Before we dive into any actual games, there’s still some more important ground to cover. (And I’m still looking for feedback about which games you think should be part of the Guide! Feel free to comment either here or on the earlier post.) In the case of an actual apocalypse, this part is actually probably more important than knowing the rules of any particular game; screwing around with cards is more likely to get you stabbed, or shot, than simply not understanding the rules.
Learn how to do a bridge (or riffle) shuffle properly. There are unsurprisingly quite a few nice, short videos on YouTube about this; it is a skill that will take the majority of you an afternoon at most to reach a reasonable level of competence. My mother didn’t pick it up until she was in her late sixties, so don’t let “but I didn’t learn it as a kid!” be the thing that stops you. Practice with a fresh deck of plastic-coated paper cards, then practice again with your nice all-plastic cards, which tend to be a lot more slippery and have a habit of shooting off everywhere if you don’t keep a firm grasp on them. Then find that old shopworn deck of cards that’s hiding in the back of the drawers of the china cabinet and practice on that. Worn-out cards are toughies, but in the Cardpocalypse you’ll have to deal with them sometimes. You don’t need Vegas-level pizzazz with your shuffling, just competence.
I generally shuffle the deck a minimum of seven times before using it, but I am a compulsive shuffler, so it’ll get done twenty (or thirty, or…) times if I’m the person holding the second deck while the first is getting used.
If someone asks to cut the cards, let them. Place the deck face down on the table in front of them; they’ll make two or more piles of cards, which you’ll pick up in reverse order. Keep the deck level when you do this; more about how you hold the deck in Dealer etiquette, below.
Wait for the dealer to finish dealing before you touch the cards in front of you. If you’re an inveterate fiddler, like me, offer to pre-shuffle the second deck while you wait for the dealer to finish. There are exceptions, like for the hakem in Hokm, but you’ll know them by the game; the vast majority of the time, you should keep your hands far away from the dealt cards until they’re all distributed.
Learn to pick up cards properly. On a felt/cloth surface, rubbing them across to the edge is just fine, but on hard wood/stone surfaces you’ll scratch the cards. Some tables are easier or harder to take cards from, and you’ll have to be careful not to accidentally flip them over. Feel free to use one card as a bit of a lift for the others if you’re having trouble; just don’t slam it into the table.
Learn to hold your cards properly. They shouldn’t be held out far away, where the people to your sides will be able to (intentionally or inadvertently) see what they are; if you need to do that to see them, get new glasses and make sure to use large-index cards. (They shouldn’t be crammed up in your face to where you’re rubbing your nose on them, but that tends to be less of an issue.) Don’t hold them so tight that you’re actually folding them over, either; these cards need to last the entire Cardpocalypse, after all, and people like me will get on your ass for damaging a nice set of cards with your death grip. They should be kept as vertical as possible; tilting them too far forward–“tipping” your cards–shows them to people across the table, which in a partnership game is an extreme form of cheating. That’s bad. Very bad.
Don’t fidget with the cards either. This is a hard one, and I used to do it myself, but tapping the cards on the table is both distracting and damaging, particularly on hard surfaces. Riffling them back and forth, rubbing them together, and so on are all no-nos as well, distracting at best and damaging at worst.
Learn to play cards properly. Flinging them across the table and having them embed in the hat of your opponent can be amusing but also deadly. The vast majority of time you just need it to land face-up in roughly the center of the table. A little style here goes a long way; no one’s gonna begrudge you a smug thwack when you snatch an assured victory out of some jerk’s hands with a perfectly-timed trump (except for that jerk), but if every card you play is a miniature Stephen Sondheim production you might want to tone it down a bit. Meekly dropping the card right in front of you and forcing whoever cleans the trick or hand up to reach three miles across the table is not cool either.
If you’ve got to get up from the table, put them down well. A sort of fan layout, like you hold them in your hands, will make them easier to pick back up when you return, but anything that isn’t too close to the edge of the table (where they’re likely to get knocked over when you sit back down) is fine. Never, EVER walk away from the table with your cards still in hand. This is grounds for getting shot now, much less in the Cardpocalypse.
