Card games in the USA

Card games in the USA

The international 52 card pack (deck) is in general use (French suits: spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs, with Ace King Queen Jack 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 in each suit). Nearly all American decks include two Jokers, which are used for some games. Some games use only a part of the deck, or several decks shuffled together.

Although Contract Bridge and Poker have become international, the USA is where they were largely developed and popularised, and both games are more widespread in the USA than in other countries.

The same could probably be said of many rummy games such as Gin Rummy, 500 Rummy and Contract Rummy. Some other rummy games such as 3-13 Rummy, 5000 Rummy, Knock Rummy and Crazy Rummy (also known as Lamsees or Beanie) are quite popular in the USA and Canada but little known elsewhere. Canasta also remains popular and has many specifically American variants, including Hand and Foot and its variants Pennies from Heaven and New Canasta. Hearts, Oh Hell! and Cribbage are popular in the USA as well as in other English speaking countries.

The gambling game Faro was fashionable in the 19th century during the gold rush but has now all but died out. The gambling game Skin is a variant of Ziginette, which is the American name of the Sicilian game Zecchinetta.

There are several games which are popular in America and almost unknown elsewhere. These include the many versions of Pinochle. Four-player Double Deck Pinochle (with 80 cards, four of each A 10 K Q J) has become increasingly popular, and four-player Single Deck Pinochle (48 cards, two of each A 10 K Q J 9) is also widely played. Three-player Auction Pinochle, which was the principal form of the game in the mid 20th century, though less well-known than it was, is still played, as Two-player Pinochle in which players draw a new card after each trick.

Other characteristcally American games are Pitch, which goes by several names including Setback and Smearand has many variants. Bid Whist and Back Alley Bridge are partnership games with bidding. Tonk is a rummy game with small hands, often played foir stakes. Pishe Pasha is played predominantly in Jewish communities. The American game Spades has spread to several parts of the world through its popularity in the military, and more recently as an online game. Turnover Bridge is a Whist variant for two players.

Pegs and Jokers and Fast Track are American hybrid card / board games that are especially popular among RVers. One-Eyed Jack is a traditional hybrid card and board game played in parts of in the Eastern USA, including North Carolina and Tennessee.

There are also many local games played in particular parts of the USA - many of these brought in and preserved by immigrants from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Examples are Bourré (or Boo-Ray) in Louisiana, Pedro in Southern Louisiana, Tribello in Illinois, Sheepshead and Skat in Wisconsin, Kloepper in Illinois, Minnesota Whist in Minnesota, and its variant Two-player Whist and Clabber in Indiana. Crazy Solo, played in Oregon, is a variant of Six-Bid Solo, which is probably still played in several places where there are communities of German origin. The gambling Rummy game Panguingue (Pan) and the fishing game Porrazo are played in the southwest and the Tonk variant Game, Flip, Flop is played in Ohio.

The children's game James Bond is played in California and probably more widely: it is also becoming known overseas. Rat or Scrounge is the American equivalent of the British game Knockout Whist. California Speed and Trash are other popular children's games.

Several unusual games with the standard deck are played in Cleveland Ohio, where they seem to have been developed by an community of players in the late 20th century. They include Ribs, Democracy and Dingo.

Euchre is widely played with a 24-card deck (A-K-Q-J-10-9) in the Midwest and the Northeast, around the Great Lakes and across the border in Canada. In this region many local versions of Bid Euchre are also played with single and double decks, and variants go by names such as Hasenpfeffer, Horse and Pepper, Hozzie, Pfeffer and Pepper. In the same region there is a group of games in which players can drop out but those who stay in must take at least one trick. These include Hucklebuck and Horse Collar played with the 52-card pack and Buck Euchre and Dirty Clubs played with the Euchre deck.

The game of Candyman, which uses cards to assign roles to the players, probably originated in America.

Calypso, invented in Trinidad, has become established in parts of New England, especially western Massachussets.

The 54-card Tarok pack (32 suits cards and 22 trumps) is used by the Czech community around Fort Worth in Texas to play a version of Czech Taroky.

Double six dominoes (set of 28 - all combinations of numbers from 0-0 to 6-6) are used in Texas for the trick-taking games Forty-Two and Moon. The usual types of Western domino games such as All Fives are also played in the USA. It is also possible to find double 9 domino sets (0-0 to 9-9: 55 tiles), double 12 sets (0-0 to 12-12: 91 tiles) and even double 15 sets (136 tiles). The double 12 set is needed for Mexican Train.

Rook cards (four suits of 14 numbered 1 to 14 and coloured black, red, green and yellow, plus one card showing a bird) are used for the game Rook which is especially popular in Kentucky, and in the Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania and Ohio; also in parts of Canada. They are also used for adaptations of other games: for example Tuxedo is a version of Casino, Golden 10 is a version of Hearts, Rook Sluff is based on Spades and Toonerville Rook is a version of Contract Rummy.

This page is maintained by John McLeod (   © John McLeod, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016. Last updated: 6th April 2022