luck again together in complete safety.