Playing-card Games

Last modified : 01 Nov 2006
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Answers to several of the following questions can be found on the Card Games site, which is edited by John McLeod.

History, Types and Distribution of Card Games

The best general reference on this is David's Parlett's book The Oxford Guide to Card Games (Oxford University Press 1990). This has been reprinted by the same publisher, without illustrations, under the title A History of Card Games.

How many different card games are there?

It depends what you count as different—what you might see as two different games, I might count as two variations of the same game. It is also common to find the same game going under many different names. Depending on what you count as a game, a rough estimate would be that there are between 1,000 and 10,000 games.

An classification of the main types of card games can be found on the classified index page of the Card Games site.

What were the earliest card games?

As with questions about the origins of playing cards, this question cannot be answered with certainty. In fact the situation is more uncertain for the games than for the cards they were played with. Although a few packs of very early playing-cards survive there is practically no European literature giving detailed descriptions of how to play any card games before the 17th century, some 250 years after their introduction into Europe. We can therefore only rely on fragmentary references, and reconstructions based on later games.

It seems likely that the earliest European card games included trick taking games without trumps and hand comparison games. Trumps were introduced in the fifteenth century. The earliest known games with trumps are Karnöffel and Tarot (which was originally known as Trionfi).

What card games are played in xxxxx country or region?

For some countries, this question is answered on the national and regional card games page of the card games site.

What games are played with Tarot cards?

See the Tarot section in the card games site. The standard reference on this is Michael Dummett's book The Game of Tarot (Duckworth 1980).

I have a pack of yyyyy cards. What games are usually played with them?

For many types of cards, this question is answered on the national and regional card games page of the card games site.

Rules of Games; Playing Games

Who was Hoyle?

Edmond Hoyle, who died in London in 1769, wrote a highly successful Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, containing the laws of the game; and also some Rules whereby a Beginner may, with due attention to them, attain to the Playing it well... He followed this with similar treatises on other games: Backgammon, Piquet, Quadrille and Chess. These books were widely pirated and plagiarised, and after his death the name of Hoyle came to be attached to compendiums of games from a wide variety of publishers and authors. This continues to this day, though the books no longer have any connection with Hoyle's original works and contain mostly games which Hoyle could never have heard of.

Hoyle's name is used, especially in the USA, to suggest (often quite spuriously) that the book bearing it gives authoritative rules for games. To play "according to Hoyle" means to play correctly—by the book.

Where can I find the official rules for the game zzzzz?

You probably can't. The vast majority of games do not have official rules, in the sense that some body has laid down authoritative rules accepted by all players. Most games are governed by house rules which are agreed by the group of players taking part in the game. These often vary from group to group, so anyone joining an unfamiliar group of players would be wise to check on the rules in play, especially if the stakes are significant, to avoid unpleasant surprises later.

Official rules work well, and indeed are fairly necessary, for games that are extensively played in clubs and tournaments over a wide area. Examples of such games are Contract Bridge, Skat and French Tarot.

All right then, where can I find any rules for the game zzzzz?

You could have a look on the Card Games site, which contains an alphabetical index. The editor is adding more games as fast as he can, so you may be lucky. If you feel able to write up a game that is not yet there, he would be grateful for your contribution.

You could look it up in a book. Please don't be misled into thinking that books bearing the name of Hoyle are necessarily better than any others. The most wide ranging and comprehensive are in fact two books by David Parlett: A History of Card Games and A Dictionary of Card Games, both published by Oxford University Press.

If all else fails, try posting a question in the newsgroup It may well be that someone there has heard of the game and can help you.

How can I contact fellow players of game zzzzz?

It depends on the game. If it is a fairly organised game like Bridge, your best plan is probably to join a club. If it is a less formal game, you need to look in the places where that game is traditionally played, which may for example be in bars. Asking in bars, hotels or other places where cards of some kind are played may elicit information about the game you are looking for. You could also ask other games players—people who play Chess, Go or other board games might well be card players as well.

Of course the above assumes that you are in the right part of the world to find the game you are looking for. You will probably not have much success looking for Tarot players in Sweden or Skat players in Spain. If you are not in a position to travel to where the players are, then you have the more difficult task of finding some people who are willing to try out unfamiliar games and teaching them to play. People who play some kind of game already are most likely to be receptive—so again your local Bridge, Go or board games club might provide a few ready volunteers. In this case bear in mind that you need to be fairly thoroughly familiar with the rules of the game yourself before you try teaching anyone else. If you appear uncertain, people will lose confidence or accuse you of making it up as you go along, and may not wish to come back for more.

As a last resort, you might want to look for a computer simulation of the game, or a server through which you can play it on-line across the Internet. This may be a rather poor substitute for a real game of cards, as you miss a lot of the atmosphere, psychology and social interaction.

Is there an organisation for the game zzzzz?

Good question. We need to put together a list of such organisations. This may eventually appear on the Card Games site. All contributions gratefully received by the editor

Card Games and Computers

What computer programs are available that play card games?

Various card game programs can be downloaded from the Internet. Randy Rasa's House of Cards is a good starting point for a search. You could also try the other places listed on the links to other information page of the Card Games site.

What facilities are there for playing cards on line over the Internet?

The range of options for playing cards on-line has increased rapidly over the last couple of years. This is especially the case for North American card games, probably because of the high concentration of Internet users and programmers there. For example, there are several competing servers on which you can play Contract Bridge, Hearts, Spades, Euchre and Gin Rummy. There are also many on-line casinos in which you can play Blackjack and other games for real money.

There are also a few sites catering for other games—for example there are servers for Spanish game Mus, for Russian Preferans, and for Gong Zhu (the Chinese version of Hearts) and probably many more. Randy Rasa's House of Cards has information on on- line servers. Several are also listed on the links to other information page of the Card Games site, and others may be found via links on the rules pages of the Card Games site for the appropriate games.