Major Card Gaming:
Playing poker, blackjack, and baccarat with a 78 card deck.

Cassiel C. MacAvity

Decks of 52 and 78
    Of quite a number of card games of varying ages and complexity, one factor they share is the game being played with a standard modern card deck of 52 cards and maybe a pair of jokers. The games range from the many variations in poker and solitaire to the basic uniform rules of twenty-one or blackjack, go fish, baccarat, all of them played quite successfully with one or more decks at a time, using the one same unvarying set of cards. At the same time, aside from the card decks that are specifically tailored for one game only, the other deck of cards that is in fairly major circulation is that of the tarot.

    Of the tarot, both it and the regular card deck seem to have a parallel and interlinked history that dates back to Europe of the 1400s to 1500s. In various parts of Europe---generally France, Italy, Germany---there are games called Tarock,Tarocchi, Jeu de Tarot, and quite a few other variations. These games are played using such a 78 card deck, and generally speaking, such a game tends to be in the category of games such as Bridge. From there, and particularly in more English speaking countries, there are also all sorts of speculations and stated origins for these decks---and especially the tarot deck. All of such speculations are quite outside the scope or interest of this paper, although Oy, Vey, do some of the websites on the subject get Really Thicke with Howe Deeply SymbolicK and Magickally Greatly SigNificant They Alle Are . . .

    At any rate, there are indeed a number of points which seem to be universally agreed upon, or at least a look at a number of decks, both tarot and regular play, do make them obvious.

A deck of 52 cards
    The regular playing deck is made of four suits of 13 cards each, for the total of 52. The suits are clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades, and within each suit, the cards start with the ace and then the 2, and continue up to the 10 and the jack, queen, and king. In varying games, the ace can be the supreme card or be rated below the 2, which suit is being played can have significance to the play of the game, and so forth as the deck gets used for it's primary use as a means of playing games.

Two kinds of a deck of 78 cards
    Of the basic tarot deck, one of its stated origins is that of merely a playing card variation. In turn, there is also the divination oriented tarot deck, where there almost seems to be about as many variations in placement and interpretation, and also style of divination deck, as there are practitioners. Almost.

    Both kinds of tarot deck are divided into two groups of cards, with four suits of cards as with a 52 card deck, although with four face cards rather than three, and with an additional set of 22 cards. The regular card deck's jack, queen, and king are replaced by the tarot deck's page, knight, queen, and king, or some such variation.

    For the French tarot, the names of the four suits are the same as the 52 card playing deck. The 22 cards are the 21 trump cards, and an additional fool or excuse card. Also as with a 52 card deck, the French tarot cards have no up or down, and where each of the trump cards has a pair of assorted scenic pictures. The tarot-as-game theories state that the the trumps are merely cards within the individual game being played with them, which does tend to be the case with 78 card tarot playing decks.

    With the divination tarot decks, the two sets of cards are called the minor and major arcana. The minor arcana is made of four suits of 1) Wands, staffs, or batons. 2) Cups. 3) Swords. 4) Pentacles or coins. The major arcana is a series of 22 individual cards that represent historical and legendary archetypes beginning with the Fool at number 0 and The Magician at number 1, and finishes with Judgment and The World, numbers 20 and 21. For those using the tarot for divination, the individual cards of both arcana are considered to have particular philosophical meanings which come out as each card is played. The minor arcana have generally prosaic meanings, with the major arcana having the entirely universal meanings and influence.

    With a regular divination oriented tarot deck, an additional difference is that the cards have only one orientation, letting them be placed face up but upside down, which is called reversing. When a card is so reversed, there are variations in meanings, but the meaning of the reversed card is almost entirely the opposite of the card placed upright. Such reversing of cards is a very important matter because with both majors and minors, most of the meanings of the cards are basically benign when upright. Reversal of most of the cards can give the bad news of the reading and thus guarantees requiring the possibility of card reversals in all readings. After all, in all circumstances and not just divinatory, fantasizing that bad news is just not relevant usually proves guaranteed to bring disaster in any circumstance.

    Beyond that, a main variation to note is that in various divination tarot decks, the conceptual images related to the numbers 8 and 11 in the major arcana cards are switched. The historically documented reason for these differences is found in Thee Ollde And Deeeply Symbolicke Descussions Of Dyverssee Greate Masteres, As Mentioneeed Aebove.

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    Getting Back To The Matter Of Tarot Based Card Games, the switch in the images tends to have little effect for divinatory card readings because they tend to be based more on the image of the major arcana card rather than that card's number. For simply playing card games based on the card number, the switch in images has no effect at all because the focus is on the number.

