Rules for Old Maid: Guide To Playing This Classic Card Game

Two children playing the card game Old Maid.

The card game market is huge. There are so many choices for different types of games you can play.

Whether you’re into numbered games or strategy games, there are plenty to choose from.

Sometimes though, an oldie is always a goodie. This brings us to Old Maid. The game came about in the 19th century (the 1800s) and continues to be a favorite today.

The only question we have now is, how do you play?

How do you play Old Maid? When playing Old Maid, players make pairs using their cards and cards drawn from other players’ hands throughout the game. The player left with the old maid loses. The player who has made the most pairs and doesn’t hold the Old Maid wins the game.

What’s interesting about Old Maid is that it actually held up with social terms in the Victorian era. An old maid was a childless and unmarried woman.

She was someone others would look down upon. It was impressed upon women to marry young and for men to marry young women to avoid being stuck with an old maid.

In present times, that seems kind of crazy. Funny how culture changes over the centuries!

There is one thing that is for sure no matter what time we live in. Old Maid continues to entertain families and friend groups all over the world. 

Now that we’ve covered a tiny bit of history on it and how to play the game, let’s get into more detail on the game itself and how to win!

We will cover one particular way of playing in the quick guide, but don’t worry. Toward the end, we will give you some other ideas for different variations.

Playing Old Maid: Quick Guide

There are different variations of Old Maid that we will explore later on. In this example, three queens are removed from the deck and the third queen is going to be used as the Old Maid.

  • Number of players: 2 – 12
  • Deck: Standard 52 card deck
  • Object of the game: Form and discard pairs of cards and not be left with the queen
  • Winning the game: The player with the most pairs not holding the Old Maid wins

Setting Up the Game

As with any card game, setting up is important. Setting up Old Maid is simple.

Simply remove three queen cards from the deck, shuffle the cards and deal. Voilà! You’re ready to play.

How Many Cards Do You Start With in Old Maid?

Depending on the number of players this changes. The cards are dealt evenly between all players.

If you have 12 players, you will end up with lengthy rounds with players starting out with a total of 4 cards.

This could make the game incredibly short, so breaking out into smaller groups with multiple decks may be a better idea. 

What Is the Object of Old Maid?

The object of the game is to form and discard as many pairs without ending up with the Old Maid.

Depending on any variations you apply, the game can be relatively short or more lengthy and complicated. 

Who Goes First in Old Maid?

The dealer goes first. After that, play proceeds in a clockwise direction. 

Playing Old Maid

  1. Remove three queens from the deck.
  2. Shuffle the deck of cards.
  3. Deal all cards evenly between players.
  4. Every player sorts through their cards, making pairs, and lying them face up on the table. 
  5. On your turn, you will fan your cards face down in your hand allowing the player to your left to pick one. Any pairs made are laid face up on the table.
  6. This will continue until there are no pairs to be made.
  7. Who has the most pairs wins, and who is holding the Old Maid loses.

Winning the Game

Once no more pairs can be made, the player who holds the queen (the Old Maid) loses. The player with the most pairs not holding the Old Maid wins the game.

In some cases, the most pairs will be the person holding the Old Maid. That one card ensures that their pairs do not count. So make sure to avoid that card!

A mother, father, and son playing a game of Old Maid together in front of the fireplace.

Variations of Old Maid

While the game was made popular in Victorian England, other variations have been made up over the years.

It’s possible we won’t catch them all, but here are some of the interesting ones used commonly.

Dealer Goes First

In this variation, no one can discard (make pairs) until the dealer has drawn a card from someone else’s hand.

Reverse Order

In this version, players take a new card prior to giving one up. This makes the game more difficult as the players can be stuck in what’s called “old maid purgatory.”

This means the players can be stuck with one card with no way to get rid of it.

International Variations

With immigration and travel, Old Maid has spread across the world into different countries and territories.

Naturally, different cultures decided to have some fun and create new versions and rules specific to them.


No, this isn’t the early 2000s television show.

Created in Trinidad, instead of using a queen as the Old Maid, the joker of diamonds is removed from the deck leaving the jack of hearts as the odd one out.

The person left holding the jack of hearts is named the “jackass.”

Baba Nuki and Dodukjapki

East Asia has put their own spin on the classic game. Babi Nuki is the Japanese word for Old Maid, and Dodukjapki means “Catching the Thief” and is played in Korea. 

In both versions, instead of removing queens, the dealer shuffles in a joker card, which is the card to avoid.


Played in the Philippines, this version is played the same as the original version, except that any card can be removed. It is revealed at the end of the game.

The player holding its partner is the loser.

Fedor and Jogo do Mico

Brazil created two variations, one with its own specialty deck. Fedor is the word for “stink” and is played with a regular deck with one removed.

Jogo do Mico or “Capuchin Monkey Game” is played with a specialty deck where the cards depict animals. Each animal has a male and female pairing.

The capuchin monkey card is the only one without a partner and is used as the Old Maid.

Related Questions: 

Can You Play Old Maid Online?

Yes, there are multiple game sites offering free Old Maid games. You can also download games on your Google Play or Apple App stores.

Is the Old Maid the Winner or the Loser?

The Old Maid is generally considered the loser of the game. However, there’s nothing stating you have to follow the rules set before you.

Get creative. Maybe the Old Maid can be the winner in your games.

The Old Maid has Conquered the World!

A card paired with negative connotations in the 19th century has managed to best some of the most successful explorers in the world. 

With multiple countries across the world enjoying different variations of Old Maid, this timeless classic has and will continue to be played in houses and pubs all over.

More versions can be made with specialty decks like in Brazil. The opportunities are endless. For the creative individuals, play with it, and see what changes you can make!

Have fun!

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I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!