What is Suicide King in Card Games?

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While most poker players consider a deck of cards a prop to enjoy their favorite games, few have gone the extra mile to answer the most common questions about playing cards. For most detail-oriented players, the Suicide King and its origin remain a significant mystery. Here, we’ll answer the most common questions about the Suicide King as used in card games, including its history and what makes it unique. 

Suicide King in Card Games Explained

Before going into details of the Suicide King, here is how the four kings with the same appearance look in the modern deck of cards:

As you can see, all the four kings hold a sharp dagger. Backdating to the origin of playing cards, it is considered that the king of hearts’ original intention of holding a weapon was to face head for a battle. The standard suits, face cards, and hand rankings we currently see in the 21st-century poker game originate from the French playing cards of the 18th century that depict the “Paris Pattern.”

The Paris Pattern comprises the 52-card deck viewed at today’s poker tables, with standard face cards (queens, kings, and jacks), four suits, and the ace ranking as the lowest and highest card. A 32-card variant of the Paris Pattern array (has two through sixes eliminated) remains the most commonly sold playing card deck in the French market.

Suicide King of Hearts Historical Story

The deck of cards, notably the King of Hearts Suicide King, has many puzzles and mysteries. 

The mystery surrounding the King of Hearts, sometimes known as the “man without a mustache,” is among the most fascinating. This mystery revolves around the sword’s position, which earned this king the “Suicide King.”

Historically, the King of Hearts bore the name Charles, possibly tracing its origins to Charlemagne. He stands alone among the kings, lacking a mustache, and is portrayed in a dynamic stance, brandishing a sword. The sword’s placement is the central riddle, as some contend it doesn’t depict a suicidal act but a defensive posture or an attack.

Charlemagne is remembered as a mighty conqueror, presided over an extensive empire, and was even crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III. His demise in 814 is attributed to a lung infection, making it unlikely that he met his end with a sword to the head.

Nevertheless, the legend of the Suicide King endures. It has inspired films bearing its name, such as an album by the late musician Roy Orbison titled “King of Hearts.” In certain circles, particularly among devoted magicians specializing in Gospel Magic, the King of Hearts is revered as a symbol of sacrifice, often representing the figure of Jesus.

The King of Hearts retains its unique and symbolic status, much like the enigmatic one-eyed jacks in a deck of cards.

Evolution of Card Designs Throughout History

The Magical History of Modern Playing Card Design - Art of Play

Just like the way casinos moved from physical venues to online casinos such as Bet999, the evolution of card designs has a rich history dating back to 1565. This was when French cardmaker Pierre Marechal of Rouen created a model that laid the foundation for modern playing cards. There were four suits that appeared on the original cards: spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds. The choice of these suits was likely influenced by their ease of reproduction, making them a cost-effective option. Notably, the court cards – the infantryman, king, and queen were depicted full length, with feet and legs.

The graphics on the Rouen-designed cards defined the appearance of the faces and the objects held by the figures. Among these objects were swords, axes, and curious, undefined items carried by the jack of spades. Over time, the French started to connect the names of historical persons and legendary individuals with the figures. Up to the eighteenth century, these names—which were printed on the cards—were used.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a significant shift occurred with the addition of corner and edge indices indicating the value of the cards. This innovation allowed players to fan the cards in one hand while maintaining control over their sequence, streamlining gameplay.

Another pivotal development was the introduction of symmetrical figures, sometimes referred to as “two-headed” cards. This change aimed to prevent players from inadvertently revealing their cards by flipping them, which could inadvertently provide valuable information to opponents regarding their hands.

The continuous evolution of card designs throughout history reflects practical considerations and the ever-changing demands of card players. From the rudimentary beginnings of Pierre Marechal’s creation to the refined, standardized decks used in various card games today, the design of playing cards has been a journey through time, ingenuity, and innovation.

The Transformation of Card Figures

Transformation Playing Cards, 1811 — Transformation Playing Cards, 1811 —  The World of Playing Cards

The figures depicted on playing cards underwent a significant transformation over time, transitioning from generic “kings,” “knights,” and “servants” to figures that represented European royal families and their vassals. In the 16th century, skilled artisans hailing from the French city of Rouen played a pivotal role in this transformation.