Adapting 52 card play to 78 cards
    For the purposes of playing card games usually played with a regular card deck, the extra face card of the minor arcana and the entirety of the major arcana are easily adapted to preexisting games. Of much more complex games such as bridge, those already are somewhat the nature of the modern tarot variation playing games and decks.

Playing a card game with a tarot deck
    When playing a card game with a tarot deck rather than a regular card deck, regular game play is completely unchanged, with only two or three additional rules, depending on which tarot deck, to address the difference in cards.

1) The trump or major arcana cards are counted as three additional suits. The additional suits are: The first majors---0 and 21, the second majors---1 through 10, and the third majors---11 through 20.

    In turn, with games such as blackjack, with a focus on counting points past 10, the major card numbers are counted as they are, from 0 through 21. Certainly, game play variations will depend on the particular game.

2) Any hand or play with any trump or major arcana card beats any hand or play with no trump or major arcana card.

3) When playing with an upright only deck: Any reversed card beats the same card when upright.

1) The trump or major arcana forms three additional suits
    The first four suits are still the regular suit or minor arcana cards, with the 14 ranks of cards rather than 13. The trump or major arcana cards are divided into three equal rank suits, consisting of 0 and 21, 1 to 10, and 11 to 20. In both major and minor arcana, no suit takes precedence aside from a major card taking precedence over a minor card. For both minor and major, the descending rank of single cards is ace, king, queen, knight, page, 10 through 2. For the major arcana, the rank is decided by the second digit of the two digit number of a card, with the zeros counting as 10s, ranging from 10 for The Fool, to ace for The World. Alternately, as needed, the rank for a major card is based on the number, thus The Fool being 0, The Wheel of Fortune being 10, and The World being 21. The game play for choosing which way of counting will depend on the game. In poker, there is no need for a 21 card, and thus The World becomes an ace. In blackjack, with The World being 21, that one card wins the game by itself. In baccarat, with the highest count being nine, then again, 10 and 20 become zero, 11 and 21 become aces, and the count starts all over again.

Thus, for the major arcana, the rankings are as follows:

0: The Fool                    10                    Or                    0                    First Majors
1: The Magician Ace Or 1 Second Majors
2: The High Priestess 2 Or 2 Second Majors
3: The Empress 3 Or 3 Second Majors
4: The Emperor 4 Or 4 Second Majors
5: The Hierophant 5 Or 5 Second Majors
6: The Lovers 6 Or 6 Second Majors
7: The Chariot 7 Or 7 Second Majors
8: Strength or Justice 8 Or 8 Second Majors
9: The Hermit 9 Or 9 Second Majors
10: The Wheel of Fortune 10 Or 10 Second Majors
11: Justice or Strength Ace Or 11 Third Majors
12: The Hanged Man 2 Or 12 Third Majors
13: Death 3 Or 13 Third Majors
14: Temperance 4 Or 14 Third Majors
15: The Devil 5 Or 15 Third Majors
16: The Tower 6 Or 16 Third Majors
17: The Star 7 Or 17 Third Majors
18: The Moon 8 Or 18 Third Majors
19: The Sun 9 Or 19 Third Majors
20: Judgment 10 Or 20 Third Majors
21: The World Ace Or 21 First Majors


2) Majors beat minors
    Any hand with a trump or major arcana card takes precedence over any hand with no trump or major arcana card. To repeat, any hand whatsoever with a trump or major arcana card takes precedence over any hand with no trump or major arcana card. Likewise, any single trump or major arcana card will beat any single minor arcana card. For counting situations such as blackjack and baccarat, the only way for a high count minor card to beat a low count trump or major card is with the addition of a trump or major card, and that trump or major card's count of numbers.

3) Reversed cards beat upright cards
    Card games played with an upright only tarot deck also feature reversal of cards, exactly as when using a tarot deck for divination. Likewise, when playing a major card game, a reversed card beats the same card when upright. Thus any 2 reversed will beat any 2 upright, but will still lose to any 3. Likewise, any pair reversed beats any pair upright, and still loses to any three of a kind.

    For any game such a blackjack or baccarat, where the number of the card is counted, a reversed card is declared to be the card that beats the upright card. Therefore, a pair of 4s reversed have a count of 8, reversed, and will beat a pair of 4s, upright, also with a count of 8. In turn, consider two cards of an upright and reversed 4, with a sort of count of a reversed 8, or two cards of reversed 4 with a definite count of a reversed 8. When the opposing hand is an upright 4 and 5 with a count of 9, all reversed 4s do beat the upright 4 of the 4 and 5. And then, with that 5, the 4 and 5 still add up to 9 and still just beat the reversed 8, regardless of any reversed 8 beating any upright 8.

    A very handy playing rule is: When reversal is an option, play the cards as reversed.

