This page is based on a contribution from Jonathan Hillier, with further information from Ralph Wiggum, Paul Fletcher, Dwight J Stockham and Ida A Spence.


This simulation of Ice Hockey using playing-cards is played mainly in Canada. Ida A Spence tells me that she invented the original version of the game in Eddystone, Manitoba during the hockey season 1961-62. In the mid 1960's many of the players moved to Winnipeg and introduced the game there.

This is a game for just two players, one representing each team. The play mechanism is, perhaps coincidentally, quite similar to that of the Turkish game Pishti and the French Canadian game Mitaines, so on this site Hockey has been placed with those games in the "fishing group" - games where cards from hand are used to capture matching cards from the table. In Hockey, points are scored by matching the card played by your opponent to create a "breakaway" (also known as "clearing the ice") and then also matching the opponent's following play to score. These points are known as "goals" and the object is of course to score more goals than your opponent.

Players and Cards

Hockey is a game for two players only, using a standard 52-card deck with no jokers.


The first dealer is chosen by lot - for example by cutting cards. The winner of the cut chooses who will deal for the first period. The dealer shuffles, the opponent cuts, and the dealer deals 5 cards to each player, one at a time. When the dealt cards have all been played, the same dealer deals the next 5 cards to each player, and this is repeated until just 12 cards remain, at which point there is a final deal 6 cards each.

Playing once through the deck - four deals of 5 cards each and one of 6 cards each - is known as a "period". This 6th card in the final deal is considered as "an extra attacker" for the "last minute remaining in the period".

After a period is over, the next period begins and players switch as dealers. Three periods constitute a complete game (unless there is a tie, in which case a fourth "overtime" period is played - see scoring).


The players pick up the cards they are dealt, look at them, and play in turn. The first card is played by the non-dealer.

A turn consists of playing one card from your hand face up to the centre of the table. The cards played by both players are stacked in a single pile so that only the most recently played card is visible.

If a card is played which matches the rank of the top card of the pile (for example an 8 is played on an 8), this creates a breakaway for the person who played the matching card. Also, any time that a Jack is played, this creates a breakaway for the player of the Jack.

If a player who creates a breakaway then matches the next card played by the opponent, the player scores a goal.


  • Player A plays a 7, player B plays a 7 (breakaway for B), player A plays a 4, player B plays a 4 (goal for B).
  • Player A plays a 7, B plays a 7 (breakaway for B), A plays a 4, B plays a 5 (breakaway lost), A plays a 9, B plays a 9 (breakaway for B - not a goal), A plays a Jack (breakaway for A), B plays an 8, A plays an 8 (goal for A).

A goal itself is not a breakaway. After a goal a new breakaway is needed before a new goal can be scored. However, a breakaway can be created by matching the card used to score a goal.


  • A plays a Jack (breakaway for A), B plays a 6, A plays a 6 (goal for A), B plays a 2, A plays a 2 (breakaway for A, not a goal)
  • A plays a Jack (breakaway for A), B plays a 6, A plays a 6 (goal for A), B plays a 6 (breakaway), A plays a King, B plays a King (goal for B).

Only one player can be on breakaway at any time. When a player makes a breakaway by matching a card, the opponent may match it again, making their own breakaway and cancelling the previous one.


  • A plays a 3, B plays a 3 (breakaway for B), A plays a 3 (breakaway for A, cancelling B's breakaway), B plays a Queen, A plays a Queen (goal for A)
  • A plays a 3, B plays a 3 (breakaway for B), A plays a 3 (breakaway for A, cancelling B's breakaway), B plays a 3 (not a goal, just another breakaway, cancelling A's breakaway), A plays a Queen, B plays a Queen (goal for B)

Notice that a goal can never be scored by playing a Jack.


  • A plays a 9, B plays a 9 (breakaway for B), A plays a 6, B plays a Jack (another breakaway for B, not a goal because the Jack does not match the 6)
  • A plays a 9, B plays a 9 (breakaway for B), A plays a Jack (breakaway for A, cancelling B's breakaway), B plays a Jack (not a goal, because B was not on breakaway, just a new breakaway for B).

Note also that a goal cannot be scored on the dealer's first play of a period, by matching the first card played by the non-dealer. This just creates a breakaway. A goal can only be scored immediately after a breakaway.

