People have been playing cards for nearly a thousand years now, and it’s easy to see why.
A deck of cards is small and portable, the games challenge the mind, and the art printed on them is attractive to the eye.
You can play tons of fun card games with just a single deck.
But what if you just have two people?
Don’t worry, there are still plenty of great games to choose from. To get you started, below are ten of our favorite card games for two.
The Best Two Player Card Games
Feel free to use the navigation below to jump to a specific card game on the list
Nerts is a unique, energetic two player card game 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 (aka Nertz):
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.
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.
Like any good card game, there is a lot of skill and strategy involved in Nerts. For a deeper dive into this game, check out this Nertz resource.
Just remember to place your drinks in a safe zone to avoid spills 🙂
2. Gin Rummy
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 this card 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.
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!).
You can practice these gin rummy strategies to get a leg up on your opponent.
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.
Want to know more? Check out Rummy Talk.
Other great Gin Rummy resources:
- The Gin Rummy Association (rummy tournaments and official rules)
- Book: How to Win at Gin Rummy (For Fun and Profit)
3. 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 Egyptian Rat Screw:
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.
Another card game you might like: How to Play Spades: A Classic Trick-Taking Card Game
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 Card Game with Two Players:
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.
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 Idiot:
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).
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.
Simple and easy to play, Slapjack is the classic two player card game good for all ages (and can be played comfortably with 2-5 players).
The goal of the game is to win all of the cards in the deck by slapping down on the jacks in the deck as they are played.
How to Play Slapjack:
Begin by dealing all of the cards out evenly. Players do not look at their cards, and square them up into a pile in front of them.
Starting from the dealer’s left, players lift one card from their piles at a time and place them in the center of the table.
When any player lays down a jack, the first player to slap it takes the jack and all of the cards beneath it. These cards are shuffled into their pile, and play resumes.
Now, if a player slaps a card that is not a jack, they must give up one card, face-down, to whoever played the non-jack they slapped.
If more than one player slaps a jack, the hand that is touching the most of the card wins the pile.
If a player runs out of cards, they may stay at the table until the next jack is revealed, but if they fail to slap in to collect that jack and its pile of cards underneath, they are fully out of the game.
Play continues until one player has all of the cards.
Straightforward & classic, Slapjack is a fantastic game to be enjoyed with spirits and friends.
Part reflex game, part organization, Speed is a quick and challenging game for two players.
The goal of the game is run through your pile of cards before your opponent.
Speed takes a minute to set up, but then game-play is lightning fast.
You might be done in as much time as it took to set up!
How to Play Speed:
Start by dealing out two piles of five, with two single cards face-down between the two piles, and then dealing out the rest of the cards evenly to the two players (20 cards each).
Each player takes the top five cards from the twenty dealt to them and may look at these, then leaves the remaining 15 as a reserve pile.
When ready, the two players agree to count down from three, then turn over the two cards left in the middle at the same time, and play begins.
Speed is played hectic & simultaneous, there are no turns. From their 5-card hands, players place down cards that are either one value above or below the card in the center.
For example, if the two cards in the center are a Queen and a Five, then a Jack or King may be placed over the Queen and a Four or Six over the Five.
Players do this frantically while also keeping five cards in their hand from the reserve pile in front of them.
If at any time both players have run out of moves, but still have cards in their hands, play stops momentarily and each player flips one card from the pile of five in the center, much like how the game began, and play starts again.
Continue until one player has sped through all of their cards!
8. Beggar My Neighbor
The game of Beggar My Neighbor has been around since 19th Century Britain, and is a unique variation on the classic card game, War.
How to Play Beggar My Neighbor:
Start the game by dealing out the complete deck evenly to each player.
As in War, players take turns revealing the top cards of their deck, but place the cards in play on top of each other until someone reveals a face card or ace.
These cards are the penalty cards, and once played an opponent must pay the penalty for the cards: four cards for an ace, three for a king, two for a queen, or one for a jack.
Once their opponent has paid the penalty, whomever who played the penalty card collects the entire pile of cards from play and adds them to the bottom of their deck.
However, if a player paying a penalty reveals another penalty card, their payment ends and the opposite player must pay the penalty.
This changing of the penalty can continue indefinitely until one player cannot play a penalty card – whomever laid the last penalty card to go unanswered wins the pile.
Continue play until one player acquires all of the cards in the deck.
More players can be added to this game, play just continues in a clockwise fashion.
9. James Bond
Bond, James Bond. This is a fun game of speed & memory for 2 or 3 players that’s easy to set up and enjoy.
The goal of the game is to collect four of a kind in each of the piles laid before you (6 piles each for two players, 4 piles each for three players).
How to Play James Bond Card Game with 2 People:
Begin by dealing six piles of four cards face-down to each player, then lay the remaining four cards face-down between the two players.
When ready, flip the four cards in the center over and play begins. James Bond is played at a fast pace with no turns (very much like Speed).
Players may only look at one pile of four at a time, and may only exchange one card at a time with those in the center.
Using their memory of which pile contains which cards, play consists of continually exchanging cards from the middle to your piles until you collect four of a kind into that pile.
Once you collect four of a kind, you may then flip the entire pile face-up. Continue play until you have 6 piles of four of a kind, and then shout “James Bond!” to win!
This sounds simple enough, yet your opponent may be collecting the cards you place in the center, or placing cards they need in the center as you collect them just as quickly.
It’s all great fun, and an added plus is that this game is especially good when played with a martini – shaken, not stirred, of course.
10. Crazy Eights
One game everyone should learn how to play is Crazy Eights – it’s a classic game appropriate for all ages at any playable location.
How to Play Crazy Eights:
Start by dealing each player 5 cards face-down, then place the remainder in the middle of the table to form a stock pile.
The dealer then turns up the top card of the stock pile (shuffle any eights back in if they are turned up, then turn up a new card).
Players may look at their cards now. The goal of the game is to be the first player to get rid of all of their cards.
Play goes in clockwise order. Each player must place a card that either matches the card turned up by its value or its suit.
For example, if a ten of spades is turned up, you may play any ten or any spade. The next player follows suit and so on.
In the event a player cannot play any card from their hand, they must pick cards from the stock pile until they find one they can play.
If the stock pile is depleted, the player must pass their turn.
As the title suggests, all of the eight cards in the deck are wild!
When someone plays an eight, it fills in for any card that may have been played and the player must specify which suit of eight they are playing (for purposes of the player playing after them).
Once someone has run through their hand and won the game, they collect points from their opponent depending on what is leftover in their hand.
Each eight card is worth 50 points, each King, Queen, Jack or Ten is worth 10 points, and all other cards are worth their face value (Aces are low and equal to 1 point).
Play to 100 points, or 500, or 83!
Crazy Eights is easy, and enjoyable with any crowd.
Why We Love 2-Player Card Games
There you have it: ten great ways to play a game of cards with just two people. And there are countless other ways to play cards with just one other person, whether as fast, simple and friendly games, or long, complex and strategic games.
You can play 2 player card games with basic win-lose-or-draw outcomes, or complicated scoring calculations.
A card game for two is a great way to spend quality time with an old friend or break the ice and get to know someone new.
The hard part is sitting down with someone and saying, “OK, what games do you know how to play?”
Hopefully this article gives you a place to start.