By The Skin of Your Teeth

(also known as Joker’s Revenge)

A card game of Luck and Skill for 3 or more players contributed by Robert M. Cook.


To play “By The Skin of Your Teeth”, you will need the following:

  • 3 or more players (the more the merrier!)
  • One or more standard decks of cards including two jokers with each 52-card deck.

Aim of the Game (aka. How to Win):

The aim of By the Skin of Your Teeth is to be the last person playing to have Defensive cards of any form.

Playing the Game:

1. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt 13 cards, no matter how many players are included.

2. Before play begins, each player goes through their cards and creates six piles of at least one card. A pile of more than one card must form a valid combination. The allowable combinations are based on the Playable Combinations in Big Two. The possible combinations are pair, three of a kind, four of a kind, straight, flush, full house or straight flush, but in a straight or straight flush the two always counts as a low card ranking below the 3 and the ace is always high, so that the highest straight is A-K-Q-J-10 and the lowest is 6-5-4-3-2. Jokers cannot be included in any of the six piles, and no pile can contain two identical cards. These six piles are placed in front of the player on the table/desk etc., all positioned face down. These are known as the Defensive Cards, and are the key object of the game, and, once placed, cannot be changed or looked at by any player unless either they are attacked or the owner having run out of hand cards has to use them to attack - see 7 below.

3. The cards that are left in the player’s hand are known as the Attacking cards.

4. Play begins with the player going first (usually the winner of the previous game, but in the first game, this player is random) placing one or more of their Attacking cards on top of another player’s Defensive cards.

5. The Attacking card(s) and Defensive card(s) are then turned face up for all to see. If the Attacking card(s) are higher in value (see below) than the Defensive card(s), all these cards are moved to the Discard pile in the centre of the table. However, if the Attacking card(s) have a lower value, only the Attacking card(s) are placed in the Discard pile, and the Defensive cards are turned face down and remain in place. This is then the end of the player's turn.

6. Play continues with Steps 4 and 5 repeated by all around the circle in a clockwise order until the aim of the game is reached.

7. If a player runs out of attacking cards in their hand, they must then begin to use their Defensive cards for attacking from the very next turn. In this case, cards may be taken from defensive piles, or complete piles can be played. Note however that if cards are taken from a defensive pile leaving a pile that is not a valid combination, the remaining invalid pile can be defeated by any attack. For example, if a card is removed from a straight, the remaining four cards are not a valid combination, and they are defeated by any attack of any size, even a one-card attack. But if a card is removed from a triplet the remaining two cards form a pair and canm only be successfully attacked by a higher pair.

8. If a Joker is played at any point in the game, each player’s Defensive piles must immediately be mixed. That is, each pile is kept intact but the positions of the piles are randomised, so that among equal sized piles no one knows which is which.

9. So long as a player has cards, the player must attack at each turn, even if the only remaining cards have no chance to win.Towards the end of the game, any card remaining must continue to be played,

Card Value Order:

The card values are as follows (from lowest value to highest) 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,Jack,Queen,King,Ace,Joker. Please note that straights and strtaight flushes are played only in this order: Ace is always high in a straight so A,2,3,4,5 is not a straight.

The order of suits from lowest to highest is Diamond, Club, Heart and Spade.

A player can only attack with a single card or a valid combination: pair, three of a kind, four of a kind, straight, flush, full house or straight flush. A valid combination cannot contain two identical cards.

A single card attack beats a single card of lower rank or a single card of the same rank and lower suit, except that when a 2 attacks an Ace, the 2 wins. (However, when an Ace attacks a 2 the Ace wins.)

An attack with a pair beats a lower ranked pair, except that when a pair of Twos attacks a pair of Aces the Twos win. Between equal pairs the highest suit wins; if these are equal the suits of the second card are compared.

In the same way an attack with three of a kind beats a lower three of a kind and an attack with a four of a kind beats a lower four of a kind, with the exception that when 2-2-2 attacks A-A-A or 2-2-2-2 attacks A-A-A-A the twos win. When a triple attacks an equal triple, compare the highest suits first, then the suit of the second and third cards to decide who wins.

When a five card combinations attacks a five card combination, any straight flush beats any full house, which beats any flush, which beats any straight. Since no valid combination can contain two identical cards, five of a kind is not possible. Between two straight flushes or two straights, the combination with the higher top card wins. If these are equal compare the suit of the top card, then the second card and so on. Between two full houses the higher triple wins; if the triples are equal the higher pair wins; if the triples and pairs are both equal compare the highest suit in the triple, then if necessary the second and third cards, then the cards in the pair. Between two flushes compare rank of the highest card, then the seconmd highest and son on; if all five ranks are equal compare the suits.

A Joker can only be played as an attack card and can only be played alone (two Jokers cannot attack as a pair).

If the defending cards do not form a valid combination, they are beaten by an valid attack, even from a single card.

If the defending cards do form a valid combination, they can only be beaten by an attack from an equal number of cards. If the attack has more or fewer cards than the defending pile, the defender wins.

If the attacking and defending cards are exactly equal (by rank and suit), the defender wins.

Tournament Play:

If playing several games of By the Skin of Your Teeth, the games can be played in a tournament form. Essentially, this does not change the basic format of the game, but adds a points system to determine an overall winner at the conclusion of all games.

The winner scored 10 points for the victory, plus the total value of the individual cards remaining in his or her defensive piles (cards left in sets are counted individually), using the following scale:

Card Value
2 12
3 11
4 10
5 9
6 8
7 7
8 6
9 5
10 4
Jack 3
Queen 2
King 1
Ace 6

Additional Notes:

For more of a challenge when playing By the Skin of Your Teeth, try the following variations to the original rules, or add your own! (The Creator is indicated in brackets).

  • When attacking card(s) are placed on top of an opponent's defensive card(s), only the Attacker and Defender are able to see what cards were used. (John McLeod)
  • When attacking card(s) are placed on top of an opponent's defensive card(s), only ONLY the Defensive card holder may look at the cards played, and report a win or loss for either player to all other players. (John McLeod)


Thank you to the following people for their expert advice and for advising on the early stages of the game:

  • Victor Zhu (for the name!)
  • Samuel Wan, Alvin Prijatna and Chris Ong (for making countless useful suggestions)
  • Kavan Shah (for demanding tournament play)
  • Martin Ho (for promotional expertise)
  • My Family (for being the first to try)
  • John McLeod (for exceptional constructive criticism).

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