Shithead (card game)

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Game under way
Alternative namesChina Hand, Ten-Two Slide, Karma, Palace, Shed
Players2–5 (3-5 best)[1]
SkillsMemory, quickness
Cards52 or more
Rank (high→low)Highly variable
Playing time5 mins.+
Related games

Shithead (also called China Hand, Ten-Two Slide, Karma, Palace or Shed[1][2]) is a card game, the object of which is to lose all of one's playing cards.[1] Although the basic structure of the game generally remains constant, there are regional variations to the game's original rules.

History and name[edit]

The game became popular among backpackers in the late 20th century.[1][2] It appears to be of Swedish or Nordic origin and is probably the international equivalent of the now classic Swedish game of Vändtia ("turn ten"), which itself emerged in the 1970s. It is also quite closely related to the Finnish game of Paskahousu.

The popular name of the game appears to be a mistranslation of its south Swedish name which, confusingly, is also the name of the more challenging Swedish game of Skitgubbe ("grubby old man"[3]).


A standard 52-card pack with French suit symbols is used. The 2s,3s,7s and 10s have special privileges. All other cards rank in their natural order, Aces high, and suits are irrelevant.


From a shuffled deck of cards, the dealer gives each player 9 cards: 3 downcards in a row, 3 upcards on top of the downcards, and 3 hand cards.[1] The downcards will be played last and players are not allowed to see or change them until the endgame phase. The upcards will only be played once the hand cards are exhausted.


After the deal and before play begins, players may switch their hand cards with those face up on the table in order to produce a strong set of upcards (ideally high cards, 2s,3s,7s or 10s) for later in the game.


Eldest hand is the first player dealt a 3 as an upcard. If no player has 3 face up, then the first player to declare a 3 in hand starts. If no-one has a 3, then the game is started by the person dealt a 4, etc. Eldest leads off by playing a card or set of cards face up in the middle of the table to start a common wastepile. In turn and in clockwise order, players play a card or set that is equal to or higher in rank than the top card of the wastepile. If unable or unwilling to do so, they must pick up the wastepile and add it to their hand cards.[1][2]

Each player must initially have at least 3 cards in hand at all times; a player who has fewer than 3 after playing to the wastepile, draws cards from the stock, if possible, to make the hand up to 3 again.

Special cards and quartets[edit]

Deuces (2s) and tens have special roles:[1][2]

  • Deuces. A deuce may be played on any card and any card may follow a deuce.
  • '3' is see through and you have to repect the card below this.
  • '7' is lower than and you can only play a card lower than 7. The exception to this is if you have a 3 or a 10.
  • Tens. A ten may be played on any turn, regardless of the top card on the wastepile or even if there is no wastepile card. When a ten is played, the wastepile is removed from play and set aside for the remainder of the game. The same player then plays any card or set to begin a new wastepile.
  • Quartets. A quartet is a set of four cards of equal rank e.g. 5 5 5 5 or 8 8 8 8. If a player is able to play a quartet, the wastepile is set aside as if a ten had been played.[4] In addition, the last player to complete a quartet on the top of the wastepile by playing its fourth card also removes the wastepile. Either way, the same player may then play another card or set.[1]


The game in its final phase, with two face-up cards played

A player who has no more cards in hand when the stock is empty must play from their upcards. If unable or unwilling to play an upcard, the player must pick up the wastepile. Once all of the upcards have been played, a player must then play downcards. These are played unseen and if the chosen card is lower than the previous card played, the wastepile must be picked up and, on subsequent turns, the player must play their hand cards before playing any more downcards.[a]

A player who has no cards left, drops out. The last player left with cards is the loser and deals in the next game, but players may agree other forfeits, such as getting the next round of drinks.[1]


The following variations are recorded:

  • Jokers. Two Jokers are added as special cards that reverse the direction of play. They also allow six people to play.[2]
  • Additional special cards. Other card values can be given special attributes, such as reversing the order of play,[1] skipping a player's turn,[1] or requiring the next card to be lower than the played card.[1][2] A common one is to have one rank e.g. 8s considered "transparent", "invisible" or "glass", the next card played having to beat the one below the transparent card.[1][2]
  • Stacking. When rearranging cards before play begins, players may stack cards of the same rank on top of each other on the upcard piles and replenish the hand from stock; this may be done more than once if more cards can be stacked.[1]
  • Tens restricted. Tens may not be played on face cards; a player who plays a 10 may take another turn immediately.[1]


  1. ^ This is the main difference from Vändtia where a downcard is turned face up when the upcard above it is played.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Shithead - Card Game Rules".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Parlett, David (1979). The Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games. p. 480. ISBN 0140280324. (Karma, Palace, Shed, many other names)
  3. ^ Parlett, David (2000). The Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games. p. 476.
  4. ^ Donohoe, Rick (2023-07-22). "Shithead Card Game: How To Play, Rules And Strategies | Tiny Monkey Games". Retrieved 2023-08-12.