Ten best!: Card games

by Gus Lubin


ten best! randomly compiled by Gus Lubin Card games



With the holidays coming up, and the economy going down, it’s a great time to pick up a pack of Bicycles. Cards provide a social way to drink and gamble, and also to pass time with children, grandparents and alone. The most basic game in the world is solitaire. All it takes is one person and a deck of cards. Deal 28 cards into seven unequal piles with the top cards facing up. Flip the remainder one by one, building descending sequences in red-black alternations and scoring with ascending sequences in suit, starting ace-two-three. If you don’t understand, try it out on a Windows PC, right next to Minesweeper. Although unskilled and unsocial, the game invariably attracts kibitzing spectators. My grandfather watches over my shoulder and taps me when he sees an ace. When I lose — most of the time — he grunts and walks away, as if the Twins just lost a game on TV. But with the deck in my hand, hope springs eternal. I shuffle and deal again.

Go Fish

Hanging out with children is a step above being alone. Players hold seven cards and ask each other, “Do you have any sixes?” and respond, “Yes, here they are,” or “No, go fish.” Going fish involves drawing blindly from a stack of unplayed cards. The game is good for kids because the only skill it requires is memory, with plenty of luck. The well-known phrase, “Go fish,” doesn’t make much sense in the real world — unless, perhaps, a man went to the grocery store and asked for tuna, but the store was out, so he went and fished. Golf

Another game of tenuous metaphoric value, golf is only like golfing in that the lowest score wins. Players lay down four cards and look at two of them. They take turns drawing and discarding, while attempting to swap low cards into their sets of four. Kings and jacks are wild.


In a kind of competitive solitaire, players rush to unload cards from their boards onto two shared piles of sequential cards. When all moves are exhausted, they pick up unused stacks of cards and in unison deal new cards to the middle, chanting: “One, Two, Three, Spit!” Spit is a game of nimble fingers and quick thinking that can go on for about half an hour, until one person loses interest, and then it goes on for another 10 minutes.

Gin rummy

Along with cribbage and piquet, gin rummy is one of the few two-person card games to be civilized and skillful. The object of the game is to “meld” an entire hand into combinations of same cards and suited runs. A player deals 11 cards to his opponent and 10 to himself. The opponent discards, and they continue by drawing and discarding, until one knocks to signify near-completion or discards face down and calls, “Gin rummy!”


If rummy gets boring, you may try the great 19th-century French game of piquet. Playing with a deck composed of the highest 32 cards, the dealer, known as the “elder,” deals 24 cards between himself and his opponent, the “younger,” and puts another eight to the side, into the “talon.” After blind swaps from the talon, the players make claims on their hand, from six of a suit, or “point de six,” to a suited run of five, or “quints,” to four of a kind, or “quatorzes.” Without face cards, a player may declare, “carte blanche.” Play continues through trick taking and five repetitions, as the elder and younger hurry by “pic” and “piquet” to “cross the rubicon.” You might want to Wikipedia this one.

Egyptian rat screw

Oh long summer nights of Egyptian rat screw, with a girl whose competitiveness I mistook for love. But it is a romantic game. A group sits around the table and flips cards one by one. If one player draws an ace, the next has four chances to turn over a face card. A king gives three chances; a queen two; and a jack only one. In case of a double, anyone may slap and claim the pile. My old partner’s reactions were good, and so were mine, and over time the group would shrink to two. Then I slapped first, or she slapped first, and our hands landed together with force.


Finally, a game with no skill, a manly name and the unbent passions of strength and defeat. You have a deck and I have a deck. We turn the top card and the higher wins. In case of a tie, we wager the next three cards and flip a deciding fourth. This is not a game for late-night commentary on ESPN 2. There is nothing to it but the sound of paper on wood, the flash of a smile or sneer and a man’s irrational faith in his stack of cards. Hearts The best card games involve four players. In hearts, players avoid winning hearts or go for all of them, which is called “shooting the moon.” The name suggests rarity, but it happens often. I try nearly every time. To avoid suspicion, I’ll sluff a few high cards early. It’s important not to act like you’re shooting the moon. Otherwise

someone will gasp and exclaim, “Does anyone have any hearts?” They’ll team up to foil me, leaving me with all the hearts but one. In fear of this, I dissuadingly drop high card after high card and wait to pounce, until it’s too late. I end up with a mundane one or two hearts, and my bravery is unrealized.


The only game respected by everyone in my extended family is bridge. We play while the turkey roasts in the oven, and while it stews in our bellies. We play when the magic of Christmas morning, of prancing grandchildren, toting stockings and tearing through presents, is a weary memory. We play when no one wants to talk about college applications, promotions and all the other news of our lives. But don’t ask me how to play. Ask your grandmother.