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Card Playing Etiquette for the Grandchildren

All About the Other Kind of Table Manners


Playing cards with grandchildren is more fun when they know proper card game etiquette.

Do your grandchildren the favor of teaching them card playing etiquette.

Photo © Rmarmion | Dreamstime

If you have fond memories of playing cards with your grandparents, you are far from alone. Card playing is fun for all generations, and many grandparents like the thinking skills that it engenders. Many grandparents also like teaching card playing etiquette, knowing that this knowledge will allow their grandchildren to fit smoothly into the social situations that involve card games. In case you're a bit rusty yourself, or if you didn't learn the niceties of cards from your grandparents, here's a primer on card playing etiquette that you can master and then share with the grandkids.


When preparing to play, the first decision involves sitting at the table. The accepted way of deciding table position involves each player turning over a card. The player with the highest card becomes the dealer, and the other players seat themselves around the table clockwise in descending order according to the value of their cards. If the game to be played is a partner's game, the accepted way of pairing up involves the players with the two highest cards pairing up, although some use the high-low convention in which the player with the highest card is paired with the one with the lowest, leaving the two middle-ranking players to play together.

Knowing the rank of the cards is, of course, important to this process as well as to other aspects of card play. The honors are ranked from high to low as follows: ace, king, queen, jack, 10. In some games the ace can be played either high or low. The joker is not used in most classic card games. When it is used, it is typically the highest card and may have special properties.

Besides knowing the ranks of the individual cards, players also need to know the ranks of the suits, for those times when players draw the same card in different suits. The rank from high to low is spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. It's easy to remember the rank of the suits if you remember that they are in reverse alphabetical order.

Shuffle and Cut

The dealer shuffles the cards using the classic riffle technique in which the deck is split in two and then fanned back together. When done properly, the card on the bottom is never revealed. The minimum number of shuffles is usually considered to be three, but share this fun fact with the grandkids: Seven shuffles are required to truly randomize a deck. Most children have a lot of trouble deftly shuffling a deck of cards. They should be encouraged to practice on their own. Until they become adept, someone else can shuffle for them, or you can buy a card shuffler, which the grandkids will enjoy using.

After the shuffle, the dealer places the cards in front of the person to his or her right for the cut. That player lifts part of the deck and places it on the table. The movement is toward the player and away from the dealer. The dealer then picks up the part of the deck that is closest and places it on top of the part that is farther away, completing the cut. If you have trouble remembering which player is supposed to cut the cards, just remember that it is not the player who will receive the first card--the player to the dealer's left--but the other closest player.

The dealer then passes out the cards, moving clockwise and starting with the player on his or her left. Some games require that all the cards be passed out. Some call for a certain number of cards, with the remainder to be placed in a draw pile. Players are not to pick up their cards until all cards have been passed out. Picking up the cards as they are dealt removes the dealer's "target" and may lead to a misdeal.

More Conventions

Before play begins, players may need to decide what will end the game. Games can be ended at a particular time, with the high scorer winning, or, more conventionally, played to a particular point value. Players will also need to agree on any unusual variations in the rules.

Children will need to be shown how to order the cards in their hands and how to avoid showing their hands. They should be warned against giving away any information about the cards in their hands. They should be taught to concentrate on the play and leave most conversation for the times between hands. They should be instructed not to gloat or celebrate when they win a hand.

If a player misplays a card, such as not following suit, called a "renege," a penalty may be extracted. Commonly, when playing with children or friends, if the mistake is discovered quickly and the play can be reversed, that is done with no penalty. If the play has gone too far, then the player who reneged forfeits the hand. When a player accidentally drops or otherwise reveals a card, that card should be played as soon as possible.

The Appeal of Card Playing

Card playing is immensely appealing to some people because it combines structure and rules with endless variations. For grandparents and grandchildren, that appeal may be secondary to the fun of simply being together.

Learn the rules for the top trick-taking games, or teach the grandkids how to play solitaire.

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