How to Play Old Maid (Rules and Instructions)

Old Maid is a traditional card game that can appeal to all age groups. It’s simple, fast-paced, fun, and you can enjoy it pretty much everywhere. Not sure how to play? Learn the Old Maid rules right here.

Not familiar with Old Maid? Maybe you know this classic family-friendly card game under some of its other names, including Scabby Queen, Vieux Garçon, Schwarzer Peter, or Black Peter. 

This joyful game is all about matching, guessing, and luck, making it a perfect choice for a game night with your family, including its youngest members.

This Old Maid rules guide will cover the following: 

  • What is Old Maid?
  • A brief history of Old Maid
  • What you’ll need to play Old Maid
  • Old Maid Rules
  • How to play Old Maid (video tutorial)
  • FAQs
  • Other similar games to Old Maid (our guides)

Read on for the complete instructions on how to play Old Maid.

What is Old Maid

Old Maid Card Game Info Image

Old Maid focuses on collecting and discarding pairs of matching cards. All it takes to master this game is some focus, basic recognition of the involved cards, decent observation skills, and self-control (which I’ll explain shortly). 

But there’s only so much you can affect in this game with your skills. So, in the end, Old Maid is all about luck – and that, combined with the slightly malicious joy of watching someone taking out the wrong card away from your hand, makes this game totally worth it. 

Number of Players: 2 – 6 players

Ages: 4+

Difficulty: Easy

Length of Play: 5 minutes

Category: Card-passing kid-friendly card game

Similar to: Quartets, Donkey, Spoons

Main Objective: Players aim to match their cards in pairs and get rid of them as soon as possible. At the same time, they must avoid the ‘old maid’ – the only card without a matching pair.

Why We Love It: Watching as someone unwittingly draws the single worst card from your hand while holding your laughter makes Old Maid genuinely memorable!

A Brief History of Old Maid

Old Maid is a traditional British card game dating back to the 19th century. According to historical sources, the game was invented around 1883. But its origins maybe even more antique.

Old Maid’s rules closely resemble another European game called Black Peter (known in many countries under local language variations including Černý Petr, Piotruś, and Pekka-pelikortit).

The main difference is that while the English version asks players to symbolically avoid an unmarried woman (quite characteristic of the prudish Victorian era), the continental version of the game has borrowed its name from a famous German robber Johann Peter Petri.

Nevertheless, historians believe that Old Maid most likely originates in similar Asian games. It’s also noteworthy that Old Maid was known mainly as a drinking game before becoming popular with kids and families.

What You’ll Need to Play Old Maid

Old Maid is a simple card game, and you won’t need anything other than the cards and a table to play it. Nevertheless, when it comes to the cards, you have two options:

  • Get a deck of unique Old Maid cards crafted explicitly for this game. They come in many different designs – funny, vintage, educational, etc. A standard set typically contains 47 cards, but it can be more or less too (odd numbers only, of course).
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  • Play the game with a standard deck of French-suited cards– just add or remove one card (e.g., queen/joker) to create an ‘old maid.’ You can also sort out all red/black cards from the deck to increase the game’s pace.
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Related: Looking for more games to enjoy with small kids? Read our article on group games for preschoolers for more inspiration.

Old Maid Rules and Gameplay 

Playing Old Maid is really easy. Let’s start with the initial setup.

Starting the Game

Start by dealing all the cards out to the players face-down in a clockwise direction. Each player now carefully arranges the cards in their hand, ensuring that no one else can see them. 

Look for any pairs among your cards and if you find some, put them down on the table in front of you facing up. Now you’re ready to start the game.

How to Play Old Maid

Decide who is taking turns first. Typically, this can be the dealer, the youngest player, or the previous game’s winner.

Once you’re ready, this is how the Old Maid game proceeds:

  • The first player draws one card from any of the opponents. He cannot see the card he’s drawing, and he also doesn’t show the card to anyone else.
  • If the card matches any of the other cards in the player’s hand, the player immediately discards the pair on the table facing up.
  • Now, other players take turns in the clockwise direction until they get rid of all their cards.

Obviously, one of the players will not be able to discard all of his cards because he gets stuck with the ‘old maid’ in his hand. 

How to avoid the Old Maid?

The player who ends up holding the ‘old maid’ is the ultimate loser of the game. But can you do anything to avoid this?

Yes – and no. If you’re playing the game with small kids or total beginners, their body language or giggles will usually warn you that you’re eyeing the ‘wrong’ card while you still have the chance to reverse it. 

But with some basic poker face-skills and self-control, the players can easily pass the ‘old maid’ among them without revealing its whereabouts. 

A good strategy is also shuffling your cards from time to time. This way, even if your opponents know that you have an ‘old maid,’ it won’t be easy for them to avoid it.

Old Maid Scoring

Old Maid is a simple card game that does not involve real scoring. This is how the winner is determined:

  • According to the standard rules, the winner is whoever gets rid of his cards first.
  • Alternatively, the winner can also be the player with the most pairs in front of him at the end of the game. 
  • If you end up stuck with the ‘old maid,’ however, you lose the whole game regardless of how many pairs you have collected. 

If you want to make the game longer (and more fun), you can also organize an Old Maid championship with your friends, writing down the results of each session and announcing the ultimate winner after 3, 5, or 10 rounds. 

How to Play Old Maid – Video Tutorial 

Old Maid Frequently Asked Questions

How many cards do you start with in Old Maid?

That depends on whether you play with a dedicated deck of Old Maid cards, which usually have 33, 39, or 47 cards, or a standard 52-card deck. The more cards you have, the longer your game takes. Also, it’s better to use more cards if you play in a larger group.

How does the game Old Maid end?

The main goal of this game is to get rid of all your cards, which can only be discarded in matching pairs. When most of the players accomplish this task, the game ends, and the remaining player with an Old Maid card in his hand is a loser.

What happens when you draw Old Maid?

Since nobody wants to get stuck with Old Maid until the end of the game, the best strategy when you accidentally draw it is to act like nothing happened and shuffle your cards to confuse your opponents. If you’re lucky, someone is going to draw it from you soon too. 

Other Similar Games to Old Maid (Our Guides) 

If you enjoy Old Maid, here are our guidelines on other similar family-friendly card games centered around pairing, matching, and collecting:

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Read all the articles (121) written by Lucia Fajnerova