mao card game rules

OBJECTIVE OF MAO: Play all your cards without breaking unspoken rules.


NUMBER OF CARDS: Standard 52 card deck

RANK OF CARDS:  A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2

TYPE OF GAME: Shedding



Mao is a pesky and annoying game for those not in the know because no one tells you what is happening. The origin of the game is not known for sure, but it is most likely derived from the German card game Mau Mau. This theory is bolstered by the fact the game is also spelled as Mau. 


The dealer is chosen at random. They shuffle and deal each player 3 cards each. The cards that remain form the stock or draw pile. The top card from the stock is flipped over to form the discard pile. Playing with multiple decks for large groups is common.

The cards rank their face value or numerical value.


The game is initiated when after dealing the dealer says, “The name of the game is Mao.” You cannot tell new players the rules or explain the game whatsoever. Because of the nature of Mao, not having a canonical set of rules, the rules can vary widely. For example, some groups share one rules with new players, which is typically the objective of the game. It is common for groups to penalize players who look at their cards prior to the commencement of the game.


Starting to the left of the dealer, and passing clockwise, each player discards a single card from their hand that matches the previous card’s suit or rank. If players are unable to play a card from hand, they must draw a card from the stockpile.

If a player asks a question, they must draw from the stockpile.

When a player explains any rules, they must draw from the stockpile.

If a player acts when it is not their turn, they must draw from the stockpile.

A player must say the name of the game. Failure to say the game’s name when they have 1 card left means the player must draw a penalty card from the stockpile.

Each time a player swears, they must draw from the stockpile.

Dealers can introduce new rules, 1 rule per hand. They may also throw out old rules.

The game continues until each player has had a chance to deal, which passes to the left after each hand.

If you love Mao be sure to check out Uno for another fantastic shedding game.


What are the rules of Mao?

The game of Mao is special because it does not have a specified set of rules. Every playgroup will have a different set of rules they play with. The fun of the game is to try and decipher these rules through playing.

How do I dispute a rule if I cannot talk during play?

If a rule is ever under discussion a player can call a point of order. A player will do this by saying “point of order” this halts all game play so that the ruling can be properly examined. After the player is satisfied to restart the game the same player will say “end point of order” to resume.

What are some examples of the rules of Mao?

A rule of Mao can be nearly anything. For example, the dealer may make the rule that every time a player draws a card they must say have a nice day to the deck. Another example could be that every time you discard you must shake your left neighbor’s hand. All is fair in Mao.

How do I learn the game of Mao if no one will tell me the rules?

Mao can be a frustrating game to learn for the first time. The whole point of the game is that no one tells you the rules. But if you have a friendly and consistent playgroup you will quickly find yourself figuring out the hidden signs of the unspoken rules. Being consistent is a great way to insure that you will get the hang of the rules and be one of the players in the know for the next first-timer’s game.

Nakoa Davis

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