Card Games

There are a many card games that I've played. I enjoy most of them, but I don't get to play them often. The ones I don't enjoy are the ones I really don't know how to play!

The order of games is the order I wrote content about them in over the years. The first serious game I learned was Cribbage, and reading books and some of my mother's student's taught me draw Poker. Some of these are just placeholder so I remember to lookup the rules ... so I remember them myself!

According To Hoyle

I have a great reference to almost any card game that I pull out when I need to know something new or lookup a fine point. Hoyle's Guide to Card Games is a fine resource. My original paperback is 30 years old by now, and it still provides a decent entry-level reference for almost any game. These days they have a web site and many versions of the book, and have branched out beyond card games. I haven't shopped the 201x market, but I'd guess it is still a great wide-ranging reference.

There is even a classic phrase According To Hoyle that people use; it is really a staple of gaming lore!

BlackJack -- 21

Black Jack No Counting has some of the best beginner non-counting strategy I've run across. Its good because it has simple how to think about it rules, instead of just memorizing a table. Is it the bomb -- no! Is it a good point to get you started -- Yes!

Pepper Dog Soft has some of the best blackjack strategy training and playing apps available for the iPhone / iPad.

Blackjack resources often say you should just play blackjack, regardless of the outcome, because the next hand / next table / etc, is just the same if you play it in the next minute or after a big gap. I disagree. One of the Poker books I read recommends getting out of a game when you are in a losing situation, even when you are ahead. For example, everyone at the table is more skilled than you, or you aren't feeling well etc. We recently were at a Blackjack table and everyone was losing. Again and again, deck after deck, chip piles just kept on evaporating to the dealer. In retrospect, given the Poker advice, All of us should have walked from such a lossy situation. It wasn't the dealers, the table, or anything, everyone was losing, and we would have walked away better off. So, every hand is not just like the next hand, it does depend on the environment!

We talked about that session afterwards trying to figure out what was going on. Nobody had ever seen that kind of losing streak before. Here's the best theory we have on what happened. It was a 6 deck blackjack shoe. However ... it was all hand shuffled from new decks. The theory is that because the deck is hand shuffled, the cards just don't get moved around a lot. Basically the deck started out in a bad configuration, and then it stayed in that way (due to cards not moving around a lot) for the entire session.

Movies about Blackjack


This content has moved to its own web page.


I think Cribbage was the first real card game I learned. My Aunt Maria taught it to me. I forget if it was during long summers on the farm, or as something to pass the time when she took me (and my sister Karina) on trips to various Dairy Expositions.

My Cribbage info became long enough that I moved to its own web page.

Games of Trump

In most card games cards of equal rank are equally powerful. That is one ace is not more powerful than another ace... unless you get something like an ace-high straight flush versus an ace-high straight. The power of that suit is an artifact of the hand.

In some card games a suit is called as Trump. Inside that suit, cards are favored by rank as normal. However, the trump suit is more powerful than any other suit -- the lowest trump is more powerful than the highest card in the other suit. In other words, trump over-rules the normal precedence rules.

Hand Play

Another aspect of Games of Trump is that you must play, or follow a card of the same suit of the led card. If all cards are from the led suite, the highest rank card of that suit wins, as mentioned earlier. Play becomes interesting when you can't follow suit...

  1. A card of a certain suit is led.
  2. If you have a card of the led card's suit, you must follow (play) a card of that suit.
  3. If you don't have a card of that suite you may either:

There is no term for under-trumping. Unless it's the last hand of the match you do NOT want to discard trump!


A problem that occurs in trump games is people not following suit. This messes up the game. When people are learning, the other players put up with beginners forgetting to follow suit. The may perhaps rewind the game to show the beginner how it should have played. During ranked play, such as tournaments, leagues or even money games... it can be used as tactic of cheaters to try and create an unfair advantage.


Another characteristic of Trump games is that a bidding process is usually involved to indicate how many tricks (hands won by a team) will be made. With Euchre the bid is a go/no-go situation, with a trick count of 3 required. In Bridge bidding is more complex, enough to drive a person out of their mind :-)

If a team makes their bid of tricks they win the game. If they don't they lose. Some games have stronger losing penalties than others; in Euchre opponents gain 2 points if the makers can't get their tricks!

Many Trump games are played to a race of won games. The first team to win the race to N games wins the match.

Some Typical Trump Games

Suit Precedence

It may not be widely known, but there are standard precedence of suits for games where it might matter. One common ranking, which is easiest to recall because it is in alphabetic order is:

  1. Spades
  2. Hearts
  3. Diamonds
  4. Clubs

Here are some handy references when suit rank matters:


Bridge is a complex game of trump. I believe it is derived from the British game of Whist.

Years ago my Aunt Maria got me to play bridge. That's so she would have an emergency fourth at her monthly bridge games when her normal partner was out of town. The big problem with that is that I would sometimes Zen or Bluff the bidding, which drove her crazy.

In case you don't know bridge, Bidding is a ritualistic voice-only signalling system that you are your partner use to determine trump and the number of tricks you will take. IIRC The team with the strongest bid has to back up their bid with play that at least matches their bid. If you don't make tricks to back your bid, you lose.

