Cuckoo Variations

This page is part of the Invented Games section of the Card Games web site. It is a collection of variations of the card game Cuckoo, in which each player is dealt one card, each player in turn may swap their card with the following player, and the player holding the lowest card after that loses a life.

Ace Chasing

Contributed by Matthew Allen

Although this game has a similar mechanism to Chase the Ace (or Cuckoo), the different structure in which everyone plays and bets against the dealer makes it quite different from that game.

You can play with 4-52 people, and a normal 52-card deck without Jokers is used. The cards rank from high to low K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-A. One player is chosen as the matador - a dangerous but highly rewarding position to be in. Normally, the arranger of the competition is the first matador, in order to show the others gratitude for joining them.

The cards are shuffled and one card is dealt to each player. The matador is the last player to receive a card. If you are betting, all bets are placed after the cards have been dealt and everyone has looked at their card.

Players place their bets in clockwise order around the table, beginning with the player to the matador's left. All bets are placed against the matador, predicting whether the matador will be knocked out or will go through to the next round of the game. There is no minimum or maximum bet, but each bet in turn must be agreed by both the matador and the better: if either of them is not happy, the bet must be rearranged.

When all bets have been agreed, the person to the left of the matador must decide whether to keep his card or exchange it with the player to his left. If he chooses to swap, the player to the left must swap cards with him. Then the second player, who now either has the first player's original card if the first player decided to swap, or still has his own card if the first player kept his card, must decide whether to swap with the following player. This continues around the table. Each player in turn has just one decision: either to swap with the next player or to keep the card he has.

Play continues clockwise until everybody but the matador has played. The matador takes no turn. He is at the complete mercy of the other players - if the player to the right of the matador chooses to swap, the matador gets the card that player gives him; if not the matador has to keep the card he was originally dealt.

Then the following things happen:

  1. The matador places his card face up on the table.
  2. If anyone has a card that is lower than (not equal to) the matador's card, they must place it face up on the table.
  3. If there are any Aces faces up on the table, anyone who has a card of the same suit as a face up Ace must place their card face up on the table.
  4. If any player other than the matador has put down a card those players are eliminated from the next round, while the matador survives and collects all bets (including the bets of those who did not put down a card).
  5. If no player other than the matador puts down a card, the matador is knocked out and must pay all bets. All other players survive for the next round.

Example: the players' final cards are

  • player A (matador): clubA
  • player B: club 9
  • player C: heartA
  • player D: heart7

The matador lays down the Ace of clubs. No one has a lower card, but because of A's Ace, B has to lay down the 9 of clubs. B is knocked out and everyone else survives and player A collects all bets. Player A survives because another player (B) was knocked out. Player C survives because his Ace is equal to (not lower than) A's Ace, and therefore D survives because C did not lay down his Ace. If A's card had been the Two of clubs instead of the Ace, C and D would have been knocked out and A and B would have survived. If A's card had been the Ace of diamonds instead of clubs, no one other than A would have put down a card: the matador A would therefore have been knocked out while everyone else survived.

Irrespective of whether the matador survives or not, for the next round the turn to be matador passes to the nearest surviving player to the right of the previous matador.

Further rounds are played, with only the survivors from each round taking part in the next, until there is only one player left in the game.


Contributed by Mark Rinaldi

This is played with a standard 52-card pack without Jokers. As in normal Cuckoo each player is dealt one card face down, and starting to dealer's left each player in turn in clockwise order has the option to exchange cards with their left-hand neighbour. The dealer plays last and may exchange with the top card of the deck.

If a player tries to exchange cards with someone who has a King, the player with the King must whinny (like a horse) and then takes one chip from the pot unless they have all the chips they started with. The would-be exchanger keeps their card and play continues with the player to the left of the King-holder. In the same way if the top card of the deck is a King, the dealer cannot exchange with it.

After everyone has had a turn, all the cards are exposed. If there are any ties other than of Kings (not only ties for lowest card), the participants in each tie discard their cards and are each dealt a replacement card face down and have the opportunity to exchange these new cards. In clockwise order from the dealer, each player with a face-down card can try to exchange it with the next player who has a face-down card, and the last of these may try to exchange with the top card of the deck.

If there are multiple ties they are dealt with in order, starting with the tie that involves the earliest player in clockwise order from the dealer. When the players in the first tie have had an opportunity to exchange their cards their new cards are turned face up, and the players in the next tie are dealt replacement cards face down.

If any new ties are created by the new cards, they are resolved after all the original ties have been dealt with, again in clockwise order, and this procedure is repeated until all the cards are different. At this point the player with the lowest card loses a life (chip), and the next hand is dealt.

Example with 8 players.

  • After exchanges the cards in order starting to dealer's left are: 9 4 6 6 4 10 9 4. There are three ties here, which will be dealt with in order: first 9's, then 4's then 6's.
  • First new cards are dealt to the players with 9's: ? 4 6 6 4 10 ? 4. Player 1 has the option to exchange with player 7 and then player 7 has the option to exchange with the deck. After this their new cards are exposed. For example we may now have 10 4 6 6 4 10 3 4.
  • Even though this has created a new tie between players 1 and 6, we first carry on dealing with the original ties in order, so now the three 4-holders are dealt new cards: 10 ? 6 6 ? 10 3 ?. Player 2 can exchange with player 5, then player 5 can exchange with player 8, and then player 8 can exchange with the deck. The their cards are exposed and we may see 10 3 6 6 6 10 3 Q.
  • Now the people in the 6-tie are dealt new cards 10 3 ? ? 6 10 3 Q. Note that player 5 does not get a another new card at this point, not having been part of the original 6-tie. The players with new cards can exchange resulting in for example 10 3 K 2 6 10 3 Q.
  • Having resolved all the original ties we move on to the new ties: first the 10-tie and then the 3-tie. When these are done any new ties are resolved, continuing until all 8 players have different cards. Note that the player with the Queen is not yet safe, as a tied player may get a Queen creating a new tie. Also player 3 may be rescued if a new 2 or Ace appears. Player 2 is safe because players who have Kings keep them even if there is more than one. Kings do not take part in tie breaks.

Tactical note. If you are involved in a tie break and are dealt a low card that pairs with a card that is already on the table, rather than exchanging it you may do better to keep it so as to get another new card in the new tie-break. For instance in the above example player 2 who started with a 4 is dealt a 3 in the tie break. If this card is exchanged, player 3 has just one chance to get a good card from player 5. By keeping the 3 instead, player 2 gets two chances at a new card - either to keep the card dealt in the 3 tie-break or to exchange it with player 7's new card.

Last updated: 21st November 2019