I write a lot about casino games and about card games you play in a casino. Today I thought it would be fun to write about an old-fashioned card game named “casino.” It’s played for real money among friends, but it can be played just for fun, too.
This post explains the rules for how to play the card game casino for real money or just for fun. The rules are simple, and the game is a lot of fun.
The Rules for Playing Casino
You can play casino with 2 players, 3 players, or 4 players. It’s best with 2 players, and if you play with 4 players, it’s played as a partnership game (like bridge or spades). You use a standard deck of 52 cards with no jokers for this game.
Casino is distinct from a lot of card games in the sense that the cards aren’t ranked in the traditional sense. The cards do have values when it comes to building, but the face cards have no value for that, either. The other cards have values based on the number of spots on them. (I’ll explain what “building” means later in this tutorial.)
Your goal is to score more points than your opponents. You score points in casino by trying to take in more cards than your opponent and by winning more spades than your opponent.
Scoring in Casino
Here are the point values for various things in casino:
- If you win more than half of the 52 cards, you get 3 points.
- If you win more than half of the 13 spades, you get 1 point.
- If you have the 10 of diamonds, you get 2 points. (The 10 of diamonds is called “big casino” or “The Good Ten.”)
- If you have the 2 of diamonds, you get 1 point. (The 2 of diamonds is called “little casino” or “The Good Two.”)
- Aces count as 1 point each. (4 points total.)
After a completed game, the total score for both players should equal 11. There’s an exception, though. If you both end up with 26 cards, no one gets 3 points for having the most cards. In that case, the total score would only come to 8, instead of 11.
How to Play a Hand of Casino
As in most card games, you start with the dealer shuffling. The other player traditionally gets to cut the deck. The dealer position alternates.
The player who is NOT the dealer has an advantage, because he gets to play his cards first. The dealer also has an advantage, though, because any cards still on the table at the end of play are returned to the player who took the last trick.
The dealer can force last by keeping any face card—jack, queen, or king. Depending on your house rules, you might deal out 2 cards at a time, but some players prefer to deal 1 card at a time. I describe the action as how you’d play dealing 1 card at a time.
The cards are dealt as follows:
- The dealer’s opponent gets a card.
- The dealer gets a card.
- One card is dealt open on the table.
This continues until each player has 4 cards and there are also 4 open cards face up on the table. Then the unused cards are set aside. After a player uses the 4 cards in his hand, he gets 4 new cards. But no more face up cards ever get dealt after the initial 4 cards.
Before the last deal, you’ll only have 8 cards left in the deck. The dealer announces this as “last” when it happens. This is important because the player taking the last trick gets the remaining cards on the table.
After the 1st deal, the player who didn’t deal gets to make the 1st play. He has 3 options:
- Take in
Taking in is the main goal for a player of casino. Which cards you take in also matters. You start by looking over your cards and the face up cards on the table. You can take in any card off the table if you have a card of the same value in your hand.
Here’s an example:
You have a 9 in your hand. You can take in any 9 from the face up cards on the table. Suits don’t matter in most cases, but the 10 of diamonds and the 2 of diamonds both have special significance. Also, there’s a score for having the most spades, so it makes sense to look for those cards 1st.
Face cards, by the way, are not equal in this game the way they are in other games. To take in a king, you must have a king in your hand—a jack or a queen isn’t good enough for this purpose. But that’s not the only way to take in cards. You can also take in cards that total the value of one of the cards in your hand.
Here’s an example:
You have a 9 in your hand. There’s a 6 and a 3 in the face up cards on the board. Since 6+3=9, you can play the 9 and take in both those cards. You can also take in multiple cards from the table if you have a card of the same value. If you have a 9 in your hand, and there are 2 face up 9s on the table, you can take in both of them. There’s an exception to this rule, too. It doesn’t count for face cards. You can only take in 1 face card (jack, queen, or king) at a time.
One tactic you can use is to build a total that will enable you to take in cards. You do this by announcing that you’re building and putting a card on the table on top of another card.
