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What Is a Pip in Playing Cards?

Playing cards
playing cards image by Mijakowska from Fotolia.com

A pip is another word for a small dot or seed. On playing cards, pips are the dots printed on the center front of each card. The pips play an important role in identifying each card, and in determining the value of each card for playing and scoring games. Playing cards that contain pips are sometimes called pip cards.


Most playing-card decks include cards with pips, as well as face cards. Standard Anglo-American playing-card decks include 10 pip cards and three face cards for each of the four suits, for a total of 52 cards. The card with one pip is called an ace, while cards from two to 10 pips are named according to the number of pips. Face cards, such as Jacks, Queens and Kings, as well as Jokers, do not include pips, but generally have an assigned value or function according to the game.


The pips on playing cards use the shape of the suit, rather than plain, round dots. In standard Anglo-American playing-card decks, the pips are shaped like hearts and diamonds, which are red, and spades and clubs, which are black. Although the arrangement of pips on the cards is not significant, it is generally standard from deck to deck. Aces have a single pip in the center, and the pip on the ace of spades is often particularly large and specially decorated. The 2 has a pip at the top and bottom of the card, one face up and one face down. The 3 has the pips aligned in a center column. The 4 has pips in the corners, while the 5 has an additional pip in the center. The pips on the 6 are arranged in two columns, one on each side of the card, while the 7 and 8 have additional pips in the center. The 9 has two side columns of four pips each, plus a pip in the center, while the 10 has an additional center pip.


To make it easier for players to quickly identify the number of pips on each card, most playing cards include a number or Roman numeral that indicates the total in the upper left and lower right corners of each card. Most decks include a number that’s right-side up as well as one that’s upside down, so no matter how the cards are dealt and picked up, players can easily read the numbers on the cards. Although the number of pips printed in the center of playing cards can help give players a quick visual indication of the value of the card, most players rely primarily on the corner numbers, rather than actually counting the pips, during play--especially as the pips are often hidden when players hold cards in their hands.


The pips on playing cards are essential to playing and scoring games, and to determining the value of the cards. In general, a card’s pip value is equal to the number of pips printed on the card. However, aces may be either the highest or lowest card in the deck. In some games, face cards all have a pip value of 10; in others, the Jack is worth 11, the Queen is worth 12 and the King is worth 13. For example, in the card game 21, or blackjack, players must try to achieve a pip value of as close to 21 as possible without going over. In this game, the cards with two to 10 pips have the value indicated by the number of pips on the card, all face cards have a pip value of 10, and the ace can have a pip value of one or 11. In the game of war, face cards are worth 11 to 13 points and the ace is the highest card, with a pip value of 14. In gin rummy and similar games, players must create sets of cards with the same pip value or runs with the pips in sequential order.


Playing cards were developed in China and India as long as 1,200 to 1,400 years ago. By the late 14th century, Egyptian playing cards appeared in Europe and quickly became popular. These Mameluke cards had four suits, each with 10 pip cards and three court cards, much like the standard Anglo-American deck of today. Throughout Europe, various countries developed their own versions of standard playing-card decks that were often well-suited to a particular game. Hungarian decks often only include the pip cards from 7 or 8 through 10, as well as three face cards and the ace. In Switzerland, card decks often have pip cards from 6 to 10. Italian decks often have pip cards from 1 to 7. Spanish decks are often similar, but have all cards numbered, even the face cards with a pip value of 10 to 12.

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