Playing Cards: The Russian Connection


That European cards were sent to the East, among other articles of Merchandise, towards the end of the 16th Century, appears evident from a passage in a narrative of the first voyage of the English, on a private account, begun by Captain George Raymond, and finished by Captain James Lancaster; and we learn from Alexander Burnes, that commerce has imported cards into the Holy City of Bokhara, that the pack consists of 36 cards, and that the games are strictly Russian.

Gatto 1848
Alexander Burnes was a British explorer and wrote Travels into Bokhura in 1834. (Bukhara in Uzbekistan)
In Russia and many countries of the former USSR, the Russian 36-card deck is the most common one. Its numbering includes 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Valet (Jack), Dama (Dame), Korol (King) and Tuz (Ace). The suits are identical to French ones. This deck is used for several Russian card games such as Durak or Ochko (a variant of Blackjack). Another common Russian deck is the Preferans deck that is used for the card game of the same name. It begins with sevens and is identical to the Piquet deck.

Established in the sixteenth century, the Bukharan khanate maintained commercial and diplomatic contact with Russia.

I cannot find any Russian playing cards earlier than 1800's.
Printing did not get underway in Russia until the 1550's
I would presume that Russian cards may have been German??? initially.

One of the things I am interested in is that the Russians apparently play an old game called The Fool. They use a Fool card. I was not aware that that there was a 36 playing card pack with a Fool? Or any playing card deck that early that had a Fool.

Any help would be most welcome.



So 1820 & thereabouts. At that second link, it's interesting that only the courts of Hearts & Spades carry weapons. The Heart king brandishes a sword :)

Bee :)


Aye Bee and I have laughed at the King of Spades with a flower.
You would have to wonder how these things came about?

In early dutch games the Knave became the Juker/Joker or the 2 Spades.
To call a game the Fool (I cannot read the Russian for Fool) one would think they had a Fool, not a substitute for what is now a Joker.

In playing cards you can see regional connections, so I want to see how far north did the Italian and French type fool go? Maybe a Knave was considered a Fool anyway.
You should the twit I made of myself with the Portuguese cards in Japan......and the Japanese rendition of an addition of a Joker much much later.



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A Knave/Jack... of ?

That has got to be a musical intrument..

Bee :)


Aye, it was a knave concocted to be the Joker. I thought I had found the 'ur' Japanese Fool. I drew it carefully from a book and proceeded to throw tomatoes at myself. Fortunately Roppo saved me from myself :D

Aside: It would be interesting to have a thread with the most idiotic mistakes we have made on this forum. I wonder how brave we each could be. Humility- now there's a word. Removable red face paint has been needed sometimes.

Back to Russian cards.
I suppose with all the blood and guts of Russian history- early cards may no longer exist. I know that is the case with places like Bohemia.



A couple of additions to this old thread.

The game of 'the Fool' (Durak) is well-known where I live and is probably one of the most popular card games around. However, it doesn't use any additional cards. 'The fool' in this case is the name that the loser of the game gets. :joke:

Apparently, playing cards started gaining popularity in Russia only in the early 1700s, having been prohibited before that under the threat of unpleasant punishments, such as branding with a red-hot iron rod. The first playing cards were produced from low-quality paper and rubbed with talcum to give it smoothness. (Taken from the Russian Wikipedia).

I imagine those first cards weren't especially sturdy or long-lived, and might have been targeted at satisfying card players' needs for a game tool rather than their aesthetic cravings, making the first cards, perhaps, not really worthy of keeping as historically valuable artifacts. Whether it was the case or not, I'd love to see some of those, though. :)