My friends JFW, JT and JRAH played a lot of bridge (and bidding) with me and I got respectable at it ... 20 years ago. I've not played bridge in so long that I don't remember the bidding or a lot of the finesse stratagems you use to try and maximize trick count.


Yes -- It's spelled like that (not as two words) and pronounced "Sheep's Head". I looked it up to make sure!

Several of my friends tried to teach me sheepshead, and all failed miserably. I think the real problem was that Sheepshead was always played quickly at lunchtime with a huge crowd of people who wanted to get done fast and get back to work. In other words, not a great environment to learn a somewhat confusing game.

I think that it's a trump game along the lines of bridge, but simplified.


Decades after I learned bridge, I picked up another trump game, Euchre in an odd way...

I've moved my Euchre info to its own web page.


Last year (2013) at WAMO Pool Tournament, we had too many people to play Euchre ... so Travis, Nanners & Co. taught me Spades. It's a fun game for a big table, and I totally forget the rules and need to look them up!

Spades is a Trump Game with ... you guessed it ... spades as the trump suit.

The one big thing I remember about Spades versus other games is that you have to bid precisely. If you take more tricks than you bid, the extra tricks are removed from your score! If you are a conservative bidder, this can really hurt.

Also, each player makes a bid ... and the two partner's bids are combined for a total bid by that partnership. The highest partnership bid has to go for it.... or the highest bidder of the highest partnership is the player. This makes things interesting; while each player can have a good hand ... their combined hand can be better or worse than you might suspect!

The other big thing is that the leading player... can't lead trump. I forget if that is just the first lead ... or every lead.

Shuffling a Deck

We shuffle the deck to mix all the cards together randomly. This is especially important with a brand new deck; it is in total order and should be shuffled several times to remove that order!

There are many types of shuffle, but there are 3 basic ones that almost everyone can agree as a legitimate shuffle

A good shuffle requires two hands -- if you see a person shuffling with one hand, it is most likely not a real shuffle just something that looks like one!

The Riffle Shuffle

The riffle shuffle is when you split the deck into two equal halves. The halves are then combined in an interleaved fashion by riffling. After the riffle the deck is squared up, and typically shuffled again with a riffle. With a standard card deck 3 riffles is considered a thorough shuffle. Why 3? I don't know, but even casinos consider it to be enough shuffling for random results!

To perform the shuffle The halves put on the table, each cradled in a hand, with the thumb holding up a corner of the deck. The deck is slightly bent by this pressure of the thumb holding the deck against the rest of the hand. The two portions are organized with the thumb corners of the deck right next to each other -- they actually overlap a bit if the thumbs were not bending the decks slightly up.

Each thumb then simultaneously releases cards one by one from each deck and the two piles become interleaved. When done, the deck is pushed together and squared up, and one riffle is complete.

I can't riffle shuffle -- I tried for years and always got bad results.... Including cards flying over the place, or massively uneven riffles that I considered useless. Then someone told me the secret of the riffle shuffle -- it needs to be done on a felt card playing surface so that the cards rebound correctly, and the table provides part of the friction that holds them in alignment so you can riffle.

Without a felt, your hand must provide all the holding force and it is too much -- you lack control, and that is why the riffle is a mess. I wish I'd known that years ago!

One thing I don't Like about the riffle shuffle is that I don't think it it moves cards around enough for my liking -- it mixes up local order, but not global order.

Because I couldn't riffle shuffle, I learned how to do the...

Stripping or Overhand Shuffle

So, I can't riffle shuffle well. I've used this shuffle for decades with good results.

In the overhand shuffle, groups of cards are stripped out of the deck. These stripped cards then are allowed to drop into the shuffled deck that is forming.

In the overhand shuffle, the deck is held vertically in an upper by the short ends, long edge horizontal. The lower hand is below the upper to receive the cards of the shuffe. The top cards are typically controlled by the thumb and middle finger, with the index and ring fingers providing stability.

Groups of cards are then stripped off the top of the deck to fall into the shuffled deck forming in the lower hand. This is done by relaxing pressure on the middle finger, so that a few cards fall into the lower hand. You can aid this process by the thumb of the lower hand helping to strip groups of cards from the top. If you can control your fingers enough to drop a middle portion out of the upper deck into the lower, that can help mix up the cards too.

After the first group is released, the lower hand moves slightly to receive the next group on the outside of the first. Otherwise you would just be putting the cards back into the same exact order! For the third and subsequent strips, you move the lower hand back and forth between the top and bottom of the shuffle pile receiving the stripped groups alternately. Instead of moving your lower hand, you can just use your fingers to switch the deck back and forth between two angles, one face up, and the other face down, so that stripped off cards just fall onto the correct side. Using this technique you can strip out cards really quickly, with minimal effort.

Repeating this 3 shuffle times also seems to work fairly well.

The thing is, that I often manage to drop larger groups of cards in my stripping. Even with 3 shuffles, I believe that this can leave many cards next to their neighbors, which means that the deck may still be in a local order. To make this better ....

