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How to Play Spit

As its alternative name suggests, Spit is a card game where fast reactions are critical. In fact, Spit is rare in that the players don’t take turns in sedate fashion to follow suit in turn. Instead, each player makes the effort to play as quickly as possible, not waiting for his or her opponent.

To play Spit, you need:

  • Two players

  • One deck of cards

    Keep a special deck for this game; after one session your cards may never be the same again.

The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards as quickly as possible. The dealer shuffles the cards and deals each player 26 cards.

Each player then deals out 15 of his 26 cards into a triangle — one pile with five cards, one with four, one with three, one with two, and one with a single card. These piles are called the stock piles. On each pile, you turn the top card over. That leaves you a pile of 11 cards, which you leave face-down and don’t look at. These are spit cards.

After each player sets up the spit cards and stocks, all players call out “Spit!” and turn over the top cards of their piles of 11, putting them in the middle of the table. These two cards make up the two spit piles. The slugfest is about to begin. Using only one hand (playing cards with both hands is forbidden), you attempt to get rid of the cards from your stock piles onto the spit piles before your opponent can.

You play any face-up card from your stock piles on to the spit piles. You can play a card if it’s one rank higher or one rank lower than the card on the top of the spit piles, and aces are high or low, so you can put them on a king or a 2. Suits are irrelevant in Spit.

When you exhaust a pile, you can move a face-up card from any pile to fill the gap. You can never have more than five piles, come what may.

When neither player can make a legal move, the first phase of the game has ended, and you’re ready for the second phase, which essentially repeats phase one.

In phase two, each player simultaneously calls out “Spit!” again, turning over the top cards from their spit cards face-up onto the already existing spit piles. The game continues, with both players trying to get rid of their stock piles as fast as possible. Eventually, one of three situations occurs:

  • You get rid of all your stock cards. When this happens, you have your choice of spit piles, and you’ll naturally take the smaller one. The second player takes the other pile, and you both collect your unplayed cards, shuffle them all together, and lay them out in the traditional format.

  • Both players get rid of all their spit cards, and neither player can play a card. In this case, whoever has less stock cards left gathers up all his cards and adds the smaller spit pile to them, leaving his rival to add the other pile.

  • After the first round, the player who has the larger spit-card pile may have spit cards left to turn over, but his opponent doesn’t have any. If this is the case, the player must select a pile on which to put his spit cards, and he must go with that pile to put all his remaining spit cards on for the rest of this run. Of course, that may bring the other player back to life, because as new cards appear on the pile, he may find a way to get rid of some stock cards as a result.

Whenever one player has fewer than 15 spit cards left in his hand at the start of a new round, he deals out the cards into the five stock piles as best he can, starting with the single card and working up to the five-card pile, and then he turns over the top cards as before. But only one communal spit pile exists now because one player has no spit cards with which to make a pile. At this point, whoever gets rid of all the cards from his stock piles gets no additional cards at the end of the round. If that player is the one with no spit cards, he wins the game. If the player with the spit cards wins the round, the other player picks up the central pile and his unused stock cards, and the hand continues.

Spit is a game of skill as well as speed. You have to manage about four or five tasks simultaneously with only one hand. You have to play your cards as fast as possible, turn over new ones, create new piles, and prevent your opponent from playing. In addition, if you have time to plan, you must make your choice of actions that help you and not your rival. All this requires practice and excellent peripheral vision.

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