Joker’s Wild: Collections, Feats of Strength & World Records

Euchre is a popular card game in Canada, particularly Ontario. It’s a social game, usually played by four people, paired into teams of two. And it’s not uncommon to find community tournaments held in bars, legions, or recreation centres. In fact, some scholars call it Canada’s national card game. It’s also got deep roots in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. According to the 1864 edition of The American Hoyle, euchre can be traced to Pennsylvania as far back as the 1820s. Besides being strategic, entertaining and an enjoyable way to pass time with friends, the game is also known for one other notable distinction — the ultimate wild card.

euchre!

Did you know euchre is responsible for introducing the Joker into the modern deck of cards? Yes, more than 150 years ago.

If you’re unfamiliar with the rules, euchre is a trick-taking trump game that uses the ranked cards nine and higher of all four suits. In a standard game in this country, 24 cards are dealt out, five to each player, with four in the kitty, and the jacks (bowers), are the most important cards. For instance, if spades are trump, then the jack of spades is the most powerful card in the deck, and is guaranteed to take a trick. The jack of clubs (same colour as spades) would be the second most potent card. The two off-colour red jacks would be insignificant, and hold very little power. Conversely, if diamonds are trump, the jack of diamonds would hold the most power, followed by the jack of hearts, and the two black jacks wouldn’t matter.

The Imperial Bower

It seems our neighbours to the south play the game a little differently. They deal out 25 cards, with five to each player and five in the kitty, and one of them is a Joker, or what they call ‘Top Trump’ or ‘Best Bower.’ As those names would suggest, the Joker holds all the power and dominates the jacks. The Joker deck was first unveiled in Americanized euchre around 1860.

Imperial Bower

Interestingly, it’s believed the term ‘Joker’ comes from Jucker or Juckerspiel, the original German spelling of Euchre. According to Wikipedia, Samuel Hart is credited with printing the first known Joker, or best bower card, in 1863. He called it the ‘Imperial Bower’. Jokers have been produced ever since, and conventionally depict either clowns or jesters. Manufacturers today produce their own trademarked images, featuring unique and contemporary artwork.

The Magical Collection

In Italy, Jokers are called ‘Jolly’ because many of the early cards there were labeled ‘Jolly Joker’. That must make Tony de Santis the jolliest Italian of them all. A magician by trade, De Santis is also an avid and tireless hobbyist and collector who’s listed in the Guinness World Records for having the largest collection of Joker playing cards. His one-of-a-kind treasure consists of some 8,520 cards, all unique because each Joker image is different.

Why Jokers? De Santis began amassing cards in 1999 after inheriting a 2,000-piece set from friend, mentor and fellow magician Fernando Riccardi. He promised his friend he would continue the collection. It includes several antique cards in every form, shape, and size, with some being very rare. And even only a few millimetres in height. De Santis has memorized all the cards in his collection, and their pictures, and still travels the world in the hopes of finding new items to add to it.

Primetime Prowess

Italy may own the ultimate playing card collection, but America is home to the ultimate party trick. And it too involves the Jokers. In December 2000, on the set of Guinness World Records: Primetime, Scott Fraze somehow managed to rip 13 decks of cards in half in just 30 seconds, and includes the two Jokers. The owner of a recording studio, Fraze added a platinum album to his collection in the form of a world record.

While it may seem like a trick, or an easy way to win a bar bet, card tearing is actually considered one of the world’s most iconic tests of strength. On muscleandfitness.com, in an article titled Five Historic Feats of Strength (And How To Do Them Yourself), writer Andrew Heffernan compares card tearing to horseshoe bending and other so-called ‘grip’ events. He has them at number five on his list behind such things as the log press, the stones lift and the wheel of pain.

Fraze’s record has stood for nearly two decades, and it may not be beaten anytime soon. Remember, he tore up 13 decks in 30 seconds. In a 2019 Youtube video, one with close to four-million views, some of the world’s strongest men had trouble ripping up one deck of cards, and the video ran for close to four minutes.

Whaddya think, technique or tilt?

Deal or No Deal?

During our five-part series on gambling and casino-related world records, Team Maple has focused on characters like Phil Laak, who played 110 straight hours of poker, the longest marathon session ever. Casinos like Viejas Casino in California, which created the world’s largest blackjack table. And even companies like WestJet. Which set two records for its massive light show, slash game of roulette, while flying the friendly skies. We can’t forget the dealers, often the unsung heroes in gambling circles, who keep all the games going. Without them, some of these records would have never been broken.

With that in mind, let’s imagine and admire the skill and technique of India’s Arpit Lall. In January 2019, he dealt out a single deck of cards in a world record time of 16.92 seconds. That’s fast. Seems Lall took up the challenge for personal growth and achievement. And to prove to himself he could be the best.

16.92 seconds? Let’s round up to an even 17, and assume the Jokers had to be dealt as well.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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