A deck of cards isn't just a box filled with 52 pieces of cardboard. These playing cards can become your friends in a card game, your accomplices in a magic trick, and your companions in a deck collection. They can even represent something much bigger than the contents of a small box.
To some, a deck of cards can represent a prayer book and a Bible. There's an old story - sometimes circulated by email - where a soldier explains how his playing cards help him talk to God. When hauled before a superior to explain why he uses the devil's picture book in church, he starts going through his entire well-worn deck, explaining as follows: “Your Honor, to me this deck of cards is my prayer book and Bible. When I look into these cards and see an Ace, it reminds me that there is only one God. When I see the Deuce, it reminds me that the Bible is divided into two parts, the Old and the New Testaments. When I see the Trey, it represents the three persons of the Blessed Trinity - the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." He also explains how it represents the 52 weeks of a year, four seasons, and more. You can find many versions of this great story online - read one here.
But playing cards can also be a source of wisdom. These 52 paste-boards have inspired witty thinkers, philosophers, and comedians alike, to come up with clever one-liners and sayings about playing cards. The fact that playing cards have served as chosen symbols and metaphors to impart wisdom says something about how popular and influential playing cards have been in our culture. I've scoured far and wide, and what you see here represents the best quotes and one-liners about playing cards that I could find. I haven't been able to verify each and every source, although I've done the best I can to attribute these correctly. But in the end, the most important thing is the genius of the quotes themselves. So enjoy these pithy sayings, and put them to work for you!
Life"Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will." - Jawaharlal Nehru
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the game." - Randy Pausch
"Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well." - Jack London
"Just because Fate doesn't deal you the right cards, it doesn't mean you should give up. It just means you have to play the cards you get to their maximum potential." - Les Brown
"Has fortune dealt you some bad cards? Then let wisdom make you a good gamester." - Francis Quarles
"Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game." - Voltaire
"Destiny plays its cards in a way that no one can comprehend." - Anurag Shourie
"Just when you think you’re playing your cards right, God shuffles the deck." - Mark Sheppard
Choices"One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards." - Oscar Wilde
"In order to win you must be prepared to lose sometime. And leave one or two cards showing." - Van Morrison
"A good lawyer, just like a good poker player, must always keep his cards close to his chest." - Mallika Nawal
"The cards always look different when it’s your turn to play them; loaded with subtly different possibilities." - Alastair Reynolds
Wisdom"If you are going to build something in the air it is always better to build castles than houses of cards." - Georg C. Lichtenberg
"No one knows what is on the other side of a playing card." - Jose Hernandez
"Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator." - Daniel Handler
Potential"A pack of cards is a pile of 52 pieces of cardboard that can be bent, stacked, and stuck together in a seemingly endless array of variations." - Jay Sankey
"When I look at playing cards, I see limitless potential. When these simple symbols are shuffled, fortunes are won, the future is foretold, or magic is unleashed." - Joshua Jay
"Playing cards have the ability to cloud men's minds, or to dominate them." - Ricky Jay
"Cards are power; learn to harness that power, and you will be forever rewarded." - James Swain
"Cards are like living, breathing beings and should be treated as such." - Dai Vernon
Games"Cards are one means of bridging differences in age and habits, drawing children and parents, old and new friends together in fair and friendly competition." - Florence Osborn
"Rummy is deservedly popular because it is easy to learn, fast to play, suitable for all ages, playable by any number, and as suitable for gamblers as for missionaries – though perhaps not both at once." - David Parlett
"Cards are war, in disguise of a sport." - Charles Lamb
"There are no friends at cards or world politics." - Finley Peter Dunne
"Trust everybody, but always cut the cards." - Finley Peter Dunne
"Playing cards is addictive. So are the playing cards themselves. My habit has me up to two packs a day." - Joshua Jay
Magic"For a professional magician, a stack of playing cards is as good as a stack of money." - Amit Kalantri
"A magician may step out without a purse, but he should never step out without a pack of playing cards." - Amit Kalantri
"All the magicians have 52 mutual friends." - Amit Kalantri
Humor"I stayed up one night playing poker with tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died." - Steven Wright
"Those bellhops in Miami are tip-happy. I ordered a deck of playing cards and the bellboy made fifty-two trips to my room." - Henny Youngman
"Men are like a deck of cards. You'll find the occasional king, but most are jacks." - Laura Swenson
"Love is like a card trick. After you know how it works, it's no fun any more." - Fanny Brice
"Marriage is a lot like playing cards. In the beginning, all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end, you’ll wish you had a club and a spade." - Unknown
So next time someone challenges you that playing cards are just for kids, speaks condescendingly about your deck collection, or frowns at your love for playing card games or performing card magic, whip out some of these verbal gems, and silence their criticism with some philosophy, wit, or humor!
Did we miss one of your favorite quotes or lines? Let us know in the comment section.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and highly respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.