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Go Fish rules: How to play the popular card game 

Get ready to reel in some fun.

Get ready to cast your cards in the simple and wonderful game of Go Fish.

It’s safe to say that Go Fish can inject joy in everybody’s day, from little kids learning the game for the first time to adults gathering for game night who have played the card game hundreds of times before. 

As any seasoned player of Go Fish knows, you must do what you can to give yourself the edge in this competitive yet uber-fun game. Take Rory Adams, a TV writer and founder of magician directory Book A Magician, for instance. Adams, who has also helped write a board game for Neil Patrick Harris called BoxONE, has learned from his career writing magic tricks for TV shows, just how important observation is in Go Fish, to give himself the upper hand when playing.

“Pay attention to what your opponents are putting down and asking for — it can tip you off to what they might have,” he says, adding that players ought not be afraid to bluff once in a while by asking for a rank you’ve already got four of when they play. “Might just put them off the scent!” he says.

Wait, four of a rank? What does that mean? And how exactly do you play Go Fish? Before you get fishing, read on for our tutorial on how to play this classic card game.

What is Go Fish?

Go Fish, or “Fish,” as it’s known in gaming circles, per Lucas Wyland, a founder of Steambase, a game analytics platform, shares that this card game’s origins date back to the mid-19th century in the U.S. Over the years, it has gained popularity the world over as a beloved card game. 

Best of all, you probably have the only item necessary to play lying around your house: A standard card deck.

“All that’s required is a standard 52-card deck, though decks adorned with fish-themed artwork can enhance the experience,” says Ray Lauzums, founder and CEO of Poggers, a gaming company. (While one standard 52-card deck is sufficient to play, if you would like to enjoy a longer game use two decks, suggests Wyland.)

The game is suitable for two to six players, with each game lasting roughly five to 20 minutes. As Wyland further explains, the objective of Go Fish is to collect the most “books,” which refers to sets of four cards of the same rank, like four aces or four kings.  

The game is quite straightforward and suitable for toddlers and older. “Whether you’re a first-timer or an old pro, Go Fish never loses its charm,” says Adams. “The simplicity is what makes it so brilliant and addictive.” 

How to play Go Fish

“Go Fish requires combining strategy, memory, and a dash of good fortune,” says Wyland. “The excitement lies in asking opponents for specific cards, hoping they have what you need,” he continues. Below, Wyland breaks down how to play Go Fish in six simple steps. Remember, exclaiming “Go Fish!” is half the fun with this childhood play-time staple.

  1. Remove the jokers from the deck and deal the cards: Anyone can be a dealer. If there are 2 to 3 players, deal 7 cards to each person. But if there are 4 or more players, deal 5 cards to each player.
  2. Create the “Fishing Pond:” Spread the remaining cards face-down in the middle. It is known as the “ocean” or “pool.” Hide your cards to prevent others from peeking.
  3. Start the game: The player to the dealer’s left goes first. On your turn, ask any opponent for cards of a specific rank. For instance, “Do you have a “Queen?” or "Do you have any threes?" Note that you can only ask about the ranks you already have in your hand.
  4. The Go Fish Rule: If the opponent has the requested card(s), they must give them to you. If they do not, they say, “Go Fish.” You draw the top card from the pool and add it to your hand. If the drawn card matches your request, you get another turn.
  5. Collecting Books: When you have four cards of the same rank, place them face up before you. It forms a “book.” Play proceeds to the left in a clockwise movement.
  6. The game ends when all the players have laid their cards in books. The winner is the player with the most books.

Tips for Go Fish players

Don’t peek.

Adams stresses the importance of not peeking at the cards. “Deal out all the cards evenly to each player. Any leftovers get stacked facedown in the ‘pool,’” he says. 

Keep an eye on your competition. 

 Lauzums says to keep tabs on the cards your opponents seek. By doing so, you’ll be able to aid your own requests and thwart their progress.  Similarly, Wyland believes you should observe your opponents closely: Pay attention to the card(s) others ask for and what they give away.” Along those lines, more advanced players may want to try and count cards and recall what other players have requested. If possible, keep track of which cards have been played.

Prioritize your requests. 

Lauzums is all about strategizing your requests, prioritizing ranks of which you already possess at least one of when you make your plea to fellow game players. That way you'll be able to build up your books with one or more cards of that rank already in your hand.