Old maid (card game)

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Old maid
Old Maid 2.jpg
Deck of 19th-century old maid cards
OriginUnited Kingdom
TypeShedding game
Skills requiredMatching, pairing and recognising numbers[1]
Age range4-10[1]
CardsAny odd number depending on the number of players, typically 25, 49, 51, or 53
Random chanceHigh[1]
Related games
Black Peter, Vieux Garçon
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.


The rules of the game are first recorded in 1884 by Charles M. Green[3] and referred to in Bazaar, Exchange and Mart in 1883 as a "newly invented game".[4] However, it may well be much older and derived from the French game of Vieux Garçon, whose rules first appear in 1853,[5] or from the German game of Black Peter whose rules are recorded as early as 1821.[6] All these games are probably ancient and derived from simple gambling games in which the aim was to determine a loser who had to pay for the next round of drinks (c.f. drinking game).[7]

They originally employed a pack of 32 or 52 French cards, the queen of diamonds or jack of spades typically being the odd card and the player who is last in and left holding a single queen or jack becoming the "old maid", "vieux garçon", or "Black Peter" depending on the game. The term "old maid" predates the game, and is a way to refer to a childless or unmarried woman.[8]


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 common choices are to remove the queen of clubs or to add a single joker.[9] 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) face up.[10] Players can only discard pairs, so a three-of-a-kind is prohibited.[1] 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 their hand face-down to the player on their left. That player selects a card without looking and adds it to their 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 their hand to the person on their left, and so on.

The game continues with players taking cards and 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.

Scabby queen[edit]

Scabby queen is old maid played with a standard pack of cards from which the queen of clubs has been removed. The player left with the "scabby queen" (queen of spades) is the loser and receives a number of raps on the knuckles with the edge of the pack. The number of raps is decided by reshuffling the pack and getting the loser to draw a card. He or she get the number of raps based on the face value of the card or, if it is a jack or king, 10 raps; if it is a queen, 21 raps. If the loser draws a red card he or she receives soft raps; if a black card, hard raps.[11]

Black Peter[edit]

The equivalent game in many European countries is known (in each country's own language) as "Peter" or "Black Peter", and is played with special cards, typically 31 or 37, in which the odd one out is typically a chimney sweep or a black cat. The game can also be played with a standard 32-card pack from which a black jack is removed. The loser often gets a smudge on his or her face with a piece of soot or piece of burnt cork.[12]


  • In some variants, all players discard only after the dealer has had their turn to take a card.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Jackass, a variant played in Trinidad, removes the jack of diamonds; the jack of hearts is then the odd card. The player left holding it is the "jackass".[13]
  • 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 the player who is left with it loses.[citation needed]
  • A variant played in the Philippines, is called ungguy-ungguyan. The game is played 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 'devil card'; and in Japan by the name of jiji-nuki (ジジ抜き, 'old man').
  • In Brazil, two variants of the game are played: One, called fedor, literally 'stink', is played with a regular deck from which one card has been removed. The other, played with a specialty deck, is called jogo do mico, or 'capuchin-monkey game'. The cards in this version depict animals, each one having a male and a female card representation; only the capuchin monkey (mico) is unpaired.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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. ^ Green, Charles M. (1884). The Friend of All. W. Greens´s son. p. 336.
  4. ^ _ 1883, p. 336.
  5. ^ Lasserre 1853, pp. 307/308.
  6. ^ _ 1821, p. 298.
  7. ^ David Parlett: Oxford Dictionary of Card Games. Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 1992/96.
  8. ^ Roya, Will (2021). Card Night: Classic Games, Classic Decks, and the History Behind Them. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. p. 31. ISBN 9780762473519.
  9. ^ 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...
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ McAlpine, Fraser. "5 British Card Games You Should Learn". BBC America. Archived from the original on 25 October 2020.
  12. ^ Schwarzer Peter at pagat.com. Retrieved 18 Jun 2020.
  13. ^ Golick 1986, p. 92.

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