How to Play Old Maid

Many of us think Old Maid requires a special pack of cards, but actually its ancestral form some 150 years ago likely used a regular pack minus one card. A favorite card game for kids, Old Maid is quick and simple to understand. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Two to eight; three or more is best.

Object: Not to be left holding the Old Maid.

The cards: A regular 52-card deck, minus one queen.

To play: Deal all the cards out one at a time. Before play starts, each player shows and retires (lays face up) any pairs of like rank. Retire only pairs, not three of a kind. In the case of a player holding three of a kind, he or she may retire only two cards, or a pair. After that, the player at dealer's left takes one card, unseen, from the player at his or her left. If this makes a pair, it is also tabled, and the player continues, taking a card from the next player to the left. When the card taken does not make a pair, play passes on to the next player, who in turn takes a card from the next player. In this way all cards eventually pair up except one queen, and the player holding it is declared Old Maid.

Tip: After one pair of queens has been tabled, only body language can tell you who might have the remaining lone queen. Even so, it's hard to know which card that queen might be.

Variations: Instead of removing a queen, randomly remove one card that no one sees from the pack. In this way, only at the very end will all the players discover which card in actuality was the Old Maid. For a quicker game, you can shrink the pack by omitting all cards of several ranks.