Card Playing Etiquette for Children

Teach Youngsters the Other Kind of Table Manners

teach grandchildren how to play cards and card-playing etiquette
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If you have fond memories of playing cards with your grandparents, you are far from alone. Card playing is fun for all generations. Both parents and grandparents like the way that card games teach logic and math skills.

It's also a good idea to teach the children proper card playing etiquette. This knowledge could help them in the future, making them comfortable in social situations that involve card games.

 Also, following the conventions of card play makes games go more smoothly and should cut down on squabbles.

In case you're a bit rusty yourself, here's a primer on card-playing etiquette that you can master and then share with the children in your family.

Seating and Choosing Partners

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.

The All-Important Shuffle

In order to mix up the cards, the dealer must shuffle them. The classic method is the 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 kiddos: Seven riffle shuffles are required to truly randomize a deck.

Another method that is actually quite good at randomizing the deck is smooshing. In spite of the humorous name, this is a acceptable method that is used in many poker tournaments and in some casino games. The cards are simply spread out on the table and then moved around with the hands, much as one would shuffle dominoes. This technique is also called washing or scrambling, but which term do you think the children will like best?

In order to get a good mix, you should smoosh the cards for one minute.

The drawback is that smooshing can be hard on the cards. Also, if cards are smooshed too vigorously, some are likely to hit the floor. Still, smooshing is a good alternative for children who have trouble with the riffle, although they should be encouraged to practice the neater method. Most school-age children can learn the riffle. Give them an older deck of cards to practice with. 

Of course, you could also buy a card shuffler, which the kids will get a kick out of using.

How to Cut and Deal the Cards

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 dealer. The dealer then picks up the part of the deck that is farthest away and places it on top of the part that is closest, 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 Card-Playing Conventions

Before a game 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 should agree on any unusual variations in the rules. When playing with children, shortening the game is sometimes desirable. 

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. 

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.

Of course, being a good sport is also important at the card table. Children should be instructed not to gloat or celebrate when they win a hand. They shouldn't be allowed to be sore losers. And no quitting before the game is finished!

The Appeal of Card Playing

Card playing is immensely appealing to some people because it combines structure and rules with endless variations.

For most families, that appeal may be secondary to the fun of simply being together.

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