Shithead (card game)

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A hand during a game of Shithead
Type Shedding-type
Players 2-4 (recommended)
Skill(s) required Memory
Cards 52
Deck French
Play Variable
Card rank (highest to lowest) Highly variable
Playing time 5 mins.+
Random chance High
Related games

Shithead (also known as China Hand, Palace, Shed, Karma, Danish or "OG"[1]) is a card game similar to the Finnish game Paskahousu. In the game the object is to lose all of one's cards, with the last player to do so being the "shithead",[2] who must deal the next game and may be subject to some minor forfeit of the group's choice, such as fetching the next round of drinks.

The game, and variations of it, is popular in many countries amongst backpackers, and as a result is widespread.[1][2] Although the basic structure of the game generally remains constant there are often regional variations of the game's original rules.


There are many variations of the rules, and there is no universally accepted set. A common[citation needed] set of rules is listed here.

Dealing the cards[edit]

From a standard, shuffled deck of 52 cards, each player is dealt three 'face down cards' in a row. Players are not allowed to see or change these cards. On top of the 'face down cards', they are dealt the same number of 'face up cards'. Three cards are again dealt to each player (face down), and this becomes the player's 'hand'. Players are then allowed to switch the cards in their 'hand' with their 'face up cards' in an attempt to produce a strong set of 'face up cards' for later in the game. Other versions have the dealer dealing each player three face-down cards, then dealing them each six cards. The player then chooses the three best and lays them down The dealer places the remaining cards face-down in the 'deck'. Players will lay their cards in turn in the 'pick up pile' or 'pile'.

Starting play[edit]

After the cards have been dealt, players lay cards in turn onto the pick up pile, starting with the first player to lay a three. If nobody has a three, then the holder of a four must lay and so-on. If two players hold a four, the first player with a four after the dealer begins the game. Play will then continue in a clockwise direction until the cards dictate otherwise. Other variations start with the person left of the dealer.

Order of play[edit]

Each player must lay a card (or two or more cards of the same number) equal to or higher in value than the one at the top of the pick up pile, then draw cards from the deck so they have at least 3 cards in their hand (unless the deck has run out of cards or they already have 3 or more cards in their hand). If they cannot play a card, they must pick up the pick-up pile (put it in their hand) and end their turn.

Play continues sequentially in a clockwise direction unless certain wildcards are played, depending on rule set.

A game of shithead in its final phase

When a player has no more cards in his or her hand, and the deck is empty, he or she may proceed to play from their three face up cards onto the pick up pile. If the deck is empty and there are no cards in the player's hand, he or she may lay one or more (if they share the same rank) of the face up cards on the pile. The rank of the face up card must be higher than the rank of the card on the top of the pile, otherwise the player cannot play the face up card and must pick up the pile.

Picking up the pile can often put a player at a great disadvantage when many cards have been played as they will have more cards to lose than other players. Even so, it is still possible to quickly recover from this handicap.

Once all of the face up cards have been played, a player must then play their face down cards, which are known as "blind cards". These must be turned over so that all the group may see what has been played.

If a player is able to complete a set in turn (e.g. complete four-of-a-kind 8 8 8 8) he or she can do so clearing (burning) and removing the entire pile from play. For example if a player first plays 7 7 7 and the next player in turn has the 7 he or she can drop that card to complete the set thus clearing the pile. The player who clears may play another card after. Some alternate rule sets allow players to clear at any time in or out of turn. Other rules make the a four-of-a-wild a normal wild.

If a player has no cards left to play, they are out. The loser, known as "The Shithead" is the last player left in the game. Under most rules the shithead's only role is to deal the next set of cards. Players may adapt this so that the shithead is also required to fulfil a forfeit.

Wildcards and special attributes[edit]

Aside from the basic order of play, the core aspect of Shithead is the "wildcards". These vary greatly depending on regional variations, though the core of the rules remains the same. Wildcards may be played on any other card, while those with special attributes must be placed on a matching or lower card.

Most variants have the 2 and 10 as wildcards:

  • 2 - Playing this wildcard allows the next player to play any card in his or her hand.[2]
  • 10 - Laying a 10 burns the pile and removes it from the game. The player who laid the 10 may then lay another card before play continues.[2][citation needed]

Some rules sets give special attributes to other card values.

  • 3 - This wildcard has two roles: it changes the direction of play until a 3 is played again and it also "mirrors" the previous card. For example if a player lays an Ace, and the player to their left lays a 3, then play returns to the player who played an Ace and they must then lay an Ace or a wildcard.[citation needed]
  • 5 - A 5 is effectively a 'see through' card. The game continues based on the card below.[citation needed]
  • 7 - Laying a 7 means that the next player must match or go lower than a 7 or play a 10. Subsequent play returns to the standard order.[2] Other variants have the 7 reversing the order of play.[citation needed]
  • 8 - Laying an 8 means that the next player misses their turn. (Laying a 3 on an 8 also results in the next player missing their turn).[citation needed]
  • 9 - Laying a 9 reverses the direction of play among the players.[citation needed]
  • 9 - Laying a 9 means the next card played must be lower than a 9; even special cards above 9 do not count.[citation needed]
  • 9♠ - Laying a 9♠ makes every player pass their hand (if they are still holding cards) to the player to the left of them. You can alternate left and right, each game.[citation needed]
  • Jack - "Jacking" a player means they have to pick up the pile of cards. Then the player after them takes the next turn.[citation needed]
  • Ace - Playing an Ace allows a player to nominate a player (including themselves) to play a wildcard. If they cannot, they must pick up the pile. Other variants use the Ace as the "bridge" between high and low cards. The player declares "high" or "low", and the next player must play a face card if "high" or a number card if "low". Another ace works in either scenario. It can also be used as a standard "wild card" in the same manner as the 2 described above, i.e. playing an Ace on top of any card allows the player to play a second card of their choice. The 2 counts at face value in this version.[citation needed]
  • Four-of-a-kind - Any four of a kind acts as a wild card as well. For example, if a player lays two Kings, and the following player has two more, they can play them, creating a wild and allowing them to play a card of their choice. Can be used as part of a strategy to turn a pair of face-up cards into a wild, allowing them to play all their face-up cards in one turn.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Parlett, David (1979). The Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games. p. 480. ISBN 0140280324. 
  2. ^ a b c d e rules of Shithead