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Card Triathlon

Contributed by Bill Oliver. E-mail: for enquiries.


Card Triathlon is a card game for 2 teams of 2 players each. There are three types of 'legs' (like the triathlon with swimming, cycling & running). The 3 different 'legs' test the skills required in Bridge, Canasta & Poker. Card values remain the same throughout and often carry on to the next 'leg'. (It is better if each of the players know the fundamental mechanics of Bridge/Canasta/Poker)

  1. In the "B Type (Bridge) leg", teams start with 13 cards per player (52 card pack) and bid to make a contract for trumps then play for tricks. Cards of the tricks won may be kept for the "C Type (Canasta) leg".
  2. In the "C Type (Canasta) leg", a second pack is introduced with 4 Jokers. Players discard excess of 13 from last 'leg' or pick from stock to make up a hand of 13. Goal is to meld for points. A team needs at least one '7 of a kind' to go out which may include wild cards (2's & Jokers). Cards belonging to a player may be kept for the "D Type (Draw Poker) leg". 
  3. In the "D Type (Draw Poker) leg" players start by either discarding unwanted cards from previous round or picking cards from stock so they start with 13. (It is a 13 card version of Draw Poker). The ultimate is to get a complete straight flush of 2 through Ace of the same suit. Straight flushes of 5 or more cards score. This is done through FOUR opportunities for each player to exchange as many or as few cards as desired. Pairs, 3's, 4's, full house etc not considered as these combinations were collected in the "C Type leg". Note: Points only, No gambling!!
    1. In all three games, the value of cards remain the same: There are variations: 'Sprint', '3,000 Metre' (points), '5,000 Metre' (points) and 'Against The Clock'. 'Half Marathon' and 'Full Marathon' versions available for masochists!
    2. There are no bonuses for over-tricks, going out, 'canastas', 3's, etc.
      (Significance of this will be seen in particular variations.)

Scoring & The ScorePad.

Score of cards:

  • 2 to 7 score 5,
  • 8 to K score 10,
  • Ace scores 20,
  • Joker scores 30.

The scorepad has 8 (eight) columns:


OR Players names can be used instead of points of the compass.

* As a 52 card deck scores 440, a 54 card deck scores 500 and double packs with Jokers = 1,000, the "Unscored" column enables a quick cross-check to make sure player's scoring is accurate.

The easiest way to score is to first score as individuals, then add the team score.

The Play

The "B Type (Bridge) leg" tests Bidding, and Taking Tricks.

Auction and Play as per Contract Bridge apply until just before scoring.

  1. Players dealt 13 cards each.
  2. Each player bids until one wins the auction and gets the contract.
  3. The hierarchy of suits is No Trumps, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs.
  4. All bids are above 1st 6 tricks taken by a team. i.e. as per Contract Bridge, "2 Hearts" means "I can take 8 tricks with Hearts as trumps". Bidding continues until 3 "pass".
  5. 1st person in a team to bid the winning trump is 'declarer'.
  6. Player to left of declarer plays first card.
  7. After first card played, the declarer's partner goes 'dummy' and does what declarer says only.
  8. Winner of last trick gets to lead next trick.
  9. Play as per Contract Bridge - players follow suit or may trump if can't follow suit.

Note: Although they are playing and scoring as a team, the cards for each trick are left with the player who wins them. This is important for the next "C Type leg"


The only scoring is the value of the cards. (see under Scoring & The ScorePad)

(i.e There is no 'vulnerable' 'not-vulnerable', 'slams' set points per trick, overtricks, above/below the line etc) The team that missed out on winning the contract also scores:

  1. If the team that wins the auction makes their contract.
    1. Any tricks over contracted number are put aside and counted under "Unscored"
    2. Each player adds up the score for own tricks including those of the losing team.
    3. The players in the team that won the bidding score only those cards in those tricks that make the contract.
    4. The players in the team that did not win the bidding score the cards from tricks they won.

    e.g Suppose the winning bid to North-South is '4 clubs' (10 tricks), Clubs trumps.

