As the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified, more and more of us are subject to furloughs and stay-at-home orders. Many of us have the fortune to be at home with a loved one or roommate. Having someone else to spend time can make things a lot more tolerable.
However, those with a regular card game night may have some trouble adjusting to life with just two players. After all, poker gets pretty boring when it’s nothing but heads-up play. Partnership games like Canasta or Contract Bridge are obviously a no-go. If you want to pass time with a game of cards with a friend, but need guidance on what to play, try these five games. (If you happen to be isolated at home by yourself, check out last week’s recommendations for solitaire games.)
- Gin Rummy: Any discussion of two-player card games has to start with Gin—it’s a classic for a reason. It takes the traditional draw-meld-discard format of Rummy, but adds the simple twist of having the players keep the melds in their hands. Since you can’t see your opponent’s melds, you need a good memory and abductive reasoning skills to know what is and isn’t a safe discard. The result is a game that’s simple to pick up, but challenging to master. Our Gin Rummy strategy guide might help, though.
- Turnover Bridge: Actually a Whist game despite the name, Turnover Bridge is strategic for the exact opposite reasons that Gin is. In Turnover Bridge, all but two of each player’s cards will be exposed to their opponent. That means that each player has enough information to devise a strategy to outplay their opponents, barring some surprises.
- Mate: Mate takes the idea of the perfect-strategy game even further. The goal is forcing your opponent into a situation where they can’t play a card matching the card led in suit or rank. However, you want as many turns to pass as possible before that happens. After the hand ends, you swap cards with your opponent. Then you see if you could have done any better with their hand!
- Cassino: Cassino is a fairly straightforward game of capturing cards by matching them in value. You do that either by matching in pairs, or by putting together two cards and using a third that matches their total value. Cassino is the only member of its family of games that’s popular in the English-speaking world. If you like it, give some of the other games of the fishing family a try.
- Pishe Pasha: This game plays a lot like a solitaire game, because there’s four foundation piles in the center of the table that you’re building up in order by suit. However, instead of a tableau, the only other place you can put cards is on your opponent’s discard pile. The goal is to run out of cards first, though, so that’s not a move your opponent will be particularly happy about.
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The threat of COVID-19 is forcing more and more of us to stay home due to quarantine or social distancing. As a result, we’re also often ending up with a surplus of free time. Throughout human history, people have found themselves in similar situations: lots of free time and no way to spend it with anyone. One traditional way to pass the time, in days before modern technology, was using a deck of cards to play a game by yourself.
Modern solitaire players are likely only familiar with the solitaire (or patience) games in software that comes pre-installed on their computer, such as Klondike (what people usually think of as just “Solitaire”), FreeCell, and Spider. However, with a physical deck of cards, the possibilities are limitless; there’s hundreds of solitaire games to keep things fresh. Here are five solitaire games to check out when you can’t play with a real opponent.
- Black Hole: Games expert David Parlett invented this game that, like Golf, centers around discarding cards of consecutive rank. However, unlike Golf, Black Hole is much easier to win; it boasts an estimated win rate of 86%.
- Bridge Solitaire: Stephen Rogers contributes this substitute for Contract Bridge that’s excellent for when players can’t get together to play. It’s designed to provide a challenge to experienced Bridge players to keep their skills sharp in lieu of a partner.
- Forty Thieves (Napoleon at St. Helena): Legend has it this two-deck solitaire game was a favorite of Napoleon in exile. That’s probably not true, but if you want to pretend you’re an exiled former emperor while playing this game instead of someone who’s hiding out from a virus, well, who are we to say you can’t?
- The Clock: A game that’s 100% luck-based, meaning it’s a great way to occupy your mind when you don’t feel like thinking too hard. Its striking tableau definitely makes it unique.
- Pyramid (Tut’s Tomb): These days, this game is probably best known from its inclusion in Windows in the early 1990s. It features a large triangular tableau, which the player seeks to eliminate by discarding pairs of cards that total thirteen.
