Most specialized hobbies and interests have their own terminology, and the world of playing cards and card games is no different. Most readers likely have some experience with playing cards and with card games, and so you are probably already familiar with quite a few common terms and words that are used. But are you sure that you’re using the right words? It’s easy to learn new words from other people, but that doesn’t guarantee you’re thinking of the right meaning.
What is the difference, for example, between a court card, a picture card, and a face card? And what exactly is meant by a spot card, and are there alternate words that are more commonly used for the same thing? What are the proper names for all the four suits, and should we have a preference for “clovers” or “clubs”? As for card games, could you explain the difference between a hand and a trick, and distinguish between the stock and a tableau?
We’re here to help. If you’re already an established card connoisseur, this glossary will help give you a quick refresher course and polish your existing knowledge. And if you’re still quite new to playing cards, this list will hopefully help you become more informed. And if you enjoy card handling or card games, this collection of terms will prove useful as well. Whatever the case, knowing a thing or two about the language of playing cards will help us enjoy them all the more!
Playing Card Terms
These terms relate to playing cards themselves, with common words and phrases relating to how they are made and what they look like.
Ace. The number one card of each suit.
Black Lady. The Queen of Spades, also called the Black Maria.
Bridge-size. A narrow size playing card with a width of 2.25 inches, contrasted with the more common 2.5 inch wide “poker-size”.
Color. Spades and Clubs are considered “Black” in color, while Hearts and Diamonds are considered “Red”.
Deuce. A card with two pips.
Cellophane. The protective plastic shrink-wrap that most decks of playing cards are wrapped in.
Clubs. English term for the French suit trefle, corresponding to swords (Italian/Spanish), and acorns (Swiss/German).
Coating. The protective coating applied in the final stages of the printing process by the playing card manufacturer.
Cold foil stamping. The modern method of printing metallic foil (contrasted with “hot foil”), which uses printing plates instead of stamping tools.
Court cards. Kings, Queens, and Jacks. Also called “face cards” or “picture cards”.
Deck. A pack of playing cards, usually 52 cards plus two Jokers.
Diamonds. English term for the French suit “carreau“, corresponding to coins (Italian/Spanish), and bells (Swiss/German).
Embossing. The dimpled “finish” on the surface of the cards themselves; can also refer to the raised surface that are parts of the tuck box design.
Face cards. Kings, Queens, and Jacks. Also called “court cards” or “picture cards”.
Face-down. A card placed so that its back is showing, while its face is adjacent to the table.
Face-up. A card placed so that its number or picture is showing.
Fanning powder. A white powder (usually zinc stearate) used to improve handling by reduce the friction between playing cards.
Finish. The type of embossing used on the surface of a playing card, typically this is smooth or embossed.
Foil. A shiny metallic material applied to the surface of a playing card or tuck box, usually by a process of hot or cold foil stamping.
Hearts. English term for the French suit “coeur“, corresponding to cups (Italian/Spanish), flowers (Swiss), and hearts (German).
Hot foil stamping. The older method of printing metallic foil (contrasted with “cold foil”), where a heated die is used to stamp metallic foil onto a playing card at high temperatures.
Index. The small number/letter and suit symbol in the corner of a card that shows its suit and value, especially useful in a fanned hand.
Joker. Extra card that comes with a 52 card deck, and used in some games as a wild card or the highest trump.
Knave. The Jack of a suit.
Marked. A deck that has secret marks integrated into the artwork on the back of the cards, often enabling the suit and rank of the card to be identified.
Metallic ink. A liquid ink containing metallic particles which reflect light, usually creating a less intense effect than metallic foil
Numerals. Number cards, as opposed to courts, also called “pip cards” or “spot cards”.
One-eyes. The Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, and King of Diamonds.
One-way. A back design that isn’t symmetrical, enabling cards rotated 180 degrees to be easily identified.
Pack. A deck of playing cards, usually 52 cards plus two Jokers.
Pasteboards. Another term for playing cards, originating from when the front and back of a card were literally pasted together.
Picture cards. Kings, Queens, and Jacks. Also called “court cards” or “face cards”.
Pip. The large suit symbols on a card (Spade, Club, Heart, or Diamond)
Pip value. The numerical value of a card.
