Follow TV Tropes


Series / Card Sharks

Go To

"Ace is high, deuce is low, call it right, and win the dough, on... Card Sharks!"
General opening spiel for the NBC version, as read by Gene Wood

Change it! Higher! Lower! Freeze!

A popular Game Show from the 1970s and 1980s. Card Sharks, yet another game from the minds of Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, was played with two contestants and two decks of cards.

Alternating each round, one player answers a survey question asked of 100 people (think Family Feud) by guessing how many people actually gave a particular answer. The other contestant guesses whether the actual number is higher or lower than the first contestant's response. Whoever is right gets first crack at their deck of cards.

When controlling their cards, the player must successfully predict whether the next card is higher or lower (aces are high). Whoever gets four cards called correctly first wins the round: the first player to win two rounds wins the game. If the prediction is wrong (or it's the same card value), all progress is lost and the opponent has a chance to play their deck. Players can also freeze after any correct guess, keeping their progress and preventing their opponents from playing themselves. One last option is to replace their starting card with the top one from their deck, but only if the player hasn't called higher or lower yet and only if they were right on the survey question.

If neither player has won after three questions, the fourth question, called Sudden Death, changes the rules: Whoever wins the question can choose who plays, for whoever fails on predicting automatically loses, and freezing is disallowed.

The first version ran from 1978 to 1981 on NBC hosted by Jim Perry and directed by Paul Alter, followed by a CBS revival from 1986 to 1989 hosted by Bob Eubanks (with a syndicated nighttime version running concurrently in the 1986-87 season, hosted by Bill Rafferty). Pat Bullard helmed a 2001 revival which lasted only 13 weeks.

Served as the fifth episode, and the first part of the semifinals, on Game$how Marathon in 2006, hosted by Ricki Lake. Though the series aired on CBS (where Bob Eubanks' version had aired 20 years prior), the focus was on the 1978-81 NBC edition. A higher-stakes primetime revival aired on ABC from 2019 to 2021 with Joel McHale as host, being modeled primarily upon the original Jim Perry version in terms of format.

Brits got several years' worth of a Transatlantic Equivalent titled Play Your Cards Right on ITV, which had Bruce Forsyth at the helm. Among other changes, this edition saw couples playing against each other.

This show provides examples of:

