Canadian Card Games : Complete Guide | LeoVegas

Canadian Card Games

Have you ever considered the value of a deck of cards? Try equating it into hours of entertainment, strategy, and social interaction! One single 52-card deck can bridge generations, spark hearty laughter, and even ignite family feuds around kitchen tables and cottage gazebos, from BC to Newfoundland and Labrador! So it’s no wonder that Canadians hold card games in such high regard.

From Euchre to Bridge, the most popular Canadian card games are of the trick-taking kind. In trick-taking card games, players strategically play cards from their hand in succession, aiming to win each round or set of cards, referred to as the 'trick'.

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It’s this dynamic, a little skill, and of course luck, that make many of these Canadian card games cherished by all in the Great White North. Let’s delve into some of the most popular card games in Canada, from Saskatchewan’s Kaiser to Cape Breton’s Tarabish. Shuffle up, let’s get to it.

Euchre

Wildy considered Canada’s national card game, especially by those who hail from the East, Euchre (yo͞okər) is a simple trick-taking game for all ages. Many an Ontarian childhood was spent with friends, parents, and grandparents around a card table, often set up in the living room on cold winter nights or hot summer evenings, as after-dinner entertainment.

Some say Euchre was derived from a French game called ‘Écarté’ and came to Canada with French settlers, but there is much more weight to it originating in the 19th century alongside other trick-taking games like Cribbage and Whist. “Uker” was played on steamboats in the American Midwest around that time, but we didn’t see the rules played today emerge until the mid 19th century. You’ll also find similarities to ‘Jucker’ or ‘Juckerspiel’. As the game gained popularity, it also gained variations, but for the sake of this piece, we’re going to focus on North American Euchre - sorry, not sorry.

First, know that it's an easy game, and much like blackjack, it may intrigue you more as time goes on and strategy develops. The main stumbling block that card players in general are bound to get hit with is getting familiar with the Euchre scoring system and card ranking, but more on that later.

Euchre is played with four players split into two teams. Only 24 cards from a standard deck are needed, the 9 through Ace of all suits.

Objective: In a nutshell, the game consists of rounds - ‘tricks’ - each lasting five cards. The goal is for a partner team to win the majority of tricks, with an extra bonus for winning all five (referred to as a ‘march’). The winner, for most games although this can vary, is the first team to reach 10 points.

In its truest form, each player starts with five cards and one player kicks things off by naming a suit, and plays a card. Players must match the suit if they can, or play any card if they can’t. The highest card wins the trick.

Although Euchre doesn’t necessarily need a trump, it’s a trump game at heart. In Euchre, determining the trump suit involves a dealer flipping their top card. Players can 'order up' the card or pass. If all pass, the dealer decides whether to accept it as trump or pass it. The team choosing trump becomes 'the Makers,' while the other team becomes 'the Defenders.'

Players take turns placing cards, with the highest value card winning the trick. If a trump card is played, the highest trump card wins. It’s also worth mentioning that the Bauer (Jack) of the trump suit outranks all, followed by the Jack of the same colour as the trump suit, followed by ace, king, queen, 10, and 9. Specifically, the two Jacks are referred to as the right and left bower, respectively.

Here’s how Euchre scoring works:

  • If the Makers win 3 or 4 tricks, they get 1 point.
  • If the Makers win all 5 tricks, they get 2 points (a ‘march’).
  • If a Maker goes it alone and wins all 5 tricks, the team scores 4 points. If that Maker wins 3 or 4 tricks, their team gets only 1 point.
  • If the Makers win less than 3 tricks, they get ‘euchred’ (yes, it’s a verb too!) and the Defenders get 2 points.

Due to Euchre’s popularity, there are many variations to delve into as well as scoring mechanics. Here are a few notable additional rules that can come into play:

  • The Benny Rule: some games of Euchre are played with a Joker, or ‘Benny’. The Benny card can also be a 2♠️. Regardless of any trump suit in play, in British Euchre, this card stands as the strongest.
  • The Canadian Loner Rule: If you decide to call the trump suit, and your partner is the current dealer, you must go alone.Know anyone who calls Ontario home? Find that person, team up with them, and learn this Canadian classic on your next night in.

Bridge

If you’re Canadian and have yet to play a game of bridge, it’s likely going to happen at some point in your life, so you may as well embrace it and learn now! The card game Bridge has infiltrated many facets of Canadian life, so much so that one of the most popular cookbooks, ‘The Best of Bridge’, came to be as a collection of recipes from ladies who played bridge and lunched together. Yes, this card game runs deep in Canadian culture, indeed.

