How to Play Old Maid

Old Maid is a card game that allows you to keep card strategy and psychology simple, making it an ideal game for younger children. All you need to play Old Maid is the following:

  • At least three players: There is no real upper limit, if you have enough decks of cards.

  • One or more standard decks of 52 cards, with three queens removed: Use a single deck of cards for up to six players. For seven or more players, use two decks, but take care that the decks have the same markings. You can play the game with special commercial decks, too, with animal faces on the cards and just one Donkey in the deck. You can also play with a special Old Maid deck, with one ugly Old Maid card.

The object of Old Maid is to get rid of all the cards in your hand without being left with the one unmatched card, the solitary queen, or Old Maid.

The dealer deals out all the cards, one by one and face-down, in a clockwise rotation. You start by removing every pair of cards that you have (a pair can be two 5s or two kings, for example). You set these cards aside face-up on the table so that everyone can see how many pairs you have.

Take care not to remove any three of a kind — only remove pairs from your hand.

After the removal of pairs, the player to the left of the dealer fans out her cards face-down on the table, and the player to her left takes one card. The player who’s offered the cards must take one of them, and then he looks at it to see whether it forms a pair with another card in his hand. If it does, he discards the pair onto the tabletop.

Whether the card he draws forms a pair or not, the second player spreads his cards face-down and offers his hand to the player on his left, who must then choose a card.

The game continues, with players dropping out as they get rid of all their cards. Eventually, one player gets left with the lone queen, and other players torment him with taunts of “Old Maid!” until a new hand starts.

Both France and Germany feature special versions of Old Maid. In France, they take out three jacks from the deck, leaving only the Jack of Spades: the vieux garçon or “Old Boy.” The Germans have special decks with a Black Peter card, often showing a cat in military attire. In each game, the loser is the player left with the odd card.

You can use a certain element of psychology or reverse psychology to persuade people to take the lone queen away from you. If you arrange your cards with some paired up and more prominently positioned than others, the next player may think that you want to pass off the prominent cards. Make sure that the prominent cards are “safe” ones, so you increase the chance that the player takes one of the other cards — perhaps the queen.

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