Interleave Shuffle

An interleave shuffle is my inelegant substitute for a riffle shuffle. I use it once or twice between rounds of a stripping shuffle to change up the order of neighboring cards from the original deck, which I don't think my stripping does well.

In an interleave shuffle, as in a riffle, you split the deck into two even halves. Each half is held vertically (long edge horizontal) in one hand. Ther is a lower hand, which su pports the cards from the bottom with thumb behind and fingers below the deck. The other hand, similar to a overhand shuffle, uses the thumb on one end of the deck, and 3-4 fingers on the other end.

The upper deck is put at an angle to horizontal (slope the long slide down by raising the thumb end of the upper deck. It helps a lot if you can relax pressure a bit on both card decks so they fan out a tiny amount. Then, you put the long lower edge of the upper deck against the corner of the lower deck, and apple some pressure.

What you are trying to do is interleave cards from one deck with cards of the other. Gentle pressure with both hands, some wiggling around, fanning cards apart with fingers and thumb ... and suddenly the decks sorta interleave with each other and slide into each other.

Even it is sorta chunky, big strips in some places - -don't worry about it. Do it 2 or 3 times to get rearrange a bunch of random order, and be done with it.

Combined Techniques

I combine overhand shuffling with some interleaved shuffling to eliminate local order. I think it works well. Even when I riffle shuffle, I usually toss in an overhand shuffle ... because I think it does a better job of moving big chunks of cards around in the deck ... which the riffle shuffle doesn't do..

Cutting a Deck

Cutting a card deck is a procedure used after the shuffle. The purpose is to ensure fairness and honesty in a game; either when the dealer is one of the players, or a house dealer. A cut is used because a shuffle can be rigged to put certain cards on the top or bottom of the deck, which an unscrupulous dealer could use to manipulate the game or deal to someone's advantage. The cut also randomizes the deck one more time ... which can be good if it a poor shuffle. It also also promotes good will; the players can no longer blame the dealer for a bad deal -- one of them cut the deck, after all!

In most games, cutting is done by the player to the dealer's right. In the rest of this, I'll call that player the cutter. The cutter is to the right because the first person to get cards is to the dealer's left; this ensures that one player of many doesn't get advantage from the cut. In a two person game, it is already fair -- the cutter and the dealer are different people!

Basic Cutting

Cutting is always done with one hand, to prevent card manipulation by cheaters. Even in a friendly game, it is best to keep in the habit. It will not give who have been cheated upon reason to worry. It indicates your respect for both the game and your opponents.

  1. The dealer puts the deck toward the cutter to be cut.
  2. The cutter lifts off the cut part of the deck and places it next to the deck toward them.
  3. The dealer lifts the remainder of the deck and places it on top of the cut portion.

Why that above order and exact direction? It's because Neither cutter nor dealer has their hand, arm or sleeve over a portion of the deck. That which would obstruct view of the deck, and perhaps allow for card manipulation. Most importantly, neither has TWO hands near the deck -- for the same reason.

Cutting started because of cheating. Even in a honest game between friends, it is best to follow good practice. This keeps you from getting sloppy, and it also keeps people happy when things go wrong.

That's all there is to the basic cut. When dealing an unprotected deck like this, be certain to take care that the deck is keep flat during dealing, so that players can't view the bottom card. If you want to get fancier, or a little bit more secure for a tournament or a money game, you can go farther. That's when a cut card is used.

What is a Cut Card?

A Cut Card is a opaque thing resembling a playing card. It is typically made of of plastic, so that that is slightly thicker than most playing cards, and it the same size as the cards it is cutting.

The cut card's basic purpose is to hide the bottom card of an uplifted deck so that the card may not be seen by the players inadvertently. This is done by putting the cut card is on the bottom of the deck to prevent people from seeing the bottom card of the deck.

When cutting the deck with a cut card, the process is the same as above except the cut card is put on the cutter's side of the deck, and then the cutter places the cut portion of the deck on the cut card.

There is a method behind this orchestrated madness.

In a strict environment, the cut will be protected even further, and two cut cards (of different colors) used. Again, this rigamarole has two purposes; to prevent cheating via card manipulation, and is to prevent any player from seeing a card in the deck, to prevent unfair advantage in a game.

  1. One cut card is placed under the deck to be cut.
  2. The cut card will be slid mostly into the deck.
  3. The top part of the deck shifted onto the cut card.
  4. The cut portion of the deck will be slid off (toward cutter).
  5. The bottom portion of the deck will be put on top of the cut portion by the dealer.
  6. The 2nd cut card will be slid out of the cut of the deck.
To Be clear Unfair Advantage does not mean that a player is a cheat! It means that they, by accident, saw a card in the deck that may or not be in play, and by doing so, they know more about the cards in play. If all the players in the deck saw the card, it wouldn't be an unfair advantage -- everyone knows where that card is!

Casino Use

Due to the unique casino environment, the use of the cut card can be modified and expanded somewhat.

I'll the the game of Blackjack or 21 to show what little I know about casino use of cut cards!

Card Game References

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Last Modified: Sat Jun 14 18:13:13 CDT 2014
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