What is Old Maid?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Old Maid is an easy card game that can be played even by very young children. The goal of Old Maid is to avoid ending up with the Old Maid, represented by a Queen when playing with a standard deck, and a card with a depiction of an old lady when playing with a specialized Old Maid deck. The abilities required are identifying the names of cards, pairing based on criteria, and memory of what players have already asked. A standard deck is prepared before play by the removal of 3 Queens.

Playing old maid with a standard deck of cards requires removing three of the four queens.
Playing old maid with a standard deck of cards requires removing three of the four queens.

How to Play the Card Game Old Maid

Old Maid is a card game that kids can learn.
Old Maid is a card game that kids can learn.

The game of Old Maid is quite different when played with two players, although it can be done, because both know where the Queen is, and the game comes to focus on subtly encouraging the other player to choose it by artfully placing it among the other cards. With three or more players, the focus is less on the psychology of choosing cards.

A single deck of card, with jokers and a Queen removed, is shuffled and dealt to the players, one at a time in a face down stack, so that each has as close as possible to an even number of cards – several players may have one extra, depending on how many are playing. After the cards are dealt, each player discards any pairs in his or her hand, pairs being cards of the same rank and color, for example, two red 7’s.

The player to the dealer’s left goes first by holding his or her hand face-down for the player to his or her left to take a card from. If the new card creates a pair, the player places it in his or her stack, and then holds his or her cards out for the player to the left to choose a card, and so on. Play continues until one player is left holding the only queen, and becomes the Old Maid.

Variations on the Card Game Old Maid

  • The dealer can remove only one Queen, leaving the other players guessing which color Queen is the Old Maid.
  • Rather than removing a Queen, a joker can be added to the deck to be the “Old Maid.”
  • A King, rather than a Queen, can be the card to avoid.
  • The game can stop upon one player having no cards left, rather than continuing until only one player holds a card.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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