Rules to card game war

How to play: War

The deck is divided evenly, with each player receiving 26 cards, dealt one at a time, face down. Anyone may deal first. Each player places their stack of cards face down, in front of them.

The Play

Each player turns up a card at the same time and the player with the higher card takes both cards and puts them, face down, on the bottom of his stack.

If the cards are the same rank, it is War. Each player turns up one card face down and one card face up. The player with the higher cards takes both piles (six cards). If the turned-up cards are again the same rank, each player places another card face down and turns another card face up. The player with the higher card takes all 10 cards, and so on.

War Rules and Gameplay

War is a simple, but fun card game that can be played with a standard 52 card deck. It's great while traveling. The game doesn't involve a lot of strategy and the rules are fairly easy to learn.

Starting the Game of War

To set up the game, just deal all the cards evenly among 2 players face down.

Rules of War

During each turn, or battle, both players turn over the top card in their pile. The player with the higher card wins and gets to add both cards to the bottom of their stack. Cards are ranked with 2 being the lowest and the Ace being the highest:

When each player turns over the same card, this is a tie and a "War" begins. The next three cards from each player's pile are moved to the center pile and then the next card is turned over. The higher ranked card wins and the player gets all the cards. In the case of another tie, another war starts. This continues until someone wins and gains all the cards.

A player wins when he/she has all the cards.

If a player does not have enough cards for a war, including the three face down cards, then that player may turn over their last card as the war card. If they win, they gain the cards in the middle and stay in the game.

War Game Rules

War, or Battle, is a played with two players and a standard 52 playing card deck. In War, cards are ranked Aces high and 2s low. The objective of the game is to win all of the cards in the deck.

For more classic card games, check out our guides for Old Maid and Cribbage.

If you are looking for cards to play War with, check out a standard deck here or one of our war themed decks here.

A free online version of War may be found here.

Set Up

Before gameplay can begin, a dealer must be selected. Each player draws one card from a shuffled deck. The player with the lowest card becomes the dealer. The dealer shuffles the deck and passes out all of the cards one by one to themselves and their opponent.

How to Play

Both players place the top card of their deck onto the center of the table. The player whose card is higher in value takes both cards and places them in a separate pile next to their deck. Once a player runs out of cards in their deck, they shuffle all of the cards in their win pile and continue to play.

If players play cards of the same value, then there is a war. Players will place three of their cards faced down on the table and draw again. The winner of the war takes both pairs of played cards and the three cards faced down, winning five of their opponent s cards. If both cards of the second draw are also equal, the process is repeated and three more cards are laid faced down.

The player who wins all of the cards, wins the game.

For more information of the game of war and its rules, check out Wikipedia's article here or Pagat's article here.

This is a children's game played in many parts of the world. No strategy is involved - simply the ability to recognise which of two cards is higher in rank, and to follow the procedure of the game. The standard two-player game is described first, then the game for three or four players. after this are summaries of some of the many variations, including a version in which captured cards can be stolen, a Russian version of it called Drunkard (P'yanitsa), a German version Tod und Leben., a version from Syria and a gambling version offered in some casinos.

See also the War Variations page, for other variations of War invented and submitted by readers.

War for two players

In the basic game there are two players and you use a standard 52 card pack. Cards rank as usual from high to low: A K Q J T 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Suits are ignored in this game.

Deal out all the cards, so that each player has 26. Players do not look at their cards, but keep them in a packet face down. The object of the game is to win all the cards.

Both players now turn their top card face up and put them on the table. Whoever turned the higher card takes both cards and adds them (face down) to the bottom of their packet. Then both players turn up their next card and so on.

If the turned up cards are equal there is a war. The tied cards stay on the table and both players play the next card of their pile face down and then another card face-up. Whoever has the higher of the new face-up cards wins the war and adds all six cards face-down to the bottom of their packet. If the new face-up cards are equal as well, the war continues: each player puts another card face-down and one face-up. The war goes on like this as long as the face-up cards continue to be equal. As soon as they are different the player of the higher card wins all the cards in the war.

The game continues until one player has all the cards and wins. This can take a long time.

