8 Hard Card Games That Are Tough to Master

| March 28, 2022 9:05 am PDT
images of different playing cards, sheet filled out, decorative casino background

Ask ten people to name a hard card game, and you’re likely to get ten different answers, some of which you’ll agree with and others you’ll laugh at derisively, thinking, “You think that’s a hard card game?”

I have a confession to make – it took me several weeks of studying pinochle before I absorbed the basics of it. A Navy buddy of mine suggested I learn to play it since it was a popular game on the mess decks. But he was ready to give up after a few days because I couldn’t grasp the fundamentals of the game.

For my part, I was annoyed and surly, mainly because the game seemed to me to be nothing more than the snipe hunt of card games, meant to set up some fool (me, in this case) as the punch line for some devious prank. Yeah, I’m not easy to get along with.

One day out of the blue, the light bulb went on in the crisper section of my skull, and the pinochle finally made sense.

It didn’t take me long after that to become a reliably good pinochle partner. But man, for the longest time, that game’s rules made absolutely no sense to me.

Getting back to the job at hand, I see card games — gambling games and otherwise — as fitting into three separate categories: hard to learn, hard to play, or hard to master.

And while I’ll admit that many games fit into more than one of those categories, the ones I’ve selected here fit mainly into a single one.

Let’s look first at the most frustrating: the card games that may not be difficult to play but seem highly resistant to rational inspection for one reason or another. You might put many of my choices under different categories, but humor me.

Hard Card Games to Learn

Wondering which card games are dangerous to even approach? I’ve got a list that will frighten you in regards to how challenging they are to flat out grasp. Let’s take a look at some of the card games that are hard to learn.

Pinochle

Admit it — you saw that one coming. As trick-taking games go, Pinochle isn’t particularly hard to play or master, but it can be a challenge to learn, as I noted above.

Pinochle usually involves four players split into two teams. There’s a cutthroat version for three people, which has no teams but is identical to regular four-player play.

Play starts after much bragging and passing of cards hither and yon, moves on to displaying of some cards to others, and a period where everyone ignores the others’ exaggerated clearing of throats, kicking of table legs, and other such “mess-decks indicators” as may be permitted or ignored.

Whoever won the bragging session plays a single card, and the others follow in a clockwise fashion with either a card of that same suit (if they have one), a card of the trump suit, or any card they wish to (if they don’t have ta card of the led suit.

I should point out here that the decks of cards used to play pinochle are not the same as regular 52-card decks. Instead, they are 48-card decks comprised of two full sets of the top six cards in each suit: A-K-Q-J-10-9. Four-handed play generally uses two specialized pinochle decks, often with the nines removed.

Cribbage

Cribbage

My aunt taught me this one when I stayed with her and my uncle in Florida. During one of those long rainy days in Florida, it brought both misery and a brief respite from the rat-sized bugs they breed down there to keep people from anywhere else away.

Two people typically play the game, although up to six can play. It’s a popular game on trips requiring air or rail travel, mainly because it involves nothing more than a deck of cards and a method for keeping score, either a pen-and-paper or one of the more popular cribbage boards—a small slab of wood with many holes drilled in it, which uses two pegs per competitor to keep track of.

According to Wikipedia — which knows everything and is never wrong — cribbage is “Britain’s national card game.” It is the only card game you can legally play in the pubs and clubs of the UK without getting the permission of local authorities.

It’s not incredibly difficult to learn, but neither is it intuitively easy, mostly because it doesn’t quite resemble any other card game. For some quick tips on how to play, check out this guide on playing cribbage.

Hand & Foot

This game is from the canasta group of games, and while I’ve seen descriptions claiming it is easier to learn than canasta, I say au contraire. No card game you can play with more than four decks of cards can legally be considered easy to play. Sorry, but that’s the law.

The game is usually played between four players split into two teams after each player is dealt two hands of 11 cards each (one is the hand, the other is the foot).

Each player, in turn, takes a card from either the deck or the discard pile. The object is to build “melds” of either set (at least three cards of equal value) and runs (groups of at least three cards incrementally increasing in face value).

There are many more rules involved, but a game that seems at first glance to be a marriage of rummy, liar’s poker, and the old maid is beyond the ken of mere mortals. I’m pretty sure that the abyss Nietzsche was warning us all about was, in fact, Hand and Foot.

All the while making your way through a diverse Tolkienian world of wizards and trolls, dragons and flumphs, warriors and gnomes—pledge week at Hogwarts.

Hard Card Games to Play

Once you’ve mastered the knowledge of the card games, now you must apply it when playing. I touched on some difficult card games to learn, but what about the next step? Once you have all of the necessary information, the following games still aren’t easy to proceed with.

Whist

Whist

One of the original trick-taking games, whist is considered the progenitor of bridge, pinochle, spades, hearts, and euchre.

Lucky us — hardly anybody plays it anymore, except at those weird re-enactment gatherings where people say stuff like “d’ye ken?” and “dinnae fash y’sef” and “how much is that in new pence?”

While the game is pretty easy to learn, it is more difficult to play because winning is usually less a matter of good cards than a good memory for cards played throughout the game. The winning team is generally the pair of players with the best short-term memories.

So, if you’re going to play, make sure at least one of your opponents is Grandpa.

