Old Maid

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Old Maid
Old Maid 2.jpg
Deck of 19th-century Old Maid cards
OriginUnited Kingdom
TypeGoing-out game
Skills requiredMatching, pairing and recognising numbers[1]
Age range4-10[1]
CardsAny odd number greater than the number of players, typically 25, 49, 51, or 53
Random chanceLow-medium skill[1]
Easy to play[1]

Old Maid[2] is a Victorian card game for two or more players probably deriving from an ancient gambling game in which the loser pays for the drinks. Similar games are known in Germany as Schwarzer Peter or Schwarze Dame,[3] in Sweden as Svarte Petter, in Norway as Svarteper, in Denmark as Sorteper, in Croatia as Crni Petar, in Slovenia as Črni Peter, in Hungary as Fekete Péter, in Czech Republic as Černý Petr, in Slovakia as Čierny Peter, in Bulgaria as Черен Петър, in Poland as Czarny Piotruś, in Finland as Musta Pekka (all meaning "Black Peter"), in Italy as Asino, in France as Le Pouilleux ("the lousy/louse-ridden one") or Vieux Garçon (literally "old boy", but a de facto pejorative for confirmed bachelor),[4] or Mistigri,[5] and in Japan as ババ抜き (Babanuki). The game spawns an element of bluffing, commonly used in poker.


There are retail card decks specifically crafted for playing Old Maid, but the game can just as easily be played with a standard 52-card deck. When using a regular deck, a card is either added or removed, resulting in one unmatchable card. The most popular choices are to remove the ace or queen of clubs or to add a single joker.[6] It is also possible to remove one card face-down from the top of the deck before hands are dealt; if this is done, players will not know which card is unmatchable. The unmatchable card becomes the "old maid," and whoever holds it at the end of the game is the loser.

The dealer shuffles and deals all of the cards to the players, one card at a time. Some players may have one or two more cards than others; this is acceptable. Players look at their cards and discard any pairs they have (e.g., two kings, two sevens, etc.) face up.[7] Players do not discard three of a kind. In common variants, the suit colors of a discarded pair must match: spades () must match with clubs () and diamonds () must match with hearts ().

Beginning with the dealer, each player takes turns offering his or her hand face-down to the person on his or her left. That person selects a card without looking and adds it to his or her hand. This player then sees if the selected card makes a pair with any of their original cards. If so, the pair is discarded face up as well. The player who just took a card then offers his or her hand to the person on his or her left, and so on. A player is allowed to shuffle his hand before offering it to the player on his left. In some variants, all players discard only after the dealer has had his or her turn to take a card. Alternatively, play can proceed in reverse order, with players taking a new card before giving one up. In this variation, players can be stuck in "old maid purgatory," i.e. with one card and no way to get rid of it.

The objective of the game is to continue to take cards, discarding pairs, until no more pairs can be made. The player with the card that has no match is "stuck with the old maid" and loses. When playing with more than two players, the game is somewhat unusual in that it has one distinct loser rather than one distinct winner.


