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Shithead (card game)

Shithead (also commonly known as Kosbor, Shed, Karma, Threes, Palace[1], Mohonk, Johan's Game ,Estee Bestee and by many other names) is a card game, the object of which is to lose all of one's cards, with the final player to be "shithead".[2] The game is popular in many countries amongst backpackers, and as a result is widespread.[1][2] Although the basic structure of the game generally remains constant there are regional variations to the game's original rules.

A hand during a game of Shithead
Alternative namesKosbor, Palace, Shed, Karma, Threes
Players2-4 (recommended); 5 maximum
Skills requiredMemory
Card rank (highest first)Highly variable
Playing time5 mins.+
Random chanceHigh
Related games



There are many variations of the rules, and there is no universally accepted set. A set of rules is listed here.


From a standard, shuffled deck of 52 cards, each player is dealt three face-down cards in a row. Players are not allowed to see or change these cards. On top of the face-down cards, they are dealt the same number of face-up cards. Three cards are dealt to each player (face down), and this becomes the player's hand.[2]

Players are then allowed to switch the cards in their 'hand' with their 'face up cards' in an attempt to produce a strong set of 'face up cards' for later in the game.[2]


The beginning player is the first person (counterclockwise from the dealer) to have a face-up 3. If no 3s are face-up, the first player to have a 3 in their hand begins. (If no player has a 3 in hand, the way is repeated for the first 4, and so on.)[2] The beginning player makes the first play to the play pile, and must choose by any rank.

All players are to lay a card the same or higher in value than the one at the top of the play pile, then draw cards from the deck so they have 3 cards in their hand (they do not draw cards if the deck has run out of cards or if they already have three or more cards in their hand). After a player has no single card that is higher in value than the previous card they must play a pair of cards, in which case: the next player must play a higher pair or a triple. Special cards may be played. If they cannot play a card (or cards), they must pick up the play pile (put it in their hand) and end their turn. In some variants: if 2 cards of the same value are played, the next player is skipped.

Play continues sequentially in a clockwise direction unless certain wildcards are played, depending on rule set.

A game of shithead in its final phase

After a player has no more cards in their hand, and the deck is empty, they need to continue to play from their three face up cards onto the play pile. They can't play from this set of cards until they have finished with their hand. After the deck is empty and there are no cards in the player's hand, they must lay one of the face up cards ( you can not lay two) on the pile. The rank of the face up card must be higher than the rank of the card on the top of the pile, if not: the player can't play the face up card and must pick up the pile.

Picking up the pile can often put a player at a great disadvantage when many cards have been played as they will have more cards to shed than other players. Even so, it's still possible to quickly recover from this handicap.

Once all of the face up cards have been played, a player must then play their face down cards, which are known as "blind cards". These must be turned over so that all the group may see what has been played. If the card is lower than the previous card played, they need to pick up the pile and put it in their hand, making them to play their hand again before progressing to the rest of their face down cards.

After a player is able to complete a set in turn (e.g. complete four-of-a-kind 8 8 8 8) they must do so clearing (burning) and removing the whole pile from play. For example, if a player first plays 7 7 7 and the next player in turn has the 7 they can drop that card to finish the set and clearing the play pile. The next player who clears must play another card after.[2] Some rules allow players to clear at any time in or out of turn. Other rules make the a four-of-a-wild a normal wild.

After a player has no cards left, they're out. The loser, known as "The Shithead" is the final player is left in the game. Under most rules the shithead's only role is to deal the next set of cards. Players must determine a punishment for being the “shithead”. Ex. The shithead must fetch the next round of drinks, or the shithead must do something humiliating.

Wildcards and special attributesEdit

Aside from the basic order of play, the core aspect of Shithead is the "wildcards". These vary greatly depending on regional variations, though the core of the rules remains the same. With certain exceptions, wildcards may be played on any other card.

All variants have the 2 and 10 as wildcards, which must be played onto any card, and must be followed by any card. If playing a 10 or a 4-of-a-kind to remove the play pile from the game, give the next player for another turn. There are two important distinctions between a 2 and a 10; whilst both may be laid on any card, the 2 can't "burn" the play pile, and does not entitle the player to another turn: Following a 2 the player's turn is ended and the next player is free to play by any card they want. After a 10 is played, the same player may play any card, though without picking up a fresh card from the deck. Another variant of Shitheads, called the Mangalore variant, designates 3 as a wildcard, in which it is treated as a blank joker (for example, after a 3 was played over a king card in the play pile, the following player is play the next turn must still place a card is same to or higher than the king card in the play pile).[2]

The jokers are occasionally used as wildcards. When placed on the play pile, everyone apart from the person placing must touch their own nose. The last person to touch their own nose must pickup the play pile and discard the joker.

Many rulesets and house rules give special attributes to other card values, such as reversing the order of play,[2] needing the next play to be lower than the played card in the case of a number 7,[2] with the next player playing as if that card were not on the play pile.[2]


  1. ^ a b Parlett, David (1979). The Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games. p. 480. ISBN 0140280324. (Karma, Palace, Shed, many other names)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j rules of Shithead