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Playing Eights: Simple Is as Simple Does

What could be simpler than Eights? Until you add a few complexities, Eights is not a challenging game.

To play Eights, you require the following:

  • Two or more players
  • At least one standard 52-card deck of cards: No jokers are used in most versions of Eights, but you may well need at least one more deck of cards, because the game can be adapted to large numbers of players.
  • Paper and pencil for scoring

The object of the game is to be the first to dispose of all your cards. Everyone plays for himself, rather than in partnership, no matter how many players participate.

The first player to go out scores points according to the cards left in his opponents' hands. The first player to reach 250 points wins.

Dealing the cards

The players cut for the deal, and the person who draws the lowest card deals the cards, one card at a time, clockwise and face-down. Thereafter, the deal progresses one place to the dealer's left.

Each player starts with the same number of cards:

  • With two to four players, each player gets seven cards.
  • With more than four players, each player gets five cards. When the number of players climbs above six, add a second deck.

Playing your cards right

After all the cards are dealt, the dealer puts the remainder of the stock face-down in the middle of the table and turns over the top card to start the discard pile. The player to the dealer's left has the first opportunity to play a card. He has three distinct choices about which card to play:

  • He may play a card that coincides with the suit (clubs, spades, diamonds, or hearts) or the rank (2s, jacks, and so on) of the top card.
  • He may play an 8: All 8s are wild — meaning that you can play an 8 at any time, no matter what the previously-played card was. Moreover, when you play an 8, you can nominate any suit (but not a rank), and the next player must play a card of that suit or put down another 8 in order to earn the right to name a new (or the same) suit. If he can do neither, he must pick up a card from the stock. (If the first card turned over is an 8, then the first player can play whatever he likes.)
  • He may pick up the top card from the stock and add it to his hand if he is unable or unwilling to play a card.

If the first player plays a card, he places his card on top of the discard pile, and his play now dictates what the next player, to his left, can do. That player has the same three choices: He can follow suit or match the rank of the card just played; play an 8; or pick up a card from the stock.

And so the play goes on. For example, if the card turned over is the 7 of Hearts, the first player can play the 7 of Diamonds. That card allows the second player to play the Queen of Diamonds. The third player must next play a diamond, a queen, or an 8 — or he can pick up.

In Eights, it isn't necessarily right to play just because you can. For example, you may not want to let go of an 8 at an early moment in the game; you may want to keep the 8 to dictate what suit is played at the end of the hand. Also, you may sometimes find that building up a supply of cards in one suit (or cornering a suit) early in the game is an advantage — doing so may allow you to make a series of moves at the end of the game when no one else can play and has to pick up cards. However, life isn't that simple. The last thing in the world you want to do is to be left with a bunch of cards as the game winds down.

Paying the price when your opponent goes out

The game concludes when one player gets rid of all his cards. At that point, the damage is assessed on the other players:

  • Each court card (the ace, king, queen, and jack) is worth 10 points.
  • All other cards, except the 8, are charged at their face value. For example, a 2 counts for 2 points.
  • The 8s come in at a painful 50 points each.

The winner collects points from everyone else. Folks usually play that the first player to 250 points wins and that the winner receives an additional 100 points.

When the game is apparently reaching the finale, make sure to unload your 8s as fast as you can, because the penalty for still having an 8 at the end of the game outweighs the tactical advantage in keeping an 8 to play later.

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