The cards we’re dealt

The Swiss, especially the German-speaking Swiss, always have to be different.

Consider playing cards.

The Swiss German speaking part of Switzerland has its own deck of playing cards.

They are mostly used for Jass, the “national card game” of Switzerland.

The deck is related to the various German playing cards.

Within Switzerland, these decks are called German or Swiss German cards.

Distribution of the Swiss deck is in Schaffhausen, St. Gallen (and in adjacent Liechtenstein), Appenzell, Thurgau, Glarus, Zürich, all of Central Switzerland and the eastern part of Aargau.

The suits are as follows: bells (Schellen), shields (Schilten), roses (Rosen) and acorns (Eicheln).

The most common deck has 36 cards, nine of each suit.

The card values are, in ascending order: six, seven, eight, nine, Banner (ten), Under (jack), Ober (queen), König (king)and As (ace).

For the purposes of Jass, the numbered cards (six to nine) have no point value, the banner has a value of ten points, the picture-cards Under, Ober, König have values of two, three and four points, respectively, and the As has eleven points.

The reduction to 36 cards (eliminating card values two to five) and the use of a male Ober instead of the “Queen” (perhaps related to the “Knight”) is not unique to the Swiss deck but also found in a variety of German decks.

Both “acorn” and “bells” are suits also found in German decks, while “shields” and “roses” seem to be unique to Switzerland.

The Under corresponds to the Jack or Knave.

The Under of trumps becoming the highest card in the game can be traced to the 15th-century game Karnöffel.

The face cards show twelve individual characters.

The sequence Under, Ober, König depicts social stratification, the Under characters are working class, depicted as a fool or jester (Schellen), a messenger or scribe (Schilten), a peasant (Rosen) and a soldier or page/servant, while the Ober characters are shown as clerks or overseers/officers, while the kings are, of course, crowned monarchs (three of them seated, the king of Rosen is shown standing).

The four Under characters hold their suit symbol facing downward, the Ober and König characters hold it facing upward (with the exception of Eicheln Ober and Schilten König, whose suit symbols are hovering in the top left corner without their holding it as they are holding a pipe and a cup instead, respectively).

Five characters are shown as smoking.

All but three characters are shown with “blonde” (yellow) hair, the exceptions being Schilten Under, Schilten Ober (both with “grey” hair) and Schellen Under (hair not visible due to his fool’s cap).

A very different country indeed.

But Switzerland shares a problem with many other countries: problem gambling.

There are over 2,000 attempted suicides in Switzerland every year associated with gambling, 300 per year succeed in their attempt.

63% of patients in Swiss psychiatric centres are there for gambling disorders: of these 14% are depressed, 15% are also alcoholic, 13% have multiple substance abuse addiction, 10% have personality disorders.

There is a relapse rate of 70%.

3% of the Swiss have pathological gambling problems, or nearly 1.5 million Swiss adults have a gambling problem.

Swiss men over the age of 45 who play it cool, are carefree about their health, smoke, drink alcohol, and are prone to moodiness seem to be the group most prone to problem gambling and warrant special attention in particular in respect to suicide risk.

One can find casinos in every major Swiss city.

One can find lottery tickets available at every corner store throughout the country.

The tickets may look different.

The cards may look different.

Problem gambling knows no boundaries.

Couldn’t happen to you or someone you love?

Wanna bet?


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