Face Cards

Over on the unwritten rules thread, rabble-rousing Randy made a short comment about face cards:

A couple of years back, a couple of kids brought some face cards to youth conference. (The audacity!) One of the stake youth leaders objected and asked a member of the stake presidency to confiscate them. This counselor in the stake presidency (a convert to the church not familiar with the so-called evil of face cards) consulted his GHI and quickly determined that there was nothing addressing the issue. He then told the youth leader that he had no intention of taking away the cards in the absence of some directive in the handbook.

I must admit lack of knowledge in this area. I’ve heard from numerous church members that face cards are banned, or are evil. Randy’s comment seems to indicate that there is no official policy. What is the rule (if any) on cards? (No, not just suicidal kings). And does anyone have the extended explanation, if such a thing exists?


I should probably disclose that I have a pack or two of cards at home; I play Solitaire regularly on the computer; I learned to play hearts and spades while on my mission (!); and I occassionally (once or twice per year) have a poker night with former co-clerks, where the chips are a quarter and the nightly winnings (or losings) have always been under $10.

41 comments for “Face Cards

  1. John H
    August 17, 2004 at 7:39 pm


    So far as I know, there is no “official” statement on face cards. However, over the years individual Church leaders have denounced them. There is nothing in the current handbook of instructions arguing they are evil.

    Bruce R. McConkie said, “Members of the Church should not belong to bridge or other type of card clubs, and they should neither play cards nor have them in their homes. By cards is meant, of course, the spotted face cards used by gamblers. To the extent that church members play cards they are out of harmony with their inspired leaders. Innocent non-gambling games played with other types of cards, except for the waste of time in many instances, are not objectionable.”

    Elder McConkie also quotes Joseph F. Smith (and insists his position is the position of the Church) saying, “Card playing is an excessive pleasure; it is intoxicating and, therefore, in the nature of a vice. It is generally the companion of the cigaret and the wine glass, and the latter lead to the poolroom and the gambling hall. . . . Few indulge frequently in card playing in whose lives it does not become a ruling passion. . . . A deck of cards in the hands of a faithful servant of God is a satire upon religion. . . . Those who thus indulge are not fit to administer in sacred ordinances. . . . The bishops are charged with the responsibility for the evil, and it is their duty to see that it is abolished. . . . No man who is addicted to card playing should be called to act as a ward teacher; such men cannot be consistent advocates of that which they do not themselves practice.”The card table has been the scene of too many quarrels, the birthplace of too many hatreds, the occasion of too many murders to admit one word of justification for the lying, cheating spirit which it too often engenders in the hearts of its devotees. . . .”Card playing is a game of chance, and because it is a game of chance it has its tricks. It encourages tricks; its devotees measure their success at the table by their ability through devious and dark ways to win. It creates a spirit of cunning and devises hidden and secret means, and cheating at cards is almost synonymous with playing at cards.”

    It probably goes without saying, I personally think there’s nothing wrong with face cards :)

  2. Nate Oman
    August 17, 2004 at 7:45 pm

    John H.:

    Chess! But what about chess…

    That is what I want to know about.

  3. diogenes
    August 17, 2004 at 7:45 pm

    I had much the same question a number of years ago — having heard as I grew up many theories as to why face cards are a bad idea (they are associated with Tarot mysticism, they are associate with gambling) I decided to track down the source of the antipathy.

    Like John H., I found numerous statements by Joseph F. Smith denouncing card playing. Most subsequent statements seem derived from his. But when read in their entirety, his attack on cards consists largely of this: they are a huge waste of time.

    I presume that if he were alive today, he would direct his attack on television rather than cards.

  4. August 17, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    There is no official Church stance on face cards. But don’t tell my dad that!! :)

    However, if a local Stake President were to create one temporarily for his own purposes (ie- perhaps there had been a huge gambling problem in the Stake, or who knows what)- would it be outside the limits of his discretion to ban them?

    Perhaps rather than outright banning them, he could commit the Stake members not to use them in such a situation. That might seem more palatable- the it would be left up to the members, and they would know how the Stake Presidency felt about it.

    Personally, I like the idea that there might exist a great deal of discretion from stake to stake in dealing with different problems that confront the members of each stake.

  5. August 17, 2004 at 8:04 pm

    I think it was more than just “huge waste of time” but also the connotations of drinking and gambling. However it seems there are so many card games *beyond* poker or bl*ckj*ck that perhaps the criticism isn’t that apt? Further, why is wasting time with cards bad while wasting time with all-night battles of Risk fine?

