Cuckoo is also known as Chase the Ace or sometimes Ranter Go Round in Britain. In the USA it is sometimes called Screw Your Neighbor, though (confusingly) this name is also sometimes used for other card games. Though related games are sometimes played with special cards, Cuckoo can be played with a standard 52 card pack. The direction of play differs in different countries - in what follows we assume clockwise.
Each player starts with an equal number of lives, say 3, and each puts a stake in the pot, which will be collected by the overall winner. Just one card is dealt to each player, and each player may look at their own card. The object is not to be left holding the lowest card. Suits are irrelevant and the cards rank K (high), Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low).
Each player has one turn, beginning with the player to dealer's left, continuing clockwise round the table and ending with the dealer. At your turn you may either keep your card or try to exchange it with your left hand neighbour, in the hope of getting a better card. Your neighbour must accept the exchange unless she has a king, in which case she exposes the king and you keep your card. The dealer, whose turn comes last, can try to exchange with a card cut from the undealt stock, but if the card obtained is a king, the dealer must keep her original card.
After everyone has had a turn, everyone exposes their card and whoever has the lowest card loses a life. If several players tie for lowest they all lose a life. Players who have lost all their lives are out of the game, and the last person left in wins.
A problem occurs if both or all the remaining players have one life and they tie for lowest card, so that they are all eliminated from the game. There are at least four possible rules:
- These players are declared joint winners and split the pot equally between them.
- These players keep their last lives and another deal is played between them.
- The tieing players cut cards and the one who draws the highest card takes the whole pot.
- The game is declared undecided, and the pot is carried forward to the next game, each player adding a new stake to it.
- The game is declared undecided. The pot is carried forward to the next game, but nothing is added to it.
I would be interested in comments on which of these methods is correct or preferred - please let me know. Meanwhile, players should agree in advance how such situations will be resolved.
P.J. Ackerson reports an American version of Screw Your Neighbor for 3-26 players in which everyone starts with four lives, represented by four equal piles of money placed in front of them. The last person left in wins all the money. There are three possible rules on the way kings are used:
- Some play that kings are traded like any other card and have no special effect.
- Some play that anyone who is dealt a king must flip it face-up immediately after the deal. If there are any kings in the deal then no one is allowed to trade and whoever was dealt the lowest card(s) loses a life.
- Kings get flipped over when someone tries to trade with one and no further trading takes place on that deal.
Some also play with special rules about queens and jacks:
- If someone tries to trade with you and you have a queen they instead must trade their card with the person on their right. (If that person also has a queen, the player between the queens is not allowed to trade).
- If you have a jack and someone tries to trade with you, you show them the jack and they are not allowed to trade. Trading continues with the person whose turn comes next.
David Murphy reports another American variation in which if two or more players have the same ranking card at the end, they are safe from losing a life. If they end up lowest, the lowest unique rank loses. It is not quite clear what should happen in the rare case where no one has a unique rank - I suggest that it must be a draw, so that no one loses a life on that hand.
There was a further description of Cuckoo (aka Screw Your Neighbor) on Peter Sarrett's Game Report site (archive copy).