    If N+S win 11 tricks and makes the contract:

    • The 11th trick is temporarily put aside and counted under 'Unscored' - let's say = 25
    • 10 tricks to N+S = (say) totaling 340 and 2 tricks to E+W (say) totaling 75
    • Then N+S gets 340 and E+W gets 75
  2. If the team that wins the bidding at auction does NOT make the contract
    1. Each player still counts the score from tricks they have won. Write scores on separate piece of paper, NOT ScorePad for the moment.
    2. The team that won the auction but did not make enough tricks to make the contract gets the score of the lower scoring team.
    3. The team not winning the auction gets the score from the higher scoring team.

    e.g. In the example above, If N+S makes only 9 tricks totaling 300 points & E+W gets 4 tricks totaling 140 points (300 + 140 = 440) - then the points are allotted as follows:

    • N+S who did not make the contract gets the lower 140 points, E+W gets the higher 300.

The players then take up the tricks they have won in preparation for the next leg:

The "C Type (Canasta) leg" tests Melding.

  1. A second pack of 52 card + 4 Jokers is shuffled and introduced - This is called 'stock'.
  2. Players discard excess of 13 cards OR take from newly introduced stock to 13.
  3. Discarded cards are shuffled with stock. Stock is face down, ONE card is face up.
  4. Goal is to get points by melding as many cards as possible and to be caught with as little in hand as possible at the end of the game. 2's and Jokers are Wild.
  5. Each player in turn
    1. picks up either i) One card from stock OR ii) The entire discard pile if player wants it provided player has at least two of a kind, either already melded or in hand (see 'Frozen Discard Pile') The new 3 of a kind (all 'natural'), must be melded. ('natural' = no wild cards, 'mixed' = include wild cards 2's or Jokers)
    2. Any melding desired. If the discard pile is being picked up, player MUST meld.
    3. Discards one card to begin discard pile. If a player is going out (no cards left), discard is not necessary.
  6. A team must have at least one '7 of a kind' to go out. Maximum no. of wild cards is 3.
  7. All melds, must have min 50% natural cards.
  8. Black 3's are stop cards and can't be melded unless going out.
  9. Frozen Discard Pile: Wild cards can be used to 'freeze' the discard pile. This means players cannot take discard pile unless they have two natural cards of that type IN HAND. Must be melded immediately.
  10. Red 3's are put aside and worth 5 only. A substitute is taken from the stock.
  11. Players can add to their partner's melds during the players turn.
  12. If a player gets rid of all cards but the team has not got at least one '7 of a kind', the remaining 3 play on.
  13. If a team gets its '7 of a kind', and one player uses all cards, play stops and score is taken.
  14. If one player is going out and the partner has many cards in his hand, the courteous thing to do is to ask the partner 'May I go out?" in which case the partner can say "Yes" or "No". The player is bound by the answer, although this gives everyone an opportunity to meld as much as possible before the 'leg' ends. Suggest that teams agree on ethic of this situation beforehand.


At the end of the 'leg' each player scores all melds in possession less cards in hand.

2 to 7=5, 8 to K=10, A = 20, Joker = 30. Any variations in PLAY can be allowed (e.g team to have 2 x '7 of a kind' before going out, - melds - wild cards etc but the scoring system must remain intact so that no leg should become too much more heavily weighted than another leg.

Canasta players NOTE: there is no bonus for going out, "canastas" nor red 3's. Strategy, therefore, is to build up melds and for each team to get at least one '7 of a kind' to go out.

I got the scoring system from Canasta scoring BUT there are to be no bonuses and Jokers remain 30 not 50, 3's remain 5 not 100 and 2's remain 5 not 20. The total of 108 cards must be 1,000.

After scoring, the players then take up own melds and cards in hand ready for the next 'leg' which is always the "D Type (Draw Poker) leg" - Essentially it is a 13 card, points-only, non-gambling version of Draw Poker where each player has FOUR Discard / Replacements with the goal to make Straight Fushes.

The "D Type (Draw Poker) leg" tests Discard / Replace Strategy.


STRAIGHTis a numerical sequence of 5 cards of ANY suit.
FLUSHis 5 cards of the same suit, but of different face values.
STRAIGHT FLUSH  is 5 cards in numerical sequence of the same suit.
SEQUENCEis 3 or 4 cards of same suit which ALMOST make a Straight Flush.
ACEAce above King scores 20. Ace below 2 scores nil but allowable.