  6. wendy
    August 17, 2004 at 8:04 pm

    Growing up, my mother told us in a number of Family Home Evenings that per President Kimball, face cards are evil, and should not be allowed in the home, even if not used for gambling. A quick Google search just turned up the following quote, maybe there are more:

    “We hope faithful Latter-day Saints will not use the playing cards which are used for gambling, either with or without the gambling. As for the gambling, in connection with horse racing or games or sports, we firmly discourage such things.” – President Kimball Nov 1974 Ensign

    It looks to me, from poking into this question a year or so ago, that this teaching originated with Joseph F. Smith.

    To have face cards in my house when I was growing up would have been like having pornography — it was that big of a deal. That is, until we got our first PC. My dad taught us solitaire on the sly, and he got way into hearts. Since playing a game on the computer wasn’t technically having playing cards, and the church hadn’t said anything about face cards in awhile, my mother acquiesced, and electronic card games ran rampant in my house thenceforth. But actual decks of cards were still forbidden. And I’ve never owned one either. There is some residual fear/guilt there.

  7. August 17, 2004 at 8:11 pm

    My parents also taught us that facecards were wrong/evil and they were not allowed in the house. However, when I was a freshman at BYU I would get the munchies really bad every evening and didn’t have the money to order pizza. One solution I devised to this problem was to play “speed” with other guys in the dorm and bet that whoever lost had to buy pizza. I would play until I was ahead. Unfortunately my conscience caught up with me pretty quickly and I only collected my pizza once before basically giving up on this strategy. My friend was lucky because he owed me seven or eight pizzas.

  8. August 17, 2004 at 8:20 pm

    I have heard that playing poker and other such games might help a person to learn how to recognize a “tell” and in general read other people — as well as to develop skills of deception, subterfuge, chicanery … to be able to keep a straight face when the cards are great or don’t look great. For people in some professions (such as politics) being a good poker player might help a person develop some useful skills.

    Here’s an addy that describes Harry Truman’s love for poker:


    I’m not actually advocating poker. It might teach people how to be evil and I confess I don’t really know how to play (anymore).

  9. john fowles
    August 17, 2004 at 8:42 pm

    Growing up I thought I was very rebellious for having weekly poker games that lasted for hours at my friend’s grandparents’ house. I learned more than a dozen variations of poker and related games and got into spades (never hearts until I got married) pretty heavily. Sure, I wasted a lot of time with it but no regrets there.

    I own a number of decks of face cards and married someone who similarly doesn’t have anything against face cards (although I’m not sure on her or her family’s exact stance on poker itself). Since going on a mission, I haven’t really played any poker but I have had to learn to play hearts since that is what my in-laws play.

    Still, despite my personal opinion that there is nothing wrong with face cards per se–it comes with how you use them–I still appreciate Joseph F. Smith’s position on them and would personally wish to avoid any association with gambling that might come packaged with face cards and specifically poker and bl*ckj*ck. In the context in which Joseph F. Smith gave his counsel face cards might have had a much deeper significance and carried with them the “appearance of evil” in a much more defined way.

  10. sid
    August 17, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    well, I learn something new on t&S everyday!! I did not know that cards and card playing was proscribed by the GAs and the Church. Having said that, couldnt an intelligent member be left free to make his/her own decision, after prayerful consideration, as to whether they ought to go ahead and play a game of bridge or spades or poker or whatever? I am sure, a member would be able to choose the right option. Otherwise, it becomes an issue of the Church trying to micromanage every member’s life, and this is exactly the kind of thing that the anti-Mormons, and others like them use as examples to beat up on our Church, and use said info to try to discredit the Truth that our Church stands for.

  11. John H
    August 17, 2004 at 9:44 pm

    See, I can get on board with the concern over gambling in a casino. Aside from the addictive nature, there really is something unsavory about getting something for nothing. Not that I won’t confess to having played some bl*ckj*ck (I just learned why everyone uses the asterisks) now and then. But some of my best high school memories are of playing nickel poker with friends. It was all in good fun, no one’s feelings were hurt, no one got addicted to gambling, and we had remarkable conversations – even about the Church.

