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Guide to playing cards

7 December 2006

While there are dozens of products attempting to cash in on poker's popularity this holiday season, only one item is truly essential to play the game: Playing cards.

There are three things to consider in your quest for the perfect deck of cards:

  • Paper or Plastic?
  • Poker or Bridge?
  • Standard or Jumbo?

Let's take these questions one at a time…

Paper or Plastic?
Don't feel guilty for buying plastic cards. They're actually preferred over coated-paper cards in most casino poker rooms. Plastic cards are much more durable and last much longer than coated paper cards.

But that durability comes at a cost. Plastic cards cost three to five times as much as a standard deck of coated-paper cards. But if the person you're shopping for plays more than once a month, plastic is worth the added cost because the cards can last for several years.

Plastic setups also often come with hard plastic cases that also help protect them from damage while not being used.

Plastic options ($15-$30)
COPAG: The least expensive option, but that doesn't mean low quality; made of PVC plastic and feel almost identical to higher priced alternatives. They will last for years, but eventually one or two cards will develop a small crack along an edge.
Price: $15

GEMACO: High quality plastic cards for the real serious player; slightly more expensive, slightly thicker than other plastic cards.
Price: $22-$25

KEM: Another high quality plastic option, KEM cards are made of cellulose acetate; also slightly more expensive, but worth the cost for the serious home game. Company was recently purchased by the U.S. Playing Card Company, but there has been no noticeable change in quality.
Price: $22-$30.

Coated paper options ($3-$5)
You'll be hard pressed to find coated paper playing cards that are not manufactured by the U.S. Playing Card Company. The company produces a wide range of coated-paper playing cards at affordable prices. There is little difference between their highest quality brands, such as Hoyle, Bicycle and Bee. But avoid lower priced decks like Aviator, which do not shuffle well and wear out more quickly. For an extra dollar or two, you'll really see the difference.

Poker or Bridge?
Playing cards generally come in two sizes – poker and bridge. Both varieties are 3.5 inches high. But poker-sized cards are 2.5 inches wide while bridge-sized cards are 2.25 inches.

Surprisingly, most casinos deal bridge-sized cards in their poker rooms. The narrower cards are slightly easier to handle and in games like Seven-Card Stud, space at the table can be at a premium at the end of the hand.

Most people have played games with both sizes, and whatever feels most natural is perfectly acceptable for a home game. As long as you hit the flop, size doesn't matter.

Standard or Jumbo
The final choice for a card player is how big the numbers or faces on the card should be.

In a standard deck, the numbers and suits of hole cards are easily identifiable for players with good eyesight. But across a large table, it may be difficult to identify board cards in Hold'em or up cards in Seven-Card Stud.

Jumbo cards alleviate some of the problems, with the size of the numbers and suits roughly doubled. What you gain in visibility for exposed cards, you lose in visibility for your hole cards. You must lift more of the card off the table to identify hole cards with jumbo-sized cards.

Final thoughts
The designs on the front and back of cards is totally personal preference. Many prefer the design of Bicycle cards, simply because they are the most familiar. All that matters is that the card values are easily identifiable.

Finding cards with the characteristics you are looking for shouldn't be too difficult. Most brands make all variations, so whether want a deck of jumbo poker-sized cards or standard bridge-sized cards, your preferred brand likely manufactures just what you're looking for.

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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.