When there is a new deal during a period, the played cards remain in place, and breakaways carry over from one deal to the next. For example:

  • Non-dealer plays her last card - a Jack - creating a breakaway. Dealer plays his last card - a 10 - and deals the next cards. If the non-dealer has a 10 in her new hand, she can play it and score a goal.
  • Non-dealer plays an 8, her last card, and dealer plays his last card which is also an 8: breakaway for dealer. The dealer deals the new cards and the non-dealer plays a 5. If the dealer has a 5 he can score a goal by matching the 5.

However, breakaways do not carry over from one period to the next. At the end of the period the play pile is shuffled, the dealer changes and any unresolved breakaways are cancelled.


Goals scored can be remembered by the players or recorded with pencil and paper. At the end of three periods the player with more goals is the winner.

In the event of a tie after 3 periods of play, the game goes into a fourth period of "sudden death overtime". For overtime play, only 4 cards are dealt for each hand and the first player to score a goal wins. The last deal of the overtime period will again be 6 cards and if no one scores in the whole overtime period a tie is declared.

Customs: commentary

It is customary for players to comment on the cards played as follows.

  • When you create a breakaway, this is usually brought to attention by declaring "Breakaway!".
  • If a goal occurs, the player can declare "Scores!" and taunting usually follows.
  • If your opponent has a breakaway against you, it's sportsmanlike to say "Shoots..." when laying down your next card (if it's not another breakaway) to set up the outcome of the oncoming shot.
  • If while on a breakaway the next cards do not match but is within one card of scoring (e.g.: 8 being put down on a 7, or a 2 being put down on a 3), this is considering 'hitting the post' and is usually brought to attention by the "shooter" by declaring "Hits the post!".
  • If while on a breakaway the next cards do not match but are relatively close (e.g.: 6 being put down on a 4) this is considered a save and is brought to attention by the "Defender" by declaring "Save!"
  • If your opponent has a breakaway against you and you throw down a safety (the remainder of a previously unmatched pair (see 'basic strategy'), then the player can declare "Clears it!", knowing they will not be scored on, on this current breakaway.


Original game

The original version of the game from the early 1960's differs from the above as follows.

  1. Jacks had no special property. The only way to clear the ice was to play a card matching the previous card.
  2. Immediately after a goal was scored, the ice was considered cleared. Therefore the previous scorer could score again immediately by matching the opponent's next card, and in this way it was possible to score several times in a row.

Other Variants

Now that this game has spread quite widely in Canada, different groups of players have adopted different variants of the rules, as happens with traditional card games.

Some play that when your opponent creates a breakaway by matching your card, if you then play a third matching card it cancels your opponent's breakaway, but does not create a new breakaway for you. Example: A:9, B:9 (breakaway); A:9 (breakaway cancelled), B:2; A:2 (breakaway for A - not a goal).

Some still play that (as in the original game) a goal also counts as a breakaway. So if you score a goal and then also match the next card that your opponent plays, that is another goal. Example: A:Jack (breakaway), B:10; A:10 (goal and breakaway), B:7; A:7 (another goal for A).

Here is a partnership version of Card Hockey, described on a student drinking games site (archive copy). Players sitting opposite each other are partners. There are three deals in each period: the first of five cards each and the second or third of four cards each. In this version a breakaway is known as a "pass": this enables your partner to score a goal if he can match the card played by the opponent after you.

In another version of the game, described by Ralph Wiggum of Saskatchewan, four cards are dealt to each player and a pile of four cards to the centre of the table to start the play pile. Then each successive deal during the period is four cards each - six deals in all. In this version Twos act like Jacks - they also create a breakaway, also known in this version as "clearing the ice". When you clear the ice you remove the play pile from the table leaving it empty. Then after your opponent's next play you can score a goal either by matching your opponent's card or by playing a Jack or a Two. A goal also clears the ice (the play pile is cleared away) and so you can score several goals in succession if you keep matching your opponent's card (or playing a Jack or Two on it). Your opponent can however stop this by the safety play of playing his own Jack or Two to the empty table. This is immediately cleared away, stopping you from scoring and clearing the ice for your opponent. In the first deal of each period the players may inspect the four cards that start the play pile. They must not contain any Twos, Jacks or pairs - if they do, they are shuffled into the pack and four new centre cards dealt.

Paul Fletcher has developed a version of Card Hockey using special cards. It can be played by two players, or as a four-player partnership game, and he has also devised a tournament format. He intends to release a computer version of this game.

Dwight J Stockham describes the version of Hockey he used to play in the 1960's. The rules insofar as they differ from the above versions, are as follows.

