Jack of spades

"Jack of clubs" redirects here. For other uses, see Jack of clubs (disambiguation).

A Jack, also Knave /ˈnv/, is a playing card which, in traditional American and English decks, pictures a man in the traditional or historic aristocratic dress generally associated with Europe of the 16th or 17th century. The usual rank of a Jack, within its suit, plays as if it were an 11 (that is, between the 10 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 continue play.


As early as the mid-16th century the card was known in England as the Knave (meaning a male servant of royalty). Although "Jack" was in common usage to designate the "Knave," the term became more entrenched when, in 1864, [1] English 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," however, a term that is still recognized in the United Kingdom. (Note the exclamation by Estella in Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations: "He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!")


In English-style decks, the Jack and the other face cards represent no one in particular, in contrast to the historical French practice, in which each court card is said to represent a particular historical or mythological personage. The Jacks in a French-styled deck 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;[2] 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.[3][4]


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,[5] 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 card designs shown here are based on those from a traditional French deck (where the card is known as the "Valet"), and include the historical and mythological names associated with French-style cards. The current (traditional) Anglo-American design of the Jack can be seen in the photo at the top of the page.

A 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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