Why are people so into games

Card games: Come on guys, we're playing cards now ...

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In Thakhek, a small town in Laos, there are mighty stone tables on the promenade of the Mekong. They are decorated with mosaics and offer a fantastic view of the other bank. I was 18 years old and had just moved to Laos when these tables shaped my love for card games. My colleagues brought me there in my first week at work Tamnoi at - a kind of Laotian Poker. The aim is to reveal the cards that you have in hand in front of the other players and with fewer points than them. Bet: 2000 Laotian kip per player and round, the equivalent of around 20 cents. Nothing compared to the millions of dollars gambled away in American casinos every night. But the effort was enough to bring tension into the game. And to forget the view on the Mekong.

Tamnoi is played with a completely normal deck, a set of 52 cards with jack and queen, spades and hearts. I played rummy, mau-mau or black peter with the same cards as a child. Now I had moved to the other end of the world - and yet the people there were playing with the same set of cards. How can that be?

If you know the history of the cards, it is no longer so surprising to find them in Asia: for the first time in the world, playing cards were mentioned in Chinese literature. As early as 868, a document reports on a court game made from tree leaves or pieces of wood. Nothing is known about the rules today. Just so much: the sheets were then still bare and unpainted.

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Over the next few centuries, the cards reached Persia and the Arab region via the Silk Road and other trade routes. Here they changed for the first time: the four colors were created at this time. From now on there were twelve cards of each, including two court cards, king and vizier. The fronts were hand-painted with great effort and skill. The really innovative invention, however, were the backs that remained empty (and therefore all of them looked the same): Each game now had known and unknown cards - the known ones in hand and those of the other players who were hidden. One of the colors from then has remained until today: the cross.

Seafarers and other travelers brought the new acquisition to Europe via Italy at the end of the 14th century. There the cards spread rapidly - and were banned just as quickly. The church saw the game of chance as the "devil's prayer book" and had the cards (and sometimes their players) burned in many places. But all the bans did not help. Even the nobility soon played with the new cards: the oldest European deck shows hunting scenes of a court society. And a little later, of all people, a Dominican monk, Johannes von Rheinfelden, wrote the first known description of playing cards and their rules in Europe. From it it becomes clear: Around 650 years ago people were playing with almost the same cards as they are today - a deck of four times 13 cards with the court cards king, upper and lower (the German version of queen and jack).

The production of the cards was expensive and time-consuming until the 15th century. It was only with the invention of wood cutting and copper engraving that playing cards became cheap and thus mass-produced. The city of Lyon in particular developed into an export center and brought the French color system all over the world. It reflected the classes in Europe at the time of King Louis XV. against: Trèfle (cross) stood for the peasants, pique (spades) for the nobility, cœur (heart) for the church and carreau (diamonds) for the merchants. Even today the German national game will be played Skat played with the French instead of the German hand (acorn, foliage, heart and bells).