    But the idea that face cards are inherently evil is where people really lose me. I was chastised as a youth by a member of the bishopric (the same member who said we didn’t need to worry about Salt Lake getting the 2002 Olympics – the 2nd coming would have happened by then) for playing cards with a couple of friends at a youth activity. He said they were evil, and that was that. I much prefer John Fowles and others comments that, like most anything, cards can be used inappropriately.

  12. Bruce B.
    August 17, 2004 at 9:54 pm

    Years ago when our LDS scoutmaster caught us playing cards on a camping trip our Senior Patrol Leader reminded him that we are commanded to repent, and if we are to repent, first we gotta sin!!

  13. gst
    August 17, 2004 at 10:01 pm

    Nate: chess is surely verboten.

    By the way, queen’s knight pawn to b3; your move.

  14. Scott
    August 17, 2004 at 10:05 pm

    My mother briefly dated Reed Benson- He was appalled that her family used face cards, yet his family had no problem playing with Rook cards.

  15. Scott
    August 17, 2004 at 10:06 pm

    My mother briefly dated Reed Benson- He was appalled that her family used face cards, yet his family had no problem playing with Rook cards.

  16. crefonso
    August 17, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    The “cards” of our day would be computers and computer games. I play cards with my kids because we interact and it gives their little brains a workout.

    By the by, I also play in Poker Tournaments and give all the winnings to the PEF. Gads am I in trouble when the bishop finds out.

  17. greenfrog
    August 17, 2004 at 10:44 pm

    When I was in college, my roommates uniformly would not play with face cards — so for our apartment pinochle tournaments three nights a week, we used UNO cards.

    FWIW, I think Pres. Smith and Pres. Kimball’s guidance about face cards comes in the same tenor as Pres. Hinckley’s guidance about tattoos and piercings. Pres. Smith was guiding us away from gambling, which he understood to be directly associated with using face cards. If we look at Pres. Hinckley’s remarks shortly before his first address on piercings and tattoos, he remarked with great dismay upon SLC teenagers attending raves. It seems to me that his guidance away from tattoos and piercings stems not from his concern with them, per se but rather his concern with the groups and activities that they are associated with.

  18. Nate
    August 17, 2004 at 11:28 pm

    Queen’s pawn to d5.

  19. Professor Fether
    August 17, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    Queen to Queen’s Level 4!

  20. August 17, 2004 at 11:56 pm

    “It seems to me that his guidance away from tattoos and piercings stems not from his concern with them, per se but rather his concern with the groups and activities that they are associated with.”

    I don’t pretend to know President Hinckley’s intentions, but if what greenfrog says is right, it kind of makes Pres. Hinckley look like he’s mistaking a correlation as causation. Although I think it’s good advice, I hope it doesn’t come down to, “you have a higher chance of being a good person if you don’t have tattoos” because for whatever reason, some inevitably translate that to mean, “you’re a bad person if you have tattoos”.

    I make this comment because I just had an interesting conversation about it with my brother who has been trying to dispel his five-year-old daughter’s belief that tattoos = bad people. He certainly didn’t teach it to her and is trying to figure out who did.

  21. Hans Hansen
    August 18, 2004 at 12:50 am

    Coming from a part-member family I was used to seeing my parents play poker, bridge, and pinochle with their friends and neighbors. When I came to BYU we played “Hearts” nearly every evening in the dorm in Helaman Halls to blow off steam after studying. My wife, who is a convert, grew up in Wisconsin and her family taught me how to play euchre, spades, and sheepshead. We get together with our non-LDS friends every month and play pinochle. We don’t play for money and have found it to be a fun activity with our friends and family.

  22. John H
    August 18, 2004 at 1:04 am

    “Queen’s pawn to d5”

    You sunk my battleship!

    Actually Nate, I had a companion I loved to play chess with on my mission. We’d start games in the morning, go out and work, play during lunch, then come home and play some more. We always had to check ourselves (no pun intended) against playing chess in favor of working.

  23. August 18, 2004 at 1:36 am

    Somewhere, there is a quote of an early church leader disecting the symbology of face/playing cards… I’ve had it read to me a few times in my life, in every case, I think, by someone who was a seminary teacher. Wish I could recall enough to give a bigger hint. Maybe I’ll have to track down one of those teachers.

