The game of
nertz
(A long and convoluted explanation.)
 

One of my favorite card games is "Nertz." I think it's also known by several other names, including "Pounce" and "Peanuts." I grew up knowing it as "Nutty." My sisters and I would play with a bunch of other people. Later, I started playing it in high school with the Ramp Group (Cynthia, Ramona, Bonnie, Vicki, Deepali, Karen, Rachel, Bhawana--though it was usually me, Cynthia, Ramona, and an occasional other). And I'd play once in a while with people in college.

What is the game like?

Think of a mix between Solitaire and Speed. Think of people hurriedly flipping cards, slapping cards down, slyly slipping cards onto piles, or screaming in frustration when someone else slyly gets to a pile before they do.

Here's how the game goes:

picture of setup

You need at least two people to play; it gets more chaotic, competitive, and cool as you add more people. There are no "turns;" everyone plays simultaneously.

Each person needs their own deck of cards, sans jokers. Important: each deck must have a different design on the back (the pictures below are incorrect because each player should have their own unique deck). Each person has their own setup:

A pile of thirteen cards (this is the "Nertz" pile), top one facing up.

Four cards in a row next to the Nertz pile, also facing up (we'll call these the "work" piles--they can be on either side of the Nertz pile).

The rest of your cards are your "stock" pile. You will also have a "waste" pile.

Everyone sits in a circle with their own setup in front of them while leaving room in the middle that can be relatively easily reached. The middle area is going to be where the suit piles are built, beginning with aces and going up (think Solitaire). Everyone can build on the middle piles.

In fact, everyone will want to build on the middle piles. In this version of Nertz, the objectives are to get as many cards out in the middle as possible (those are your "positive" points) and to minimize your Nertz pile (because those are your "negative" points). The first person to get rid of their Nertz pile yells "Nertz!" or "I'm done" or something equivalent and all play stops (for that round, at least). Points are calculated for each round: Cards in the middle are sorted (this is why you need different decks) and are counted as positive points; everyone else has to subtract the number of cards in their Nertz pile.

How do you get rid of your Nertz pile?

Once again, think Solitaire. But if you're Solitaire-illiterate, don't fear. It's pretty easy:

You move cards around by a) building on your work piles or b) building on the suit piles in the middle (which is, remember, one of the objects of the game). When you come across an ace, you may toss it out in the middle. At that point, anyone can begin building on it (same suit; ascending order), so watch out!

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
You have exclusive building contracts on your work piles. However, you must build them in descending order with alternating colors. In the picture above, we could put a red six on the black seven (that is, if we found a red six), but we can't put the black six on top of the black seven. Make sense?

You are also allowed to move "blocks" around on your work piles, provided that everything fits with the descending order/alternating color rule. For example, if you had black-ten red-nine black-eight in one work column and red-king black-queen red-jack in another work column (see Figure 1), you could combine them into one work column to get red-king black-queen red-jack black-ten etc (see Figure 2).

And of course you want to throw as many cards out in the middle as you can. You can use the accessible work pile cards (i.e., the lowest-valued ones in each column--in Figure 1, we're talkin' the 5, J, Q, and 8) to build the middle piles.

Anyway, continuing with our example: After combining the blocks, you now have a blank work column. What do you do?

Simple: You move the top card from your Nertz pile over to the blank spot and flip the next Nertz card over (in Figure 3, we moved the King over to the empty spot).

You can use your Nertz pile cards whenever you can--building on your work piles, filling in blank work piles, or even better, building on the middle piles.

game setup For example, Player Two could move his four of diamonds over on top of his five of clubs.

But Player Two might want to move his four of diamonds onto the middle pile (do you see the three of diamonds just waiting to be built on?). If he did that, then Player One would be able to put her five of diamonds on top of that. It's kind of up to Player Two to decide which route would be better... should he be nice, and let Player One get rid of one of her Nertz card, or should he hold on to his four of diamonds and let her squirm for a little? It's also possible that someone else will come across the four of diamonds and put it down before he does. Decisions, decisions...

Also note that Player One and Player Three are going to have an interesting competition with their sevens of diamonds, should the diamonds pile get built up to a six. The faster one (or the more alert one) will be the victor.

But we haven't even mentioned the stock and waste piles!

Well, you can only do so much with your Nertz and work piles. When you get stuck, it's time to turn to your stock pile (think Solitaire).

You must go through your stock pile three cards at a time, and only the third card (the one facing up) is available for play. If you can't use it, too bad. Turn over another three cards and try again... and again... All of these cards go into your "waste" pile. When you get to the end of your stock pile, you pick up the waste pile and go through it three-by-three again (no shuffling!).

If you can use that top-facing card, then you're allowed to use the one underneath it, if you can. If you use that one, then you can finally get to that bottom card.

For example, Player Three has a nice red nine sticking out from the middle of his waste pile (it's kind of hard to tell from the picture; take my word for it). If only he could put it on top of his black ten... but before he can do that, he has to find some way of getting rid of that black queen. I think Player Three might be out of luck.

Once again, the round ends when someone finishes their Nertz pile. Cards are counted; points are added. You can play as many rounds as you want (warning: once people get the hang of it, it's pretty addictive).

Let's review.

You are doing many things at once: building your work piles (descending order, alternating color), building on middle piles (ascending order by suits), trying to get your Nertz pile cards out of the Nertz pile, flipping cards over three at a time so that you can find more things to build on. You need to watch your own cards as well as your opponents' cards, because someone might be waiting for you to put down that one final card so that they can call "Nertz!"

A note: It is completely possible for the "Nertz" person to have less points than someone else, even though the Nertz person doesn't have to subtract anything. Someone else could have thrown out a lot of cards in the middle.

Another note: You don't have to throw your cards out in the middle right away. You can choose your timing (as in the case of Player Two's four of diamonds). In many cases, however, he who hesitates is often lost... This may explain the hectic and frantic pace of the game, even though there are no time limits...

Occasionally, there are times when everyone gets stuck. The atmosphere gets quiet and contemplative as everyone methodically turns over three cards at a time. "I'm stuck. Are you stuck?" If there is a general consensus about being "stuck," everyone may agree to move the top stock pile card to the bottom of the stock pile and then go through it by threes again. This generally frees up a lot of cards and the game can resume its normal high pace.

Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6

Some random notes:

To minimalize unfairness, my friends and I build our setup with all of the cards facing down. When everyone is ready, we flip over our four work pile cards and the nertz pile card. After each round, we also shuffle the decks and then pass them to the next person for them to use. We do this so that no one can complain about someone "not shuffling enough" (instead, we get complaints about people shuffling differently... maybe we should also switch seats!). This also gives everyone an equal chance with all of the decks of cards, since there may be some older decks, stickier decks, different-sized decks, etc.

Another rule that we made was that you could throw out your aces in your stock pile as soon as you saw them, even if they weren't the third card to be turned over.

We also decided that you could slip Nertz pile cards behind work pile cards, but that you couldn't do the same thing with your stock pile (unless you had a blank spot). For example, if one of your work piles was "black queen, red jack,..." and your nertz pile had a red king (see Figure 4), you'd be allowed to slip it behind the black queen (see Figure 5). If your stock pile had a red king, however, you wouldn't be able to slip it behind the black queen (see Figure 6).

Thoroughly confused? Here's another nertz site that describes the game, perhaps more thoroughly and eloquently. It describes a few of the different versions that exist.

Happy hunting!

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