  1. Just four cards are dealt to each player: after five such deals there are 12 cards left and the final deal is 6 cards to each player. That is the end of the period: the cards are gathered and shuffled by and dealt the other player for the next period. A game consists of three periods.
  2. Instead of "breakaways" there are "shots", but they function in a rather similar way. Matching the card just played by your opponent play creates a shot. Then if your opponent plays a different card and you also match this second card you score. Example: A plays a 7, B plays a 7 (shot), A plays a 9, B plays a 9 (scores).
  3. If your opponent shoots, you can block the shot by playing a third card of the same rank. For example A plays a 5, B plays a 5 (shot), A plays another 5. This blocks B's shot but does not create a shot for A. If B now plays the fourth 5, that is a new shot for B. B would also need to match A's next play in order to score.
  4. A Jack is an automatic shot. Example: A plays a 9, B a Jack (automatic shot), A plays a 10, B plays a 10 and scores. A Jack can also be used to block any shot. The only way to block an automatic shot is with another Jack. Note that a Jack used to block a shot does not count as a new shot. Example: A plays a 3, B plays a 3 (shot), A plays a Jack (block), B plays a 6, A plays a 6 (shot). Another example: A plays a King, B: Jack (shot), A: Jack (blocked), B: Jack (shot), A: 10, B: 10 (scores).
  5. Note that a Jack can never be used to score. A: 8, B: 8 (shot), A: 4, B: Jack (this does not score - just creates a new shot).
  6. As usual played cards carry over from deal to deal within a period (you can match the last card from one deal with the first card from a new deal), but not from one period to the next.

Peter Magyar played a similar variant to this in the 1970's with a few extra rules:

  1. Red Kings create shots in the same way as Jacks.
  2. The Ace of Spades is a 'power play'. Playing the Ace of Spades on a shot created by matching cards or a Jack or Red King blocks the shot and allows you to score on your next turn if you either match the other player's next card or play a card that differs from it by just one rank. For example: 10, 10 (shot), spade A (power play), 7, 8 (scores).
  3. The Queen of Hearts is a 'penalty shot'. It can be played in response to a normal shot or a power play, blocking it and creating a shot that cannot be blocked. After you play the Heart Queen, you can score on your next turn by matching whatever card your opponent plays next, even if it is a Jack, Red King or Spade Ace.

Basic Strategy

  • As in any card game, try your best to remember cards that have been played. Then you can choose to play cards that are harder to score on if your opponent has a breakaway, because fewer of those cards remain. If trying to remember all cards is hard, pick a couple random cards and keep specific count of how many of those cards have been played.
  • If you have a pair, play one of the cards early. If your opponent matches up and gets a breakaway you can now re-match, cancelling their breakaway, giving yourself one. If your opponent does not get a breakaway keep the other card that formed the pair. This is now a safety. If your opponent gets a breakaway you can play this card knowing they will not score (unless they somehow overlooked the breakaway they should have had earlier).
  • If you are not dealing for the current period, it is good idea to use your Jack as your last card to put out in the hand. You will go on a breakaway and your opponent will lay down his final card not being able to choose a card based on past cards that have been laid down. You now have 5 (6 if it's the final hand of a period), new cards any of which might score. Laying down the Jack at this time gives you the lowest probability of losing the breakaway and the highest probability of scoring with it in the next hand.
  • If you are protecting a small lead at the end of the game keep Jacks as safeties. If your opponent gets a breakaway, you can automatically end it with your Jack, stopping his scoring chance and giving yourself one at the same time.
  • If you notice that when your opponent does not score on his breakaways, he chooses to use cards in which he can declare "Hits the post!" afterwards, a good strategy when putting up a card for a shot to be taken on, is to use one of a set of adjacent cards. This way if your opponent doesn't score but chooses to 'hit the post', you may get a breakaway from this card.

Example with comments

Each player picks a hockey team to represent
Darrell wins the cut and chooses to deal the first period
Darrell deals each player a 5-card hand
Jon receives: 8,J,Q,K,A
Darrell receives: 3,3,8,10,Q
Jon to play first
Jon's playCommentDarrell's playComment
K"Shoots..."Q"Hits the post!"
Q."Breakaway!..."3"Clears it..."

Darrell deals each player another 5 cards
Jon receives: 2,4,5,10,A
Darrell receives: 3,4,7,K,K
Breakaway carries over
Jon to play first
10"Scores! 1-0 [Team]!"K"King..."
This page is maintained by John McLeod (   © John McLeod, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2016. Last updated: 21st April 2016