Contract Bridge is a trick-taking game that follows the basic rules of bridge but adds the element of bidding for contracts. But there are several other Bridge variations played throughout Canada. These are:

  • Rubber Bridge: a popular Bridge variation played by four players in two partnerships, where the game is played to a set number of points called a rubber.
  • Duplicate Bridge: a more competitive form of Bridge where the same deals (hands) are played by different partnerships, with a focus on skill over luck.
  • Chicago Bridge (or Four-Deal Bridge): a variation of Rubber Bridge that sees players competing over a series of four deals, with scoring based on both trick-taking and contract-making.

Contract Bridge or otherwise, is a partner trick playing card game that starts out quite basic, but can get more complicated as time goes on, much like Euchre. Like many others on our Canadian card game list, four players split off into two partner teams, and play simply requires a regular deck of cards and a scorepad.

Objective: to earn points through bidding or beating the opposing team’s bid.

Bridge consists of two main play phases: the bidding phase and the play phase.

During the bidding phase, players strategically assess their hands and bid on the number of tricks their team anticipates winning, along with declaring the trump suit or opting for no-trump. This phase progresses clockwise, with participants either increasing the bid or passing, ensuring each bid surpasses its predecessor. Ultimately, the highest bid determines the contract for the hand, outlining the specific number of tricks the partnership aims to win and the designated trump suit or no-trump status.

During the play phase of Bridge, the player positioned to the left of the declarer, who secured the contract, initiates by playing the first card. Participants are obligated to play a card matching the suit led, if possible; otherwise, they can play any card from their hand.

Tricks are won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump card is played, in which case the highest trump card prevails. The team that successfully wins a trick assumes the lead for the next trick. Once all tricks have been played, the partnership that declared the contract earns points based on the number of tricks won and whether they met the terms of their contract (win predictions).

Now, if you’re reading this it’s also likely you’re a ’299er’ but if you want to sound like less of a 299er, get to know these Bridge terms:

  • 299er: players with a limited number of masterpoints (more on that below), typically 299 or fewer. Novice players are 100% 299ers!
  • Masterpoints: points awarded to players for successful performance in Bridge tournaments, which track progress and skill.

Bridge’s popularity spans farther than pickleball, although it likely has a similar demographic. Regardless of where you play, you’re bound to find a local Bridge Club, tournament, or competition for when you’re looking to take your game to the next level.

  • Canadian Bridge Federation (CBF): Oh yes, it’s serious business! These guys oversee tournaments and rankings at the national level.
  • Sectional Tournament at Clubs (STaC): special bridge tournaments that span multiple clubs within a geographic area. Players compete against participants from other clubs, and scores are sometimes adjusted based on the level of competition.We hope we’ve demonstrated how truly engrained the card game of Bridge is in Canadian culture. Beyond adding a new skill set to your card gaming repertoire, learning Bridge or merely bringing it back into your card regimen will open up a new range of social possibilities!

Unique Canadian Card Games

Tarabish

Tarabish, pronounced 'tar-bish' or affectionately as 'bish', is a cherished card game prevalent on the East Coast, particularly in the Maritimes. Where this Maritime card game originated is somewhat debatable, with some saying it derived from a Lebanese immigrant in 1901, while others say its roots fall to Belote, a game of the Jass family. Either way, this classic trick-taking game holds a special place as a beloved pastime, especially in Cape Breton, Canada.

Objective: to win tricks and accumulate points by accurately predicting the number of tricks you and your partner will win during each round of play.

To start, get a regular deck of cards and remove the 2 through 5 of each suit. Deal in sets of three to each player until the deck runs out. All players get to peak at their first six cards before bidding, while the last three, called the ‘kitty’, remain face down. They’ll stay that way until after bidding and a trump suit is chosen.

What’s Bidding? Tabish bidding determines the trump suit for the hand, and starts with the player left of the dealer. If they pass, the decision falls on the next player. This can continue but if the decision comes back to the dealer, they are forced to choose. Here’s why it's important. The bidding team must win more than half the points for the hand. If they miss the mark, it results in a “bate” and they forfeit points to their opponents. Achieving exactly half the points is a "half-bate," and it gets zero points for the bidding team while opponents keep theirs.

Play moves clockwise, until each player has played a card. Players must play the same suit as the first card of each trick. If they don’t have one, they must play the trump card. If they have neither, any card will do. If possible players need to ‘head the trick’, meaning, they need to play a higher value than the last card - even if a trump is down, they have to overtrump it. The player who played the highest card collects the pile and puts it aside in case of a dispute, and starts the next trick.

Hopefully you’ve got a sharp pencil, as this game scores until one team reaches 500 or more. Tabish card ranking uses the standard ace to ten order, but the trump suit promotes the Jack and nine above all else. Here is how to score in the Tabish card game:

Trump Suit: J = 20 points and 9 = 14 points, A = 11 points, 10 = 10 points, K = 4 points, Q = 3 points, and 8,7,6 hold no value.

Non Trump Suit: A = 11 points, 10 = 10 points, K = 4 points, Q = 3 points, J = 2 points, and 9,8,7,6 hold no value.