  24. Vikingz2000
    August 18, 2004 at 3:06 am

    I play cards with my family. We play Crazy 8’s and Poker mostly. We laugh, joke, and have a wonderful time. NEVER at any time was there a bad spirit or anything akin to that. What J. F. Smith and other GA’s have stated hold no water for me. You think “Monopoly” is better!! I remember more arguments and bad feelings playing that game when I was growing up than any card game.

  25. Randy
    August 18, 2004 at 9:28 am

    One more story from me. My dad says that while he was at BYU (late 60s), someone from the University (unclear who) conducted an unannounced search of his apartment. In doing so, they confiscated his deck of cards. (Any wonder I didn’t bother to apply?)

  26. August 18, 2004 at 10:06 am

    Monopoly and Risk are games that sometimes really create a spirit of contention, however brief. I had at least one experience with a roommate who was normally gentle and kind who became enraged at the way a Monopoly game was going. We both had to agree after the game was over that we would never play the game together again. After a few hours the negative feelings went away.

    I have had similar feelings when things didn’t go my way in these types of games. It’s very odd how quick the competitive edge can arise in an exercise that should be “just a game.”

    By the way, I have to ask… are there any Go players out there? I’ve heard about chess but I’m kind of curious about Go. It’s a game I played a few times as a youngster but I’ve never played it since. I remember it being a really interesting and fun game.

  27. August 18, 2004 at 10:10 am

    I had an Economics teacher have us play Go for a couple days so that we could better understand how to rule the world. Interesting game.

  28. William
    August 18, 2004 at 11:22 am

    A lot of you have mentioned face cards. Do you just mean playing cards in general, or do some people think it’s the face cards in particular (king, queen, j*ck) that are bad? If you just played with the 40 pip cards, would it be more acceptable?

    (Also, why is bl*ckj*ck a bad word? I used the asterisks because everyone else is doing it, but I don’t really get it.)

  29. John H
    August 18, 2004 at 11:59 am

    Bl*ckj*ack isn’t a bad word – you just can’t post it because T&S has a filter preventing it. So much spam is sent advertising for online casinos, I’m guessing that’s the problem. I tried just using the word, and when I hit post, it told me that was the offending problem.

  30. Jedd
    August 18, 2004 at 12:35 pm

    The last statement made by a prophet on the matter, as far as I know, was the 1974 Kimball quote Wendy cited above.

    So, in the time that they were given, were the statements proscribing face card playing made for the “weakest of all saints”? Apart from the obvious vices one could avoid by not playing cards (time wasting, gambling), were there any other benefits that accrued to members who simply obeyed their prophet?

  31. August 18, 2004 at 4:47 pm

    The quotes I recall reading from general authorities have to do with the time-wasting aspect. Most of them seem to cluster around

    1) late 19th early 20th century when gambling and excessive drinking were highly connected — obviously they still are, but I’m talking about a time where ‘gambling dens’ were perceived as the major place where a young man could get in trouble and waste his life in indolent and immoral behavior (see John H’s Joseph F. Smith quote above).

    2) the 1950s when bridge and other ‘social’ card games became popular with the American middle class, including in the SLC social set. In this case, as I understand it, the social activities of the social scene were interfering somewhat with the carrying out of Church duties by some members.

    As far as face cards being evil — this seems to be one of those areas where some Mormons have glommed on to Christian Evangelical beliefs. I believe the objection to face cards is that they are based on tarot cards which are used for divination which the Bible clearly warns against.

  32. Becky
    August 18, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Has anyone noticed the sudden popularity of turnament poker in the popular culture? I played all sorts of card games growing up including hearts at home, spades in Physics at school (only once we finished the day’s lab) and even bl*ckj*ck on choir and track & field trips, but I must admit that I really never played poker. I don’t bet, and it turns out that poker is really boring when you don’t bet. That said, I am intrigued watching Texas Hold’em in turnament poker. I think that the statistics and game theory involved in the decision making is incredibly intersting. Is there something wrong with my interst? Should I not support the ‘poker movement’ by watching?

    –Also, I don’t think you know how involved competative people can get involved in a game until you have seen some Stanford Grad students (in the Stanford Singles ward)play Boggle…

  33. Karen
    August 18, 2004 at 6:09 pm

    I grew up hearing that face cards were evil because they made fun of deity. Needless to say, that came to me as a pronouncement and not a rational thought process….

