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Card Objects

If you are not familiar with common playing cards, now would be a good time to get a deck, or else this chapter might not make much sense. There are 52 cards in a deck, each of which belongs to one of four suits and one of 13 ranks. The suits are Spades, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs (in descending order in Bridge). The ranks are Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen and King. Depending on what game you are playing, the rank of the Ace may be higher than King or lower than 2.

If we want to define a new object to represent a playing card, it is pretty obvious what the instance variables should be: rank and suit. It is not as obvious what type the instance variables should be. One possibility is Strings, containing things like "Spade" for suits and "Queen" for ranks. One problem with this implementation is that it would not be easy to compare cards to see which had higher rank or suit.

An alternative is to use integers to encode the ranks and suits. By "encode," I do not mean what some people think, which is to encrypt, or translate into a secret code. What a computer scientist means by "encode" is something like "define a mapping between a sequence of numbers and the things I want to represent." For example,


The symbol -> is mathematical notation for "maps to." The obvious feature of this mapping is that the suits map to integers in order, so we can compare suits by comparing integers. The mapping for ranks is fairly obvious; each of the numerical ranks maps to the corresponding integer, and for face cards:


The reason I am using mathematical notation for these mappings is that they are not part of the Java program. They are part of the program design, but they never appear explicitly in the code. The class definition for the Card type looks like this:

class Card
  int suit, rank;

  public Card () {
    this.suit = 0;  this.rank = 0;

  public Card (int suit, int rank) {
    this.suit = suit;  this.rank = rank;

As usual, I am providing two constructors, one of which takes a parameter for each instance variable and the other of which takes no parameters.

To create an object that represents the 3 of Clubs, we would use the new command:

   Card threeOfClubs = new Card (0, 3);

The first argument, 0 represents the suit Clubs.

Last Update: 2011-01-24