Here’s an exploration of the historical identities attributed to these figures during that period:

The Kings:

  • King of Spades: Portrayed the persona of David, who served as the second king of Israel, well-known for his biblical significance and reign.
  • King of Hearts: Represented the legendary emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and king of the Franks and Lombards, Charlemagne.
  • King of Diamonds: Symbolized Julius Caesar, the eminent dictator, and, although not formally designated as such, is considered by some historians to be the first Roman emperor.
  • King of Clubs: Depicted the remarkable Alexander the Great, who reigned as the king of Macedonia and left an enduring legacy through his vast empire and military conquests.

The Queens:

  • Queen of Spades: Represented Athena, the daughter of Zeus and the revered Greek goddess of wisdom, weaving, and the arts.
  • Queen of Hearts: Personified Rachel, a biblical character recognized as the wife of Jacob.
  • Queen of Diamonds: Named Argine, possibly an interpretation of Argeia, a princess from Argos.
  • Queen of Clubs: Embodied Judith, a biblical character celebrated for her heroism among the Jewish people.

The Jacks:

  • Jack of Spades: Symbolized Hector, a heroic figure from Greek mythology, renowned as the son of King Priam.
  • Jack of Hearts: Represented Etienne de Vignoles, a prominent French leader during the tumultuous period of the Hundred Years’ War.
  • Jack of Diamonds: Depicted Uggeri the Danish, a loyal vassal of Charlemagne.
  • Jack of Clubs: Embodied Judas Maccabeus, a heroic figure who led the Jewish rebellion against the oppressive rule of King Antiochus IV, the ruler of Syria and the Palestinian region.

The transition of figures on playing cards from spartan “kings,” “knights,” and “servants” to the historical and legendary personas we recognize today adds a layer of richness to the art of card-playing. It’s a testament to how these cards have evolved, reflecting the diverse tapestry of culture, history, and mythology.

The Card Figures

In the early days of card games, kings held an undisputed position as the most valuable cards, with no exceptions. However, a subtle shift began as early as the late fifteenth century, granting a special significance to nominally lower-value cards, now referred to as aces. This elevated their worth and relegated the former kings to a lesser status.

The Mystery of the “Suicide” King of Hearts

Suicide King — The Origin of the Suicide King — The World of Playing Cards

Throughout the centuries, the visual representation of playing cards transformed, evolving into a more schematic style, resulting in the loss of specific details. The King of Hearts, in particular, changed his depiction. Initially, this royal figure wielded an axe above his head, unlike the modern portrayal with a sword. The design originates from his colloquial nickname, the “Suicide King.”

According to legend, Charlemagne started exhibiting symptoms of mental instability following the tragic deaths of two of his three sons. In reality, Charlemagne lay bedridden, progressively weakened by illness until his eventual passing.

Numerous stories have emerged surrounding his demise, one of which, akin to a “Creepy Pasta,” sounds almost believable if not for knowing the actual cause of Charlemagne’s death. According to this tale, Charlemagne had developed an obsession with a deck of cards during that period. He believed that the king, the thirteenth-dressed card, was a harbinger of ill fortune. He recounted how the number 13 appeared everywhere, and he felt close to unraveling its secret. His erratic behavior was attributed to madness, leading to an official declaration as insane, resulting in his abdication. Subsequently, his son Louis XII  ascended to the throne. 

One fateful day, several months after the conclusion of his reign, a court physician entered his chambers to find the frail monarch standing in the center of the room, clutching an enormous sword. Charlemagne said without delay, “Ils m’ont montré la vérité du treize et ce n’est pas fait pour les yeux des mortels,” which approximately translates to read, “They have shown me the truth of thirteen, and it is not meant for mortal eyes.” In an instant, he thrust the blade through his head, piercing from his ear to his temple, hesitating briefly before collapsing to the ground, lifeless.

Following this tragic event, it was declared that the king had gone mad, prompting an alteration in the depiction of Charles, the King of Hearts, to reflect his injured state.

One peculiar aspect of this narrative is the choice of the date on which Charles opted to end his life: 07/06/1462. Whether intentional or purely coincidental, the fact that 6 + 7 equals 13 and the sum of the digits in the year, 1 + 4 + 6 + 2, also equals 13, adds a layer of intrigue to the story.