    Oh, and Bruce B. on your comment: “Years ago when our LDS scoutmaster caught us playing cards on a camping trip our Senior Patrol Leader reminded him that we are commanded to repent, and if we are to repent, first we gotta sin!!” That got me laughing. Perhaps your Senior Patrol Leader was familiar with Rasputin. He convinced *many* St. Petersburg (pre-communist Russia) society women that great sin led the sublime experience of repentance so “come sin with me.” Their husbands disagreed, and murdered him, although it took them a while to do it. He was impervious to poison, gunshot wounds, and beatings, and finally succumbed by drowning in the freezing canal they threw him in.

  34. Charles
    August 18, 2004 at 6:37 pm

    I liked Bruce’s recollection as well. Perhaps there is something to that thought. If everyone tried to kill Rasputin and couldn’t maybe there was something watching over him…

    Or maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for him to die just yet. :)

    I know it’s bad, but it’s sooooo good.

  35. Rob Briggs
    August 18, 2004 at 10:52 pm

    In a prior life I spent 13 years as a priest quorum advisor. Each summer we went on a summer trip & each summer some kid would bring out a deck of cards. Desiring to teach them (an obvious teaching moment even for someone as obtuse as me) I would tell them what Joseph Fielding Smith used to say. “In the famous words of Joseph Smith,” I’d begin,

    “DEAL ME IN!”

  36. William
    August 19, 2004 at 12:41 am

    Playing cards are not based on tarot cards; it’s the other way around. The 52-card deck as we know it was invented by the Arabs, and when it found its way to Italy they added the knights, the fool, and the 21 trumps, creating the tarot deck. Tarot cards were originally used for gaming; divination is a later development.

    All 52 playing cards have their equivalents in the tarot deck, not just the face cards.

  37. William
    August 19, 2004 at 12:42 am

    Playing cards are not based on tarot cards; it’s the other way around. The 52-card deck as we know it was invented by the Arabs, and when it found its way to Italy they added the knights, the fool, and the 21 trumps, creating the tarot deck. Tarot cards were originally used for gaming; divination is a later development.

    All 52 playing cards have their equivalents in the tarot deck, not just the face cards.

  38. Samlamiam
    August 19, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    Hey Kaimi, nice topic.

    I think I can understand where Joseph F. Smith was coming from, but it sounds more like advice for his times than a prophetic pronouncement. Beer and fighting are associated with college football, but that doesn’t stop me (and many general authorities) from being a fan (though I do avoid the NFL, that pit of sin!) As with most things, we should obviously avoid wasting time, but I sure hope it isn’t sinful to occassionally play cribbage with friends. I play with nonmembers, does that make it better (missionary work!)? or worse (bad example!)?

    This whole discussion reminds me that I always felt guilty playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, not because there is anything bad about D&D (IMO), but because someone told me it was bad. That has taught me that I shouldn’t make people into sinners over trivial matters like what games they play, or whether they swim on Sunday. We have more important things to worry about not doing, like our home teaching. Funny, though, that some people thought it was ok to play a game with Uno or Rook cards, but not with face cards. That seems rather, uh, pharisaical.

  39. August 20, 2004 at 2:57 am

    Play games with Uno or Rook cards?

    We only used those when we wanted to play Uno or Rook. For regular games — like speed, 7-up, rummy, poker, twenty-one, war, Egyptian ratscrew, or the usual face-card games — we’d edge around the rules: instead of using the face cards that were “bad”, like jacks, queens, and kings, we’d use Major League Baseball player playing card decks that we bought at WalMart. Or Looney Toons decks. Or pretty much any deck that just didn’t have the diamond backs or the “evil” faces.

    Because it’s all about the letter of the law, right?

  40. chad
    August 20, 2004 at 3:50 am

    This is a funny web site. I wonder if talking about this stuff is a waste of our probationary state just as playing cards is?

  41. kdowney
    December 8, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    There are some REALLY interesting comments here. And lots of speculation, excuses and pulling the wool over our eyes. I have played solitaire, hearts, spades, canasta (at Ricks) all with cards and on the computer. And after reading most of these comments, however innocent, you have all proven to me that as members of the church, ‘just a little’ goes an awful LONG way. The number 40 comment is great!! Thanks to all of you for helping me realize that satan has gotten his foot in the door, just a little bit. In your lives as well as mine. AND PUTTING YOUR EARNINGS IN THE PEF FUND IS THE LOWEST THING I HAVE EVER HEARD OF!!! WHAT A WAY TO CHEAPEN THAT PROGRAM.

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