Despite ample differences in language and culture, global travelers may notice one hobby that transcends national borders: card games. Whether playing to pass the time or hone skills, a standard deck of playing cards can go a long way.
Each part of the world has its own unique history related to card games, from ancient Chinese emperors to saloons in the Wild West.
Playing cards dating back to the 17th century provide crucial hints to the antiquated card games popular in Persia and Arabia. As-Nas is a simple game with five beautifully designed card sets, many of which are now preserved in museums around the world.
The game closely resembles poker and involves each player assessing their five-card hand to determine whether it’s a winning combination. From there, they use bluffing to try to force other players to raise their bets or fold.
However, the cards differ greatly. In As-Nas, there are only five suits, which include an ace, king, lady, soldier, and musician (in order of respective worth). Once played as a hobby throughout Persia, As-Nas survives today as a hobbyist’s game rather than a competitive field.
Though some point to As-Nas as poker’s origin, the game evolved into its current form along the American frontier. What was once the French ‘poque’ game moved west from areas like New Orleans and Saint Louis throughout the 1800s. Areas like Deadwood, Dodge City, and Tombstone in the American southwest were home to saloons where the game of poker naturally developed.
By 1871, Queen Victoria helped bring five-card draw and seven-card stud poker to Europe. Only one century later, Texas Hold’em rose to fame when Las Vegas began hosting global competitions. And, half a century after poker’s debut in Vegas, the game is accessible anywhere and optimized for different devices due to the mobile app revolution lead by top-industry companies and the ongoing popularity of poker variations.
Card buffs traveling to the US don’t need to organize a pricey Vegas vacation—the real origins of the most famous American card game are found in the saloons dotting the country’s southwest region.
Legends abound about the origins of modern playing cards, but scholars agree that the original ‘leaf game’ of the Northern Song dynasty is the direct ancestor of the modern deck. Originally, paper playing cards were stamped to create prints but were followed by dominoes, money-suited cards, character cards, and chess cards.
Money-suited cards, in particular, are thought to have inspired today’s playing cards, as there were four suits composing a 38-card deck. The suits (cash, strings, myriads, and tens) were each labeled with numbers 1-9, though the tens had eleven additional cards.
Though many historians credit the Romans with the earliest iteration of blackjack, the French perfected the game (titled ‘Vingt-et-Un’) in the early 1700s. At this time, French courts hosted parties, where games like Chemin de Fer were popular.
It appears the modern form of Vingt-et-Un evolved at this time, and was even played at the Royal Court of King Louis XV. The game became a standard feature in France, as well as Italy, before colonists took the game abroad to places like North America.
Though visitors to Canada may want to stop off in hubs like Toronto, those looking to learn more about the card game Kaiser will need to set off for the remote prairie lands in states like Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Though the game has murky origins, some believe it evolved from Ukrainian card games brought over by colonists who formed intercultural groups along the frontier. Others point to World War II when soldiers played similar card games with troops from other countries, like Russia.
Given its murky origins, Kaiser is a folk game with rules that vary according to region. The standard set of rules requires four players (who form two teams) to trick one another in order to raise bids. The game is arranged as a ‘trick-taking’ game, which means the cards are stacked in a certain formation.
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