Card games in Britain

The only standard pack in general use is the familiar international pack of 52 cards, with the four French suits spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs, each consisting of Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Most 52 card pack come with two or three Jokers, one or more of which are needed for some games.

Popular games for the full 52 card pack include Whist (without bidding) and Solo Whist (a simplified descendent of Boston). Cribbage is still widely played in its older five card form, especially in pubs and leagues. Six card Cribbage is more widely known. Cribbage's ancestor Noddy, and its elaborate relative Costly Colours are probably no longer played.

The international 52 card pack is used in Britain as elsewhere for Bridge, and also for Rummy and occasionally Canasta, which requires multiple packs with jokers. There are of course local versions of Crazy Eights (known as Switch or Black Jack and by numerous other names), Oh Hell!, Black Maria (a form of Hearts), Pontoon (the British equivalent of 21 or Blackjack), President (known in Britain as Arsehole) and Shithead. Children´s games include War, Pelmanism, Old Maid, Beat your neighbour out of doors (also known as Beggar My Neighbour or Strip Jack Naked), Knockout Whist (also known as Trumps), Snap, Pig and others.

Three-Card Brag is a popular gambling game, and there are several other games based on the structure of Brag hands which are played for small fixed stakes or even without money, such as Nine-Card Brag, Crash, Bastard Brag and Stop the Bus. Another commerce game with three-card hands is Tupenny Ha'penny Loo in which the aim is collect cards of one suit, ideally totalling 31.

Nap is still played, often with a reduced pack, though it is probably less widespread than it used to be. There are still a few people who remember how to play Piquet (which uses 32 cards) and Bezique (using a Piquet pack doubled to 64 cards), though these games have declined greatly in popularity during the twentieth century. Card Cricket has probably never been very widely known.

The children's game Snap is still well-known and some still remember the more interesting stops game Snip Snap Snorum or its variants such as Earl of Coventry and Nobble or Tuppenny Ha'penny Bump. The Victorian round game Speculation, and the disreputable gambling game Put, which was popular until the 19th century, have probably died out. Pip-Pip appears in several 20th century British card game books. Ging was a 17th century showdown game using an unusual 28-card pack lacking aces.

The fishing game Casino was fashionable is the late 18th and early 19th century but is much less well known nowadays. Older fishing games, once played in Britain but now more or less forgotten, include Laugh and Lie Down and Snitch'ems.

The old game of All Fours is still played in parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and its descendant Don is quite widespread in northern England and in South Wales. In the West Midlands, where Don is known as Chase the Nine, a reverse version Game to Lose is also played. The related game Phat is also popular in parts of the Midlands, northern England and East Anglia. Euchre (played in the South, especially Devon and Cornwall) uses a shortened pack of 25 cards (joker, A K Q J 10 9), or 21 cards omitting the 9's. Down and Back is a game from Lancashire in which players aim to collect a four-card hand and a three-card hand that will beat the corresponding hands of the other players. Some people in Wales play Biddies, a rummy game closely related to North American Crazy Rummy.

Domino games are traditionally played in public houses as well as at home, and many pubs esepcially in rural areas have sets for the use of customers. The double-six set is most widespread, and is used for the basic Draw and Block games, and also for Fives and Threes, which is played on a league basis in some areas. Double-nine sets are found mainly in Northwest England and are used for games such as Honest John. Caribbean domino games are popular in areas with communities of West Indian descent.

This page is maintained by John McLeod (   © John McLeod, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2017, 2020, 2022. Last updated: 7th April 2022