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Everything You Need To Know About Playing Old Maid

Poker. Blackjack. Texas Hold ‘Em. Canasta. Rook. There are a myriad of card games out there, but only one reigns supreme: Old Maid. Old Maid is a favorite pastime for everyone from children to old maids, and there are a number of reasons for its popularity. For one thing, it’s easy to play. For another, anyone can play it. However, it must be admitted that the game also holds some mystical quality that can’t quite be placed. It casts a spell over its participants that is only broken when the whole table is laughing and pointing fingers at the lone loser dubbed the Old Maid.Perhaps you remember playing this exhilarating game as a child and nostalgia is beckoning for you to relearn it; or maybe you want a nice way to spend the rainy day with the kids. It could be that you and the boys are getting bored with Poker and want something more challenging; or maybe you’re going to visit Grannie this weekend and want to brush up on your skills so you can totally own her and her clique at the nursing home. Whatever your reason for wanting to learn this high-stakes game, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about playing old maid.

What Is Old Maid?

Before you undertake the incredible journey of learning how to play the #1 game in all the universe, you’ll undoubtedly want to understand what exactly it is and learn of its exotic origins. To put it plainly, Old Maid is the world-renowned card game played with 51 cards instead of the standard 52.There are a few reasons for this, but the best way to explain it is that this is sort of like Old Maid holding one hand behind its back to fight with other games like Poker and Rook. It’s also because the point of the game is to leave one card standing, and you can’t do that with an even number of cards in play.

The History Of Old Maid

Old fashioned cards

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Old Maid is a Victorian card game, but some believe that it originates from an ancient form of gambling which determined who would pay for the drinks. Just imagine finding yourself in a common tavern in ancient Rome with Tiberius, who busts out a deck of cards and sits you and your buddies down at the table to see who’s paying for those cherry cream sodas. OK, we’re being ridiculous, but it is true that some claim Old Maid has origins this old and prestigious. So next time you set down for a round or two with Grandma, keep in mind that you’re participating in a tradition that could be a thousand years old at least.

Names And Variants Of Old Maid

Vintage Cards

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Northern Europe

Depending on where you go, you’ll find Old Maid called different things. For instance, in Sweden it’s known as Svarte Petter; in Germany as Schwarzer Peter or Shwarze Dame; in Denmark as Sorteper; in Norway as Svarteper; in Slovenia and Croatia as Crni Peter, and in Hungary as Fekete Peter.In Slovakia, the game is known as Cierny Peter; in Czech Republic as Cerny Peter; in Finland as Musta Pekka; and in Poland as Czarny Piotrus. All of these names have the same meaning in English: Black Peter. This is an ancient Scandinavian character dating back to pagan times: a kind of foolish person blackened by the soot of chimneys and made into a trope somewhat like an “Old Maid.””Scabby Queen” is primarily played in the UK. The only difference between this game and Old Maid is that the loser gets a punishment determined by the card at the bottom of a newly shuffled deck. If it’s a red card, the player is rapped on their hand with the deck. If it’s black, then the entire deck gets scraped across their knuckles. This can actually draw blood if performed by a skillful enough player (the name, after all, is “Scabby” Queen). There is also a point system based upon the value of the card that determines how many times the punishment is performed.

Southern Europe

In Italy, the game is known as Asino. In France, it’s called Le Pouilleux (both meaning someone who is lousy or louse ridden) or Vieux Garçon (“old boy,” an idiom for a confirmed bachelor). In Greece, it’s known as muntzuris, which means “smudged, smutted,” as in the past, winners would smudge the losers with soot. 

Northern Asia

Those in Japan play baba-nuki (which means “old maid”) and those in Korea play dodukjapki (meaning “catching the thief”). The game is exactly the same as the American version except that a Joker is added instead of taking a queen away, and the player with the Joker at the end loses.

Southern Asia

There’s another variant of this game played in the Philippines and known as ungguy-ungguyan. Again, this game is played just like Old Maid except they take out any card at all at the start. This card is shown at the conclusion of the game and the person left with its match loses and is namedunggoy (which means monkey). Yet another version of Old Maid is found in Indonesia; it goes by the name Kartu Setan, which means “Ghost Card.”

No matter what you call it, however, the rules are almost always the same: don’t get caught with the unmatched card.

Is Old Maid Fun To Play?

Playing Cards

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What’s “fun” is totally subjective, and you’ll have to play the game yourself to find out if it’s for you. If you like matching games, then Old Maid is probably right up your alley. Likewise, if you’ve acquired a penchant for bluffing after playing Poker, then yeah, Old Maid could work out great. If you enjoy the idea of ganging up on the loser or assigning them a good-natured punishment just for kicks, it could be fun to play at a bachelor party. Children often find the game easy, too, so if you’ve got kids, you might give it a try! Who knows, you might start a new family tradition that lasts a lifetime.

How You Play Old Maid

Now that you’ve learned all about the history of Old Maid and its variants played all around the world, it’s finally time to get down to business and learn how to play the greatest game known to man. So bust out that deck and crack those knuckles; let’s play!

Take A Card, Shuffle, And Deal

Before you do anything else, take a queen from the deck (any queen will do). This will be the “old maid” the player is left with at the end of the game. Then grab those cards and shuffle ’em. Bridge them if you know how to; this will intimidate everyone at the table, especially Grandma. When you’ve got that down, pass them out one by one, face down. The numbers don’t have to be even, so don’t worry if a player or two has an extra.

Pair ‘Em Up

Next, each player must start matching the pairs in their hands (jacks with jacks, kings with kings, and so on). If you have three of a kind, you can only remove two of them, though. After the initial matching is over, the dealer offers their hand face down to the player on the left, who must draw one card. Any new pairs are then discarded, and then the player repeats the process by letting the next draw one from their hand. This keeps going until every card has been matched except the lone queen. The player holding it is declared the old maid!


If you want to take some inspiration from some of the variants discussed above, you might assign an intriguing punishment to the loser. For instance, whoever’s left with the queen could have to be the one to do the dishes. In this way, it could be like a prolonged game of rock, paper, scissors, but way more fun! And you can get creative with this, too. Think about making the loser stand before a firing squad of paint ballers or go for the good old “whoever loses has to eat a worm” approach. Add this step and you’ll be in for a truly entertaining evening. Enjoy!


Old Maid is undoubtedly the greatest game mankind has ever known, and the fact that nearly every culture plays a variation of it testifies to its greatness. It’s easy to play, and even the kids can get in on the fun. The process is easy: take a card out, shuffle, and deal. Then you pair them up until the last player left standing holds the old maid! Afterwards, you’re free to humiliate them mildly. So grab a deck, call Nana, and have her and her clique get ready to game. Now go show her who’s who at Old Maid!

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