In Thakhek, a small town in Laos, there are mighty stone tables on the Mekong waterfront. They are decorated with mosaics and offer a fantastic view of the other shore. I was 18 years old and had just moved to Laos when these tables shaped my love of playing cards. During my first week of work, my colleagues taught me Tamnoi - a kind of Laotian poker. The goal is to uncover the cards you have in your hand in front of your opponents and with fewer points than you. Use: 2000 Lao Kip per player and round, equivalent to about 20 cents. Nothing compared to the millions of dollars spent every night in American casinos. But the effort was enough to bring tension into play. And to forget the view on the Mekong.

Tamnoi is played with a normal deck, 52 card deck, jack and queen, spades and hearts. With the same cards I played Rummy, Mau Mau or Black Peter as a child. Now I had moved to the other end of the world - and yet people played there with the same set of cards. How can that be?

Knowing the history of the cards, it is no longer surprising to find them in Asia: For the first time ever, playing cards were mentioned in Chinese literature. As early as 868, a document tells of a courtly game made of tree leaves or pieces of wood. Nothing is known about the rules today. Only so much: The leaves were then still blank and unpainted.

Over the next few centuries, the Silk Road and other trade routes took them to Persia and then into the Arab region. Here they changed for the first time: the four colors were created at that time. From now on there were twelve cards, including two court cards, king and vizier. The front pages were painted with great effort and much craftsmanship by hand. The really innovative invention, however, were the empty (and thus all the same-looking) backs: Each game had now known and unknown cards - the familiar in their own hands and the undercover of the other players. One of the colors of that time has remained until today: cross.

Sailors and other travelers brought the new achievement at the end of the 14th century via Italy to Europe. There, the cards spread very fast - and were banned as quickly. The church saw in the game of chance the "prayer book of the devil" and had the cards (and sometimes its players) burned in many places. But all the prohibitions did not help. Even the nobility soon toyed with the new maps: the oldest European deck shows hunting scenes of a court society. And a little later, just a Dominican monk, Johannes von Rheinfelden, wrote the first known in Europe description of playing cards and their rules. From her it becomes clear: Already some 650 years ago people played with as much as the same cards as today - a deck of four times 13 cards with the yard cards King, Upper and Lower (the German version of the queen and the jack).

Until the 15th century, the production of the cards was expensive and expensive. Only with the invention of woodcutting and copperplate playing cards were cheap and therefore mass-produced. Especially the city of Lyon became an export center and brought the French color system to the whole world. It reflected the classes in Europe at the time of King Louis XV. against: Trèfle (cross) stood for the farmers, Pique (nobility) for the nobility, Cœur (heart) for the church and Carreau (diamonds) for the merchants. Even today, even the German national game Skat is played with the French instead of the German hand (acorn, foliage, heart and bells).