The character of the old countess was inspired by Princess Natalya Petrovna Golitsyna who served as the lady-in-waiting for five Russian emperors and was 92 at the time Pushkin wrote "The Queen of Spades". According to legend, Galitzine had been a successful gambler. When her grandson lost a considerable amount of money playing cards and came to her to beg her for money, Galitzine instead revealed to him the secret three cards that Count Saint-Germain showed to her in Paris. However, while the Countess died in the story, Galitzine outlived Pushkin and reached the age of ninety-seven.
Critics have argued that the Count Saint-Germain holds historical importance in the story. Saint-Germain serves as the namesake for the story's protagonist, Hermann. Beyond this, the historical Saint-Germain may represent a father figure for Hermann, the antithesis to Hermann's character, or a former love interest of the countess who seeks revenge for her death by causing Hermann to pick the wrong cards.
The card game of faro also plays an important role in Pushkin's story. The game is played by having a player bet on a winning card. The dealer then begins turning over cards, burning the first (known as 'soda') to his left. The second card is placed face up to his right; this is the first winning card. The third card is placed face up in the left pile, as a losing card. The dealer continues turning over cards, alternating piles until the bet has been won or lost.