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How to Play Go Fish: Rules, Strategies, and Winning Tips



Go fishing card game

Spending a boring afternoon doing nothing with your family or friends? Why not play Go Fish instead? The Go Fish game is a very easy and interesting card game that anywhere from 2 to 6 players can play together. No, it does not involve identifying fish pictures and you don’t even need to learn how to draw fish for kids. It is a simple card game and the incredibly easy rules make it ideal to even be played with your kids, making this a fun pastime activity for when they start feeling lazy and bored.

But, don’t confuse easy with mindless, because once you get the hang of the game, you will find yourself immersed in thinking strategically and making quick decisions. So, if you want to know how to play the game of Go Fish, let’s find out now!

Understanding the Basics of the Game

A game of Go Fish basically involves getting rid of your cards by forming as many “books” of cards as you can. A book refers to any rank of cards that is in a set of four, such as four kings, four 10s, or four aces. So, with a combination of strategy and quick wit, you need to not only create these books from the fishing pile or from other players but also need to do it before anyone else in order to win.

Setting Up a Game of Go Fish

The first question that you may have about the game is, “how many cards are used in the game?” Well, all you need to set up for a round of Go Fish is a single deck of 52 cards, namely the 13 cards of each suit and excluding the Joker. While you can use 2 decks for double the cards and double the fun, having a single deck is more than enough. Once you have the deck, you then need to prepare it for a fair and unbiased game.

Preparing the Deck

In order to prepare the cards, one of the players needs to be the dealer. The selection of the dealer can be entirely up to you. However, if you want to go by the official route, a card is drawn from a pack of 52 cards by any of the players, who then deals a card to each player face up. Considering the face card in 52 cards as the ones with the highest value, the one with the lowest value card becomes the dealer. This player will then shuffle the deck, while the player on their right cuts it for a fair start to the game.

Dealing the Cards

Once the preparation is complete, the dealer then starts dealing the cards to the players, starting from the player sitting on their left. While the cards are dealt one at a time to each player, the number of cards dealt depends on the number of people playing in the round. If there are a total of 2-3 players, then each player gets 7 cards each. However, if there are 4-6 players, then each player gets only 5 cards. These cards are dealt face-down and the player should take care not to let the others take a peek at their set.

Setting Up the Fishing Pond

Once all the cards have been dealt, the remaining cards form the fishing pond, which is the game term for the draw pile that each player can draw cards from to create their books. These cards in this fishing pond are placed face-down to prevent anyone from taking a peek.

Playing a Round of Go Fish

Once everyone has their cards, whether it is 5 or 7, and once the fishing pond has been set up, the game can finally begin. Just like when the cards were dealt, the person on the left of the dealer is usually the one to start the game.

Asking for Cards

If you are the first player, you can begin the game by asking the others if they have a card that you need to create a book. For instance, if you have 3 aces already in your hand from when the cards were first dealt, then you only need the remaining ace to complete your book. So, you can ask the others if they have the remaining ace.

If you succeed and the player you asked does have the cards you want, then you can go for another turn. In this turn, you can ask the same player or go for a different player to get another card. This continues until the opponent you ask does not have the cards you want.

However, when doing so, you need to keep a few things in mind:

  • When asking for the cards, keep in mind that you need to choose one of the players and ask them specifically whether they have the card you are looking for.
  • You can ask for the rank instead of mentioning the suit as well. If you ask for an ace from a chosen player, then they will need to give all the aces they have to you, regardless of the suit.
  • Similarly, if another player has chosen you as the player to receive cards from, then you need to give away all the cards you have with you of that rank.
  • However, do make sure that you already have a few cards in your hand of a specific rank before asking for more. For instance, if you do not have any Jacks with you, then you cannot ask for 3 Jacks from another player, this is against Go Fish rules.
  • While asking for cards instead of fishing from the pile can potentially keep the game going for long, this method also means disclosing your cards. When you ask for a specific rank of cards, the other players will likely find out that you have that rank with you, which can spur them to create their own books before you to win.

Fishing from the Pond

Once you ask the other players for a specific card and they don’t have that card, then they can tell you to “Go Fish,” which is when you take the card from the top of the fishing pond. Much like when asking the other players, if you get your desired card from the pond, then you get another turn.

Keep in mind that you cannot discard the card you picked from the pond, even if it doesn’t complete the book you were trying to create. While this may seem like a hindrance, it can give you an opportunity to create another book on your next turn. Picking from the pond increases the number of cards you can play with, increasing your chances of getting matches.

Winning the Game

In order to end a game, one of the players needs to get rid of all their cards. Alternatively, if players have cards but there is no scope to ask other players for cards and the fishing pond is also empty, then the game ends as well. However, while there is a definite way to judge the end of a game, there are a few ways in which the winner can be decided.

Method 1: First to Get Rid of All Cards in Hand

One method of winning is to get rid of the cards in your hand as soon as possible, whether it is by getting cards from other players or picking from the pond. If you can form all your cards into books before any other opponent and have no more left in your hand, then you are the winner of the game. 

Method 2: Form As Many Books as You Can

Another very common method of determining the winner is by counting the number of books each player has been able to collect throughout the game. This means that even if all your cards are gone, then the game definitely ends but you are not necessarily the winner. Once you have placed your last match onto the table for all to see, counting begins to see who has created the most number of matches. The one with the highest matches wins the game.

Things to Look Out For

While the game is pretty simple and straightforward, there are a few things that all players need to keep in mind and look out for.



Bluffing is not allowed in this game, as it defeats the entire purpose. So, if you are asked by another player whether you have a specific card, then you need to truthfully answer and give it to them if you do have it.

Laying Down Your Cards

Laying down your cards as soon as you create a match is very important. Although the rules of Go Fish state that you cannot hold your matches with you once it has been formed, holding it will actually work against you, especially if you are counting the number of matches to determine the winner.

Additional Turns

There are many instances that can earn you additional turns on your plays:

  • If you have successfully gained the card you wanted from the player you chose, then you can go again. This can repeat and you can get several additional turns in one go if you keep getting the cards you want, till your chosen opponent tells you to Go Fish.
  • You get an additional turn after you have laid down a match. Much like the first instance, this also gives you the option to get multiple turns in one go, especially if you keep getting the cards you want and keep creating matches at every turn.

2-card and 4-card Matches

While the standard rules state creating books with 4 cards of the same rank, some variations of the game also involve creating groups of 2 cards instead. This can come in handy if you are looking for a quick game, as it is much faster and easier to form matches of 2 than it is to create watches of 4.


Now you know exactly how to play Go Fish. Despite being simple to play, the fast-paced and interactive nature of the game makes it a very fun game to play with family and friends. While this is not necessarily a strategic game, using strategy can help you remember the cards your friends are going for and accordingly, you can try to form your matches faster. So, the next time you are looking for a quick game that entertains everyone, Go Fish is one of the best you can go for!