Tag Archives: cards

Card Game Superstition


“As long as I can remember, every time I play a card game of any kind, I always wait until everyone has their cards dealt to them before I touch my cards. Otherwise, I feel as if it’s bad luck to touch the cards, and I won’t win the game. It will curse me for that round of cards. 

“Everyone in my family does this, and if someone does touch their cards beforehand, it’s a taboo thing where everyone looks at you like, ‘What have you just done?’

“We’ve passed it along to some family friends, too. It’s like an introduction to our family, and a way for the people we’re closest to to become almost like extended family. Since we believe this and we care about them, we don’t want them to get the bad luck from it.”


BD is a 20 year-old college student from Sacramento, California currently living in Los Angeles. This superstition is part of a card game that has been passed down from his grandparents. When learning the rules of the game, I was also taught this superstition.

BD said he doesn’t remember learning the superstition. “It’s just always been this way and I’ve always done it.”


BD’s family sharing this superstition with their close friends as a way of making them part of the family reflects how folk belief can function to create group identities. For example, when reflecting on his family teaching the superstition to his girlfriend, BD said “she has become part of the family by knowing our ways.” Thus, the lore creates the folk.

Superstitions about luck are very common in the context of card games, which often depend on a combination of chance and skill to win. Believing that a certain action will give one good or bad luck for a game is a way to feel a degree of control over a larger, less predictable situation.

The belief that touching an object can give one good or bad luck is an example of contagious magic, as the cards are believed to contain the luck. One can avoid bad luck by abstaining from touching the cards until the proper time.

Mao (card game)

Background: The informant first learned this game at a boy scout camp and has continued to play with his friends and introduce other people to the game. He likes it because you get to mess with people if you know how to play it, having insider knowledge.

KD: Mao is a card game that the new players are not supposed to know the rules going into it, it’s a learn as you go game. The deck is shuffled, all players are dealt five cards, the, the dealer–cards are dealt in front of all the players, if a player touches their cards before the game begins, they receive a onee card penalty. The dealer will take the top card of the deck and flip it over and say the  word “The game is Mao. Mao begins now.” At this point, anybody who speaks, is penalized with one card, anybody who plays out of turn is penalized with one card, if you fail to play on your turn, you are penalized with one card. As far as gameplay goes, certain cards have special powers or required specific actions or phrases to be said. To play the game, you have to play a card of the same suit or a card of the same number. If you play an ace of diamonds on a six of club, there are two different suits, two different cards, the card you play is returned to you with a onee card penalty. When, and it moves over to the next person. Original gameplay, it is to the right of the dealer. The number 8 card reverses the rotation of the, of the play. When an Ace is played correctly, the player who played it is required to scratch their nose; failure to scratch your nose, you receive a one card penalty. Uh, the point of the game is to get rid of all of your cards, so similar to Uno, when you get your last card you say “Last cards” uh, failure to do so, you receive five cards, plu, no you just receive five cards. When you play your last card you say the name of the game, “Mao.” When a king is played you say “Thank the chair.” And as you play with different people, certain rules are included but not everyone plays with the same rules each time. If you play with the same group you kinda agree, it’s a collective agreement that it’s like okay hey we’re gonna havee six has this power, seven has this power, whatever. And then, as you play with different people certain rules are in play, certain rules are omitted, and some are just completely made up. When you win a game, as the winner you are allowed to create a new rule that is now added for that group of people playing, uh when I played with my friend Jack, anytime a Jack was played he had to flip off the player of the jack. You are penalized for talking during the game, the only time you’re allowed to talk is when you’re thanking the chair, when you’re saying last card, when you’re saying Mao. Uh, the phrase point of order is pause for the game, in which all players need to drop their cards. If you are retouching your cards during a point of order, you’re penalized. If you discuss the rules of Mao, the game’s over, you’re not allowed to play anymore. Usually physical punishment follows for talking about the game and sharing rules. Uh, you get penalized for explaining the rules if somebody asks a question during the game, they get penalized for talking. If you explain a rule, you’re penalized, the person you explained it to is penalized. And, yeeah, it’s just to get rid of your cards as quickly as possible, correctly, and saying the phrases.

Me: How long does it take most people to pick up the game?

KD: Most people learn the game after a round or two. Most people get incredibly frustrated during the first round and seldom want to play a second round. It takes a lot of convincing or you just get a majority of the people to agree to it and then you have captive audience for the rest. Oh, uh I think it’s seven, when a seven is played you’re allowed to shuffle the deck. The number 10 card has a rule but I don’t remember it, uh minimum group size is 4-5 players, you can always shuffle in more decks, regionally it changes, and yeah I think that’s it.

Context of the performance: This was told to me during an in person conversation.

Thoughts: What I find interesting about this is that the entire gameplay revolves around unspoken rules. The only way to learn is by playing and knowledge is passed on, not even orally, but through the action itself. It’s almost impossible to view this from an etic perspective as the game relies and works under an emic perspective, and the etic would be confusion. It is also a rite of passage that comes gradually, with the new players existing on the threshold; once you’ve played enough, it seems that the passage is complete and only then do you fully understand how to play and the inner workings.

