Card games have been part of our lives in the US and Europe for hundreds of years, and in Asia for even longer. Crazes and trends come and go, but card games never seem to go out of fashion.
One of the most compelling aspects of card games is the way in which skill and chance are blended. Of itself, this is nothing unusual. In pro sports, we often see games won and lost by outrageous fortune, whether it is a snooker ball dropping into a pocket off three cushions or a soccer ball ricocheting off the back of a defender’s head into the goal.
With card games, however, the comparative roles of chance and skill are of more than passing philosophical interest. They can be vital in the way a game is categorized and, therefore, how and where it is played. That will become clear as we work through the games.
Bridge is the ultimate challenge of skill
There will always be a degree of subjectivity in assessing to what extent skill and luck dictate fortunes in a game. However, in every survey that has taken place on the topic, there is unanimity that Bridge is the game in which skill is the most prevalent. There is a tongue-in-cheek argument that this is because the game is so complicated, you need to have special skills to understand the rules.
There is actually a degree of truth to that. Professional bridge players exist, but they do not make money through playing tournaments – there are no financial rewards for winning at bridge. They earn their livings as coaches, teaching others the intricacies of the game and the best strategies.
Poker – so skillful it could become an Olympic sport
Poker is the best-known and most played card game in the world. 120 million people play competitively online, and millions more play single-player variations like video poker and Caribbean stud. While these seem very different to the Texas Holdem tournaments played in the World Series of Poker in the US, all are based on the same basic precepts and learning poker odds is the first step towards developing a winning strategy.
We mentioned earlier that categorization can be important. In the case of poker, advocates have been campaigning for years to have it included as an Olympic sport. The obstacle has always been the element of chance. However, this is a step closer to being overcome with a new variation called match poker, where six teams with six members play at six poker tables, such that each has a player in seats 1-6. All six tables are automatically dealt the same hands, so everyone in seat 1 has the same hole cards, etc. Chips are reset after each hand. The theory is that this completely eliminates the chance factor and the most skillful team will win.
Gin rummy – a skill-based variation on a classic game
An old family favorite from the US to the UK to India, gin is a slightly more advanced version of basic rummy, but like poker, it is based on the same overarching principles. In this case, it is collecting and discarding cards to form melds, either sets by rank or runs by suit.
The extra ingredient of gin rummy is that scoring is according to deadwood – cards that are still left in your hand that do not form part of a meld. A player can end a hand if they have a deadwood score below 10 by knocking. Then, cards are revealed. The knocking player is awarded points based on the difference in deadwood score – so if the knocking player has seven deadwood points and the other player has 12, five points are awarded. Instead of knocking, a player can try to “go gin” by getting rid of all deadwood. Successfully doing so means a 25 point bonus.