People have been playing cards for nearly a thousand years now, and it’s easy to see why. A deck of cards is easy to carry, games challenge the mind, and the art printed on them is attractive to the eye.
The hard part is sitting down with someone and saying, “OK, what games do you know how to play?”
To help you out, here are 5 two player card games that are easy to learn and fun to play at your bar or pub.
Nerts is a unique, energetic game where each player attempts to get rid of a 13-card “Nerts” pile.
This game combines a couple of skills, as you’ll be doing several things at once: stacking, sorting, and playing a mini-game of Solitaire, all at the same time.
How to Play Nerts:
To start, each player shuffles an entire 52-card deck, and it’s important that both have a unique print to the back facing of their cards.
Each player then deals 13 cards face-down to themselves, then four cards face-up side by side. The stack of 13 is the “Nerts” pile and the objective is to get rid of all of these cards.
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The 4 face-up cards are the work piles. The remainder of the deck is then held face-down as the stock, and when play begins you may sort through the stock three cards at a time, like in Solitaire.
Leave an open space in between the players and their decks, this becomes the common play area.
To begin the game, each player turns over the top card of their “Nerts” pile face-up. You remove these cards by placing them on top of either your work pile or by creating piles in the common area, starting with Aces.
More cards can be added by either player to common area piles, but they may only stack in numerical order (Ace low) and by matching suit (Ace of Spades, then two of spades, three of spades, and so on).
There are no turns, play is simultaneous and frantic.
The first to eliminate their “Nerts” pile calls out “Nerts!”, which stops play and players tally their score.
Here is where you need different prints to your decks, so you can separate whose card is whose.
Players gain a point for each card they played to the common area piles, but subtract two points for each card remaining in their “Nerts” pile. Reset and deal again, and further hands are played until someone reaches an agreed target score, typically 100 points.
Things get chaotic as you play, usually players are reaching across one another, or waiting for certain cards to get played in the center, or running through their stock piles frantically to find one particular card they passed a moment beforehand, and so on.
This excitement is what makes it one of the most entertaining two player card games.
The scoring system both rewards players for consistently placing cards to the common area, and also for getting through the “Nerts” pile quickly, but the 4 work piles do come in handy as well.
Just remember to place your drinks in a safe zone to avoid spills 🙂
Next on our list of the best two player card games is Gin Rummy.
The game of a thousand variations, most people know how to play some version of the classic Gin, Rummy, or Gin Rummy.
The name of the game itself suggests it should be played in a bar.
Gin is played one hand at a time, and then Rummy is played over several hands to a certain score.
The object of the game is to fill your hand with combinations of three or more cards in either the same value (three kings) or in runs of the same suit (3, 4, 5, and 6 of clubs).
How to Play Gin Rummy:
First, choose a dealer. They deal out 7 cards to each player, then place the rest of the deck in the center, and flip the top card face-up into a new pile next to the rest of the deck.
The opposite player has first turn and can either choose to take the revealed card into their hand, or take a face-down card from the pile. Then they discard a card from their hand into the face-up pile.
Players continue to alternate picking up and discarding cards until their hand is full of matched cards.
When their hand is full, place the final discarded card face-down on top of the revealed discards and reveal their hand.
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In Gin, the winning player then becomes the new dealer and can re-deal a new game.
In Rummy, tally up the values in each hand for only the matched combinations. Face cards are worth 10 points each, and the other cards are worth their indicated values (a five of diamonds is worth 5 points, an eight of hearts is worth 8 points, etc.).
Continue playing hands until your cumulative score reaches an agreed upon total (100, 500, or 1000 even!).
Variations on the game differ from region to region:
- Some play Gin with 10 card hands.
- Some declare a null game when the face-down card pile has been depleted and then re-deal.
- Some play with no maximum on the hand size and a scoring system that involves placing combined cards down on the table in front of you throughout the game to lock points in.
Whichever version you play, Gin Rummy is a classic card game for two that’s easy to play at a table or up at the bar.
Egyptian Rat Screw
Funny names aside, Egyptian Rat Screw is a fast-paced card-slapping two player game that can be played very quickly. The object of the game is collect all of the cards in the deck.
How to Play:
Start with a 52-card deck and deal out the whole deck evenly to each player face-down. Players do not look at their cards.
The player to the left of the dealer pulls the top card off their pile and places it face-up in the middle. If the card is a number card, the next player puts down a card, too.
Continue until someone places down a face card or ace.