Most descriptions of War are not clear about what happens if a player runs out of cards during a war. There are at least two possibilities:

  1. If you don't have enough cards to complete the war, you lose. If neither player has enough cards, the one who runs out first loses. If both run out simultaneously, it's a draw. Example: Players A and B both play sevens, so there is a war. Each player plays a card face down, but this is player B's last card. Player A wins, since player B does not have enough cards to fight the war.
  2. If you run out of cards during a war, your last card is turned face up and is used for all battles in that war. If this happens to both players in a war and their last cards are equal, the game is a draw. Example: Players A and B both play sevens, so there is a war. Player A plays a card face down, but player B has only one card, so it must be played face up. It is a queen. Player A plays a card face up and it is also a queen, so the war must continue. Player B's queen stays (B's last card) while player A plays a card face down and one face up, which is a nine. Player B wins the war and takes all these seven cards (the five cards that A played and the two cards that B played) and the game continues normally.

War for three or four players

War can also be played by three or more players in much the same way. Deal out as many as possible of the cards so that everyone has an equal number (17 for 3 players, 13 for 4).

All players simultaneously turn over a card and the highest wins all the cards tuned up. If two or more players tie for highest there is a war - everyone plays their next card face-down and then turns up a third card. This continues until one of the face-up cards is higher than all the others, and then that player wins all the cards in a war.

Note that all players take part in a war, not only the ones who had the highest cards.

A player who runs out of cards drops out. The game goes on until only one player has cards, and that player wins.


Many players play three face-down cards in a war rather than just one. When equal cards are turned up the players play the next three cards from their pile face down, sometimes saying W - A - R and then turning up the next card to decide which player wins all ten cards. Some say I - de - clare - war with the word war said as the new face up card is played. In this case if some players do not have enough cards to fight the war, some agree that the player with fewest cards should use all their cards while the other player plays the name number of cards. For example in a war where one player has only three cards and the other player more, each player will play just two cards face down and then one face up.

Some add two jokers to the pack, in which case they count as the highest cards, above the aces. Since the jokers are very powerful, some prefer to make sure that both are not given to one player, but separate them from the pack before dividing it between the players and then burying one joker in each player's stack of cards.

In his book Card Games for Dummies Barry Rigal describes a version in which the number of cards dealt face down in a war is determined by the rank of the cards that caused the war: two cards for a 2, three for a 3 and so on, 10 cards for a war caused by a Jack, Queen or King and 11 cards for a war over Aces. If one player does not have enough cards for the war, all players play the same number of cards as the player who had fewest. If there is a war and one of the participants has no cards at all to play, that player loses. According to Daniel Grad this is the system used in the Romanian War variant known as Razboi.

Some play that in a war, instead of playing face down cards, each player plays cards face up one at a time as fast as they like (not taking turns) until an Ace appears, and the first person who plays an Ace takes all the played cards. If Jokers are being used as the highest cards, then a Joker rather than an Ace is needed to take the cards. In this version, captured cards are usually stacked face up in front of each player rather than added to the bottom of their face down packet. They are picked up and turned over only when the player's supply of face down cards runs out.

Many other variations submitted by readers of this site will be found on the War Variations page of the Invented games section.

Steal War

This variation, reported by Gary Philippy and Hayes Ruberti, is a sort of hybrid of War and Stealing Bundles. The basis is a normal game of War, in which wars consist of three cards played face down followed by one face up. The deck includes two jokers, which are the highest cards.

When cards are won, they are not added to the bottom of the winner's card supply but placed in a pile face up beside the player. Each player has a single face up pile. Newly won cards are added to the top of the pile and the winner can choose which of the new cards to place on top.

As players take cards from the top of their face down packet to play, they look at them before playing them. If the rank of your card matches the top card of an opponent's face-up pile, then instead of playing it normally you can use it to steal that pile. You put your card face up on top of the pile your are stealing and then take the whole of the stolen pile and place it on top of your own pile without changing the order of the cards. You then look at the next card from your face down packet and play it (or, in a game of more than 2 players, possibly steal another pile and play the next card).

If each player's card matches the top card of the other player's capture pile, they can both steal and the two capture piles are exchanged.

The three cards played face down during a war are not looked at and cannot be used to steal an opponent's pile, but the following card can be used to steal instead of competing to win the war if it matches an opponent's pile.

Once you have played a card and let go of it, you can no longer use it to steal an opponent's pile. Sometimes players miss stealing opportunities accidentally, but you may deliberately choose to play your card rather than stealing with it. For example you might prefer to use it to win a war rather than steal a small pile.

As soon as a player's packet of face down cards runs out, the player's face-up pile is turned over and shuffled to make a new face-down packet of cards to play from.

A player who runs out of cards during a war loses immediately.

