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What are the Rules of the Game Go Fish?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Go Fish is a popular card game among children. It is a very simple card game that typically includes two to 10 players. Four to six players generally are considered ideal for game play. The rules of Go Fish essentially involve players trying to guess which cards are in their opponents' hands and matching correct guesses with cards in their own hands to create pairs, which are then removed from the players' hands. The winner is the player who has the most pairs at the end of the game.

Setting Up

This card game, like many others, is believed to have originated in the Middle Ages. It usually is played with a normal 52-card deck, although any deck of cards can be used, and special Go Fish card decks are available, especially in children's themes. No matter which type of deck is used, the deck is shuffled before one player acts as the dealer and gives each player a certain number of cards — usually five to seven, depending on the number of players and the specific rules being followed. Generally, games with fewer players use larger hands.

Asking for Cards

The player to the left of the dealer goes first and is allowed to ask any other player at the table for a card of a particular rank. Players are not allowed to ask for cards that they are not holding, although they are permitted to take note of cards for which the other players ask. For example, if a player has a five-card hand containing a 3, a 5, a 7, a jack and a king, he or she might turn to a neighbor and ask whether that player has a 3. If the player being asked has the card in question, the card must be surrendered to the player asking for it. If the player does not have that card, he or she says “Go Fish,” and the player who requested the card must draw a card from the deck, and the next player takes his or her turn.

Forming Pairs

Whenever a player has two cards of the same rank, they form a pair and are placed face up on the table for the other players to see. In some variations of Go Fish, a player must collect all four cards of the same rank, which makes the game more challenging. This rule works well only in games that involve two to four players. If the player draws a card that fills a pair or a quartet, he or she typically must put the cards down on the table immediately. When playing with the pair rule, players are not allowed to hold pairs in their hand.

Declaring a Winner

The game continues until there are no cards left in the deck and all of the cards have been placed in pairs or quartets. If a player has no cards in his or her hand at the time of play, a card can be drawn from the deck so that he or she can ask another player for an equally ranked card. The winner of the game is the player who has the largest number of pairs or quartets when all of the cards have been played.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon30900 — On Apr 26, 2009

can you use jokers in go fish?

By anon6019 — On Dec 13, 2007

i still don't get how to play it even though i used to know how to play it before.

how does this game go?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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