    For a game that involves reversals, this does also rather emphasize that the shuffling of the cards must always rotate half the deck. As contrasted with the shuffling of a regular deck, the importance of reversed cards when shuffling a tarot deck requires the complete change of orientation as well as order. Once a card is in play, the orientation of house or community cards remains as they are placed, whether upright or reversed. This means that turning face down cards to be face up requires turning them on the long axis. The orientation of upright for an individual player is in the direction of the player, where the base of an upright card image is towards the player.

    A perfectly reasonable compromise in a community card game can be to place the cards in a neutral location so that all are facing all players. The orientation of the cards dealt to each player is up to that player. The orientation of all player cards also remains as they are placed by that player, whether upright or reversed---Once a player has placed the card on the table face up, the orientation is not changed just because some other player then remembered to reverse his or her cards, play them reversed as needed, and thus beat the earlier player.

What deck to play with?
    When adapting the playing of a card game with a tarot deck, clearly the easiest way to play is to dig out some tarot deck. On an other hand---or several---often tarot decks can be somewhat obscure in the reading. While the suit images can be clear, sometimes the numbering may not be, where the major cards are often counted in Roman numerals, and certainly not going to be divided out into the three major suits. In turn, when playing a game that relies on noting the suits, one is changing from the clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades of the regular playing deck to the wands or staffs or batons, the cups, the swords, and the pentacles or coins of the standard tarot deck. A tarot deck will have an additional face card for the minor suits, but that will just be an extra number of cards to play with.

    Certainly, as a variation one can see of playing with a regular tarot gaming deck, given that the ongoing focus will be the number of a card, and then in turn a comparison of suits rather than assessing which suit.

    One thought linked to the writing of this paper is to get around to designing and printing up a major card game deck, one rather resembling a jeu de tarot/French tarot deck, but also being upright card only. Such a deck will have 78 cards and have reversible cards, like a tarot deck, and have much of the features of the regular playing deck. Thus, there would be four minor suits of clubs and wands, diamonds and pentacles, hearts and cups, and spades and swords, with face cards of page, jack, queen, and king. The labelling for the ace, two through ten, and face cards would be in Latin numbers for the numbers, and all with a pair of labels, one number or letter in each of the top corners of the cards There would also be the three major suits of first major suit ace/The World--21, and 10/The Fool--0, the second major suit ace/The Magician--1 through 10/The Wheel Of Fortune--10, and the third major suit ace/Strength or Justice--11 through 10/Judgment—20. As with the minor cards, the major cards would have one each of the lesser labels of ace through 10 in each top corner, with F, S, or T, for the major suit. In turn, the major number of zero through 21 go in the top center.

Playing Major Poker
    The best to worst Major Poker hands are as follows, basically as usual:

Straight Flush:
Five cards in sequence from the same suit. For two straight flushes, the hand with the highest card wins.

Five Of A Kind:
Five cards of one rank, such as the 10 of wands, the 10 of coins, The Fool, The Wheel of Fortune, and Judgment.

Four Of A Kind:
Four cards of one rank and some other card. When the four cards in two or more hands are the same, the highest fifth card wins.

Full House:
Three of a kind and two of a kind, consisting of three cards of the same rank and two cards of a different rank. With two full houses, the higher three wins. With two full houses with identical threes, then the higher two of a kind wins.

Five cards of the same suit. Two flushes are compared for the highest ranking card, and then the next highest until one wins or they tie.

Five cards of sequential rank. Two straights are compared for the higher card which wins. Two hands with the same high card tie.

Three Of A Kind:
Three cards of the same rank and two more cards of differing ranks.

Two Pair:
Two cards of one rank, two cards of a differing rank, and a fifth card of a rank other than the first two. With opposing two pair, the higher pair of one and then the other decide the win, and if both pair in each hand are identical, then the higher fifth card decides.

One Pair:
Two cards of the same rank, and three cards of differing ranks. A higher pair beats a lower pair, and when the same, then the three other cards are compared until one proves higher than the other.

High Card:
Five cards that are all of different rank, are not in sequence, and not all are of the same suit. With two high card hands, the highest card decides, where when the highest cards are the same, with succeeding cards compared as needed.

The following includes some near random examples of ranking of cards.
    As a general tactical observation, the hand with more majors will tend to beat the hand with fewer majors. Beyond that, again, no suit takes precedence aside from major taking precedence over minor.

    Having stated the above, a hand that consists of the 6 of wands, the 6 of swords, some major card, and two more completely random minor cards, will beat a hand of five major cards that are otherwise all random. The latter hand may be all majors but is merely an all major high card hand, where the former hand is a major one pair hand, with a major card accompanying a pair of 6s.