There are some special cards at play here that can offer a substantial score bump, like the ‘Bella’. In Tabish, a ‘Bella’ is when a player holds the King and Queen of the trump suit and gets 20 points for it. But, to receive these points, the player must declare Bella when playing the second of the two cards. There are also runs, or ‘melds’ that offer point bumps. Runs follow a traditional poker card ranking system (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A), but note that the three highest trumps (J, 9, A) do not form a run.

Want to learn some more Tabish lingo? Here are a few lingo to learn:

  • Run - 3 or 4 cards in sequence that are of the same suit.
  • Twenty - a 3 card run.
  • Fifty - a 4 card run.
  • 50 with the Bells - a 3 or 4 card run with a bella (king and queen trump cards)
  • Misplay or Renege - when a player doesn't follow the lead suit or beat trump when it’s possible they can. If called against a team, points go to the team who called the misplay.
  • Last - winning the last trick in a hand is worth 10 points.

As with any card game, there are variations. One popular among Cape Bretons is Forced. Within this Tabish variation, if a team scores over 400 points, they are forced to call trump. Because it’s a forced call, the team is not allowed to pass the trump call to the dealer if the dealer is on the opposing team.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s complex, but if there’s a Cape Breton storm brewing, you’ve got time to learn, and play…and play.

Kaiser

We will let Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island battle it out for the origins of this Canadian card game, but at least we know it isn’t named after Kaiser rolls. On the contrary, ‘Kaiser’, meaning ‘Emperor’ is a card game that likely derived from Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia and was at some point, popular in Ukraine. Nowadays, this trick-taking card game is prairie-based for the most part, with Saskatchewan leading its way.

Kaiser is yet another trick card game that starts with four players split into two teams. It uses 32 cards, 8s and higher, and begins with all cards dealt out. Next up is bidding. Players take turns bidding to declare the trump suit. Bidding involves stating the number of tricks the player's partnership intends to win, along with their proposed trump suit. Bids typically start at zero and increase by one. The highest bidder wins, declares trump, and that suit outranks all others for the duration of the hand.

Objective: to win tricks containing certain cards known as "counters" or "kaisers". Players are looking to score 52 points, but a team scoring -52 will lose. Within each suit, cards are ranked from highest to lowest: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 5, or 3.

Similar to other trick card games, action begins with players following suit if they can. If they can’t, any card can be dropped in. The highest-ranking card of the lead suit wins the trick unless a trump card is played, in which case the highest-ranking trump card wins. From there, scoring works as follows:

  • Each trick won = one point.
  • Winning a trick that has the 5🖤 = 5 points.
  • Winning a trick that has the 3 = -3 points (that’s right, minus 3!)

In Quebec, you may find Kaiser in the form of Les Rois. Directly translated to ‘the Kings’, this rule difference makes sense, as the King of Hearts garners the highest points, while the King of Spades scores the lowest. Kaiser is a strategic game that blends collaboration and deception, making it a cherished experience for many Canadians, be them in St John’s or Regina.

Canadian Fish

Canada is land of the lakes, and boasts three oceanic coastlines, so the popularity of the ‘Fish’ or ‘Go Fish’ card game should come as no surprise! It’s a simple game, often used as a teaching tool for the young. Some googling may say the game is credited to an 8 year old New York boy back in 1984, when in fact, Fish can be traced back to the 19th century. Hands off this game, USA!

Objective: to collect as many matching numerical pairs as possible, although some play by a variation that requires entire sets of four, one of each suit, or ‘books’.

To start, grab a 52 deck of cards and two to five keen players at a minimum. Each player gets seven cards if two are playing, or five if there are more players. All remaining cards are placed face down in the middle. If you really want to get into the game and theme, mess that pile about to form a ‘fish pond’.

Rounds are simple. A player on their turn can ask any other player for a card, for example, ‘Do you have an 8?’ (no suit is required when asking, merely the numerical value). If the answer is yes, the player gets to collect and keep that card (in this case, their 8), and be granted another turn. Their turn continues so long as matching ensues!

When they ask a player for a card but the answer is no, they are told to ‘Go Fish!’ and are off to grab a card from the fish pond pile. Now, here’s a twist. If the player manages to pull the card they originally asked for out of the fish pond, they get yet another turn. If they do not, the action goes to the next player. The game concludes when all cards have been laid down in pairs or books (sets of four). The player with the most sets wins!

Of course, with Fish being played mostly by children, variations are as plentiful as there are fish in the sea. Much like the beloved card game of Uno, each household may dive in with specific rules, such as turn taking after successful matches, matching pairs versus sets of four, and even playing with multiple decks for bigger ponds.