Fickle in Luck, Fickle in Love

Main Performance:

  • “Te który maja miłość w kartę nie ma miłości”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Te który = Those who
      • Maja = Have
      • Miłość = Love
      • w kartę = With cards
      • nie = No
      • ma = Has
    • Full Translation: Those who have love in cards have no love.
      • Explanation: The proverb refers to how those who have fair luck in life do not have love in their lives.


The informant, JK, is one of my close friends from my Catholic high school who I maintain contact with after graduation. He hails from a devoutly Catholic Polish family. Among most of the families that I knew of while attending, most of my classmates did not speak their family lineage’s mother tongue except for most of the my Polish and Hispanic classmates. No German and definitely not any Irish being spoken there.


My informant is currently attending medical school in Poland and I reached out to him through social media to ask if he had any traditional/folk-things he could share with me given his actively apparent and practiced Polish heritage, doubly so now that he is back in Poland.

My Thoughts:

What comes to my mind is that whoever has luck or whoever flaunts their luck is hiding the fact they have no love in their lives. Humility is a rather enormous concept in the Catholic faith so it only makes sense that those who are prideful about themselves, their fortune, and their lives are rather empty beneath it all and have no genuine love. Love also goes without saying as another key concept in Christianity as a whole and a life without love, or God’s love, is probably not life at all. Since this still Catholicism we’re discussing, it is never too late to renounce those prideful ways to become more humble so there isn’t a permanently accusatory tone there but there isn’t technically a suggestion for repentance, only pointing out an observation. Also seems to be another version of “lucky at cards, unlucky in love”.

How to Play The Game Slap Jack

Informant: So the goal of the game is to get the full deck in your hand. The game starts with the stack of 52 standard cards being split into equal piles for the number of players sitting around the table. No one is allowed to look at their cards. The dealer who split the stack, plays the first card. Then the play goes around clockwise for the rest of the game. When a Jack card is played all players must slap the deck as fast as possible. The first one to slap the deck gets all the played cards under the Jack. Because of the nature of the game, more players can ‘slap’ in and enter the game if it’s already started. (but that makes the whole thing go WAY longer)

The initial version I was taught had one extra rule: if you got a ‘sandwich’ you could slap. A sandwich consisted of two of the same numbers and one different number in between them. So like 2, 3, 2 is a sandwich.

The second version, has the ‘sandwich’ rule but also somethings called ‘doubles’ and ‘faces’. Doubles is self explanatory two of the same card played one after the other. So 2, 2. ‘Faces’ is if a face card – Queen, King, or Ace – is played the next person must play a face or the played-card pile goes to the first person. If they succeed in putting down a face card, the next person must play a face card or the second person gets the pile, and on and on and on.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered a few games back from middle school and looked for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: I learned how to play this game while I was younger from the same person. However, they called it a different name from what I remember. They now call it ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’, however, all the rules the same. I wondered how a group of kids got ‘Slap Jack’ from ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’ and extra research showed that the games has many other names as well:
‘Egyptian Ratscrew’

How To Play The Game Bull Shark

Informant: This game rewards players who can lie convincingly. The object of the game is kind of the opposite of Slapjack, cuz you have to get rid of your hand as quickly as you can. The game is played comfortably with 6 players but I think it’s better with less. You don’t want more players cuz then it becomes too easy for people to lie their whole hand away. Someone splits a standard 52 deck equally for the number of players present. The players look at their hand and the person with the ace of spades plays first, the ace card face up.
All cards are played face down after the ace. The play then goes clockwise as each player has to play the next number up, so after the ace the next player plays a 2, the next a 3, and on and on and on. This is where the lying element of the game comes in, if a player doesn’t have the next card up for their turn they can lie and play an entirely different card and just say it’s the right one. After every play people can decide whether or not they believe the player, if someone does not believe them they can call ‘BS’ and flip over the played card. If the card is what the player said it was, the caller has to take the deck of used cards, making it harder for them to lose all their cards first. If no one calls the player and they WERE lying they say ‘popcorn’ to say that they were lying. If no one calls the player and they were NOT lying the game continues with no incident.
The game becomes more complex when multiple cards are played at once, if a person has more than one of a kind in their hand they can play up to how many they have OR play up to as many they are willing to lie about. The game ends when a person gets rid of all the cards in their hand.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered this game back from middle school and searched out for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: While definitely a fun game I remember a mutual friend started abusing the lying rules to stack more cards than they said they played. There was a great deal of dispute as to whether lying was allowed when talking about the number of cards one played or only what number the card was. Everyone agreed that lying only applied to the number the card was but we were not always able to stop the kid when he continued to play more than he said for we never knew when he did it. We eventually stopped playing with him because he wouldn’t stop cheating.
The game also goes by:
‘Bullshit’ or ‘BS’