KNUCKS

April 5 2015

In the 1940s and early fifties, knucks was a favorite kids’ summer card game in the South Bronx.

Here’s how it went.

A deck of 52 cards, no jokers.

Four players.

Deal all cards for equal hands of 13 cards each.

The object is to have no red cards at the end of the game. Alternately, to saddle someone with all red cards—preferably someone you had it in for.

Player to the left of the dealer plays any black card.

Each player in turn plays a card of the same suit.

Player of the highest card wins all four cards.

When a player does not hold a card of a played suit, he may play a red card.

Highest black card takes all four cards.

Red cards may now be played.

The immediate objective is to rid yourself of as many red cards as possible.

If a diamond is played, answering cards must be diamonds.

The same holds true for hearts.

Again, high card player takes all four cards.

If a player holds no red cards, he answers with a black card. (And generally a sigh of relief. If not a cry of triumph, something like, “Ha! You son of a bitch!”)

When all cards have been played, each player counts his red cards.

Player with the most red cards loses.

Each red card in the loser’s hand equals one knuck.

(No allowance is made for red cards in any other player’s hand. It is not a game of finesse.)

The holder of the fewest red cards is the winner and the distributor of the knucks.

Knucks are given as follows.

The entire deck is held in one hand by the winner.

The loser holds out his hand in the form of a fist.

For a single knuck, the cards are brought down sharply (usually without mercy) across the loser’s knuckles.

The loser may be asked if he wants his knucks in varying multiples. He must agree for this to occur.

For a double knuck, called “twosies,” the cards are curled to form an arch before striking.

For a “fiver,” the deck is held vertically and  perpendicular to the fist.The bottom of the deck is brought down upon the knuckles.

For a “tenner,” the deck is again held perpendicular to the fist. The deck is also curled, as for “twosies” but is held vertically. If the loser is not wearing short sleeves, he rolls up his sleeve. The cards are placed on the upper side of the arm, starting below the elbow. They are then dragged the length of the arm as deeply and as roughly as possible until they are at the knuckles. They are then lifted in the air and brought down sharply on the knuckles. This is done very quickly to inflict the most possible pain.

New decks hurt the most.

The cards are then reshuffled and a new game begins.

My younger brother Paddy and his friends played one summer until their knuckles and their arms were so raw and so sore they were practically blisters. They could scarcely lift the cards, let alone hit each other with them.

They wanted to continue playing, and so decided that each time someone lost they would drink a soda can of water. That seems tame enough, but the game is played quickly and it is possible that several losses over a few hours could result in the consumption of twelve or more cans (144 ounces) of water.

Paddy said the bloated feeling was so awful that getting knucks was easier.

© Michael McGrinder 2016

Published on April 5, 2016 at 7:13 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you, as I had been looking for this ‘forever!’ But I don’t remember how a winner is determined. With everyone tossing a card each time, how is anyone left with cards in their hand? I am ashamed forgot, but don’t understand it in your directions.😭 Thank you!

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    • Hi/
      Where I say, “Player of the highest card wins all four cards,” you could substitute takes for wins. That player would then collect those four cards. Once all hands are played, each player counts the red cards in his collection. Player with the fewest red cards in his collection is the winner. Hope this clarifies it. Thanks for the follow.
      /Michael

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