President has many alternative names: Scum, Asshole (in Britain: Arsehole), Rich Man Poor Man, Bum, Landlord, Emperors and Scum, Root Beer, Butthead, Capitalism. In Australia it is often called Warlords and Scumbags, perhaps because the politician Paul Keating once famously used the word "scumbag" to describe his opponents. In France it is Trouduc or Trou du Cul; in Germany: Einer ist immer der Arsch; in Hungary it is Hűbéres (vassal); in the Netherlands it is Sluitspieren or Klootzakken.
The game has recently spread throughout the Western world, especially among young people, but is probably of Chinese origin. In games of this type (which I call climbing games), each player in turn can either pass or play a card or combination which beats the previous play, and the usual object is to get rid of all one's cards as soon as possible. Such games have been known in the West only since the 1970's, but there are many of them in China, perhaps the most famous being Zheng Shangyou. The immediate ancestor of President is perhaps the Japanese game Dai Hin Min.
As the game has spread, numerous variations have developed. I will describe a typical basic version first, and list some variations at the end. As the variations are so numerous, I have tried to group them into types for easier reference.
The aim is to get rid of all your cards as soon as possible. The last player left with cards is called the scum, asshole, or whatever term of derision is locally used.
About 4 to 7 people using a standard 52 card pack. The suits are irrelevant and the cards rank, from high to low, 2 A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3.
The game is played clockwise. All the cards are dealt out. Some players may have one more than others.
The player to dealer's left starts by leading (face up) any single card or any set of cards of equal rank (for example three fives). Each player in turn must then either pass (i.e. not play any cards), or play face up a card or set of cards which beats the previous play.
A single card is beaten by any higher single card. A set of cards can only be beaten by a higher set containing the same number of cards. So for example if the previous player played two sixes you can beat this with two kings, or two sevens, but not with a single king, and not with three sevens (though you could play two of them and hang onto the third).
It is not necessary to beat the previous play just because you can - passing is always allowed. Also passing does not prevent you from playing the next time your turn comes round.
The play continues as many times around the table as necessary until someone makes a play which everyone else passes. All the cards played are then turned face down and put to one side, and the player who played last (and highest) to the previous "trick" starts again by leading any card or set of equal cards.
For example the play might go:
C then starts again by leading any card or set.
When a player whose turn it is to play has no more cards left, the turn passes to the next player in rotation. Therefore in the example, if the two aces were C's last two cards, it would then be D's turn to play anything.
The first player who is out of cards is awarded the highest social rank - for Americans this is President - the next is Vice-President, then Citizen and so on down. The last player to be left with any cards is known as the Beggar, Scum, Asshole or by various terms of abuse. For Europeans the ranks can be King, Minister, ... , Peasant or Boss, Foreman, Worker, Bum.
If keeping score, the players get points depending on their position - for example 2 for the President, 1 for the Vice President and nothing for the others. More importantly, the players of higher status are entitled to enjoy and generally abuse their power over the lower ranking players.
For the next hand the players move seats. The President selects the most comfortable chair, the Vice President sits to the President's left, and so on around to the Asshole who sits to the President's right, probably on a crate or packing case.
The Asshole is responsible for shuffling, dealing and clearing away the cards when necessary. As the players are now seated clockwise in order of rank, the first card is dealt to the President, the second to the Vice President, and so on down.
When the deal is complete, the Asshole must give his highest card to the President, and the President gives back in exchange any card which he does not want.
The President then leads any card or set of cards and the game continues as before.
If scoring, set a target and the game ends when someone reaches (say) 11 points.
On the first deal, some play that the player holding a specific card of the lowest rank leads. Generally this will be a three, for example the 3, but in variations where threes are wild it will be a four.
On subsequent deals, some play that the Scum from the previous hand leads, rather than the President.
Some people play that after someone leads, each player gets just one opportunity to pass or beat the previous play. Whoever played highest then leads again. So in the example given before, if the play went:
A does not get a chance to beat E's pair of 9's. It is now E's turn to lead any card or set.
I think that multi-round play, as in the basic game, must be the original method. All the Chinese climbing games use it. Probably single-round play is a Western modification, influenced by trick-taking games.
Some people play that if you can beat the previous play, you must. Passing is only allowed if you are unable to play. Again, I believe this is a recent modification, and it seems to make the game less interesting.
In Australia, some people do not allow a player who has passed to play at subsequent turns during the same trick. If you pass, you must wait until someone wins the trick and leads again. So the play example given above would look like this:
Now that A, B, C and D have passed, E's pair of kings cannot be beaten; the cards are set aside, E leads a new card or set, and everyone is allowed to play again.
