Mate - My favorite 2 player card game - by Bob Finn

matebookletMate is an amazing two player card game that only uses 20 cards.  However, it is a game of pure skill.  It is a strategy game with full information, meaning you know the cards of your opponent.  The rules can be explained in 5 minutes, but mastering the game can take a life time.

I first played the game in 1975.  The game was the first game listed in Sid Sackson's book Gamut of Games.  Sid translated the game from a German booklet titled Zwei neue Kriegspiele! (Two New War Games!).  Sid did the translation aided by a secondhand grammar and dictionary.  One of the games was Free Chess a variant of the board game.  The second game was Mate.  The author of the book was G. Capellen; and the booklet was published in 1915 in Hanover Germany.  Sid’s original copy of this booklet can be reviewed here in flip book format.  According to Sid, the only other copy he came across was in the Chess Collection in the Royal Library in Hague, in the Netherlands.

I will describe the original game of Single Deck Mate.  The game is comprised of 20 cards.  The Ace, King, Queen, 10, & 7 of all four suits are used in the game.  The ranking of the cards from high to low are:

Ace with a scoring value of 11

10 with a scoring value 10

King with a scoring value of 4

Queen with a scoring value of 3

7 with a scoring value of 7

The ranking of the suits from high to low are:





One player is chosen to be the dealer; and ten cards are dealt to each player in groups of 5 at a time.

The dealer starts play by placing any card in his hand face up in front of him.  His opponent must play a card from his hand face up in front of himself.  The card played must follow suit, if possible.  If the opponent cannot follow suit he must play a card of the same rank.  After each player has played a card, the winner is determined by the following:

If both cards are of the same suit, the winner is determined by the higher ranking card.

If both cards are of the same rank, the winner is determined by the higher ranking suit.

The winner of the first “move” or “trick”, makes the second “move” by placing any card from his hand on top of the first card played in front of himself.  Now the losing player must play a card of the same suit.  If the second player cannot play a card of the same suit, he must play a card of the same rank.  After the second “move” the winner is determined as above.  Play continues in this manner until a player leads a card that his opponent cannot follow in suit or rank.  When this happens, the player who cannot follow the card played in suit or rank is “mated”.  The winner of the hand is scored by using the scoring value of the mate card and multiplying it by the number of the “move” of the mate card.

For example, if a King of clubs is played on the 7th move; and the opponent cannot play a club or King, the winner is awarded 4x7= 28 points.

If all twenty cards are played without a mate, the game is a draw.

After the first game has been played and scored, the cards are picked up and, without being reshuffled, exchanged between the player.  The non dealer now starts the second game by leading any card in his hand.  Two games constitute a “round” and, since each player has the opportunity to play each hand, the luck of the deal is eliminated.

After the first round, the cards are shuffled and dealt by the non dealer of the first round.  A second round is now played in a similar manner to the first.  The two rounds constitute a “match”.  The player who has the greater total number of points is the winner of the match.


That is the basic game.  Sid goes on to explain a couple of optional moves that can be added to the basic game:  “Foreplacing” and “Overmate”.  Sid also includes a few variations to the basic game: “Mate with a “Free Move”, “Mate with King’s Privilege”, and “Mate with Free Mate, and King’s Privilege”.  Click here to see Sid's full rules to the game of Mate in flip book format.

I have introduced this game to many people over the years.  Whenever I travel solo, I usually stay in an Airbnb.  At some point during my stay, I’ll ask my host if they are interested in learning a new card game of pure skill that only requires 20 cards.  They usually express an interest; and we play a few games of Mate.  They typically enjoy the game even though they lose because the game is new to them.  Most of the time, they will teach me a new card game that they enjoy.  I’ve learned several new card games while vacationing in Ireland and parts of the US.  When I depart the Airbnb, I leave a deck of cards and printed instructions for the game.  They always appreciate the gesture.

In recent years, the game has attracted a following thanks to Board Game Geek.  In 2001, Edward Lovett designed the game of Mate.  He called his version “Chess Cards”.  He added the concept of using 'Chess Cards' in place of regular playing cards to give the game more of a chess 'flavour'. Further, the concept of 'foreplacing' a card (as specified in the original article) has been replaced by a more general concept of 'sacrificing' cards, and minor changes have been made to scoring, terminology and gameplay.  The rules to “Chess Cards” can be found here.  

Chess Cards was added to the interactive online game site Super Duper Games by Aaron Dalton in 2009.    This site essentially a PbEM (Play by Email) game site on the web.  Here you can enjoy the interaction of live opponents on your own schedule.

In 2006, Michael Waters posted a single page summary of the rules in Word format.  

In 2009, Patrick Rael published a set of cards that could be printed out on Avery business card stock on a color printer.  This was a handy size for travel and pub use.  These new cards used chess pieces on the cards instead of standard playing cards.  

Patrick redesigned Mate with complete new artwork and theme in 2010.  He called his redesigned game Elemental Defenders.  

Patrick also wrote a new version of the rules for Mate, formatted to fold into a 2.5" x 3.5" size that fits in a tuckbox with cards

 Later in 2011, Patrick published his redesigned version of Mate with ArtCow publishers.  For $16.95, you can order the 20 redesigned cards from ArtCow.  

photoPawel Klarkowski from Poland created Chess Cards game app for iOS and Apple TV.  The game has implemented general rules of classic Mate plus a variant of game with sacrifices in his app.     His apps run on an iPhone, an iPad, or Apple TV.   The game is a free download from the itunes shop.     The free download allows you to play 10 free games.   If you want to play more games, the Pro version of the game is available for $2.99.

The app contains short tutorial which will help you learn the rules.

You may choose between two beautiful sets of cards, with chess and classic theme, displayed in native resolution on devices ranging from iPhone 4S to iPad Pro. Gentle sound effects will also enhance your game experience.

There are several modes of play:

- Solo game - you may exercise your skills during the game with Albert AI (on three levels of difficulty),

- Dual player game - play with your family member or a friend on one device,

- Local network game - you may play on two devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth,

- Game Center game - last but not least, you may play with your friends or other players around the world via Game Center. In this mode your highest ranking (difference between your points and opponent points in the current match) is stored on the ranking leaderboard in Game Center.

In addition, you may set advanced rules for dual player game in app settings before you start the match. Advanced rules allow you to sacrifice single or multiple cards before each player's turn.

Sacrificed cards are not used during current round and playing with sacrifices may dramatically change the outcome of the game making it even more challenging and interesting.

The Pro Version of the Apple TV app only has the Solo game mode.


In February of 2017, Michael Amundsen translated Chess Cards into a board game.  Michael’s board game has the effect of taking away the Chess theme.  

Please respect all copyrights and license agreements.


This is the first posting to my blog dedicated to Sid Sackson.  The blog will cover the 1960s decade in Sid’s life.  During this decade, Sid worked full time as an engineer, while publishing some of his finest games including Focus, Acquire, and many others.  The blog will detail Sid’s fascinating life 50 years ago with an abundance of material from Sid’s archive.  Here is a publicity photo of Sid in his home circa 1965.  The beautiful game young Sid is holding “Rome Et Carthage” was purchased by AGPI member John Ellerbe in lot #1 of the first Sackson auction.  This blog will be updated on an irregular basis.

Interested in more Sid Sackson articles? If so, consider joining the AGPI today.

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