Victorian Games

game piece

Old Maid was a popular card game during the Victorian Era. At the time, a woman who never married was considered to be very unfortunate, and this concept became the basis for the card game (Hofer 30). There were (and still are) commercially-made Old Maid cards, but the game can also be played with a standard deck of playing cards. Specially-made Old Maid cards have a single Old Maid card that looks like an old woman and other cards in pairs that look like other people.

Old Maid

The rules for this game come from Hoyle's Rules of Games ed. by Morehead and Mott-Smith, p. 172, with some further information from The Way to Play by the Diagram Group, pp. 308-309, and The Everything Games Book by Lesley Bolton, pp. 90-91.

Players: 2 to 8 people

Object: To not be the one left with the "Old Maid" card.

The Deck: You can use a commercially-made set of cards specifically designed for the game, or you can use a regular 52-card deck with one of the queens removed.

Deal out all of the cards in the deck (minus one queen, if you're playing with a regular deck) to all the players. Depending on how many people are playing, the number of cards in each hand may not be even, but that's okay.

Once the cards are dealt, everyone examines their cards for matching pairs. They lay each pair of matching cards down on the table in front of them, face up. If a player has three cards of the same value (like three jacks), he can only put down two of them as a pair. He has to keep the third one in his hand. If he has four of the same kind, he can put all four of them down because they form two pairs (The Diagram Group 309).

Longer Variation: If you're playing with a regular 52-card deck and looking for an extra challenge, you can make the game last longer by matching up cards by color of suit as well as by number value (The Diagram Group 309). For example, the nine of diamonds can be paired with the nine of hearts because they're both red cards, but not with the nine of clubs. The nine of clubs must be paired with the nine of spades because they're both black.

After all of the pairs in their hands are discarded, the players shuffle the remaining cards in their hands. One at a time, starting with the player on the dealer's left, each player holds his hand of cards out to the player on his left, so that the other player can only see the backs of the cards (The Diagram Group 309). The player on the left chooses one card from that person's hand and adds it to his own. If the player who just chose a card can make a pair with it and another card that he already had in his hand, he lays the new pair down next to the ones that he has already made. Then, he offers his own hand (shuffled) to the next player on his left.

Another Variation: Some people say that when a player manages to make a match with a card that he just drew from another player's hand, he gets to continue his turn and draw another card from that person's hand (Bolton 91).

Players continue to choose cards from each other's hands until only one person is left holding the last unmatched queen, which is the "Old Maid." The person who is left holding the "Old Maid" loses the game. There is really no winner, it's just a matter of avoiding the "Old Maid" (The Diagram Group 309).

Suggestion: If you'd like to declare a winner, have it be the player with the most pairs who doesn't have the Old Maid or the person who has avoided the old maid the most in multiple rounds of the game. Decide ahead of time if you want to use one of these options and keep pencil and paper handy for keeping score.

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