  1. Players with more than 13 cards, discard excess leaving 13. Those with less in hand keep cards.
  2. Player with the highest non Joker card with hierarchy of suits Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs. (usually Ace of Spades) gets privilege of 1st discard / replace of 1st round (called "Buck" position)
  3. a) "Buck" gathers those cards not in player's hands, squares and passes to player on left. b) That player shuffles & passes to left. c) That player cuts & passes to left. d) That player becomes DEALER.
  4. Dealer tops up hands of those with less than 13 cards to 13. All players should now have 13.
  5. Next is the 1st round of discard/replace similar to poker. Starting from 'Buck', each player in turn discards unwanted cards and gets replacements from the dealer. Desired cards kept for 3 more rounds.
  6. In each of the next three rounds, functions pass to the left and unwanted cards are discarded then replaced by dealer. a) New "Buck" (previous shuffler) gathers cards not in people's hands, squares and passes to left. b) Next shuffles & passes to left c) next cuts and passes to left d) Last is dealer.

Over 4 rounds, each player gets to shuffle once, cut once, deal once, (gather/square &) be 'Buck' once.


  1. At the end of four rounds of discard/replacement each player scores own hand cards.
  2. The goal is the get STRAIGHT FLUSHES of 5-13 cards. Failing that:
    1. a SEQUENCE of 4 cards can have one extra card to make a Straight or Flush OR
    2. a SEQUENCE of 3 cards can have 2 extra cards to make a Straight or Flush. These cards completing a STRAIGHT or FLUSH DO NOT ADD TO THE SCORE but allow cards of the would-be Straight Flush to score. These cards can be called Non-Scoring cards. In some variations Jokers valued at 30 can be used. Straight Flushes must have at least 50% of exactly the right cards. That is, no more than 50% of the cards in a Straight Flush can be Jokers/Non-Scoring.

    With examples below, the player is holding 6 to 9 of Hearts (heart6, heart7, heart8, heart9). As 6's & 7's score 5 and 8's & 9's score 10, (i.e potentially 30 points already) player wants heart10 (which scores 10 to get 40) or heart5 (which scores 5 to score 35). If the player fails to get the required heart5 or heart10 and finishes 4 rounds with 6-9 only, the player gets no score, but there are MANY Non-scoring cards that can be added to enable the existing cards heart6, heart7, heart8, heart9 to score their 30.

    1. Player can settle for a Straight: A card of the right face value but NOT of the same suit..

      Any of spade5, diamond5, club5 or spade10, diamond10, club10 can make a Straight from 5-9 or 6-10.

    2. Player can settle for a Flush: A card of the same suit but NOT of the right face value.

      Any of heart2 to heart4, a second heart6 through heart9 or heartJ through heartA make a Flush.

  3. Each FIVE must be Straight or Flush. E.g heart2, heart6, heart7, heart8, club9 is neither flush nor straight and does not score. club4, spade5, heart6, heart7, heart8, ( heart2), heart10 has 4 scoring cards as 4-8 is Straight and 6-10 is Flush.
  4. At end, players lay cards face up in TWO rows in sequence. Scoring & Non-Scoring. This enables other players to check quickly a) 13 cards only, b) Scoring Cards c) Non-scoring cards d) Total Score
  5. If a player has 13 scoring cards (including Jokers) and no Non-scoring cards, then "Buck" takes up used cards only and dealer gets another 13 cards from stock and plays 4 more discard/replacements as if player was a 5th player. Player also adds those straight flushes to score. Then play continues.

The next leg may be either another "D Type leg" or starting again with a "B Type leg" depending upon variation. Either way, cards CANNOT be kept for the next leg.

Winning Card Triathlon

There FIVE ways to win Card Triathlon.

Obviously players must decide which version they are playing to win!

  1. Sprint:

    One each of "B type leg", "C Type Leg" & "D Type leg" Joker not used in B leg. Highest score wins (1-2hrs). This is the most popular form to date.

  2. 3,000 METRE: A total of 3,000 points over FIVE legs will be scored as follows: (2-3hrs)
    1. TWO "B Type legs" including 2 Jokers in each pack played. Each leg has total including unscored cards of 500 points (x2 = 1,000 points)
    2. ONE "C Type leg" with total score including unscored cards of 1,000 points.
    3. TWO "D Type legs" including 4 Jokers. Each leg has maximum score of 500 points (x2=1,000 points).

