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The joker card: Why is it included in a deck of cards?

The joker card: Why is it included in a deck of cards?

The joker card: Why is it included in a deck of cards?

Sat Jul 09 2022 02:53:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

An often overlooked and largely ignored card on a deck is the joker card. At, let’s look closely at joker cards and find out why they are included and what significance they bear when playing. 

What is the joker card?

The Joker card can be found in most French-suited decks which are considered the standard card deck used today. Since the early 20th century, it can also be seen in Spanish and Italian suited variants. In a standard deck of cards, two jokers are usually included. 

The design of joker cards varies depending on the company that manufactured them but it often depicts a court jester or a clown. Because of their various unique designs, joker cards are the most coveted among card collectors.

A brief look into the history of joker cards

Joker cards were first printed in the late 1860s when a trick-taking card game called Euchre was extremely popular. 

The highest trump card in the game, referred to as the ‘right bower’, was the jack suit. When the game was adapted by Americans, they included a blank card to create what they called the ‘Best Bower’. 

When the Americanised version of the game became popular, card maker Samuel Hart released the first illustration of the ‘best bower’, and called it the ‘Imperial Bower’. This eventually became known as the joker we know today.

Why are jokers in a deck of cards?

The uses of the joker card vary depending on the game being played. Sometimes it’s not used at all, while other times, like when playing triple card poker, it’s used as a wild card.  Here are some games and the purpose of a joker when playing them:


The invention of the joker is often credited to the American variation of the game Euchre, which is a trick-taking card game often played with up to four players. 

Euchre can be played with 24 to 32 cards, generally making use of the cards with higher values. The goal is to win at least three tricks and earn 10 points. In the game, the joker card is considered the highest trump card or ‘best bower’.


Poker, to this day, is one of the most popular card games that people enjoy. It can be played with the standard 52 cards or with the addition of the 2 joker cards. The goal of the game is to attain the highest possible hand.

When playing with friends, a joker card is often used as a wild card that can substitute for any card to increase the hand value. However, these cards are not commonly included in casino poker games or poker tournaments.


Mighty is a point-trick card game played with 52 cards and a joker. The goal is to capture point cards (A, K, Q, J, and 10). It is largely known to have been invented by Korean college students in the 1970s. In the game, the joker card is the second highest-ranking card but it cannot be used in the first or last trick of the game.


Originating from Argentina and Uruguay in the 1940s, Canasta became extremely popular in the United States and Great Britain during the 1950s. It is a game played with two decks, totalling 108 cards including 4 joker cards.

The game is scored by forming combinations of three or more cards with the same ranks. These combinations are called melds, and the value can be increased with wildcards. In the game, both jokers and deuces are used as wild cards.


Rummy is a game played with 6 players using a standard deck of cards. In this game, the King has the highest value while the Ace is considered the lowest. The goal of the game is to create a winning set consisting of cards croup in three or four of a kind. The joker is used as a wild card to substitute for any other card to create a winning hand.

Old Maid

A game commonly played with 2 up to 8 players, Old Maid makes use of 52 cards with an additional joker card. The objective of the game is to dispose of all their cards in pairs before their opponent does. Whoever holds the last remaining card without a match, called the Old Maid, is the loser. In the game, the joker typically serves as the Old Maid.


A fast-paced trick-taking game, Pitch comes with many variations. In general, it is played using the standard 52-card deck. Each player can bid on the value of the six cards dealt to them. The goal is to take tricks and get points to win. However, in variations like the 10-point pitch, two jokers are included and are considered the second and third highest-ranking cards. 

Crazy Eights

Crazy Eights is a game played between 2 to 4 people. With two players, 7 cards will be dealt for each player. For 4 players, only five cards will be dealt. The game starts with the player left of the dealer moving clockwise. 

The next player needs to match the card in either number or suit, and they have to draw a new card if they don’t have a matching card. The goal is to be the first to discard all their cards. When the joker card is put down on the pile, the next player loses a turn. 


Myths & legends about the joker card

The Joker and December 31

While December 31st is popularly celebrated for the coming of New Year, it is also known as the Joker’s birthday. In the olden days, it was considered a day for merriment. On this day, court jesters can showcase their best performance and impersonate royalties such as the King.