The pandemic has forced everyone to focus on hygiene much more than usual in recent days, for good reason. Even when you’re playing by yourself, consider upgrading to a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Because they’re non-porous and waterproof, unlike paper cards, they’re easy to keep clean and sanitary.
Triple Play, also known as Hand, Knee, and Foot, is a variation on Canasta for four players in partnerships. Like Hand and Foot, Triple Play gives each player extra hands of cards they must play through before going out. However, while Hand and Foot requires a player to play out their hand and one extra hand, in Triple Play, you have two extra hands to get rid of, or three in all! That means a Triple Play player effectively has a 39-card hand!
Most widely-played games evolved over time, their creators lost to history. Not so with Triple Play—it was invented by Sue Henberger of Huntley, Illinois. We even have an exact date when Henberger first began thinking of creating the game: New Year’s Eve, 2005. That night, she and three of her friends began discussing the possibility of adding new rules to their usual Canasta game to stave off boredom. Henberger kept working on the game and playtesting it, before finally introducing it to her local Canasta club, to great success. From one Illinois Canasta club, the game began to spread nationwide.
Object of Triple Play
The object of Triple Play is to score more points than your opponents over the course of four hands. Points can be scored by forming melds of three or more cards and canastas, which are melds of seven cards.
To play Triple Play, you’ll need a massive number of cards—six standard decks, plus twelve jokers (two per deck), 324 cards in all! Once you’ve put together such a big deck, you’ll want it to last as long as possible, so protect your investment by choosing Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll be holding a lot of cards in your hand, so you’ll probably want the bridge-size cards. You also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper or a smartphone app.
Determine partnerships, either by some form of random draw, or by mutual agreement. Partners should sit on opposite sides of the table, so that players of alternate partnerships play as the turn proceeds clockwise around the table.
Shuffle (using the multiple-deck shuffling technique) and deal a fifteen-card hand to each player. Next, deal out a thirteen-card knee pile for each player, and an eleven-card foot pile. Players may look at their hands, but not the knee and foot piles. The foot piles are stacked neatly in front of each player, face down, with the knee pile atop it at right angles.
The remaining undealt cards are placed in the center of the table, forming the stock. The top card of the stock is turned face-up and placed next to it. This is the upcard, the top card of the discard pile. If the upcard is a joker, 2, red 3, 5, or 7, bury it face-down in the middle of the stock and draw another card.
Card ranks and scoring
The following are the scores and special properties of all of the cards in the game:
- Red 3s: Red 3s serve as a bonus card and are simply laid in front of the player and a new card is drawn to replace them. 100 points.
- Jokers: Jokers are wild. 50 points.
- 2s: 2s are also wild. 20 points.
- Aces: 20 points.
- K–8s: 10 points.
- 7s–4s: 5 points.
- Black 3s: Cannot be melded.
Other than the colors of the 3s, suits do not matter. Both jokers are likewise equal.
Play of the hand
Any player holding a red 3 in their hand at the beginning of the hand lays it face-up on the table and immediately draws a replacement. Any further red 3s that a player draws while playing their initial fifteen-card hand are similarly exposed and replaced. One player on each partnership is responsible for collecting their and their partners’ melds and red 3s and keeping them on the table in front of them.
After the red 3s have been replaced, play begins with the player to the dealer’s left. On a player’s turn, they will draw and then meld if possible. Normally, they will then discard.
The first action a player takes is to draw. In most cases, they will do this by simply drawing the top two cards from the stock.
A player can also pick up the discard pile and add it to their hand. To do so, the player must have two cards in their hand that they can immediately meld with the top card of the discard pile. (Any other cards in the discard pile are inaccessible to them until they demonstrate that they can legally meld the top card.) If this is the partnership’s first meld for that deal, additional cards from the hand may be melded alongside the card from the discard pile in order to satisfy the opening-meld requirement.
