How to play Nerts

By Contributing Writer

Nerts is a game which - to my knowledge - has not been around for more than 20 years. It may be fairly new, but is about as fun and entertaining as card games come. Read on to find out how to play!

Before Play

First off, each player needs to have a deck of cards. If you have 5 people playing, you will need 5 decks of cards. It may also be a good idea to make sure each deck is visibly unique from the others, so that decks are not confused after games.

After everyone has a deck, have each person shuffle their deck and place 4 cards face up in a row (also called "train") in front of them. Then have them count out 13 cards and place them in a stack, face up, slightly off to the side (but still easily accessible during the game). The remainder of the cards will be used to count off by 3's as one would playing Solitarie. Therefore, they should be face down while in the player's hands. The players should also be in a circle with nothing set in the center area between (also called the "pot").

Before you begin, it may be good to remember the object of the game. The object of Nerts is to be the first to empty the 13-card stack beside them and shout out "Nerts!" Remember the object is not to play off all the cards in your hand - those are there to simply keep the game going and help to play off all the 13 cards beside you. After someone has won a game of Nerts, they have an "N." After 2 games one, it progresses to "Ne." It takes winning 5 games to win a match of Nerts.

Playing Nerts

To begin the game, one of the players (it doesn't matter who) simply begins playing the game by moving cards about or flipping through their hand cards. This is one of the unique things about this game: there is no set or specific rule on how to begin - someone simply starts it and everyone else follows along. Naturally, however, the game cannot begin until everyone is ready and has all their cards situated. Beyond that, begin when desired.

As has already been mentioned, the object of the game is to play off all the 13-card stack beside you, one at a time, from top to bottom. You do this by adding them to the "pot" - or center area - or adding them to your "train" - row of cards in front of you. There must never be more than 4 cards in the "train." However, you can play off or combine some of these cards into columns like in Solitaire (descending with alternate colors - i.e., an 8 of diamonds can have a 7 of clubs underneath, followed by a 6 of hearts, etc). When you have less than 4 cards, you must add a card or cards to keep the row at 4 cards. Thus you can play down your 13-card stack.

The "pot" can also be used to play off your 13-card stack. It is the area in the center of all the players (remember, there should be nothing set there, such as a bowl of chips and salsa). Like Solitarie, the "pot" is for the aces and full suits counting up from ace (i.e., ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king). But with Nerts, you have more people playing the "pot." Everyone can play off of any of the stacks in the "pot." For example, if player 1 places an ace in the "pot," player 3 can place a 2 of the same suit on top of that, and player 1 or 4 can place the 3 of the same suit. And the whole while everyone is trying to play off their 13-card stacks at the same time! Fun stuff! If two players both place a card on a stack in the "pot" at the same time, then the player who's card is on the bottom gets to keep it there.

The third medium you have for moving cards are your hand cards. You go through these by picking out every third card, like on Solitarie. You can place these cards in the "pot" or on the "train," but not in the 13-card stack (why would you want to?). Use the hand cards wisely. If you can move a "train" card or one from the 13-card stack, do it. The hand cards are there to keep the game moving and to give you more options.

When a player has run out his or her 13-card stack, they must say "Nerts" immediately, lest someone else notice and shouts out "Nerts" before them, thus disqualifying the poor player who didn't speak up, and allowing play to continue until another player runs down their 13-card stack and says "Nerts." The winner of the game receives an "N." Then the decks are collected, shuffled and laid out for another game. The match is completed when a player wins five games, or when "Nerts" is spelled out by one of the players.


Keep an eye on not only your cards, but also the cards of others. Therefore you can be ready to throw a card on one of the "pot" stacks, or call out "Nerts" before someone else. Sometimes consider not placing a card into the "pot" even if you can. This may be a good strategy if one of your hand cards can go into the "pot," but doing it would allow one of your opponents to play off of that card, and allow them to progress. Think ahead. When you get really good, consider carrying on a conversation with other players to throw them off. Be quick about moving cards - it's a race! Have fun!