How to Read the Tarot with Playing Cards

It’s easier than you might think to read the tarot with your favorite deck of playing cards!

deck of playing cards for tarot

Main image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

Playing with a deck of cards is always fun—there are so many games to try out! Whether you like poker, bridge, rummy, solitaire, or even go fish, there’s always fun to be had when you break out a deck of cards. But did you know that you can use that very same deck to give a tarot reading? That’s right, you can draw on your intuition and do readings with a regular deck of cards. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to bring out the power and fun of tarot through playing cards, keep reading!

Why Use Playing Cards for a Tarot Reading?

Top reasons for using playing cards during a tarot reading

deck of playing cards with spade court cards
You can use the playing cards you grew up with to give interesting tarot readings! Image courtesy of History.

You might be asking yourself, why would anyone want to use playing cards for a tarot reading, especially when there are so many gorgeous tarot decks available? Well, we have a couple of reasons why you may want to try your hand at cartomancy:

  • It’s fun and easy. Learning how to associate the cards with their tarot counterparts is not only fun, but it’s easier than you might think. Many of the minor arcana cards were based off the original playing decks, and you can see how similar the two types of cards really are. Whether you know a little or a lot about tarot, you’ll be able to see the similarities in no time.
  • You can deepen your intuitive nature. When we do a reading with playing cards, you are deepening your intuition and skills as a reader at the same time. By using a playing card deck, you may see things you previously didn’t, or associate particular emotions or feelings to a card that you didn’t in your normal tarot deck. This asks you to think outside the box, and perhaps look at the cards in a new light. 
  • It’s convenient. There are literally playing cards everywhere! You can pick them up in grocery stores and gas stations, and they make the perfect last minute addition when you’re heading out to a party or get together with friends. Not only can you play cards, but then you can also offer to give people readings after! 
  • You can do it with any playing card deck. No need to have your tarot deck on you when you can use any playing deck for readings. Plus, playing card decks tend to be smaller, so they’re easier to stash in your purse or bag when you’re bringing them along for some fun. 

How to Use Playing Cards for a Tarot Reading

Easiest ways to use your deck of cards for a tarot reading

deck of tarot cards
Swapping your tarot deck for playing cards can provide you with a fun new hobby. Image courtesy of Allure.

You’ll notice that a deck of cards contains 52 cards, as opposed to the 78 cards of a tarot deck. So when you’re reading with a playing deck, there are no corresponding cards for the major arcana or the knights of each suit. That being said, for the remaining cards, there are quite a lot of similarities. 

Hearts > Cups > Water > Correspond to matters of the heart, dreams, emotions, and relationships

Spades > Swords > Air > Relate to the intellectual realm, logic, how we think and communicate with others

Diamonds > Pentacles > Earth > This is easy to remember, since diamonds come from the earth! These correspond to matters of hearth and home, your health, and things of the material world

Clubs > Wands > Fire > These are the action suit, and relates to moving and doing things, but also creativity, passion, and inspiration

The court cards of each suit are also very similar, and you’ll find that there are jacks which represent pages, as well as queens and kings. You will also notice that the numbers within a playing deck are the same as the tarot deck. You’ll start with an ace, have 1-10, and then three court cards instead of four (no knight). The numbers of playing decks are the same they would be in your tarot deck, so you’ll interpret them just as you would normally in a reading. Most playing cards also come with a joker, which you can decide to use or not. If you do, it will take the place of the Fool from the tarot. 

Next you’ll just need to shuffle your deck, and start reading! Using the cards for a tarot reading is easy and a lot of fun. Plus you’ll be strengthening your intuition as you learn to make new associations with the cards. 

Tarot Readings to do With Playing Cards

Try out these easy readings the next time you break out your deck of cards!

giving a tarot reading with candles
Whether you do a one card reading, or a three card one, there’s something to be said for the simplicity of playing cards. Image courtesy of iStock.

Now that you know how easy and fun it can be to use playing cards in tarot readings, we thought we’d highlight a couple of our favorites for you to try out. 

One card reading

These are by far the easiest readings you can do, but don’t let their simplicity fool you— a lot of information can be gleaned from a one card reading. One card readings allow you to get back to basics, and they can be just as precise as more involved spreads. By only using one card, you are encouraged to look at the result from all possible angles. This way, you don’t have to worry about other cards clouding your answer and leaving you more confused. 


After you shuffle your deck to your liking, pull out three cards and place them in a row. Going from left to right, you turn them face up for a past-present-future answer to your question. This is also a great, simple reading to do, and you’d be surprised at how much information you can get out of them. As with all divination tools, it’s best to try and avoid yes/no questions. You want to leave a little room for nuance and interpretation.

Current situation-Obstacle-Advice

Similar to the past-present-future reading, the situation-obstacle-advice reading follows a three card spread. This type of reading is great when you want to see what’s blocking you or is causing the disruption, and get advice about what to do about it.

It’s fun and easy to use playing cards in the place of your tarot deck. While you lose the archetypes associated with the major arcana, there is something to be said for going back to the basics of cartomancy using just the four suits and numbers. You don’t have to stick to one or the other, considering switching the energy up and reading with both tarot cards and playing cards! You might just be surprised at the results of your readings.

Bridget Houlihan

Bridget Houlihan is a writer, poet, and cat mom living in Pittsburgh, PA.
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