  • A commonly marketed version of the game is called "Donkey" in which the odd card is the Donkey and the rest of the set is made up of farmyard animals.
  • A variant is called jackass, played with jacks instead of queens as the odd number of cards. It is known in Dutch as zwartepieten ("playing Black Pete") or pijkezotjagen ("Chasing the jack of spades"), in Polish as Piotruś ("Peter"), in Icelandic as Svarti Pétur ("black Peter"), in Czech as Černý Petr ("black Peter") and in Swedish as Svarte Petter ("Black Peter").
  • In Greece the game is called "mu(n)tzuris" (μου(ν)τζούρης, "smudged, smutted"), because winners used to smudge the loser with soot.
  • A variant in East Asia is called baba-nuki (ババ抜き, "old maid") in Japan and dodukjapki (도둑잡기, "catching the thief") in Korea. It is played exactly as old maid, but instead of removing a queen or any other card, a joker is added, and player who is left with it loses.
  • Another variant, played in the Philippines, is called ungguy-ungguyan. The game is played exactly as old maid except any card can be removed at the start of the game. That card is revealed at the end of the game and the person left with its "partner" (the odd card) loses and is called unggoy (Tagalog for monkey). A similar variant exists in Indonesia by the name of "Kartu Setan" which literally translates to "Ghost Card", and in Japan by the name of jiji-nuki (ジジ抜き). It is seen in some anime, like baba-nuki; an example of this is in When They Cry.
  • Another variant from the UK is known as "Scabby Queen". The concept of this game is identical, with one exception. When the loser (the player with the single remaining queen) is found, the deck of cards, including the remaining queen but not the jokers, is shuffled and the loser cuts the deck. The card on the bottom of the pile they picked up then decides their "punishment". If a red card (heart or diamond) is chosen, then the player is rapped on the back of the hand with the deck. If a black card (spades or clubs) is chosen, then he has the entire deck scraped across his knuckles (known as snipes. A skilled player can draw blood with the opening 'snipe'). The number of times this is performed is decided by the value of the card. Cards 2-10 carry face value, jacks and kings have a value of 10, aces are 11 and queens are 21. Be aware that this can rip the skin of the hands, and can be extremely painful, hence the name Scabby Queen. It is also better to use old or cheap cards, as the cards can also be damaged (cheap and older cards also tend to be softer and more bendable, so the "punishment" is less severe). However, today the game is often played without this punishment, especially where the pain inflicted is not considered appropriate by the players (such as when parents are playing with their children), though the game is still called Scabby Queen. As with all playground games, the rules are often lost in translation and regional variations are common (school-specific rule-sets are not unusual).
  • Another variant played in Egypt in the Middle East is called "Abu Foul" or "blind king"; this follows roughly the same rules, except all Kings are removed except one. Multiple decks can be used depending on the number of players. Punishment is played two ways, depending on the group; wishes or strikes, chosen before the game starts. At the end, the cards are shuffled and spread and the loser pulls a card for every player. Pictures are worth 10, king 20. Strikes are to the hand outstretched, or wishes are short and simple, local to the area and usually involve some sort of mild humiliation.
  • Another variant played in Turkey is called "Papaz Kaçtı" with nearly the same rules.
  • In Brazil, two variants of the "Old Maid" game are played: One called "Fedor", literally "Stink", played with a regular deck out of which one card has been removed; the other one, played with a specialty deck is called "Jogo do Mico", or "Capuchin Monkey Game". The cards depict animals, each one having a male and a female card representation; only the capuchin monkey (mico) is not one of a pair.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Children's Card Games by USPC Co. Retrieved 22 Apr 2019
  2. ^ Not usually capitalised in UK or US English as shown by entries in encyclopedias and dictionaries, though some books uppercase many games. old maid in Encyclopædia Britannica, old maid (def. 2, no capitalisation) in Oxford Dictionaries, old maid in Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, old maid (def. 3, no capitalisation) in Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  3. ^ "Schwarzer Dame" in Encyklopädie der Spiele (1853) by Alversleben.
  4. ^ David Parlett, Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, in Russian as Акулина ("Ahkoolina"), pg. 181 Oxford University Press (1996) ISBN 0-19-869173-4
  5. ^ Jean Boussac. The Mistigri or Cascaret - Old Maid Card Game, Paris, 1896. Transl. from French, 2017.
  6. ^ Dawson, L.; Hoyle, Edmund (1979). Hoyle's Card Games. Routledge. p. 234. ISBN 0-415-00880-8. The Queen of Hearts is taken out of a full pack of cards, which is then dealt...
  7. ^ Sackson, Sid (1994). Card Games Around the World. Dover Publications. p. 61. ISBN 0-486-28100-0. The cards are dealt one at a time until all are dealt. If some players have one more card than others it doesn't matter... The players look at their hands for pairs (such as two aces, two kings, etc.) and discard every pair they find face up on the table before them.

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