Poker-size. A standard size playing card with a width of 2.5 inches, contrasted with the narrow 2.25 inch wide “bridge-size”.
Rank. The ordinal position (number value) of a card in a suit, e.g. 2 of Diamonds and 2 of Clubs have the same rank, while a King outranks a Queen. This is sometimes also called “denomination”.
Seal. The sticker used to seal a box of playing cards; a practice which originated with tax stamps.
Smooth. An unembossed surface.
Soft. Card-stock that bends easily.
Spades. English term for the French suit “pique“, corresponding to batons (Italian), clubs (Spanish), escutcheons (Swiss), and leaves (German).
Spot card. Any card from 2 through 10, also called “pip cards”, as opposed to “court cards”.
Spot UV: A secondary printing process which adds a clear gloss coating to selected parts of a card or tuck box in order to add sheen and texture.
Stock. The type of paper used for the manufacturing of a playing card.
Suicide King. King of Hearts, so named due to the traditional orientation of the sword he usually holds.
Trey. A card with three pips.
Tuck. Short form for “tuck box”, which is the box or case containing the deck.
Card Handling Terms
Many of these terms relate to handling a deck of playing cards, and some of them are especially important for those who do card magic.
Biddle Grip. Taking a deck out of Mechanics Grip by grasping the top and bottom edges, holding it with your thumb on one edge and your index finger on the other edge. Also called “End Grip”, this is the most common way to hold a deck along with the “Mechanics Grip”.
Bridge. A classy flourish where two interwoven halves of a deck spring together.
Burn. Reveal and then bury a card.
Bury. Place a card at the bottom of the deck, or in the middle of the deck so it can’t be easily located
Cut. Divide the deck into two packets, and reverse their order.
Deal. Pass out cards to the other players. In card games this is usually done from a face-down pack, in clockwise order starting with the player on the dealer’s left.
Dealers Grip. See under “Mechanics Grip”.
Dribble. Releasing a deck of cards one at a time from the fingers and thumb so that they fall downwards in a steady flow.
Fan. A spread of cards held in a semi-circular shape, with overlapping cards that show the indices.
Faro. A shuffling method where the two halves of the deck interweave perfectly like a zipper exactly one card at a time.
Flash. Expose a card accidentally while dealing or handling a deck.
Flip. Turn a card face up.
Flourish. A visually impressive display of skill performed with playing cards.
Force. Making a spectator select a predetermined card apparently at “random”.
Hindu. A shuffling method from Asia where the cards are moved in lengthwise packets.
Key Card. A known card in a deck, typically adjacent to the spectator’s selected unknown card.
Mechanics Grip. Holding a deck squarely in the center of your left hand, as if you were dealing cards for a game. Also called “Dealers Grip”, this is the most common way to hold a deck of cards.
Outjog. Push out a card from a deck so that its top half is protruding and visible above the other cards.
Overhand. A shuffling method where the cards are moved in sideways packets; the most commonly method of shuffling cards.
Packet. Part of a deck, usually consisting of a number of individual cards.
Ribbon spread. A “spread” of cards across a table or mat.
Riffle. A shuffling method where the deck is divided into two packets, and using the thumbs to making the cards fall quickly and interweave together.
Scaling. A specialized technique in throwing cards frisbee-style at high speed.
Shuffle. Randomizing the cards in a deck by a mixing process.
Smear fan. A fan made with one hand, and often using only half the deck.
Spread. Showing a hand, packet, or deck of cards face-up, often with cards overlapping.
Spring. A flashy flourish where the entire deck springs one card at a time from hand to hand.
Square. Straightening the edges of a deck in the hands or on the table.
Stacked deck. A deck where the cards are set-up with a pre-arranged order.
Strip. Remove low cards from a deck.
Thumb fan. A fan made by holding the entire deck in one hand and using the thumb of the other hand to spread it.
Vanish. Make something disappear.
Card Game Terms
Many individual card games have their own terms, such as Euchre (Bower, Going Alone, Order Up, March), Cribbage (Crib, Go, His Heels, His Nob, Muggins, Peg, Starter), and Poker (Blind, Check, Hole Card, Straight), so this is not an exhaustive list, but focuses on terms that are common to most card games.
Ace High (or Low). The Ace is the highest (or lowest) ranked card in a suit.
