Jacks or Better to Open

Hancock.Tom, Game of Authors card deck from 1897, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

After responding to comments this morning, I started thinking about family time and how often we played card games. There was always a well worn deck of playing cards within easy reach. There were also specialty cards, too.

Of course some of the earliest games were Match, a memory game where half the deck was placed face down as the players try to find the matching cards. There was always War with the goal being to capture the entire deck of cards or Go Fish for the younger set. If you were by yourself, then a quiet game of Solitaire would help pass the time. When you got mad at a sibling, there was always 52 Pickup!

We also had a deck of Old Maid but playing cards would do in a pinch using the Joker as the Old Maid.

How about a game of Authors? It was a deck of cards with photos of well known classic authors with names of their works. That’s how I learned who James Fenimore Cooper was.

Our family, especially my mom’s parents, loved Rook. Another classic game with the goal of ‘taking tricks’.

We learned to play poker at a very early age. Five Card Draw, Jacks or Better to Open was a family favorite. We all learned very early what card combinations would beat another. Five Card Stud was another favorite.

Of course there was Black Jack, too. “Hit Me” was often echoing through the house, but learning when to split, stand, or take a hit was critical. Do you dare take a hit on a sixteen?

Rummy, Hearts, and Spades were popular when several people would play. My mom was a bit of a sore loser and I have seen her hurl her hand of cards across the room when she lost.

No one in my family played Bridge but I remember all the 50s TV couples playing. We did play Euchre but I do not remember the rules well enough to play today. Pinochle was another favorite but I would need a major refresher on that one, too!

It was easier to play cards back in the day because everyone played and therefore almost everyone was well versed in the rules. No extra time was needed to ring people up to speed. Families spent a lot more time together then it seems.

I am sure there are others, but these were the most common in our house.

Did you play any of these games? Do you still play cards today?


26 thoughts on “Jacks or Better to Open”

      1. The most I ever one in one long game was £110. But that was in 1974, so quite a lot of money then. The most I ever lost was £50, later that same year.


  1. I played cards with friends iften. I didn’t play much with my spouse as he was a sore loser. I never learned Bridge. Penny poker was popular with couples. Mexican Train was played with my aunt and uncle.

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  2. I’m kind of limited by the fact that one hand doesn’t work all that well, so I play solitaire online at

    Mom and Dad played Gin Rummy, and after Dad died she taught the three of us how to play so she’d have someone to play with. We all got really good at it and were defeating her almost as often as Dad had. Mom said that she and Dad would play gin every night when she was expecting me, and Dad beat her with regularity. They played penny-a-point, and by the time I was born she owed him a couple thousand dollars.

    I sat and watched Dad and his brother Ed play cribbage one afternoon at Grandma’s house. Still can’t figure it out. We used to visit his uncle Lawrence about once a year, and they had several pinochle and euchre decks. No idea how to play them, either, and you can’t play solitaire with a pinochle deck. (At least, not that I know of….)

    Now, bridge was huge in my neighborhood when I was in grammar school. Everybody played bridge. Grandma and her sister Florence were absolute sharks when they played. I’m serious, they played like they were out for blood.

    And of course we all played card games. Dad taught us the rudiments of poker and Blackjack before he died. Jim played bid whist for a while, I think. And of course, we played the kids’ games: Old Maid, War, Crazy Eights, Hearts, Slap Jack (which got very violent when we played it)…

    We had a few card games that came with their own decks, like Mille Bornes (a French driving game), Uno (which was really big at one time, and I understand still is), and Skip-Bo (made by the same people who came up with Uno). One Christmas, we played Uno as a family, and Kip and I ganged up on the rest of the family (we would consult each other on what we should play next).

    Oh, this was fun…


    1. What a delightful comment to read. It brought back a lot of memories about how most families used to spend their time.

      My Dad played cribbage but I never understood it either. I did find creative ways to play with the cribbage board, though.

      I had forgotten about Crazy Eights and Slap Jack! Oh how crazy we could get playing Slap Jack.

      So many of the games are trick taking games or trump games. I would like to think they would be easy to learn, but I am probably incorrect.

      We also played Skip-Bo and Uno. I may still have an Uno deck around here in a closet somewhere.

      This was so much fun to read, John. Thank you.

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  3. What a fun subject to think back on. We used to play lots of card games with friends back in the day, pretty much all that’s been mentioned. Spades was a favorite. For awhile we played Bridge, and also Canasta. One time some girlfriends and I invented one similar to gin, but we called it the 5 deck game, because we used 5 decks at once. Skip bo we played some, and it was invented by a lady in a small town near where we live. 🙂

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