Go Fish Rules: The Basics & Variations for Beginners

Father and sons playing Go Fish

Early elementary schoolers are some of the hardest to find games for that their older siblings will enjoy playing as well. So, if you've been struggling with keeping the chaos in your house during game night under control, look no further than trying out a round of Go Fish. Thankfully, the Go Fish rules are easy to follow, and with a little guidance, even your youngest will feel confident joining in on the big kid fun.

Go Fish Card Game

Go Fish is an incredibly popular card game because it allows for a multitude of players to be involved and only requires a single prop to play a round. In terms of demographics, the famous card company Bicycle reports that:

  • Age - Go Fish is recommended for children ages four and up.
  • Number of Players - Go Fish can be played with as few as two players and as many as you want.

The traditional object of the game is to make as many matches of four kinds of any of the cards (ie. one card from every suit such as tens or queens) and this is accomplished through winning them off of other players or pulling them from the card stack.

How to Set Up the Game

As long as you have any standard playing card deck with 52 cards, you can put together a game of Go Fish.

  1. Designate a dealer (often the oldest person in a group is selected to be the dealer) and have the dealer shuffle the deck a few times.
  2. Once the dealer has shuffled the deck, they should dole out the cards to the players. If there's three or fewer players, seven cards are distributed face down to each person, and if there's four or more, five cards are distributed face down.
  3. The remaining cards need to be set into a stack and placed where everyone can reach them.
  4. The player to the left of the dealer gets to begin the game with their query.

How to Play Go Fish

Fundamentally, Go Fish is a memory game with a dash of luck tossed in for good measure. Given that older toddlers can even play the game, anyone can understand its rules:

  1. All the players pick up their hands of cards and see which one's they received.
  2. The player to the left of the dealer looks at any of the other players and asks them for a specific card, such as "hand over your tens." Note - you must have at least one of the cards in your hand that you're 'fishing' for.
  3. The player that's been questioned will have one of two responses: go fish or here you go.
  4. In the case of go fish, the player who was questioned doesn't have any of those cards in their hand and the player who was 'fishing' has to draw one card from the top of the stack of unused cards. The 'fishing' player's turn immediately ends after they've taken their card from the stack.
  5. In the case of here you go, the player who's been questioned gives over one of their cards that is a match to the 'fisher's' request. The 'fishing' player can then ask that same player or any other player for an additional card. This proceeds until the player no longer gets a card from the other players and has to draw from the stack.
  6. This continues around in a clockwise pattern until players have no cards and cannot receive anymore from the empty stack or all the matches have been made.
  7. At any point during the game that players have four of a kind, they'll need to show the group their match and then place it nearby to be counted at the end.
  8. Once the game has finished, players will count up their number of matches that they've gotten and the person with the highest number wins the game.
grandmother playing Go Fish with family

Variations on the Classic Game

There are a couple of ways that you can modify the game to make things more interesting or make it easier for younger players.

  • Two-Card Matches - A great way to shift the rules if you're playing with younger children is to make the requirement for matches be two cards rather than four, as this'll keep them engaged and feeling like they're making progress.
  • Fish for a Specific Card - To make the game harder you can require all players to ask for a specific card instead of a type of card in general. For example, someone would have to ask for a queen of diamonds instead of just a queen.
  • Popcorn Style - Turn things on their head by having the gameplay shift from going clockwise to moving from the person asking to the person being asked for a card.

Ways to Win at Go Fish

Go Fish isn't exactly a game known for being particularly strategic; however, there are a couple of tips you can keep in mind when you're starting up your next game to help you stay focused and collect the most matches in the end:

  • Pay attention - Most importantly, when you're fishing, you have to pay attention to the cards other players are asking for and not receiving, so that you don't make the same mistake and be forced to continually collect more cards.
  • Try to go fish early - The more cards you have, the better chance you have of collecting a full suit, so trying to get a lot of go fishes early will let you accrue cards and more potential matches.
  • Don't ask for the same cards from every player - You don't want to give away exactly what cards you have in your hand, so you shouldn't keep asking for the same cards over and over again as the player who might have that last Jack you need to finish a suit will know to ask you for yours during the next round.

Reel in Those Matches

As they say, there's plenty of fish in the sea and cards in the hand when it comes to Go Fish. A timeless classic that you can enjoy from 5 to 95, Go Fish remains a highly popular card game for how many people can play in a single game and for how simple the gameplay is. Just like riding a bike, you can hop right into a new game of Go Fish using this quick refresher.

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Go Fish Rules: The Basics & Variations for Beginners