Here’s an example:
You have an 8 in your hand. There’s a 3 on the table, and you also have a 5 in your hand. You can place a 5 on the 3 and announce that you’re “building 8.” On your next turn, you can use the 8 in your hand to pick up those 2 cards (the 5 and the 3). Once you’ve announced a build, you can’t take in the individual cards any more. You must pick up the build. So your opponent in the above example couldn’t take in the 5 or the 3 if he had a 5 or a 3 in his hand. But if he has an 8 in his hand, he can take those cards in before your next turn.
You’re also not allowed to build a total that you can’t pick up. If you want to “build 8,” you must have an 8 in your hand. That’s not the only way to build. You can also build multiple cards of the same value. Suppose there’s an 8 on the table, and you have a couple of 8s in your hand. You can put one of the 8s down and announce that you’re building 8s.
After you’ve made a build, you can do either of the following on your next play:
- Take in another card
- Increase or duplicate the build
Let’s talk about increasing the build for a minute. Here’s an example of how that works:
You hold all the 8s in your hand except for 1. You place one of the 9s on the 8 and announce that you’re building 8s. On your next turn, you put down another 8. Finally, on the turn after that, you take all the 8s.
That’s not the only way to increase the build though. Here’s another way:
Suppose someone has built 6s by playing a 5 on a 1. On the next round, he could place 3 on the 5 and 1 and announce that he’s building 9. To do this, though, he must have a 9 in his hand. Your opponents can also increase the build. If your opponent has started a build, you can increase it by playing a card to bring the total to match a card in your hand. You can even increase a build after an opponent has already increased the build. But keep in mind that you must remember what the original build was. If you were building 4s, your opponent can’t play an ace to increase that to building 9s. If he has a 4, though, he can take the 4s in.
Now let’s talk about duplicating the build. This is a means of preventing opponents from increasing a build. Here’s how it’s done:
Let’s say you’ve put a 5 down on a 2 and announced that you’re building a 7. On your opponent’s turn, he can place a 4 on a 3 to duplicate this build of 7. Once this has been done, neither build can be increased. That’s the point of duplicating builds. You and your opponents can keep duplicating builds, too. When you take in one of the builds, you can take in the duplicate builds, too.
If you can’t or would rather not take in or build, you have a 3rd option:
Trailing. To trail, you place a card from your hand on the table. It becomes another open card. It’s possible to trail a card even if it matches another card on the table. There are strategic reasons for why you might want to do this.
Scoring in a Game of Casino
Some people play where each deal constitutes an entire game. The player with more points wins.
It’s more common to play multiple deals until someone has 21 points. The deals are played all the way through; they don’t stop when someone reaches 21 points. At the end of the deal, the points are totaled and the player with more points wins.
Strategic Decision Making in the Game of Casino
The card game casino is easy to play, but it’s hard to play well. I can only offer some general tips with the space I have left in this post. Skill makes a big difference, so if you’re playing for money, it’s worth paying attention.
If you’re some kind of savant, you can try to keep track of every card that’s been played. If that’s beyond you—as it is for most of us—at least try to keep up with the following cards:
- The aces
- Big casino
- Little casino
You should also track how many 9s and 10s have been played. These are the important cards in the game. Face cards are of no importance and cannot be built upon. They play themselves, so don’t worry about them. You should also have a running count of how many cards you’ve already taken in. This is important, because 3 points is a LOT.
Every chance you get, take in spades. Having the most spades counts for a point. But don’t take in spades if it will prevent you from taking in more cards. Having the most cards is more important because it’s worth more points.
If you have big casino, take it in as soon as possible. You don’t want your opponent to make a move that would prevent you from taking in the 10s.
Playing for Money
If you want to play for money, the easiest way is to just bet a flat dollar amount on the outcome of the game. This works fine regardless of whether you play a deal at a time or play until a player reaches 21 points.
Casino isn’t a card game that gets a lot of press, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It’s a great change of pace from some of the more commonly played card games out there, so it’s worth learning so that you can turn your friends on to it.
Also, it’s a game that combines skill with chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you give casino a chance.