    Yes, with 7 suits to draw from in any hand, a five of a kind is indeed possible, where the highest five of a kind will consist of The World, the major 11, The Magician, and two minor arcana aces, all reversed.

    A hand that consists of The High Priestess, The Emperor, The Chariot, Death, and The Sun is not a flush. As all major suits are equal, it is a high card hand that consists of a major suit 2, 4, and 7--The High Priestess, The Emperor, The Chariot---, and a different major suit 3 and 9--Death and The Sun---. But it will beat any hand that is all minor cards and no majors.

    Yes, there can be a royal flush when playing Major Poker, as a royal flush would consist of ace, king, queen, knight and page. However, all of such must be from the same suit, no major suit contains the royal face cards, and doing weird things with The Empress and The Emperor merely to invent a major royal flush would be weird. Therefore, any royal flush will be beaten by any hand with any major.

    The 2 flushes that beat all other hands less than a full house with at least one major arcana card consist of:
The Wheel Of Fortune and some four other majors from 1 to 9, all reversed,
Judgment and some four other majors from 11 to 19, all reversed.
As no suit takes precedence aside from major taking precedence over minor, these two hands tie each other.

    The 2 highest straight flushes possible in Major Poker consist of:
The Wheel of Fortune, The Hermit, Justice or Strength---whichever is the 8 card--, The Chariot, and The Lovers, all reversed,
Judgment, The Sun, The Moon, The Star, and The Tower, all reversed.
As no suit takes precedence aside from major taking precedence over minor, these two hands tie each other.

    Indeed, no flush will ever include The Fool or The World.

    The Empress and Death will beat The Empress or Death and any minor arcana 3, which will beat a pair of minor arcana 3s.

    A hand consisting of The Tower reversed, The Lovers, the Six of Coins reversed, the Six of Wands, and The Six Of Cups reversed are not five of a kind but are instead a full house.

Playing Major Blackjack
    Blackjack also would get played with basically no changes, albeit while noting the addition of the major cards. The primary notes would be that the major cards would thus supply numbers larger than ten, and with the importance of reversals, the house will have a slightly different playing issue than the players.

    With those in mind, the following outlines a likely game of blackjack.

    Following the usual very thorough shuffling that also addresses rotating cards, the dealer deals one card, flipping over it on the long axis to be face up, with reversal orientation being towards the player. The dealer then deals a second card, placing it next to the first card, face down.

    The dealer then deals a single card to each player. A player looks at the card and decides if a second card is needed. If a second card is needed, it is drawn. At that point, the one or two cards are played face up, with reversal or not being the choice of the player. If the player wishes, further cards can be drawn, and are placed as reversed or not as the player wishes. When the player has completed the hand, the dealer plays. The dealer's second card is flipped face up, again rotating on the long axis for reversal orientation to be towards the player. If the total of the two cards is less than 17, then additional cards are drawn and placed face up, again, flipping the cards on the long axis as they come off of the deck. The dealer stops dealing once 17 is reached, or if the dealer goes over 21.

    In all such play a trump or major card beats a minor card. As far as subtleties of reversal orientation for the dealer, the cards can be dealt to a neutral spot that both dealer and player face, or not---the primary issue is that all reversal orientation is towards the player with the final orientation being when the card becomes face up.

    From there:
When the player gets 21, and the dealer does not, the player wins.
When the player goes over 21, the player loses, even if the dealer also goes over 21.
When the dealer goes over 21 and the player does not, the player wins.
When the player gets a higher number than the dealer and less than or equal to 21, the player wins.
When the dealer and the player get the same score, they tie and neither wins.

    As with the playing of Major Poker, playing Major Blackjack can have interesting occurrences. If either the dealer or the player has a major card, then both have to have a major card for one to win. As noted, if the player gets dealt The World, that is an automatic winning blackjack with just one card. However, if the dealer has The World, the second card has to be The Fool, with a value of 0, or the dealer will automatically go over 21.

    Certainly all the usual blackjack variations can be done with Major Blackjack, such as choosing to split and double down.

Playing Major Baccarat
    Baccarat also would get played with basically no changes, albeit while noting the addition of the major cards. With the baccarat focus on only counting to 9, that leaves the major cards counting up to 10---considered zero---and then starting up again with 11 and 21 being the aces. Reversals and majors taking precedence are the main extra changes, but that just means two extra features for the dealer to track---given that baccarat is itself completely locked down regarding how to play, there really isn't any other difference from regular play aside from the addition and use of a tarot deck.

Major Card Gaming
    With Major Poker, Major Blackjack, and Major Baccarat, mixing in the tarot deck makes interesting games even more interesting.


© Cassiel C. MacAvity