Because black 3s cannot be melded, a player cannot draw from the discard pile when the upcard is a black 3. If the top card of the discard pile is a wild card, then the player can only draw from the discard pile if the player is holding two other cards of the same natural rank. That is, if there is a 2 on the discard pile, you must hold two other 2s to draw from it; you cannot substitute jokers for the 2s).
After drawing, a player may form one or more melds, or add to any existing melds formed on previous turns. A meld consists of three to seven cards of the same rank. Melds are traditionally fanned out so that each card’s index is visible.
A meld can contain only one wild card in a meld of three to five cards, and no more than two in a meld of six or seven. Melds of 5s and 7s can never contain wild cards. A player can also make a meld that consists of all wild cards. A meld with no wild cards is said to be a natural or clean meld; a meld that does include them is a mixed or dirty meld.
On the first turn of the deal that a partnership melds, they must meet a minimum point threshold, as follows:
- First deal: 50 points
- Second deal 90 points
- Third deal: 120 points
- Fourth deal: 150 points
Once the initial meld has been made, melds made by that partnership on subsequent turns on that deal are not subject to the minimums. Existing melds can be extended by either player in the partnership with more natural cards, or with wild cards, if possible. Players cannot move cards between melds, nor can they establish two separate melds of less than seven cards of the same rank. Players cannot add to their opponents’ melds.
A meld of seven cards is called a canasta. Traditionally, a canasta is denoted by squaring the meld up into a pile, with a red card on top for a natural canasta, and a black card on top for a mixed canasta. A canasta cannot contain more than seven cards; once a canasta has been completed, the partnership can begin a new meld of the same rank.
After melding, a player that began their turn by drawing from the stock ends it by discarding a single card. If a player began their turn by picking up the discard pile instead, they do not discard. Instead, they knock on the table to signify when they are done melding. The next player has no choice but to draw from the stock.
Picking up the knee and foot
When a player finishes their partnership’s first canasta, they pick up their knee pile and add it to their hand. They then continue their turn as usual. On their partner’s next turn, after drawing, they also pick up their knee pile. The partner must remember to pick up their knee pile on their own. Nobody can remind them to do so; anyone who does is subject to a stiff 1,000-point penalty!
Beginning when a player picks up their knee pile, they no longer draw a card to replace red 3s. They simply play them and continue their turn.
After a player has picked up their knee pile, when they run out of cards, they pick up their foot pile and continue play from there. If a player’s last card was discarded, they do not pick up their foot pile until the beginning of their next turn.
Ending the deal
Throughout the game, each partnership works toward completing a set of five canastas known as the basic book. The basic book is as follows:
- A natural canasta of 5s
- A natural canasta of 7s
- A canasta of wild cards
- Any natural canasta
- Any mixed canasta
When a player runs out of cards after picking up their foot pile, they may go out if their partnership has completed their basic book. To do so, they must first ask their partner if they can go out. Their partner’s answer is binding; a player cannot go out if their partner withholds their permission to do so.
In the rare event the stock runs out before a player can go out, follow the same procedure used in Hand and Foot to end the deal.
Each partnership totals the value of the cards it has melded. From this total, they deduct the value of any cards remaining in their hands, as well as their knee and foot piles. Unplayed red 3s have a value of –500 points each; unplayed black 3s are –100 points each.
Then, the following canasta bonuses are added:
- 7s: 5,000 points per canasta.
- 5s: 3,000 per canasta.
- Wild cards: 2,500 points per canasta.
- Natural canastas: 500 points per canasta.
- Mixed canastas: 300 points per canasta.
The following bonuses are also included:
- Red 3s: 100 points each.
- Collecting seven or more red 3s: 300 points.
- Going out: 200 points.
All of the above is combined to reach the total score for the deal and recorded on the score sheet. Then, the cards are shuffled, and the deal passes to the left. The partnership with the highest score at the end of four hands is the winner.