Age. Order of priority in play, starting with the player who must first bid, bet, or lead. This usually begins with the player (“eldest hand”) on the left of the dealer.
Announce. Name a trump suit or show your melds.
Ante. A bet or contribution to the pot made before the deal.
Auction. The period of bidding before cards are played, to establish the conditions of the game (e.g. the trump suit, how many tricks are needed to win).
Bank. The dealer or house in a gambling game.
Best. Highest ranking card.
Bid. A proposal to win a specific number of tricks or points.
Bidder. Any player who makes a bid, or the player who makes the highest bet.
Blank. A card worth nothing in a card-point game; or alternatively a hand without court cards.
Blank suit. Having no cards of a specific suit, sometimes also referred to as void.
Bluff. Pretend you have better or different cards than what you actually have in hand.
Buy. Draw from the stock or widow.
Carte Blanche. A hand with no court cards (but may contain an Ace), also called a “blank”.
Case card. The final card of a particular rank that remains in play.
Catch. Getting valuable cards when drawing from the stock or widow.
Chicane. A dealt hand that has no trumps.
Chip. A token or gaming counter used in gambling games in place of money.
Coffee housing. Acting or speaking in a way to mislead your opponents about the cards you have in hand.
Combination. A set of cards recognized by the game rules as having a scoring value, usually a set of the same rank or suit.
Contract. Obligation to win a certain number of tricks or points.
Coup. A winning play or bet, or an especially good play.
Cover. Playing a card higher than the previous highest card in a trick.
Cut-throat. A variant of a partnership game where players play for themselves against the other players.
Dealer. The person who deals cards to the other players.
Declare. Announce the contract or conditions of play (e.g. name a trump suit, or the number of tricks to be won). Alternatively, this can mean to show and score the valid combinations (e.g. melds) of cards in your hand.
Declarer. The person who is the highest bidder, who declares, and then has the aim of making good the stated contract.
Discard. Putting an unwanted card to the discard pile, sometimes called “throw off” and used to refer to playing a worthless card in a trick.
Discard pile. The cards that have been discarded during pile, usually face up.
Doubleton. Holding two cards of the same suit.
Draw. Take an additional card, usually from the draw pile or stock, and sometimes from the top of the discard pile.
Draw pile. The cards remaining after the deal, also called the stock.
Drinking game. Typically has the aim of producing a loser rather than a winner, who must buy the next round.
Eldest hand. The player besides the dealer (usually on his left) who receives cards first and plays first; sometimes also called first hand.
Exchange. Trade a number of cards from your hand with another player, or draw from the stock and discard the same number (or in the opposite order).
Exit. Force another player to win a trick, or get out of being the player who leads.
Finesse. Holding back a certain winning card and playing a card of lesser strength in the hope of capturing an extra trick.
Flush. A hand of cards of the same suit.
Fold. Drop out, usually by turning down your face-up cards.
Follow. Play second or third etc after a trick has been “led”.
Follow suit. Play a card of the same suit as the first card played.
Four of a kind. Four cards of the same rank, e.g. four tens. In some games this is called a “book”.
Full house. A combination of five cards that includes a three-of-a-kind and a pair.
Gambling game. A game played for money.
Go out. Play your last card, thus getting rid of all cards in your hand.
Hand. Cards dealt or held by a player during a game. Alternatively a “hand” can refer to the portion of a game from when the cards are dealt until they are all played.
Hand-play. Playing without using a widow.
Head. Play a higher card than any thus far played to a trick.
Honors. The high cards of a suit (Ace, King, Queen, and Jack, and sometimes also the 10), especially if they have scoring value.
Knock. Indicating that all your cards are melded (e.g. in Rummy), or that you won’t make a further bet (e.g. in Poker).
Lead. Play the first card of a trick; alternatively, as a reference to this card.
Long card. A card in your hand in a suit that opponents no longer have.
Maker. The player who names the trump suit.
Marriage. King and Queen of a suit.
Master card. The highest ranked card in a suit that is live or unplayed.
Meld. A matched set of three or more cards having the same rank, or having the same suit and being in consecutive order. As a verb, “meld” means to declare or lay out one or more such sets. This term is mainly used in Rummy.
No-trump. A declaration where the hand is played with no trump suit.
Nullo. A declaration where the aim is to avoid winning tricks or points.