Euchre

Euchre isn’t all that hard to learn or play since it is similar in concept to most other trick-taking games. It’s popular throughout the English-speaking world.

Fun Fact
Euchre is responsible for adding the “joker” to the modern playing card deck.

Also, Euchre has been around long enough and popular in enough countries that there are as many versions of it being played today as there are barroom back rooms where it is being dealt. The game is played with the top six cards of each suit (24 total) from a regular 52-card deck. Adding a joker is optional.

After five cards have been dealt with each of the four players, the remaining four cards (or fifth if a joker was added) are placed face down on the table. This is the “kitty.”

Lots of stuff happens while the table attempts to decide the trump suit, after which some cards become trumps while others become worthless, and you’ll have to ask the others at the table which is which.

Omaha

I like Texas Holdem. It’s a simple game that’s very easy to learn.

I do not feel the same warmth toward Omaha, the bastardized cousin of Texas Holdem that injects artificial restrictions into the game simply for effect. Well, effect and making me lose because I don’t remember all the silly rules.

I seem to recall it dealing you two more-hole cards than you should need and then only permitting you to use two of them while using exactly three (no more, no fewer) of the community cards.

Omaha is hard to play, but you can still give it a shot at our Omaha poker guide.Omaha Poker Guide

Hard Card Games to Master

You’ve learned the game, played it enough to understand the basic strategies, yet you remain the last choice for a game at the local [fill-in-the-blank] hall. These are the games that require years of practice to get right regularly.

Any Dungeon & Dragons Card Games

Any of the Dungeon & Dragons type of card game, including the thirty-year-old elephant in the room, Magic: The Gathering.

Often called Magic—or MTG if you’re short on pixels–is not a card game in the traditional sense, which is ironic because it uses many more cards than poker or solitaire.

How many more? At last count, something like 19,000 unique cards existed for the game, which encourages players to acquire (pronounced “buy”) packs of new cards with which to play.

Top Tip
Now, remember, you’re not going to be shooting the moon here or trying to stick somebody with the queen of spades–you’re attempting to rule a magical kingdom or at least slay or subjugate whole nations of foes.

Contract Bridge

Surprisingly, Bridge isn’t all that difficult to learn. If you’ve already learned pinochle or one of the other trick-taking card games, you’re already conditioned to think ahead and play as part of a team.

This is good because you will need that and years of experience to get to the highest levels of Contract Bridge.

People playing duplicate bridge

But make no mistake — all that experience with Spades or Pinochle merely gives you a vague hint of the skull sweat you’ll have to expend acquiring any degree of mastery in Contract Bridge. This is genuinely the hardest card game in the world.

The game starts simply enough (if you’ve already played other trick-taking games). After bidding (the auction), the bidding winner leads with a single card face up in the center of the table.

Each of the other three players does the same, playing a single card from their hand according to the basic rule that they must follow suit if possible.

The player winning the trick (the four cards in the center of the table at the end of the first round) is the one who played either the highest same-suited card or the highest trump card.

Contract bridge is one of the hardest card games to master in that the points awarded for taking tricks are not as important as the accuracy of the team’s winning bid at the beginning of the game. When each player declares their team will win x number of tricks. Not x+1. Not x -1. X.

It takes years of experience to predict the future accurately. Or You can use my shortcut: Guessing.

Rubber Bridge is the version of Contract Bridge you will find most often played at home. Duplicate Bridge is confined to tournament play.

The duplicate portion of the name refers to all the tables in the tournament (with two teams of two people at each) are playing the same hand, and the competition here is to determine which team plays each hand best.

Learning to Master the Hardest Card Games

Some card games are almost too hard to even broach. They could end up being fun, and perhaps you’d even one day master them. But they come off as so daunting, that they send you running for the hills before you even sit down at the table.

For the most part, though, even the hardest card games just take a little instruction, time, and effort.

The one consistent element that can transform even the most difficult card games into some of the easiest? Repetition.

The more you practice even the toughest card games, the better you’ll get. Of course, there is always going to be interest in taking an easier path – and there’s always a time and place for that – so I gladly point you to a simpler game in Baccarat.

Baccarat

Didn’t see that one coming, right? If you’ve watched enough of the James Bond movies, you are familiar with Baccarat (or the version of it Bond plays, called Chemin de Fer).

It’s dealt in all the exotic casinos, so classy that they require patrons to wear evening gowns and tuxedos to ensure they have a proper environment to sip their shaken-not-stirred vodka martinis insolently and while playing against evil geniuses bent on killing bond because reasons.

You can check out Baccarat’s laughably simple gameplay at our handy Baccarat guide.

But suffice it to say that any game with only two players and a set of rules that can be printed quite legibly on the face of a single playing card isn’t going to endanger Contract Bridge’s complete ownership of the “tough” category of card games to master.

Heck, Baccarat would have difficulty getting the bulge on Go Fish.

Whether you like the challenge of Omaha Holdem or the sheer simplicity of Baccarat, you’ll find those card games and more at one of our best online casinos.

J.W. Paine
J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

More Posts by J.W. Contact J.W.

LEAVE YOUR COMMENT

*

September Casino of the Month
4.5
Welcome Bonus 250% up to $5,000
Back to top