Some people do not require players to play an equal number of cards to the card or set they are beating. It is also possible to play more cards than the previous player, as long as they are also higher in rank than the previous play. For example, in this variation:
Another variation found occasionally is that a set of more cards beats a set of fewer cards irrespective of rank, so that a single 9 can be beaten by a pair of fives, which in turn could be beaten by three fours.
Some people allow a card or set to be beaten by another card or set of equal rank. For example a pair of sevens can be beaten by another pair of sevens, or by any higher pair.
Some people play that if you beat a play with an equal play, the turn skips the next player who has cards, and passes to the player after that. In particular this means that if there are only two players left in and you equal the previous play, you immediately get another turn to play.
When this variation is combined with the variation that allows a larger set of cards on a smaller set, it may be that if more than one equal card is played, more than one player is skipped. For example if a six is played, and the next person plays two sixes, the following two players are skipped; if three sixes were played on a six the next three players would be skipped.
This can be combined with the suit ranking variation described below. When a player plays four of a kind, then for the rest of that deal, the rules of play are changed. From that point on, each player must play a card (or combination) lower than the previous play (and now between two pairs of the same rank, the one containing the club is lower and therefore beats the other.) If another 4 of a kind is played, then the order is reversed back the original. This tends to produce reversals of fortune, breaking the cycle of the 1st place player after winning several hands in a row.
This variation was reported by Hamish Allan of Scotland. Equal plays are allowed, and if four single cards of the same rank are played in succession (with or without passes in between), or if one player plays a set of four equal cards, then the direction of play and the ranking of cards reverses. This is called a revolution. Playing a pair on an equal pair does not cause a revolution, however.
In the normal ranking, threes are transparent and the two is high and low. In reversed ranking threes are still transparent but now aces are highest and lowest - so the rank from high to low is (A)-2-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-(A); a single ace beats anything and anything beats an ace.
It is possible to allow other card combinations to be played besides sets of equal rank.
When there are a lot of players, a double deck of cards is sometimes used.
Some people play with aces as the highest cards - the cards rank from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2.
Some people include one or more jokers in the pack. These usually rank above the twos. If the jokers are distinguishable, it may be agreed that the coloured (or otherwise more impressive) joker beats the other one.
Some people also use jokers as wild cards, which can represent any rank. Some play that a natural combination beats an otherwise equal combination containing a wild card (e.g. 6-6-6 beats 6-joker-joker), some play that the combination with wild cards beats the natural one, and some play that they are equal - so that neither beats the other (or each beats the other if equal plays are allowed).
Another variation is to use the jokers only as wild cards, with no intrinsic rank of their own.
C.A. van Wijk reports that in the Netherlands, Klootzakken is played with a 40 card pack lacking 4's, 5's and 6's, the cards ranking from high to low: 3 2 A K Q J 10 9 8 7. Cards are not set aside after a trick but accumulate in a pile on the table. There is no changing of seats at the end of a hand, but the winner trades two unwanted cards for the loser's best two cards. The loser plays first in the next hand.
Some people play that a single two beats any combination (in the basic game you would need three twos to beat three aces). The person who plays the two clears away the cards (or directs the Scum to clear them away, if you play that the Scum has to do this) and leads anew.
In this variation a single two can be played at any time, but the play continues and the next player can play anything. This rule may have been borrowed from Shithead, another recent card game played predominantly by young people worldwide.
As with the two, when it is highest, some people play that a single joker beats any set of lower cards.
Sometimes players use some other specific card(s) as high cards beating the twos - such as the jack of diamonds or the black threes.
Sofia, from Toronto, reports a version in which the rank of the cards from the top is: joker, jack, two, ace, king, queen, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. The jokers, jacks and twos have special powers:
These numbers of cards are all doubled if playing with two decks.
In Hűbéres (the Hungarian version of the game), all the jokers, twos and threes are all wild. Played along with a normal card (or cards) they take on the rank of that card; played singly or in entirely wild sets they rank highest and all equal to each other.
In this version all the threes and the two jokers are wild cards that can represent any other card. The twos are the highest cards but have no special property.
Some people play that threes (or some other agreed rank if threes have another meaning) are transparent. This means that you can use a three to beat any single card, and a set of threes to beat an equal number of cards of any rank, and the threes you play take on the rank of the cards they have beaten. For example if A plays a pair of kings and B beats it with a pair of threes, the threes count as kings and subsequent players have to beat a pair of kings or pass. If all pass, B's threes have won, the cards are cleared away and B leads.
