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We have a great time playing Hearts, Spades, and Euchre with 4 players. Oftentimes though we have three people available to play but not a fourth.

How can I find card games that are interesting for 3 players?

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Seems like a good question, so many card games are optimised for 4 that some sensible advice for when you're a man short would be good. I hope we don't get a lot of "this is a card game I like, and it sort of kind of works for 3 players too" though. –  thesunneversets Aug 5 '11 at 15:37
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10 Answers

Cassino

A brilliant card game that just magically deals out evenly to both 2, 3 and 4 players.

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+1! I just came here to add Cassino! –  gomad Aug 22 '11 at 15:48
    
Nice. Good game. –  Steeven Aug 22 '11 at 16:57
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Canasta has a three-player variant, where the players all compete against each other instead of playing in teams of two.

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Durak (Fool) is a Russian game that plays very well with 3 people. The mechanics are also quite distinctive; it's rare to find a good card game that isn't built on trick taking in my experience.

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I think one of the best card games for three players is Skat (not to be confused with the Scat mentioned in another answer). This is a pretty heavy game on the level of Bridge, so you can decide whether it's a good fit for your group.

I personally prefer Ninety-Nine which is like Oh Hell! with a really funky bidding technique.

You might also find this list on pagat.com helpful. It seems like the numbers outside square brackets are the recommended numbers of players.

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99 is THE BEST 3 player card game. –  Neal Tibrewala Aug 13 '11 at 9:44
    
+1 for Skat! It's THE card game in Germany... –  Jan Aug 21 '11 at 17:59
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Briscola is a very Euchre-like trick-taking game that can scale to many different player numbers. I prefer it with 3 so it sounds like the right fit for you folks. If your group knows Euchre, they'll be able to learn Briscola quite easily. Traditionally, it's played with Italian playing card deck (cups, swords, clubs, coins), but can easily be played with a modified International deck (hearts, spades, diamonds, clubs) by removing the 8, 9, and 10 of each suit.

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I'd recommend:

31 (or Scat... but I've never heard it called it that) http://www.pagat.com/draw/scat.html

3 handed Pinochle http://www.pagat.com/marriage/pin3.html

or Oh Hell! http://www.pagat.com/exact/ohhell.html

3 is pretty fun with the right group, and all of these work great.

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Pourquoi le moins-un? –  mcw0933 Aug 30 '11 at 18:37
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When I was at university we often had exactly this problem. The way I solved it was by extensive googling for a card game that was designed for three players. The game I ended up finding was 3-5-8.* It has an interesting imbalance that means you spend a lot of time deciding which of your opponents is actually in the lead, and you often get the choice to give a trick to one or the other.

*I think I actually came across 8-5-3, where the order of the hands is reversed. Very similar games are 9-5-2 and Sergeant Major.

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The Indian version of this, I suppose: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teen_Do_Paanch –  Aryabhata Aug 11 '11 at 2:11
    
@tttppp we played this a little last night. It seems like the rich get richer with this game b/c of the card swapping after the first hand. Doesn't the first person to end UP earlier in the game get an unfair advantage? Maybe we're playing it wrong. –  Dave Aug 19 '11 at 14:01
    
When we played it we found that some positions seemed to be harder than others (5 seemed worst, and 3 best), which led to players building up an advantage and then losing it again. Also we found that it's hard to get much more than 9 or 10 tricks. This means that the rich don't often get indefinitely richer, as they can be reeled in when they're playing 8. –  tttppp Aug 21 '11 at 16:11
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Since you mentioned the games you enjoyed playing, I'll point out they all can be played three-handed, with minor rules modification. I've enjoyed playing Hearts three-handed.

Where I live, the canonical three-player card game is Cribbage.

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+1 for Cribbage, it was the first card game I thought of. –  CanSpice Aug 22 '11 at 19:38
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500 Rummy is the best game of the rummy family IMHO, and it works well with any number from 2-5.

klabberjass is a trick taking game that works only with 3. I'll admit upfront that I've never played, but I assume its a good 3 player game as no other amount can play.

psychological jujitsu is great with 3. It's a game of skillful bluffing and psychological matching of wits.

Egyptian Ratscrew is really fun with anywhere from 2-6. It's a game of speed, so if you're group doesn't like moments where you're all racing to slap a pile of cards, then I wouldn't try it. But try it at least once, it's a lot more fun than it sounds. :D

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+1. Came here to recommend Egyptian Rat. Egyptian Rat is never the wrong answer. –  J.T. Hurley Aug 6 '11 at 3:24
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The easiest way to get a three person game is to take a two person game with an extra person. Poker is the one that immediately comes to mind. . It's also possible to have "three handed" gin rummy, with one dealer and two players in every game. The loser of one game becomes the dealer of the next.

It's possible, but harder, to downgrade a four person game into three. In a pinch, I've played "three handed bridge." Deal out all four hands, highest bidder gets dummy, score each person separately. On the other hand, "go fish," often a four player game, can be downgraded to three relatively easily.

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