If you’re the next (or second-to-next) dealer, collect the cards from the table after the hand. Sometimes this happens naturally over the course of the hand, sometimes it needs to wait until the end, but as the hand finishes the cards should end up with whoever needs to be shuffling the deck. If you’re doing the Cardpocalypse right, you should be using two decks, so it’s not the next dealer, but the one after that. Do not let the cards lie messy on the table while a new hand is getting dealt. That way lies mixed decks, madness, and stab wounds.
You can always shuffle. Even if someone hands you a pre-shuffled deck ready to go, it’s a good idea to give it at least one shuffle. This isn’t even necessarily a “cheat check,” particularly in a friendly game; I don’t want to get into psychology too much here, but pairing shuffling with dealing helps put you into a precision mindset that’s very important when you deal. (But, yeah, it’s also a “cheat check.”)
Always offer a cut. In general, you should offer a cut to the person in the opposite direction of the deal (usually to your right) that isn’t on your team. They can always decline, and in friendly games you’ll often skip this entirely, but they should never have to ask to cut if they want to.
Hold the deck properly when you deal. You want to grasp it firmly in one hand, generally your off hand, with the deck tilted very slightly downwards away from you. (This is to keep from exposing the bottom card of the deck to the people across the table.)
Deal the cards one at a time, starting with the eldest player (unless the game uses a different dealing mechanism). The “eldest” player is the person next in player order, usually the person to your left; this baffled the heck out of me when I was a kid reading my copy of Hoyle’s, and looking up the definition of eldest didn’t clarify it at all–why should I start with the oldest person at the table? But I digress. In almost all circumstances, you should get the last card dealt in each pass around the table.
Deal the cards carefully, properly, and in order. You want to slide them off the top of the deck one at a time, still keeping them tilted very slightly downwards away from you, for the same reasons that you do so with the deck. Make sure to deal them to each person in order. We are rational beings who do not believe in the Heart of the Cards, but hoo boy will you infuriate some people if you skip them and then proceed to deal them a different card than the one they rightfully deserve. Don’t do it.
In general you’ll want to stand up and deal directly in front of each player. This is one of those rules that is easily relaxed in friendly games, where you’ll often deal right in front of yourself, sitting down, and then just push the packets to the right person, but this is the Cardpocalypse we’re talking about. Better safe than sorry.
If you accidentally flip over a card, stop. It is absolutely the right of anyone at the table to call a misdeal at this point, at which point you may forfeit the right to deal again. Some games handle this in particular ways (in Bourré a single flipped card can generally become your “trump card,” but if it’s a high face card or an Ace it should probably be a forfeited deal), but let the table decide. And then don’t do that again.
(Wow, that word is starting to lose all meaning for me at this point.)
Etiquette is as serious, or as irrelevant, as the table decides. If you follow the guidelines in this article, you’re very unlikely to piss off even the staunchest of SRS BZNS card-players, and a lot of the tips (particularly in how you handle cards) should be followed no matter how casual the game. But most friendly games don’t care a lot about cutting, proper deal order, or how pristinely you play your cards. If it’s time for a raucous round of something, don’t take it any more seriously than you have to. If, on the other hand, there’s someone at the table who wants it done prim and proper, who believes in the Heart of the Cards? Accommodate them. You can use the practice, after all.
Any game, or social group, may have its own rules that supercede these. There are games that want you to shuffle in particular ways, to maximize clumping (no, really!) There are groups that really, really care about how you shuffle and deal. Serious Texas Hold’Em players don’t want you picking up the cards at all, just tipping the corners to peek at their values. And, of course, who knows what weird new rules of etiquette will come up with the dawn of the Cardpocalypse? Make sure you know the details and follow them appropriately.
We are finally done with this etiquette stuff
Phew. That was a much longer article than I was expecting when I sat down to write it! But there was a lot to cover. Do you feel like I missed anything? Went too far? Comment away.
It’s poor etiquette not to.
(Seriously. Not even a word any more.)