Canadian Salad

Not the Canadian Salad topped with Thousand Island dressing! We’re talking about the Canadian Salad card game you may otherwise know as Wisconsin Scramble or Fruit Salad. Canadian Salad is a trick-taking game that works best with three to six players and is an easy to learn card game that’s perfect for the young and old. .

Objective: in a plot twist from other trick games on our list, the object of Canadian Salad is to score the fewest points and avoid tricks with penalty points (how hockey and Canadian is that!).

It starts with one deck of cards and ideally four players, who will each get dealt 13 cards. If you can’t round up four, then cards will need to be removed to even things out. With three players, remove the 2♣️ and deal everyone 17 cards. For five players, remove the 2♣ ♠ ️ and deal everyone 10, and with six in the game, remove the 2/3 ♣ ️ and 2/3 ♦️ ️ for hands of 8 cards each.

Evenly deal the deck out to all players. Action starts to the left of the dealer with the first trick. Players must then follow suit, but if they can’t, any card can be played, keeping in mind that Canadian Salad follows regular card ranking, with aces high. The winner collects the cards for their ‘won trick’ pile and starts off another round.

Here’s where this salad gets messy; Scoring varies for each of the six hands in the game. Remember, the goal is to avoid points, not accumulate them! Here’s how points are tallied in Canadian Salad:

  • Hand #1 - each trick is 10 points.
  • Hand #2 - each heart scores 10.
  • Hand #3 - each queen is worth 25 points.
  • Hand #4 - taking the K♠ will be a 100 points penalty.
  • Hand #5 - the player that takes the last trick gets a 100 point penalty.
  • Hand #6 - the final hand, all of the above apply!Now that all six hands have been played, the lowest scorer wins. It’s an incredibly fun, and healthy game, so long as you get those six rounds of scoring nailed down into memory.

Rummoli

If you love poker and rummy, this is your game! No joke, it’s got all the perks, poker pots, and sequence fun all-in-one.

Rummoli is a card game of European and North American descent. While no one is clear where it first landed in Canada, its popularity sparked in Quebec, where it became a beloved pastime and Canadian game night tradition. But it was most certainly 1940, when it was marketed by Copp Clark Publishing Company as a set, complete with a Rummoli game board, chips, and cards, that it became more of a Canadian household name.

To start this game, you’ll need two to eight players, a 52-deck of playing cards (jokers are your call), and tokens or chips of some sort. While the official game board is not necessary, the octagon Rummoli board sure helps. It houses player spaces, a central pot, and these sections; the poker pot, 10♠️, J♦️, Q♣️, K♥️, A♠️, the A♦️K♦️, and sequence 7-8-9 of any suit. They’ll all make more sense when we go through gameplay.

Objective: to win chips by creating sequences or runs of cards during the Rummoli phase and by winning the poker pot during the poker phase. The player who accumulates the most chips, wins.

In Rummoli, Ace is high, and any reference to the ‘lowest card’ simply means the lowest-valued card in a player's hand, not overall. Now that that’s out the way, let’s get to rounds. A game is one or more rounds, and play continues until a specific time has elapsed or when one player is left with all the chips.

Rounds consist of four stages; deal, poker, Rummoli, and ‘end of the round’.

  • Deal - like a poker ante, each player pays one chip to each pot on the board and cards are dealt to all players plus one - this extra hand is known as a ghost or widow hand. The dealer has the first option to swap with the widow hand, and if they decline, the widow is put up for auction but not necessarily taken by another.
  • Poker - betting begins in this round with an option to check. The best poker hands wins the poker pot, and leads the Rummoli phase.
  • Rummoli - this phase is all about sequences, sets, or runs. Once the poker winner leads in with a card, the player with the next card in the suit’s sequence must play. This continues until no player can continue the sequence (keep in mind the widow or spare hand is out there)! If an ace is played, the sequence continues with the lowest card in the opposite colour. When play moves around, and sequences reach their end, and the next player in line doesn’t have what it takes to start another, it's an impasse - everyone counts their cards and throws one chip per card held into the pot. The winner of the next hand also wins the pot. It’s also during this phase that a player can drop a card onto its corresponding pot (10♠️, J♦️, Q♣️, K♥️, A♠️, the A♦️K♦️) and claim it.
  • End of the Round - the first player with an empty hand wins the Rummoli pot, while other players pay one chip for each card they hold.

When the game is declared over, due to timing or the players simply calling it, all chips on the Rummoli game board are collected for a single pot, and a poker finale determines the overall winner.

What’s most loved about Rummoli is the combination of fun from two classic games, rummy and poker, alongside a board game-esque ambiance when in play, gathering the young and old.

It’s evident that card games hold a special place in Canadian culture, bringing both communities and generations together in friendly battle, offering entertainment and social connections that start from shuffling a deck of cards. All in all, it’s safe to say that card games embody the values of Canadians - friendliness, inclusivity and perhaps a little wagering?

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