    NOTES ON THE TWO "B TYPE LEGS" (1st & 2nd legs each worth up to 500 points)

    2 jokers are added to each 52 card deck so as to have two legs, each played with 54 card packs.

    1. Two remaining cards are left face down and after 1st trick and dummy laid out, the team winning the contract may take use these two cards to replace any card from either 'dummy' or declarer. Where these two new cards have been used, two cards to be discarded from the respective hands and considered 'unscored' for sake of counting. Total of all cards at count must = 500.
    2. First Joker is played as a trump above Ace (rules re: playing trumps to be followed),
    3. Second Joker played is Above Ace of ANY other suit but NOT the trump suit. If it is first card played in a trick, the non trump suit is to be nominated.
    4. At the end of the 1st leg, the 54 cards are moved aside entirely and the second pack of 54 cards is introduced. Team NOT getting 1st bid in the 1st leg, gets 1st bid in the 2nd leg.
    5. At the end of scoring 2nd leg, each individual takes up cards ready for 3rd leg.

    THE "C TYPE LEG" is played exactly as previously described (3rd leg up to 1,000 points)

    NOTES ON TWO "D TYPE LEGS" (4th & 5th legs, each worth up to 500 points)

    1. At the end of the 4th leg, (i.e. 1st four rounds), cards are scored then all cards are returned to the 108 card pack and privilege of 'buck' position determined, shuffled, cut & dealt.
    2. Any straight flush may include Joker(s) as Wild which DO score 30.
    3. The other Non-Scoring cards allowed as previous - still do not score.
    4. Maximum proportion of Jokers + Non-Scoring cards is 50% as previous. i.e.
      • straight flush of 5 may contain maximum 2 Jokers/Non-scoring .
      • straight flush of 6 or 7 may contain maximum 3 Jokers/Non-scoring etc.
    5. Straight flush of one suit 2-A (incl Jokers) allows that player to get another 13 dealt and 4 discard replacements. The scores from these straight flushes are added to the player's score.
    6. Cards which do not make up a straight flush are counted 'unscored' (but see vii,viii)
    7. 4th and 5th legs have maximum value of 500 points each including unscored cards.
    8. When game score is 500 or above, take points from the following in order until the game score is 500: a) unscored cards, b) losing team, c) winning team.
    9. Count unused cards too just as a crosscheck that players have scored properly.
    10. After a leg of playing a "D Type legs", deck must be shuffled as follows:
      • If the next leg is another "D Type leg" shuffle all together.
      • If the next leg is a "B Type leg", shuffle TWO separate sorted decks.
  3. 5 000 Metre: First team to 5,000 points is winner. (expect 4-6hrs)

    B, C & D Type legs are played in sequence until 1st team reaches 5,000.

    Faster game will be played if Jokers are used in ALL legs.

  4. Against the Clock - At a certain designated time, play stops and points counted.
    1. Legs played in same sequence as Sprint, 3,000 Mtr or 5,000 Mtr versions.
    2. Finish time may be in the middle of a leg!
    3. Players need to agree on a time for decision making (15-30 secs?) so that procrastination is not used as a strategy by the winning team. During "C type legs", a reasonable time should be allowed after picking a large discard pile for melding.
  5. Half-Marathon - Play to 21,100 points. (Or Full Marathon to 42,200 points)
    1. Sequence of legs as agreed by players
    2. Wild cards versions recommended as they score more quickly.
    3. No need for rules limiting legs to 500 points each.
    4. Expect 15-25 hrs for Half Marathon and 30-50 hrs for Full Marathon.
    5. Can be over a number of sessions of course.

ALSO: 6 player (2 or 3 teams) can play as follows:

3rd deck introduced.

Bidding/Trumps/Tricks legs. - use 78 cards of 156 (156=3 x 52 or 2 x 78)

This means SIX full suits are used in each "B type leg."

"C Type" & "D Type legs" can have 3 packs shuffled together.

8 player -

4th deck introduced.

For "B Type legs" use DUPLICATE packs, sorted into identical order for 2 sets of 4.

All 8 players can join in "C Type" & "D Type" legs.

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Last updated: 23rd November 2003