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Deal Me In: A little bar stool trivia on cards

21 November 2008

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Is there any way of producing luck when you gamble? Wendy P.

Producing luck? Sure! You will always have more luck in the long run at games where the casino has a small house edge versus games where the casino has a large house edge. You've read it here before, and I'll state it again; The smarter you play, the luckier you'll be.

Indeed, Wendy, though it's possible to have good fortune making bad bets on bad games, don't bet on such outlandish lucky streaks happening with any frequency.

Dear Mark: It seems every time I play one coin instead of three coins in a slot machine, I seem to hit more payouts. Are the machines set to pay less when you play more coins? John S.

You didn't mention where you play, but in every gaming jurisdiction that I'm familiar with, which is pretty much the whole US market, it is illegal for a slot machine to determine which symbols will land on which payline based on the number of coins played.

You will, though, have a higher long-term payback when you play the maximum coin amount. But that's just because some combinations pay more when you play maximum coin. What doesn't change are the chances of landing on paying combinations, whether you played, one, two, or the maximum number of coins.

Dear Mark: In last week's column you stated that the suit of spades reflects nobility in the structure of medieval society. As a bit of a card trivia buff, I was always under the impression that spades represented the Middle East of biblical times. Is there a different interpretation that I am unfamiliar with? Tomas H.

The introduction, manner, and interpretations of what both the suits and the Kings, Queens and Jacks (Knaves) on them represent are forever a matter of dispute. Your version represents civilizations that have influenced our culture. Hearts the Holy Roman Empire, diamonds the Roman Empire, clubs Greece, and as you state correctly, spades the Middle East of biblical times.

Another depiction, comes from France, the culture having had the greatest influence on the creation of the modern deck of cards. They combined the knight and page, reduced the size of the deck to 52 cards, and simplified the suit symbols in 1480 to red for diamonds and hearts, black spades and trefoils (clover leaves). The four suits reflecting the structure of the medieval society: hearts—priesthood; spades—nobility; clubs—peasantry; diamonds—the wealthy merchant class.

There are many theories about whom the court cards represent, one of the most common being that the Kings in a deck of cards represent famous rulers; the king of spades is King David, the king of clubs is Alexander the Great, the king of hearts is Charlemagne, and the king of diamonds is Julius Caesar.

As for the king's better half, the queen of spades, the only armed queen in the deck, represents Athena, who used the epithet "Pallas," the Greek goddess of war. The queen of diamonds is Rachel, the second wife of Jacob. The queen of clubs is Argine, an anagram of Regina, signifying queen. The queen of hearts is Judith of Bavaria, daughter-in-law of Charlemagne.

The jack of spades represents Ogier the Dane, a knight of Charlemagne, clubs, Judas Maccabeus, one of the greatest warriors in Jewish history, hearts, La Hire, a French military commander who fought alongside Joan of Arc, and diamonds, the Trojan prince, Hector.

A propos Biblical times, or at least the Bible, did you know that after Johann Gutenberg finished printing the 1,284-page Gutenberg Bible run, having invented the printing press in 1455, the next impressions he made were of playing cards?

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:

"Poker is a godless game filled with random pain." --Andy Bloch, Bigger Deal

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.