(After removing one Queen from the deck, the odd Queen out is considered the Old Maid)
Card Game Rules
Old Maid is a card matching game played with 2 or more players and a standard 52 playing card deck. The objective of the game is to pair up all of your cards and to avoid having the odd Queen out by the end of the game.
For more classic card games, check out our guides for Go Fish and Solitaire.
If you are looking for cards to play Old Maid with, check out a standard pack here or one of our specialty Old Maid packs here.
Before the game begins an initial dealer must be chosen. To do so, every player is given a card from a shuffled deck and who ever receives the highest card becomes the first dealer. Ties are broken by a repeated deal. For the dealer process Aces are high and 2s are low.
The dealer first removes one Queen from the deck in order to designate the “Old Maid”. The dealer then shuffles the deck and the player to their right cuts it. The dealer then passes all of the cards one by one clockwise to each player.
How to Play
After everybody receives their cards, players make any pairs they can with their hand and place them facing down on the table. The dealer then holds out their hand facing down (so that no one can see the cards) towards the player to their left. The player left of the dealer then chooses one random card from the other players hand and add it to their own. The player left of the dealer tries to make another pair with this new card. If they can, the pair is added to their pile of pairs. If they cannot, the card remains in their deck. The player left of the dealer then offers their hand faced down to the player to their left and gameplay proceeds as before.
Players can “Go Out” and be safe from becoming the Old Maid in two ways: they can pair up all of their cards or the player to their left takes their last card for the draw.
Because one of the Queens was removed, there will always be an unpaired Queen. The player who has it at the end of the game becomes the Old Maid and loses.
Suppose the cards have been dealt and you have three Queens, an Ace, 9, two 10s, 2, 3, 8, and two Jacks. You pair up the Queens, 10s, and Jacks while the other players do the same to their cards. The player to your right is the dealer and they present you their hand upside down. You pick randomly and receive a 9. You pair up the two 9s and present the player to your left your hand upside down. They randomly select your Queen. The round finishes and the next begins. You select a 4, present your hand, and the player on your left chooses your Ace. A round goes by. You get a 7 and lose an 8. A round goes by and the player in front you goes out. You then receive back the Queen you initially had and lose a 7. A round goes by and the player to the left of you goes out. You get a King and lose a 3. You then take the last player’s last card. They go out and you become the Old Maid.
A free online version of Old Maid can be found here. The game uses specialty cards instead of a standard looking deck.
The phrase “Old Maid” refers to a childless and unmarried spinster or women. Such is why the Queen is the card left unpaired. The phrase was first coined in England as early as the 18th century. The card game of Old Maid began during the late Victorian period. Though its exact origins are unknown, a possible theory is that it derives from old English drinking games.
Historically, the Old Maid from the game has been presented as a negative figure (the player who becomes the Old Maid loses after all). As early as the late 1800’s, specialty decks of Old Maid were created with unbecoming illustrations of the titled figure on them. An 1890 deck, for example, displays a picture of an old women wearing pants and riding a bike. While this might appear perfectly normal today, to stifling Victorian etiquette, it was insulting. Throughout the 20th century, the image of the Old Maid on specialty decks shifted from the Victorian bike rider to the problematic stereotypes of Crazy Old Cat Lady and Knitting Fanatic. While the image of the Old Maid varies with every deck, it is almost always a grandma looking type.
For more information on the history of Old Maid, check out Nicolas Ricketts’ article here or Tracie Egan Morrissey’s article here.
For more information on the rules of Old Maid, check out pagat's article here.
The German version of Old Maid is called “Schwarzer Peter” or Black Peter. The game is very similar to Old Maid and uses practically the same rules. Instead of one Queen being left out, a Jack of Clubs or Spades is left out. Instead of using a 52 card deck, normally a 32 card deck is played. 31 or 37 card decks have also been used to play Black Peter. Additionally, after the game is finished, a cork is placed over a candle until soot forms and then (after it has cooled) it is smudged on the face of the player who got the odd Jack.
Recommended products to play Old Maid:
2 Pack Kids Card Games Playing Cards - Matching & Old Maid
About the author: John Taylor is a content writer and freelancer through the company Upwork.com. You may view his freelancing profile here. He has a B. A. in English, with a specialty in technical writing, from Texas A&M University and a M. A. in English from the University of Glasgow. You may view his previous articles about card games here and his LinkedIn profile here.