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Shithead (card game)

Shithead (also commonly known as Kosbor, Idiot, Jonah's Game, Karma, Palace,[1] Shed, Threes, and many other names) is a card game, the object of which is to lose all of one's cards, with the final player being the "shithead".[2] The game is popular in many countries among backpackers and local pubs, and is therefore 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 namesNumerous
Players2–4 (recommended)/unlimited depending on the amount of cards available
Skills requiredMemory
Cards52 or more
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.

Wildcards (always playable):

  • 2 resets the pile. This is the lowest-value wildcard in the game.
  • 10 burns the pile. All cards in the middle are out of the game and the player who put the 10 plays again.
  • 3 copies the card below, e.g. if a 3 is put over a 6, the 3 counts as 6.

Semi-wildcards (only playable according to their numerical value):

  • 7 forces the next player to play a card under 7 or a wildcard.
  • 8 makes the next player miss their turn. If multiple 8s are played, multiple players skip their turns.
  • Joker inverts the playing round. Usually has a numerical value of 8, but does not skip a turn.

All other cards are normal cards.


From a standard, shuffled deck of cards (or a random deck of card to increase chance), each player is dealt 9 cards in total: 3 face-down cards in a row (blind cards), 3 face-up cards on top of the blind, cards and 3 hand cards.[2] The blind cards will be the last cards to be played and players are not allowed to see or change these cards until the ending turns of the game. The face-up will be the second to last set of cards to be played in the game (before the blind cards). At the beginning of the game, players are allowed to switch their hand cards with their face-up cards in an attempt to produce a strong set of face-up cards (possibly all perfect wildcards) for later in the game.[2] Cards with the same numerical value can be stacked on top of each other if needed.


A game of Shithead in its final phase

The beginning player is the first person to put a 4 in the pile from their hand cards. If no player has a 4 in hand, the way is repeated for the first 5, and so on.[2] The second player must then place a higher card (in numerical value) than the first card and put it on top of the play pile. All subsequent players are then to follow this rule and lay a card with the same or higher in value than the one at the top of the play pile, then draw cards from the deck so that they always have at least 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. The game continues sequentially in a clockwise direction unless certain wildcards are played, such as a Joker, depending on the rule set.

When a player has no single card that is higher in value than the card on top of the play pile, they must pick up all the cards on the play pile and end their turn. 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 is still possible to quickly recover from this handicap by burning the pile. When a player is able to place 4 cards with the same numerical value (e.g. 5 5 5 5 or 8 8 8 8) or plays a 10, they burn the pile, meaning that they clear and remove the whole play pile from the game. Burning can also happen with multiple players. For example, if a player first plays 5 5 5 and the next player in turn has the 5, they can drop that card to finish the set and burn the play pile. The player who burns the pile must then play another card after.[2]

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. They cannot play from this set of cards until they have finished with their hand and they must lay one of the face-up cards on the pile; they can not lay two or more unless previously stacked. Following the rule, the value of the face-up card must be higher than the value of the card on the top of the pile. If a player cannot play the face-up card, they must pick up the pile. Once all of the face-up cards have been played, a player must then play their blind cards. These cards are played one at a time, without the player knowing the card until the moment it is played. As usual, if the chosen card is lower than the previous card played, they need to pick up the pile, making them to play their hand again before progressing to the rest of their face-down cards.

After a player has no cards left, they are out. The game progresses until only one player is left. The final player left in the game is known as the "shithead". 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", such as the shithead must fetch the next round of drinks or do something humiliating.

Wildcards and rules in different versions of the gameEdit

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 cannot "burn" the play pile unless played as a 4-of-a-kind, 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 Shithead, 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 rule sets 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