  • All or Nothing: The bonus round allows players to invoke this trope at any time to double their winnings or go broke. Very high or low cards will usually have this trope in play.
  • The Announcer: Gene Wood, mostly. Johnny Olson (who announced the pilots) filled in at times on the Perry version, as did Jay Stewart (which was his only work for Goodson-Todman); Bob Hilton was the main sub on the Eubanks and Rafferty versions (and also briefly filled in on the Perry version in 1980), and Gary Kroeger handled announcing duties on the 2001 version. The Game$how Marathon edition was voiced by Rich Fields. Donna Jay Fulks announces the ABC revival.
  • Big Win Sirens: The Eubanks and Rafferty versions used the ones from The Price Is Right whenever a car was won...sped up to about twice as fast.
  • Bonus Round: The Money Cards takes the same premise as the card portion of the main game, but adds an element of gambling. Starting with $200, the player faces three rows of cards, three on the bottom and middle, one on the top. They must wager at least $50 per card until either the final bet, the Big Bet, is played (the player must wager at least half of their total), or the contestant loses all of their money. The Perry run had $200 on each row for a maximum of $28,800, and the player could only change the first card in each row. The Eubanks/Rafferty run doubled the middle row for a maximum of $32,000. Originally, the player could change any card they wanted, later changed to once per row; in either case, three spare cards were provided. In the 2001 version, the middle row only had two cards (turning it into a pyramid), and each row had $700 tagged to it; the Big Bet was also renamed the Major Wager for this version, and the maximum was $51,800. The 2019 revival instead has the Money Cards as a single row of seven cards, allowing one card change, with no additional money added. The player bets using the $10,000 they won in the main game, and once they reach the final card, they can either walk away with their winnings or go for the Big Bet, with a potential maximum of $640,000.
    • Starting in September 1986, the winning contestant had an opportunity to win a car after playing the Money Cards. For winning the match, a contestant had a joker which he could place among seven cards, one being the winner. Three additional Jokers were hidden in the deck, meaning a contestant can have up to four chances to win the car. Late in the run, it was changed to a 10-person survey, and the contestant had to guess the exact number to win the car. Being off by one gave the contestant $500.
      • For Young Peoples' Weeks, the car game instead offered a trip to Hawaii (or for the '87 Christmas week a prize package including a trip to Hawaii), and players were given two Jokers; when it switched to the 10-person poll, being one away from the number selected also won.
  • Bonus Space:
    • Prize cards on the Rafferty version.
    • Beginning in the later days of the NBC run, a $500 bonus was added for an exact guess on any question or running the board.
    • The CBS version kept the $500 bonus for an exact guess on a normal or educated guess question, though eliminated the bonus for running the board. An exact guess on an audience poll group question was worth $100 to the player and the group of 10 earned $10 each.
  • Card Games: It's basically Acey-Deucey; each player has his or her own deck to use (except in the 2001 revival).
  • Catchphrase: From the British version, with the standard Bruce Forsyth call and response:
    • "It's nice to see you, to see you... nice!"
    • "What do points make?" Prizes!
      • "What do pounds make?" Rich people!
    • "You don't get anything for a pair - not in this game!"
    • "It's not too late, it could still be a big night if you Play Your Cards Right."
  • Color-Coded Multiplayer:
    • The champion played the red cards while his/her challenger played the blue cards.
    • The 2019 version, which didn't have returning champions, seemed to subtly play this trope in a different way. Players seemed to get matched with the deck of cards that better resembled the color of the top of their outfit.
  • Companion Cube: The sliding holder that held the question cards on the Perry version was often called "G2-T2", as a double Shout-Out to Goodson-Todman and R2-D2. It was actually called R2-D2 in the first few episodes before Perry decided to change its name.
  • Couch Gag: The random two-liner poems which made up the Opening Narration, which were sent in by viewers.
  • Crossover: Ray Combs appeared on the June 6, 1988 episode of the Eubanks run to promote his then-upcoming revival of Family Feud.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Terry, a male contestant on Eubanks' version, fell into this watching the hostesses deal the cards just before a tiebreaker.
    Eubanks: What you saw was three cards and four legs.
  • Downer Ending: Any time a contestant goes all-in on the second row or the Big Bet, and loses. Even worse during the "doubles lose" era.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Bob Eubanks appeared on the January 5, 1979 episode of the Perry run to promote his then-upcoming show All Star Secrets.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • NBC version: Jim Perry explaining that the champion played "the top cards, the red cards," and the challenger played "the lower cards, the blue cards." It wasn't until almost the end of 1978 that this was dropped, and Perry would only use it again when two new players (following the retirement of an undefeated champion) played or it was a celebrity or Teen Week (when new players played each game). Additionally, the opening spiel was standard ("Ace is high/deuce is low/play them right/and win the dough"), but before long viewers were invited to send in their own poems (for which Perry would acknowledge in the opening). In the Money Cards bonus round, during the first season, the contestant could only change the very first card on the first $200 line, and whatever card was at the end of the first $200 line (provided the contestant didn't bust before reaching the end) and moved up to the start of the second $200 line couldn't be changed, nor could they change their Big Bet card. If the following card was identical to the previous one (e.g., a contestant had an ace and wagered that the next card was lower, but it turned out to be another ace), a "push" situation was counted as a loss. This changed with the October 20, 1980 episode where a "push" situation in the Money Cards resulted in the contestant not losing their wager.