As the game was originally described, there is the possibility for a pile that was stolen to be stolen back immediately if both players draw a card the is equal to the top card of one of the stacks. This depends on the timing of the play. If A's face-up pile has a 9 on top and A and B both have 9's as their next play card, then B can steal A's pile and A can steal it back, provided that B steals before A has played. If B waits until after A has played the 9, then A can no longer use it to steal and the cards remain with B. This is rather unsatisfactory, since in this situation A and B might wait indefinitely for the other to play first. The following rule is suggested as a solution: if you play a card that matches your own pile, it protects your pile from being stolen during that turn of play. So in the example A can play the 9 normally and B cannot steal A's pile. B can only play the 9 normally for a war.

P'yanitsa (Drunkard)

Leo Broukhis contributed this Russian version of War, which he says is mostly played by kids in summer camps on a rainy day.

  • everybody puts a new card face up on top of the card they played the previous trick, or
  • everybody puts a new card face down on top of the card they played the previous trick, then a card face up.

Tod und Leben (Life and Death)

Gunther Senst played this simple variant as a child in Mecklenburg, Germany. In this game the players play through the deck once only: the cards are not recycled.

  • A 32-card pack is used, the cards ranking from high to low: A - K - Q - J - 10 - 9 - 8 - 7. The suits have no significance.
  • The cards are thoroughly shuffled and each of the two players receives 16 cards face down.
  • Both players simultaneously turn up their top card. The player with the higher card takes the two-card trick and stores the cards face down (they are not added to the player's supply of cards to be played again).
  • If the players' cards are equal, each player simply turns the next card, so that the trick consists of 4 cards. And so on.
  • If the players' last cards are equal, they each add their own played card to their tricks (or more than one card if the next to last cards were also equal)..
  • After both players have played all 16 cards, whoever has won more cards wins the round.
  • The game can continue for as many rounds as the players desire.

Syrian War

Sultan Ratrout describes a version of War played in Syria, in which the two players play alternately (rather than simultaneously), turning over the top card of their packet and adding it to the top of the face up play pile. In this game the Ace is the lowest card (below the 2) and the King is highest.

  • If the play pile was empty or the played card is lower than the previous top card of the pile, nothing happens and the next player plays their card.
  • If the card played is higher than the previous top card of the play pile, the player captures the whole play pile, turns it over and adds it to the bottom of their face down packet.
  • If the played card is equal to the top card of the play pile there is a war.

In a war, each player plays a number of cards determined by the rank of the card that caused the war - for example one card each for an Ace, 3 cards each for a 3, 8 each for an 8, and so on. A player who does not have enough cards plays all the cards they have and their opponent plays an equal number of cards. Now each player turns the last card of their row face up, and whoever turned up the higher card takes all the cards from both rows and adds them to the bottom of their face down packet, but does not capture the cards in the play pile. The play then continues with the 'loser' of the war (the player who did not capture the cards), playing another card on top of the play pile.

We do not know for sure how many cards are turned in a war caused by two equal picture cards, for example Queen vs Queen. Probably in a war of picture cards each player plays 10 cards.

We do not know what happens if the cards turned up at the end of a war are equal: maybe there is another war or maybe each player takes back the cards that they played in the war, and play continues with the opponent of the player who started the war.

Presumably as soon as a player runs out of cards - playing their last card without capturing the pile, that player is the loser of the game and the other player wins. Probably this applies even if the player's last card was equal to the previous card on the play pile, since the player has no cards with which to fight the war.

Sultan Ratrout reports that by agreement some play that at the end of a war each player takes back their own row of cards and adds it to the bottom of their play packet. Apparently the loser of the war then plays the next card, which would mean that in this version it is an advantage to lose a war, because the loser has the next opportunity to capture the play pile.

Casino War

A version of War is offered as a gambling game in many online casinos. The player places a bet and the player and the house are each dealt one card face up. The higher card wins: if the house has the higher card the bet is lost: if the player's card is higher the bet is returned plus an equal amount of winnings. If the cards are tied, the player has two options:

  1. Surrender, in which case half the player's bet is returned and half kept by the house, so if the original bet was $10 you lose $5.
  2. Go to war in which case the player must stake an additional amount equal to the original bet. Three cards are dealt face down and then the house and the player are each dealt another card face up. If the new house card is higher the player loses both bets. If the player's card is equal or higher the player's bets are returned plus an amount equal to the original bet only. For example if you bet $10 and then go to war, you will either win $10 or lose $20.

It is also possible for the player to bet at fixed odds of 10:1 that there will be a tie.

The Pogg's Casino War Guide provides information on Casino War, its strategy and places to play online.

Software and On Line Games

The collection HOYLE Card Games for Windows or Mac OS X includes a War program, along with many other popular card games.

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