In Honor of Grandma: Official Rules of Black Mama


Today is Grandma’s birthday, it would have been her 101st. I have many fond memories of her, she was such a sweet lady. The time we’ve spent together frequently included playing cards. In fact, when playing cards Grandma would often lose that sweet demeanor and, while frowning at her cards, mutter “shit” when she got a bad deal. This happened specifically when we were playing our family card game “Black Mama”. This is a game that is played by everyone in my family. Generation to generation, we play this game and teach it to our friends and younger generations. I thought that in honor of Grandma on her birthday, that it would be nice to share the rules of this game. I think it would make her happy.

Official Rules & Regulations – Black Mama

At minimum, you need two people to play Black Mama. You can have as many people in a game as you’d like – just add additional decks of cards as needed. Personally, I think six people is a good-sized game. The deck of cards should include all fifty-two AND the two jokers.

To start, each player is dealt eleven cards and one card is flipped over for the discard pile. At the beginning of each turn, you must pick up either from the deck or the discard pile. You can only pick up from the discard pile if you have two of a kind or one of a kind and a wild card. For example, if there is a 3 in the discard pile and you have two 3’s in your hand (or one 3 and a wild card), you can pick up that card. You must play that card right away and any cards on top of that 3 are yours to keep as well. At the end of each turn you must discard.

In order to get points and get rid of cards, you want to put cards down. This can only be done during your turn; each turn must begin with picking up a card. You have to have three of a kind to put down. So if I have two 3s and pick up a third 3, I can put that down. Or I can have a wild and two of a kind. You cannot use two wilds and one of a kind. During your turn, you can put down as many cards as you are able. So if you’re dealt three 3s, three 4s, and three 5s, you can put all of those down during your turn. When you pick up at the beginning of your turn, you can add to any cards that you have down already. So if I put down 3s during my last turn and I pick up a 3, I can just add that to my pile. You can also add wild cards to your pile if you are trying to gain points and get rid of cards.

How to win: The ultimate goal is to have the most points at the end of the game. Whatever you have down counts in the positive and whatever you have left in your hand counts in the negative for you. Games are usually played to 500 or 1000 points.

When there is an even amount of players, you can opt to play teams. Your teammate sits directly across from you. The advantage of playing partners is that you can pass cards. So if Grandma and Dad are on a team, and Grandma puts down 3s, when it is Dad’s turn, if he has cards down, he can pass any 3s he has to Grandma. You cannot pass cards to your partner unless you already have cards down. It is polite to ask your partner if they’d like to go out before doing so, but it isn’t required. Your points are counted together, so it is nice to check and make sure they’re not holding the Mama and getting stuck with that many points in their hand.

If you’re playing and run out of cards in the deck but the discard pile is still there, just flip the discard pile over and continue playing. Alternatively, you can end the game there and just count the points you have. (Humbug).

Point Breakdown

Queen of Spades (aka the Black Mama) – 100 points

Jokers – 50 points

Deuces (2s are wild) – 20 points

Aces – 15 points

Kings, Queens, Jacks, 10s – 10 points

9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4,3 – 5 points



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