When a face card or ace is played, the next player in sequence must play another face card or ace. If they do, play continues. If they don’t, the original player to lay down a face card or ace adds all of the played cards to their pile.
To add to this, there are several card-slapping rules to Egyptian Rat Screw.
- Doubles are slappable (two 9’s in a row)
- Sandwiches are slappable (when two cards of the same value are laid down with another in between them. Example: 4, Queen, 4), and
- Tens are slappable – not the 10’s of each suit, but when two cards played consecutively add up to ten (i.e. 3 & 7, 2 & 8, or Ace and 9).
The first person to slap the pile of cards gets the pile. If someone slaps a pile incorrectly, they must add two cards to the pile.
If you’re playing Egyptian Rat Screw with more than 2 players, eliminated players can still wait around and slap in to get cards.
Continue playing until there is just one winner with all of the cards in the deck.
You can even propose a House rule that the winner has to buy the player with the reddest hand at the end of the game a drink.
In fact, in most two player card games, the loser should always buy a drink.
One of the simplest two player card games, I learned this game as “Mini-Golf.” But as the title implies, Golf is a game of trying to get the lowest score.
This two player card game is neat in its simplicity, and actually follows the idea of the sport very well.
How to Play Golf:
Each player is dealt 6 cards face-down, which they arrange into 2 rows of 3 cards each. The remaining cards are placed face-down and the top card is flipped face-up to start a discard pile.
To start the game, each player flips two of their cards face-up and the remaining cards stay face-down (no peeking).
Starting to the dealer’s left, each player takes turns drawing a card from either the discard pile or from the face-down stockpile. The card picked is then either swapped out for one the six cards in front of you or placed in the discard pile.
When swapping out one of the 4 face-down cards in front of you, place it face-up in the discards.
The object of the game is have the lowest value of cards, and you achieve this by swapping out high value cards or by matching cards of equal value.
Matches are paired by columns, so there can only be a maximum of 3 matches out of the 6 cards in front of you.
Continue play until all of the player’s cards in front of them are face-up, and then add up scores. An ace is 1 point, cards 3 through 10 are worth their face value, and then jacks & queens are 10 points (remember points are bad).
Each 2 card is worth negative 2 points, kings are worth zero points, and matched cards of any value are worth zero points (all of those are good).
A game is 9 holes (deals), and then tally the scores at the end of 9 holes to find the lowest scorer, who wins! Golf is easy to learn, yet can be challenging – a game perfect for drinks & relaxation.
Related: The 40 Best Bar Games
Be careful who you challenge in a game of Idiot, it just might be you!
Idiot is a relatively simply two player card game that has a unique style. In this game, each player is trying to get rid of all of their cards.
How to Play:
Shuffle a 52-card deck, then deal to each player 3 cards face-down, followed by 3 cards face-up on top of the face-down cards, and finally 3 cards to each player’s hand.
Each player may switch out cards from their hand with the face-up cards in front of them (you will want to place high value cards, 2’s, or 10’s here, the reasoning to follow, keep reading).
Put all the remaining cards face-down as a draw pile.
Start with the player opposite the dealer, who places down the lowest card in their hand, and then draws a new card, as you must hold three cards in your hand until the draw pile runs out.
The next player must then meet or beat that card’s value (aces are high), places it down, and then draws a card.
When a player cannot meet or beat a card played previously, they take the whole pile into their hand.
Multiples of any card value may be played at the same time (you may place two 4’s in one turn), and if you play a card and then draw the same value card (if you place down the jack of clubs and then draw the jack of hearts), you may also play that instantly and then draw cards back up to three in your hand.
Continue the game until you run through the draw pile. This is where things get interesting.
First, though, some special notes: all of the 2’s in the deck are considered wild (they may be played as any value) and the 10’s in the deck clear out the pile in play.
When you play a 10, take the whole pile and place it aside, all of those cards are considered removed from the game.
The same happens is someone plays all four cards of the same value (if you play all four 7’s at once, clear out the pile from play).
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Now that the draw pile is gone, players run through the cards in their hands, and then play from the three piles in front of them (this is why you wanted 2’s, 10’s, and high cards in front of you to begin the game).
Play through the face-up cards, and then play blindly from the face-down cards. First to play their last card successfully wins the game!
Some play that the last person holding cards becomes the village idiot, and has to purchase the next round.
That’s five great two player card games to play at your local bar.
There are hundreds of card games out there, which are your favorites? Do any pair well with specific drinks?
Comment below and let us know!