    • CBS version: For the earliest weeks in 1986, Gene Wood's introduction was very simple: "From Television City in Hollywood, it's CAAARRRDDD SHARKS!!!" right before introducing the host. Also, the absence of the car game and the "10 studio audience members"/educated guess questions. Indeed, during the very earliest weeks, questions were very much along the same lines of the NBC version.
    • Play Your Cards Right: In the first series, Bruce carried a microphone and individual people played instead of couples.
  • Epic Fail:
    • One poor contestant in the Perry era uncovered all four Jacks in the Money Cards, all of which went against the odds: The first was followed by a King, the second by an Ace, and the third by the fourth. She took the fourth Jack to the Big Bet and, now considering the Jacks bad luck, swapped it... for a 9. It was followed by another King, so she still would've lost money on it even if she hadn't swapped it out.
    • From the British "Play Your Cards Right", just rotten luck all around for this couple.
    • Aziz from the series premiere of Joel's version changes a card into an eight, and bets low that the card will be lower. It's an ace, but that seems worth losing a low bet after using your ONE change in this version. However, he bets big on the Ace...and gets a Second Ace. He goes all-in on the second ace...and busts out when a THIRD STRAIGHT ACE comes out.
  • Fan Remake:
    • A YouTube user by the name of SonicWhammy does one that he takes to various anime conventions. And he has three decks of custom physical cards for the game itself (no, sadly, you can't buy your own.)
    • More recently, Greggo has begun his own remake of Play Your Cards Right (as to not step on SonicWhammy's toes), beginning at Zenkaikon 2017.
  • Game Show Host: Jim Perry hosted the original NBC version, followed by Bob Eubanks on CBS and Bill Rafferty on a concurrent syndicated run. Tom Green (no, not the comedian) hosted a very failed 1996 pilot, and Pat Bullard hosted the 2001 version. Joel McHale hosts the ABC revival.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap:
    • The NBC version had a limit of seven matches with no cap on winnings, for a theoretical maximum of $203,000 (excluding the $500 bonuses added later in the run, detailed in Bonus Space above).
    • The CBS version originally had a limit of five matches and $50,000, but the latter increased to $75,000 in the fall of 1986.
    • The British Play Your Cards Right, meanwhile, varied over the years- during the 1980s run, it was hamstrung (as many other game shows were) by the £6,000 winnings cap imposed by the IBA (ITV's regulatory body at the time); this was why they used points in the endgame as opposed to money (with a conversion system to allow couples to play for a car). When the show came back in the mid-90s, the IBA and their cap had been eliminated, so they were able to offer cash; the mid-90s run had a theoretical max of £17,600, which was never won (the closest was £9,500), and the 2002-03 version had a max amount of £136,000.
    • The ABC version had a limit of $640,000, with no returning champions.
  • Golden Snitch: The 2001 revival used a single row of cards for both players; as such, it was possible to dump victory into the lap of an opponent who had been sitting on his hands all game, all off one bad card call.
  • Grand Finale: The last Rafferty episode gave the final champion all four Jokers at the start of the Money Cards. After he placed the cards, Bill stated that he would reveal them right-to-left, noting he had never done this before and if production didn't like that, "It's the last show; fire me." note  The car was won, hence why Bill went right to left.
  • Home Game:
    • Softie and GameTek produced Card Sharks computer games in the late 1980s. The MS-DOS version used the same contestant sprites as Classic Concentration.
    • Endless Games produced a board game in 2002 which, despite using the logo of the 2001 revival, had the CBS-era rules. A new edition, based on the 2019 revival, was released in 2020.
    • Kevin DeVizia wrote and distributed a shareware Card Sharks game for Mac OS 8 and 9, with general knowledge questions similar to Eubanks' Educated Guess questions.
  • Losing Horns: The same mock fanfare Price used, truncated in the 1970s, but played in full in the 1980s.
  • Lovely Assistant: The card models.
    • The 2019 revival saw the debut of the first ever male dealer, Jerry Wolf (a Native American actor, son of actor Larry Sellers) along with Alexis Gaube (who later debuted as part of the 50th anniversary specials of The Price Is Right.)
  • Luck-Based Mission: The whole game, although counting cards is allowed (and encouraged).
    • Getting the same card value on predicting means a loss. In the Money Cards, this was particularly painful when you got two deuces or two Aces in a row. One contestant during the NBC run got all four treys in succession. This eventually led to a "push" rule where getting the same card twice in a row in Money Cards resulted in no loss or gain.
  • Mythology Gag: The 2019 version's Money Cards setup is a single row of seven cards that are each loaded into frames that turn them automatically — a very similar setup to the main game's cards on the 2001 revival. Also, chips are used in this version's Money Cards, calling to mind the "Clip Chips" from said 2001 revival.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: The "push" rule in Money Cards, as noted above. The 2001 version reverted to having a push be a loss and they've gone back-and-forth on this rule since.note 
  • Opening Narration: Quoted at the top of this page. Shortly into the NBC run, this was changed to random two-line poems submitted by viewers.
  • Pilot:
    • