Like many Americans, I made the trek back to my home town to enjoy a great Thanksgiving feast with my family last week. We enjoyed each other's company, watched a little football and, as happens often when members of the Todd family get together, we played some cards.
This year, the game of choice was a family favorite: 31. I first learned to play 31 at my family's hunting camp when I was probably six or seven years old. We played with nickels (and still do, 30 years later), but I remember how excited I was to pull in 90 cents the first time I won a game.
Today, almost all of my card-playing wagers come in a game of poker. But there are plenty of non-poker games that you can bet on, and most of them are a lot of fun.
Here are 10 great examples of card games that aren't poker that you can bet on.
10. Acey Deucy
Acey Deucy is a simple game, and it's a great entry point for people new to betting on games. Players start the game by paying an ante to build a pot. Then the dealer flips over two cards face up. The player to the left of the dealer then must bet that the next card will be between the two cards, betting any amount between the ante and the amount in the pot. If the card does fall between the two up cards, the player wins that amount from the pot. If it doesn't fall between, the player must pay that bet into the pot.
The dealer then turns over the next two cards, and the next player to the left must bet that the next card will fall between the new cards.
The game obviously involves a great deal of luck. Hitting a pair makes your task impossible and you just have to deal with the loss. Get an ace and a deuce and you'll have a great shot to win the whole pot. Of course, as the game goes on, you should keep track of what cards have been revealed to have a better idea of what your odds are of winning or losing and size your bets appropriately.
If you want to increase the action, make players who hit one of the two original cards pay double their bet, and if a pair turns up on the first two cards, the player must match the pot unless a third card of that rank comes up, which allows the player to win the entire pot.
I'm sure there are some who will dispute my decision to include Pitch on this list and not include pinochle, but given the countless hours I spent playing Pitch in college, it would be a shame to leave it off this list. Of course, in college, we never played for money because of the rampant cheating, which was deemed socially acceptable because there wasn't money involved.
Pitch can be played as every-man-for-himself, but it's a much better game with teams of two. In each hand, there are at least three and as many as four points available: High, low, jack and game. Each player receives six cards, and then bidding begins, with players bidding on how many points they will be able to score, from two to four. If no one bids, the dealer is forced to bid two.
Once the bid is established, the winning bidder declares the trump suit, and each player decides how many cards to discard and replace. Then, the winning bidder leads the first trick, which must be in the trump suit. The top card in the suit led wins each trick, with the exception of trumped tricks, in which case the highest trump card wins the trick. Players must follow suit in each trick, and cannot break suit to play a trump card.
At the end of the hand, the team with the highest and lowest trump cards played wins one point for each. If the jack of the trump suit was played, that card is also worth one point. The game point is given to the team with the most game points taken (jacks are worth one point, queens are worth two, kings are three, aces are four and 10s are worth 10, all regardless of suit). If the team that had the winning bid hit their bid, each team gets the points they won. However, if the winning bid was not met, the team then subtracts that bid from their total (e.g., if you bid three but score just two points, your score for that round is negative three).
Play to either 11 or 15 for a set wager each game, and since you're playing for money, no cheating. You can make things more interesting by doubling the wager when one of the losing players or teams ends up negative at the end of the game. Of course, when I was in college in that situation, we made the losers streak the neighboring sorority.
Uno isn't generally considered a gambling game, but there's no reason it shouldn't be. The classic expansion on Crazy 8s, Uno features color-coded cards and some great penalty cards, like the infamous "Draw Four Wild" card. Keep track of the score and set a per-point total that the loser owes the winner.
I used to play this game ages ago in my first home poker game. The game is remarkably simple. The betting is similar to poker, but you're not trying to make a flush or a full house. Instead, you're just trying your best to hit the number 7 or 27, or get as close as possible without going over.
All numbered cards are worth their face value, with face cards (including 10s) worth a half a point. Aces are worth 1 or 11, up to the player.
Start with an ante from each player, then deal one card down and one card up to each player. Then there's a betting round, followed by a draw. Each player says whether they'd like a card or would like to pass, and there's once again another betting round. The game continues until every player passes on drawing a card (it's worth noting that you can pass on a draw in one round, but then draw a card in a later round). After one last betting round, players reveal their cards with the person closest to 7 without going over winning half the pot and the person closest to 27 without going over winning the other half.
If you want to mix things up, you can add a declare where players declare high (27), low (7) or both. And yes, hitting both is possible if you have ace-ace-5, or even if you're heads up and have ace-6 and you think the other player is just going for the 7.
If you're looking for a simple game with a set wager, 31 is a great one. Each player starts with three or four bets in front of them (as I said earlier, we played with nickels, but you could play with quarters, dollars or even $100 bills if you like). The goal of the game is to be the last person with money in front of you, as each hand ends with the player with the lowest score losing one of their wagers. When you run out of money, you are out of the game.
Three cards are dealt to each player, and one card is dealt face up next to the pack. The player to the dealer's left decides whether to take the face-up card or take the top card off the deck. That player must then discard a card, and play goes to the next player on the left.
Each player builds their hand by getting the highest point total possible by adding cards of the same suit (facecards are worth 10, aces 11), or by getting three of a kind (worth either 30 or 30.5 depending on the rules you decide to play by). When a player is confident that they do not have the lowest score, they may use their turn to knock on the table, signifying that everyone else has just one more turn to build their hand. When play gets back around to the player who knocked, each player reveals their hand and the lowest score contributes to the pot.
When a player hits 31 (an ace and two face cards of the same suit) they may turn their hand over immediately and every other player then loses one wager. The last player standing wins the entire pot.
Hearts is a simple game ideally played with four players. There are some complicated passing rules, and if you need practice, you can most likely play the game on your computer. (Here are the rules if you don't know how to play.)
The best part about playing hearts for money is that you can win without even winning the game. Set a monetary value for each point and settle up the difference at the end of the night. You don't have to have the most points to be up at the end of the night. For instance, if you've got 90 points and another player has 100, you owe him 10x the value you're playing for. But if the two other players have 60 and 50 points, you're still up 60 points on the night.
Bridge is a complicated game. I've only played for fun with my in-laws a few times, and they've been pretty easy on me when it comes to bidding and game play, because I'm a novice and they play tournaments.
Research the rules before you play – you might even want to read some books. You can play duplicate bridge tournaments for money, or you can play straight up against opponents. Either way, bridge is a fun game, and it's definitely not poker.
Boo-ray is a trick-taking game where the most important decision comes when you decide whether you will play or pass. After players ante, each player is dealt five cards, except the dealer, who is dealt four cards face down and one card face up. The face up card is the trump suit.
Each player decides in turn whether they will play or pass, with each player that decides to play announcing how many cards they would like to discard and replace. Once all players that are playing the hand have replaced their cards, the player to the dealer's left plays the first card of the first trick. Players must follow suit, but if they have no cards of that suit, they may play a trump card to win the trick. The player that wins the trick then leads the next trick and so on until all five tricks have been won.
To win the pot, you must win more tricks than any other player. If you don't win any tricks, you must match the amount in the pot. After each hand, the deal moves to the left until the pot is won outright and no player is forced to match the pot. This happens, for instance, when four players stay in the hand and one player wins two tricks and the other three win one.
2. Gin rummy
Gin rummy is probably the most popular game that is played for points that has found a place in the gambling world. Though it's not played much anymore (Stu Ungar is generally considered to be the greatest gin rummy player of all time, among gamblers), when played for money, each point is worth a set amount, and the loser must pay the winner the difference in points.
The rules are too long to lay out here, but this is a great game to play with our without money on the line.
Guts is a great game because it's all about the heart. There's no wagering, just a little "I think my hand can beat your hand" bravado, with just one decision to be made.
After each person antes, players are dealt three cards in the most basic version of guts. Each player looks at their cards, then must decide whether they are in or out. Players hold their cards up in the air, and the dealer announces, "1, 2, 3, guts," at which point players either drop their cards or hold on to them.
Players who hold onto their cards reveal them, with the best hand winning the pot and all others matching the pot for the next hand. Hit trips and you've got an almost sure winner. A high pair is usually good, too, but sometimes ace-high is good enough to win. When the pot gets big, it might be hard to hold onto that pair of 7s, though, even though it might be good. Who's got the guts to hang onto their hand when the pot gets big and risk having to match it?
My favorite variation on the game, however, is to play with four cards and a draw. After players have declared whether they are in or out, they can draw zero, two or four cards (no one- or three-card draws). This variation includes three-card straights and flushes (trips beat straights and flushes, but straights beat flushes, like in three-card poker, and flushes beat pairs), which makes a hand like 7-8 suited a powerful drawing hand.
If you really want to mix it up, add a four-card "Chuck" at the end, and if the player who wins the pot doesn't beat the four random cards turned off the top of the deck, they don't win and must match the pot.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.