Skin

Skin is a banking game for three to seven players. Unlike most banking games, the banker has no inherent edge over the rest of the players. The players are just as likely to walk away a winner as the banker is. As a result, when it was spread in casinos, the house simply ran the game and charged a rake, much the way they do with poker. You’re not likely to find a game of Skin in the casinos anymore, though.

Skin is likely descended from the quite similar Italian banking game Ziginette. At the height of its popularity, it was played throughout the American Midwest and South.

Object of Skin

The object of Skin is to win money when the dealer matches their card before you match yours.

Setup

You’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards to play Skin. Why not treat your players to a game dealt with Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards? You’ll also need something to bet with—as usual, poker chips are usually best, but you can also use tokens of some other type (which may or may not have a cash value). Straight cash can theoretically be used, but is likely to make dealing the game more difficult.

Determine the first banker, who also serves as dealer, by shuffling the pack and dealing one card, face up, to each player in turn until someone is dealt an ace. That player is the banker. Before dealing, the banker/dealer declares the minimum and maximum bets they are willing to accept. The banker should have enough money on hand to cover a maximum bet by every player at the table. The dealer thoroughly shuffles the deck in preparation for the deal.

Game play

The first card is dealt to the player to the dealer’s right. This player has the right to either bet on this card or reject it. If they reject the card, they must sit out until the turn of play makes it around to them again. (There is little rational reason for rejecting a card, but some players may have superstitions regarding particular cards.) The rejected card is then offered to the next player to the right, and so on.

When a player accepts the card, the banker deals themselves a card. If the first two cards dealt form a pair, they are simply discarded and a new card is offered to the player that accepted the first one. Otherwise, the player places a bet on the center of their card between the minimum and maximum allowed. The dealer stacks an equal amount of their money on top of the player’s bet.

After the bet is placed, the banker deals the next card face-up in the center of the table. If this card is the same rank as the player’s, the dealer takes all of the money on the player’s card (the player’s bet plus the dealer’s match). The player’s card and the matching card are both discarded, and the other two cards of that rank are dead for the rest of the deal—they’re simply discarded whenever they’re revealed. If the card does not match the either the player’s or the dealer’s cards, it is offered to the next player to the right of the player who bet, as before, and so on.

Side bets

Once two players are in the game, they may wager against one another that the other player’s card will be matched before their own. Both players must, of course, agree to the proposed wager and its amount. Such side bets are placed in an unambiguous location so they won’t be confused with the bet against the dealer. (Betting can get quite complex with so many players betting against each other and the dealer!) A player must have established a bet with the dealer before they can bet against another player. A player that has no card (either because it’s not their turn yet, or because they rejected the card offered to them) cannot place a side bet.

Later play

Once the player to the dealer’s left has been offered a card, the dealer goes around the table again, offering cards to players without them (either because they rejected the card offered on the first round or because they lost). If there’s nowhere else for a card to go, it is simply placed in the center of the table. Thereafter, when a player needs a new card on their turn, they simply choose one from the middle of the table.

It is important for the dealer to keep track of which cards are dead. Any dead cards must be discarded whenever they are encountered. It’s quite easy to forget that a rank is already dead and offer it to another player!

When the banker loses

If the banker deals a card that matches their own in rank, every active player wins their bet with the dealer. The dealer may then choose to take a new card. If so, each player has the option to bet against the dealer’s new card. They are not obligated to, however. The dealer can also decline to draw a new card, and simply continue dealing until any outstanding side bets are settled.

Ending the deal

The deal ends whenever the banker chooses not to take a new card and all side bets are settled, or when the deck runs out, whichever comes first. The player to the left then becomes the new banker. Game play continues anew with the incoming dealer.

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