Playing Cards With Your Kids During Lockdown

Two brothers playing a new card game they've just learnt.

You never have to have played cards yourself to teach your kids, here’s how…  

I was brought up in a card playing family and some of my fondest memories are of playing gin rummy with my grandparents. But playing traditional strategy games are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

It’s a pity because they are so much fun, easy to learn, and the whole family can play together, and it’s totally free! What’s more, they can teach kids from as young as three: pattern recognition, how to count, a feel for probabilities, to be competitive and think in a very logical and strategic way, and you can pass endless hours without realising, with no iPad in sight!

Snap (age 3+)

What it teaches: Familiarises kids with numbers, and shapes (jack, queen king), without needing to count. Very good for pattern recognition, coordination, and a nice introduction to getting used to handling cards.  

How to play: Show them one card, and that becomes the snap card. Then put it back in the deck. Turn the deck faced down in a pile and turn one card over at a time. Both kids (any number can play at the same time) start with one hand, palm face down, roughly equidistant from the pile in the middle. Whoever slaps the snap card (e.g. if it were a 3, any of the four 3s in the deck are snap cards), first wins the card. If they slap a card in the pile and it’s the wrong one, (note: 6s and 9s often get confused at the beginning), not the snap card, they have to give a card they have won back into the middle (this stops indiscriminate slaps and teaches them mistakes cost! If neither have won a card yet, there is no penalty). Go through the entire deck and see who ends up winning the most of the four cards. Once they are familiar with this, you can add more snap cards, so say you choose a 4 and a 7, there are now eight snap cards rather than four. And when comfortable with that, you can get tricky – say the snap cards become any 4, any Jack or black 2. (10 cards).

Equipment needed: A deck of playing cards.

Blackjack (aged 4.5+)

What it teaches: Arithmetic, feel for probabilities. There is no gambling involved whatsoever, just play it like any other card game – for fun!

How to play: Deal one card to yourself face up and two cards to each of the number of kids playing, also faced up. Ask them to each count how many point their cards add up to (aces are 1 or 11 and jacks, queens and kings are all 10 points). Then ask in turn, if they would like another card. If they do, get them to add this to their total. And then ask if they want another, and so on until they don’t want to take any more. If at any time their cards add up to 22 or more before they stop taking, they lose and you take their cards and they are yours. If they stop before reaching 21, you keep taking cards until you are at 17 or more. If you go over 21, you lose and give them your cards. If you finish on 17, 18, 19, 20 or 21, if your total adds up to more than theirs, you win their cards. If it is less than theirs, they win your cards. If it adds up to the same as theirs, it is a draw and both of you get to take your own cards and put them in your winning pile. (If both kids win against you, give them half your cards each). Once you have run through the deck, the winner is the one with the most cards. Shuffle and start over!

Equipment needed: A deck of playing cards.

Gin Rummy (aged 5+)

What it teaches: Logic, making inferences, combinations, memory.

How to play: This is a two-player game. Deal 10 cards each, faced up, to both players. Aces are low, then the sequence is 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king. The remainder of the cards are placed face down in the middle, and just one is turned over face up. One player gets the choice of whether to take that card, if they don’t, then the other player is offered it. If he also refuses, a card is taken from the faced down pile, by the player whose choice it was originally, and put into their 10 cards so they now have 11. One card is then chosen and discarded face up into the middle. The other player then has the choice whether to take that card or one from the face down pile in the middle. Once they take a card, they then discard it or another from their hand, face up in the middle, so players should always have 10 cards. The aim of the game is to make sets of three or four, e.g 7, 7, 7 or 7, 7, 7, 7 or Jack, Jack, Jack or runs of the same suit, e.g. 7 diamonds, 8 diamonds, 9 diamonds (however many in a row with a minimum of three connecting), until all 10 cards are matched. The first player to match ten cards then then discards their 11th card, faced down into the middle, and declares “gin!”, and they are the winner.
Once the kids are comfortable playing open face, you can start to play closed. It’s often hard for kids to hold 11 cards in a fan, but you can buy cardholders if needed.  
The scoring system can become more complex when ready – score 25 points for making gin and add on any points that are not in sets or runs in your opponent’s hand to the 25 (aces count as one, tens, jacks, queens and kings all count as 10), when each hand is over. Then shuffle and play again. (Loser deals and the other player has first option whether to take the up-card). The winner is the first to 150. (Can eventually introduce “knocking”, but this is more complicated so Google this if you want to incorporate it down the road).

Equipment needed: a pack of playing cards. Cardholders optional, but here’s a decent one.

Bridge (aged 5.5+)

What it teaches: Logic and reasoning via the play. Bidding is similar to learning a language. How to communicate with a partner.

How to play: Bridge is ideally played with 4 players, with two partnerships of two who site opposite each other. If you have fewer players, on adult can play all the spare hands. Deal each player 13 cards, face up. In bridge, 2s are low then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace in that order. Get the kids to evaluate their hands, counting jacks as 1 point, queens as 2, kings as 3 and aces as 4 (none of the other cards are counted). The team with the most combined points between them gets to play the hand. Whichever side is not playing the hand leads a card by playing it face up in the middle. Players then take it in turns to play, clockwise. When it’s your turn, you must play the same suit (clubs, diamond, hearts or spades) as the card led, if you have one, if not play any other card from your hand of your choice. Once 4 cards have been played, the player with the highest card of the original suit led, wins the trick and takes those 4 cards and places them face down in a pile beside them. The winner of the trick then gets to lead a card of their choosing and again once 4 cards are played, the winner takes the trick and this continues until all 13 cards are played by all. Then you count the number of tricks won together between each of the two partnerships, and the winning team is the one who has won the most combined. Once confident with trick taking, you can play with the cards dealt closed rather than open, and introduce trump suits, bidding, and more complicated scoring systems, (Google around for the rules of the full game).
Equipment needed: A pack of playing cards. You can also play and practice for free on Bridge Base HERE [].

Poker (age 6+)

You may be reluctant to teach your kids poker because of the gambling element but there is no need whatsoever to even tell them it can be played for money. Playing in a tournament format is for fun only, even when there are no prizes.

What it teaches: Strategy/game theory, patience, and of course – deception!  

How to play: Lay out seven hands as in the pic below — ace high/1-pair/2-pairs/3-of-a-kind/straight/flush/full house. Memorise the hand rankings. It takes two mins for them. Now turn over the cards facedown into seven piles. Give 100 chips each. Everyone enters five chips then chooses a random pile. The dealer button rotates (take turns to go first). There is only one betting round, with players taking it in turn to go, rotating clockwise from the dealer. Each time it’s your go, you can check or bet as much as you like or fold. (Can’t check if facing a bet ahead of you and if you raise, it must be at least double previous bet). Play until each player is eliminated. Once they have the hang of this, you can introduce more betting rounds.

Equipment needed: a pack of cards and some chips (can use anything in lieu of chips if you don’t have any).

If you enjoyed this blog post, please lookout for James’ book, ‘51% Certain – Risk, Reward, And The Pursuit Of Edge In Everyday Life’ which is coming out shortly. You can find James on Twitter HERE and Instagram HERE.



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