Card gaming culture in Nigeria: How today’s popular games are a blend of old and new
Nigeria is full of traditions when it comes to competitive endeavours. Over the last few decades, football has become one of the country’s top sports, with many of our leading players from Victor Moses to Mikel Obi achieving success on an international stage. However, long before Nigerians were kicking a ball around, those looking for a challenge were playing cards. By using nothing more than a standard 52-card deck made by COPAG or another leading manufacturer, virtually anyone can satisfy their competitive urges. In fact, such is the popularity of card games in Nigeria and the world at large that games have crossed seas and continents over the centuries. Today, for those wanting to test their skill, luck and timing, there’s a mixture of traditional and modern games to choose from.
Thuni Builds a Bridge Between Continents
According to card historian site Pagat, Thuni is one of Nigeria’s oldest card games. Also played in other parts of Africa, Nigerian Thuni is most popular in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan and Jos. The aim of the game is to win more tricks than your opponent. In Thuni, a 32-card deck is used with cards ranked from highest to lowest in the following way: J-9-A-10-K-Q-8-7. Four players are split into pairs and the opening round sees each one receive five cards. From here, each player takes their turn to place a bid based on the strength of their holding. Once no one is able/willing to outbid the previous bid, the contract is set and a trump suit is nominated. At this point, three more cards are dealt to each player still left standing, and the hands are then ranked according to the terms of the contract. As a reference point, Thuni is very similar to contract bridge which, according to Britannica, has been popular in Europe since 1896.
Blackjack in the Spotlight
Much like Thuni is a modern representation of a centuries-old game, blackjack has also become popular in Nigeria. Thanks to the online gaming trend, players are now able to play the classic table game via their desktops and mobiles. The game itself has mixed roots that all stretch back to Europe. In the 17th century, early incarnations of the game were found in Spain (Novelas Ejemplares) and France (Vingt-et-Un), as the history of blackjack shows. As it travelled across the continent, the rules were gradually refined before it found a home inside the casinos of Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, players around the world race to make a total of 21 with two or more cards. Thanks to blackjack’s popularity and the growth of online gaming into a $100 billion+ industry, it’s now a go-to game for Nigerians. Indeed, just as Gamsole and Chop Up Games have taken advantage of the country’s growing thirst for video games, online gaming platforms have also found a home in Nigeria.
An African Twist on a British Classic
A more recent innovation that’s become popular with Nigerian card players is Whot. Invented and trademarked by William Henry Storey, the game was initially published by Storey & Co of Croydon in 1935 before it was purchased by Waddingtons. Although the company has since sold the rights to Whot, its international presence meant that it was able to travel outside of the UK and into Africa. In fact, Whot has arguably become the national card game of Nigeria. Like other “fishing” card games, the aim is to get rid of your cards in order to win the round. According to the traditional rules, players take it in turns to lay down a card from their hand. A player can only lay a card that fits with the one face-up on the play pile. A card is deemed to “fit” if it bears the same suit or the same symbol as the previous one laid. Additionally, players can use a wildcard (the Whot card). If a wildcard is used, the player must nominate a suit. If a player can’t lay, they take a card from the deck. Once someone lays all of their cards, the game is over. Nigerian Whot follows a similar pattern. However, there are special cards that force players to pick up extra cards or miss a turn.
Cards in the Air
Nigeria’s card community is just as diverse as any other cultural pastimes. Thanks to historical and modern influences, players across the country have access to a selection of intricate and intriguing ways to satisfy their competitive urges and have some fun.