The joker card vs the fool card

Joker cards are often compared to the fool card in a tarot deck. Both these cards individually are not worth anything since they don’t represent a value on the decks. However, when put within a group of cards, it often becomes valuable. 

Additionally, there are claims that the joker card, which was first printed in decks in the 1860s, originated from the fool, which can be traced back to the 1450s. Though depicting different characters, the joker is dressed as a jester and the Fool is often depicted as a vagabond, both wear ragged clothes and are illustrated with funny faces.

Myths and legends about playing cards

Aside from myths and legends specific to joker cards, there are many more myths regarding casino games in general. In this section, we will talk about popular myths when playing card games. These stem from different cultures and different periods, so a lot of them can come off as odd while others are intriguing. Here are some of them: 

Cards were used to send secret maps by POWs during WWII

The most fascinating legend about playing cards comes during the time of World War II. Allied Prisoners of War held across Germany and occupied Europe were allowed to receive packages from the Red Cross thanks to the Geneva Convention. 

Seeing this as an opportunity, the Allies smuggled several disguised items to POWs to avoid detection from the enemy captors. With the help of the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) and their brand, Bicycle, they produced a deck of cards that had a hidden map within it. 

The map hidden on the card was revealed once submerged in water and soft enough to peel off the outer layers. Each card contained a piece of the map and was assembled once all the pieces were revealed.

The map, once assembled, contained valuable information within it, including escape route directions, to help POWs to escape and reach safety. These cards were distributed during Christmas, as part of Red Cross’ Christmas parcels.

32 POWs managed to escape captivity with help from the map. This unique collaboration between the Allied Intelligence and USPCC was commemorated by the reproduction of the decks. 

It is bad to sing, whistle, or drop cards while playing

This belief largely comes from Chinese superstition. Singing, whistling, or dropping cards when playing is considered disrespectful and a sign of rudeness. 

52 is a lucky number

According to Asian tradition, 52 is a lucky number in card games. In numerology, the number means good fortune and positive change. 

The most common belief, however, is that the 52 cards are meant to represent the 52 weeks that pass in a year. Additionally, the four card suits represent the four seasons and the 13 cards within it represent the 13 weeks within each season.

Do not play cards with your left hand

Using your left hand to hold the cards is considered to be bad luck. It’s unclear why but it is likely rooted in the many folklore regarding the left hand. In the Middle Ages, left-handed people were considered possessed by the devil simply because the devil was believed to have the same dominant hand.

Avoid crossing your legs when playing

One of the older myths when playing cards is the belief that players should not cross their legs when playing. It is said that doing so would destroy any chances of winning a game.

Getting a dark hand has a dark meaning

It is commonly believed that when you have a hand consisting of an all-black card suit, that means that someone will die.

Don’t buy a deck for yourself

This belief is rooted in using cards for a tarot reading. It is considered bad luck to buy it for yourself. Additionally, you can’t use the same deck for both tarot reading and playing cards.

Walk three times around the playing table for good luck

Sometimes luck is just not on your side when playing a card game which can result in a losing streak. It is believed that your luck can change when you walk around the table three times before continuing the game.


Frequently asked questions about the joker card

What is the joker card for?

The joker card was widely produced by card manufacturers to capitalise on the popularity of the ‘jolly joker’ card used in the game Euchre. While some games don’t make use of the joker card, some use it as a wild card. It can also be used to stand for missing cards on a deck when the joker card is not needed in the game being played.

How many joker cards are in a standard deck?

There are commonly two joker cards that come with the standard 52-card deck.

What does the joker card symbolise?

Joker cards, which commonly depict a court jester or a clown, are commonly known for their wild and trickster nature. This is reflected by the common use of joker cards as wild symbols that can often substitute for other cards.

Which gambling card games involve jokers?

Jokers are used in gambling games such as Pai gow poker, five-card draw, canasta, rummy, and many more. 

Interested in playing card games involving the joker?

Although the joker card was primarily created for the game Euchre, its use for it grew in the years following it. It is used in several games including poker, canasta, and more. It is often used as a wild card or a high-value card.

Joker cards are made with various designs depending on the card manufacturer. This unique feature has made it extremely popular among card collectors. Additionally, its popularity has grown beyond that, to the point where games would use the depicted jester or clown as a character in different games and shows.

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The joker card: Why is it included in a deck of cards?

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