Notably, Charles was the sole one among the four kings to witness his likeness printed on a playing card during his lifetime.

Other Tales and Myths

The King of Hearts is the sole monarch in the deck without a mustache.

Additionally, there’s an intriguing connection to an alchemical symbol linked to the curve of the mustache, resembling the crescent moon. The moon, in alchemical symbolism, is associated with intuition and perception.

An English legend weaves a tale of a king who had four children and intended to divide his realm among those with mustaches. However, as the story goes, one of his sons lacked a mustache and was denied an inheritance. According to English lore, this legend forms the basis for three kings with mustaches and one without.

On another note, an alternative explanation posits that the absence of a mustache on the King of Hearts is rooted in the symbolism of the heart, which represents sublime and noble emotions. The heart is considered the purest organ in the body, devoid of pretense; thus, it requires no disguise in the form of a mustache.

Yet another theory attributes the missing mustache to a historical printing error. In the past, cards were produced using wooden blocks that gradually wore down with use, and this gradual wear may lead to the distinctive design of the King of Hearts.

Suicide King’s Significance in Card Games

Though the Suicide King’s image may exude a somewhat scary feeling, it holds a valuable role in various card games such as blackjack, poker, and baccarat, each offering its unique twist on gameplay. The card’s function can significantly vary depending on the game being played, adding an intriguing layer to the world of card games.

In the classic card game “Old Maid,” players avoid being stuck with the dreaded “Old Maid” card. This card is often symbolized by the Suicide King, becoming a focal point for the game’s humor and suspense. Players must strategize to shed this card and avoid the comical yet dreaded consequences.

In the card game “Hearts,” the Suicide King, also known as the King of Hearts, assumes an alternative role. When this card is played, it carries a penalty point. To accumulate the fewest penalty cards feasible is the aim of Hearts. This turns the King of Hearts into an intriguing and challenging card to manage, adding a layer of suspense and strategy to the game.

Furthermore, the versatility of the Suicide King doesn’t end with established games. Many players and game creators invent custom card games, often incorporating the Suicide King into these unique setups. Its distinct design and reputation make it an ideal candidate for introducing fresh dynamics and challenges in personalized card games.


The Suicide King, often represented by the King of Hearts, is a card shrouded in intrigue and history. Its origins trace back to the 18th-century “Paris Pattern,” but its distinctive design, with a sword poised near the head, has earned it the moniker “Suicide King.” Legends and theories abound, adding to its mystique. 

Beyond its role in games like “Old Maid” and “Hearts,” the Suicide King’s enigmatic charm finds a place in custom card games, where its symbolism and challenges continue to captivate players. This card is a testament to the enduring fascination of playing cards, offering a touch of surprise and wonder in every game.


1. What in card games is the Suicide King? 

The Suicide King, often symbolized by the King of Hearts, is a distinctive playing card known for its unique and enigmatic design. It has various roles and significance in different card games, and its history and symbolism make it an intriguing card to explore.

2. What is the Origin of the Suicide King’s Design? 

The Suicide King’s design, notably the King of Hearts, has its roots in the French playing cards of the 18th century, known as the “Paris Pattern.” This design features the four suits, face cards (kings, queens, and jacks), and the ace as the lowest and highest card, forming the basis of modern card decks.

3. Why is the Suicide King nicknamed after the King of Hearts?

The King of Hearts, also known as the Suicide King, earned its nickname due to the position of the sword in its hand, which some have interpreted as a suicidal act. To add to the card’s charm, this explanation has been the focus of a number of myths and enigmas.

4. How Does the Suicide King Affect Card Games like “Old Maid” and “Hearts”?

In “Old Maid,” the Suicide King often represents the undesirable card players aim to avoid, adding humor and suspense to the game. In “Hearts,” playing the King of Hearts carries a penalty point, making it a challenging card to manage and an essential aspect of the game.

5. Are there Custom Card Games that Incorporate the Suicide King?

Yes, many players and game creators invent their card games, often incorporating the Suicide King into these unique setups. Its distinctive design and reputation make it versatile in custom card games, introducing fresh dynamics and challenges.

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