Since it’s been a while since I’ve covered an old game, I decided to dust off the history book this week and bring you Maw (also known as Spoil Five, Mawe, or Maye).

Only a good hand if diamonds are trump.

Maw is a card game that dates back to around the Sixteenth century with roots in Ireland and Scotland.  It was later popularized in the 17th century by King James VI as he favored the game.  More modern variants of Maw include the Irish favorite “Twenty-Five” and the more modern variation “Fourty-Fives” that is popular in Canada.

All you need to play Maw is a standard 52 card deck and two to ten players, but it is best with 5.  In a pot game, each player antes in an even amount of money at the start of the game.  Each player is dealt 5 cards down and the top card of the remaining deck is flipped to determine the trump suit.  The value of cards is determined first by trump, the five of trump being the highest, followed by the jack of trump, Ace of hearts (if it’s not trump), and then the ace of trumps.  After that, all the cards are valued descending from king.  Ace is always low unless trump or ace of hearts.

Next, if anyone was dealt the Ace of Trumps, then they can “rob the pack” which is to swap any card in their hand for the turned-up trumps card.  If the ace of trumps is turned up from the hand, the dealer places a card face down in front of him/her as a down payment on the trump.  After the first trick, the dealer can then take the ace of trumps into his hand and play it in any of the next 4 hands.  From there play continues.

A trick is played by each person, starting with the  player left of the dealer.  A single card is played to the center from the first player, this card determines the suit for the round.  If you can follow suit, you have to play a suit card OR you can can play trump.  If you don’t have a suit card, then you can play whatever you want.  If trump is lead, then you must follow with trump unless the only trump you have is one of the top three (Five, Jack, or Ace of trump) and it is higher than the trump that is lead, in which case you can sacrifice a card to avoid following trump.  For example, if somebody leads with the Ace of trump, and you hold the jack or five but no other trump, you can sacrifice a non-trump card to keep the high trump in your hand.

The trick is taken by the highest suit card or the highest trump played.  The person who takes the trick gets to play the first card of the next trick.  The object of the game is to take exactly three tricks.  If become obvious that you can’t win 3 tricks, then the object becomes to “spoil-five” and make sure nobody takes three tricks.  If a person takes the first three tricks, they have swept the pot and can end play.  They may optionally lead the fourth trick, and attempt to take all five tricks.  If all five tricks are taken by the same player, they “Jink” it and receive both the pot, and a tribute from each player equal to the ante for the pot.

If the hand is spoiled (nobody takes three tricks), then the deck is reshuffled, each player antes in again, and the next hand is dealt.  Play continues in this fashion until somebody wins the pot.

Maw is a great little game to cut your teeth on if you’re not very familiar with card games that involve taking tricks.  It plays quickly and involves enough cards that it allows you to become familiar with the tactics of playing and holding to acquire a desired number of tricks.  Once you’re familiar with Maw, then you could move on to more complex trick games, like Up and Down the River (also called “Oh, Hell!”), which is a personal favorite of mine.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

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