Sampen (pronounced with the stress on the first syllable) is a simple card game from China. It can be played by as few as two or as many as eight players. Sampen is nearly entirely luck-based, although players do have a few choices available to them. Its straightforward game play and lack of deep strategy make it a good option for young children.

Object of Sampen

The object of Sampen is to be the first player to get rid of all of your cards.


To play Sampen, you’ll need to build a special 60-card deck. To do this, start with two standard 52-card decks of the same back design and color—Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards is our preferred option, of course. From each deck, remove the aces through 10s of clubs. From the other three suits, remove the 10s and face cards. You’ll be left with two 30-card decks consisting of A–9♠, A–9♦, A–9♥, and J-Q-K♣. Shuffle these two 30-card decks together to form the full 60-card deck.

Note that as long as each card has one duplicate elsewhere in the deck, the exact composition of the deck is somewhat immaterial to the game play. If you wish, you can simply play with a full 104-card double deck (which allows you to accommodate even more players).

The number of cards you’ll need to deal depends on the number of players:

  • Two or three players: deal fifteen cards
  • Four players: deal thirteen cards
  • Five players: deal eleven cards
  • Six players: deal nine cards
  • Seven or eight players: deal seven cards

Place the rest of the deck face-down in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn over the top card of the stock. This card, the upcard, is the first card of the discard pile.

Game play

Because the game is played with a double deck, each card in the deck has a duplicate, either in one of the players’ hands or the stock. If a player holds the duplicate (matching in both rank and suit) to the upcard, they may discard it. They then play another card from their hand to the discard pile to serve as the new upcard. A player then discards this card’s duplicate, and so on.

A player may occasionally end up being dealt both copies of a given card. To rid themselves of such a pair, a player must first be able to match another upcard. Then they can play one card of the pair, then the other as its match, then finally another card to serve as the next upcard.

If the duplicate to an upcard isn’t played, the dealer should confirm that none of the players actually hold it. If that is the case, the dealer turns over the top card of the stock, which becomes the new upcard.

Game play continues until one player successfully discards all of their cards. That player is the winner.


2 responses to “Sampen”

  1. Stephen Rogers says:

    From the composition of the deck, this sounds kinda like a game that was originally played with part of a set of Mahjong tiles (no winds/seasons/flowers, and only two of the four copies of the other tiles). You probably could play it that way.

    As for using the full 104 card deck, you’d probably have to increase the hand sizes to get the same relative percentage of the deck remaining for the stub (75-93%, or 78-96 cards dealt out of the 104-card deck for three or more players). For 2-3 players, the equivalent would be a hand size of 26 cards. 4 players: 23 cards; 5 players: 19 cards; 6 players: 16 cards; 7-8 players: 12 cards. Hypothetically, you could say 9 players: 10 cards; 10 players: 9 cards; 11-12 players: 8 cards and 13 players: 7 cards, assuming seven is the minimum hand size.

    Just some thoughts.

  2. According to Javaanse Kaartspelen (1941) this is played in Java under the same name, with Ceki cards. A deck of 60 cards (2× each) is used and the game is for at least 5 players. Each player receives 5 cards.

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