Pair. Two cards of the same rank.
Partnership. Two or more players working co-operative to win.
Pass. Declare that you don’t bid or bet, or that you withdraw from the current deal.
Pot. The money or chips representing a game’s bets, sometimes also called a “kitty” or “pool”.
Plain card. A non-trump card, sometimes also called “plain suit”.
Play. Take a card from your hand and use it in a game.
Raise. Increase a preceding bet.
Renege. A failure to play a required card, usually when you don’t follow suit; also called “revoke”.
Renounce. Play a card other than the suit led.
Round. When all players participate once in a deal, bet, or play of a card.
Rubber. A set of three successive games; usually so described in matches of Whist or Bridge.
Ruff. Play a trump in a trick led with a plain suit.
Run. A sequence of two or more cards of adjacent rank, which in some games must be of the same suit; sometimes also simply called a “sequence”.
Sandbagging. The strategy of holding back cards in a good hand to trap an opponent into a greater loss later in the hand.
Sequence. A “run” of two or more cards of adjacent rank, which in some games must be of the same suit.
Shedding. Games where the aim is to be the first to get rid of all your cards.
Singleton. Holding one card of any suit.
Stock. The cards remaining after the deal, also called the draw pile.
Three of a kind. Three cards of the same rank, e.g. three tens; sometimes called a “triplet”.
Tops. Highest cards in a suit.
Trick. One card from each player, usually won and taken by the player who played the highest or best card.
Trick-taking. Games based on the principle of trick-play.
Trump. A selected suit that outranks the other suits, e.g. a Two of a trump suit will beat a King of any other suit. As a verb, “trump” means to play a trump card that beats other non-trump cards.
Turn. In rotation, a player’s opportunity to deal, declare, bet, or play.
Turn up. A card placed face-up after the deal, to determine (or propose) the trump suit.
Unload. Get rid of the dangerous cards from your hand.
Void. Having no cards of a specific suit, sometimes also referred to as “blank suit”. As a verb, “void” means the act of discarding all cards of a suit to achieve this.
Widow. Extra cards that are dealt face-down at the start of the game which don’t belong to a particular player; often a player is given opportunity to exchange some cards with it.
Wild card. A card that can be used to represent the rank/suit of any other card (as allowed by the game rules), usually as designated by its holder.
Youngest hand. The player last in turn to bid or play (contrast with “eldest hand”). In two player games this is the dealer, who is sometimes also called a “pone”.
Solitaire Game Terms
Solitaire or patience games often have their own terminology, so a separate section has been devoted to this.
Available. A card available to be played or transferred in the layout, and which is not blocked.
Blocked. A card that that is partially or completely covered by another card, and thus not available to be played or transferred in the layout.
Build. Transfer and lay cards in the tableau.
Build up. Laying cards on a Foundation card in ascending order of rank.
Build down. Laying cards on a Foundation card in descending order of rank.
Cascade. Cards built on each other, but where the indices of all the cards are still visible.
Center. Part of the layout in the middle.
Column. Cards in a vertical line extending toward you, where the may cards overlap but show their indices, usually in a tableau.
File. A column in the tableau.
Foundation. A card in the center on which other cards are built up or down, often an Ace or a King.
Hand. The draw pile or stock that remains after the tableau is laid out.
In Sequence. A requirement that cards be placed on one another exactly one higher (or lower).
Layout. The prescribed arrangement of cards dealt out, consisting of the tableau, and possibly a stock and foundations.
Re-deal. After the initial stock has been used, to use the cards from the Waste pile.
Row. A line of cards side by side, where the cards may overlap but still show their indices.
Space. A vacancy in the tableau as a result of removing the cards of one pile.
Stack. Cards placed on each other so only the top card is visible.
Tableau. The prescribed arrangement of cards dealt out, i.e. the layout excluding the stock and foundations; in some games the tableau refers to the entire layout.
Talon. Cards turned up from the stock or hand and laid aside in one or more packets as unwanted or unplayable; sometimes also called a “waste” or “waste-pile”.
Waive. Being able to lift a card and play the card below it.
Waste. See under “Talon”.
Wrapping. Allowing a sequence where an Ace can continue from a King; also called “Building around the corner”.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, and collecting playing cards. This article first appeared on PlayingCardDecks.com here.
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