There are usually four players, but it is possible for a larger even number of people to play. The players are divided into teams with two players in each team; the partners sit across from each other.
One standard deck of 52 cards is used (if there are more than eight players, two decks may be used).
First decide who is playing with whom. Then each two player team goes away and privately agrees a signal that they can secretly use to tell each other when they have four of a kind. The signal can be a body movement, a gesture or a hand signal, but words are not allowed (for example saying "elephants" cannot be used as a signal).
You can have several signals and can use more than one in a game. You can also use meaningless signals to confuse the opponents, but you are not allowed to have any signals with a meaning other than "I have four of a kind". Cheating by using signals with other meanings is known as "table talk" and is penalised by loss of the game if discovered.
After any hand any team is allowed to agree new signals; they may want to do this if they suspect that the opponents might have guessed some of their existing signals. The more subtle the signal the better.
Choose a dealer. This can be done at random or someone may volunteer. The dealer deals four cards to every player. After everyone has looked at their cards, the dealer deals four more cards, one at a time, in a row face up in the middle.
When the last card has been turned up, any player can pick up one (or more) of the face up cards from the middle, add it (them) to their hand, and immediately discard a different card(s) face up in its place. Players do not take turns. A player who picks up more than one card must discard an equal number of different cards, to reduce their hand back to four cards. If two players want the same face up card, the first player to touch it gets it.
Players continue replacing cards, as often as they want to, until no one wants any of the four face up cards. The dealer then sweeps these four cards away, and deals out four new cards on the table. Play then continues as before. This is repeated until the deck is gone or someone yells "KEMPS" or "STOP KEMPS".
As soon as this is said the hand is over. The partner of the person who said "KEMPS" must reveal their cards. If they have four of a kind the opposing team receives a letter starting out with "K". With more than 4 players, all of the opposing teams get a letter. If the partner does not have four of a kind, then the team that incorrectly called "KEMPS" receives a letter. The dealer then deals for the next hand.
As soon as this is said the hand is over. "STOP KEMPS" is said when a player suspects the opposing team of having "KEMPS". If one of the opposing players does in fact have four of a kind, then the team who was 'stopped' receives a letter. However, if "STOP KEMPS" is said and the opposing team does not have "KEMPS" then the team who said it receives the letter. The dealer then deals for the next hand.
Example: Team A thinks Team B has four of a kind. Team A says "STOP KEMPS". When the hands are checked neither player of Team B has "KEMPS", so Team A gets a new letter.
If a point is reached when no one wants any of the face up cards, and the dealer has no more fresh cards to deal, the hand ends and no one gets a letter. This is called a real deal. The dealer then deals for the next hand.
The first team to lose five hands, thus getting five letters spelling the whole word K-E-M-P-S loses the game.
Elton Pinto writes that in the variation Peanut Butter:
When I first published this page I thought that Kemps was an American game, but since then I have been contacted by Kemps players from various parts of the world. Here is an archive copy of 'The Official Site of KEMPS' - published in France and claiming to be the first web site entirely devoted to this game.
Here is Ed's CSB Kemps site from California, which includes rules of the version of the game played there.
Șandor Sergiu has created an online Kemps game on facebook.