Some play that a single three can beat any card or set except a two. A three can be beaten by a two (unbeatable) or a four (fours are transparent in this version).
In this variation, a single card can only be beaten by a higher card of the same suit. This makes it much harder to get rid of single cards.
This is a variation on allowing equal plays. You can beat a single card with an equal ranked card, provided that it is the opposite colour - so a red five can be beaten by a black five, but not by another red five. A set of cards can be beaten by an equal ranked set provided that the colour of each card is reversed - for example two red sevens beat two black sevens, and a red and a black seven beats a black and a red seven.
Theodore Hwa reports a variation in which the suits rank spades (high), hearts, diamonds, clubs (as in Bridge). When playing single cards, a card of equal rank to the previous card can be played, provided that the suit is higher. For example if someone played the 7 you could beat this by playing the 7 or the 7 or any 8 or higher card, but you could not play the 7, because clubs are lower than diamonds.
Between equal ranked pairs, the pair containing the spade is higher, irrespective of the suit of the other card. So for example, the pair Q-Q can be beaten by the pair Q-Q.
The President receives the Scum's two highest cards, and gives the Scum any two cards in exchange. The Vice President and the second-to-last player exchange one card similarly.
James Lundeen reports a version (called Butthead) in which the Butthead passes the President his two best cards and the President passes the Butthead three of his choice. Similarly the vice-butthead and vice-president trade one and two cards respectively. This makes it harder to get out of the butthead position as you are passed more bad cards.
After the deal but before the players pick up their cards, the top card of each hand is turned up. The president gets the hand with the highest card facing up, vice president gets the second highest and so forth.
In this version the players in the middle of the order are called merchants (so with six players the ranking could be Landlord, Noble, Upper merchant, Lower merchant, Peasant, Scum). While the lowest players must give their best cards in exchange for the highest players' unwanted cards, the merchants in the middle must trade. That is, they must give each other one card, but they can haggle as to which cards to trade, and in this way they may both be able to improve their hands. The haggling might begin:
and so on. If they can't agree, they must give each other a card anyway - in this case each will give an unwanted card to the other.
Anthony O'Dea suggests a more extreme version of this, called "The Hand of Collusion". With six players, everyone gets 9 cards (both Jokers used). Players then "collude" in pairs, swapping as many cards as necessary. Usually the President colludes with the Arsehole, the 2nd player with the 5th and the 3rd with the 4th. After collusion, everyone must still have 9 cards. Play then proceeds as normal. The first to go out gets 6 points, and so on. Winners are the pair with the most points.
Another scheme, when playing with 5 or 7 players, is as follows. With 5 players the scores given to the players, from first to last, are 2, 1, 0, -1, -2. With 7 players the scores are 3, 2, 1, 0, -1, -2, -3. The scores for a hand also indicate how many cards each loser has to exchange with each winner at the start of the next hand.
Some people play without switching seats after each hand. It is still the Asshole who shuffles and deals and the President who leads to the first trick (or the Scum leads if you play that version).
In Hamish Allan's version, the players wear hats corresponding to their social rank. When there is a revolution, everyone turns their hat inside out. Also in this version, if you are the top ranking player (in this case called the Rich Man) and you fail to win, you must immediately throw in your cards and you become the lowest ranking player (Poor Man). The player who ran out of cards first is the Rich Man and the others continue playing for the remaining positions.
After the first card is played, no one is allowed to touch any cards on the table except the Scum. If you do, then you automatically become the Scum for the next round. Note that you only become the Scum if you deliberately reach out and touch the cards; someone throwing the cards at you doesn't count.
The winning player (in this version called the Landlord) shuffles and the Scum cuts, after which the Landlord deals. Forgetting to offer the cards to be cut, or any kind of misdeal is a fault. After two faults the Landlord becomes the Scum and everyone else moves up one place. The Landlord also becomes the Scum if there are two consecutive games in which the result does not lead to a change in the players' positions.
In Hűbéres, when played by six people, the ranks are Király, Nagybirtokos, Kisbirtokos, Nagyparaszt, Kisparaszt, Mocsár (king, big landowner, small landowner, big peasant, small peasant, swamp). The king and swamp exchange three cards, the big landowner and small peasant two cards, and the small landowner and big peasant one card.
There are several commercially produced versions of President / Asshole using special cards - for example The Great Dalmuti (described further on the Commercial Games page) and Karriere Poker.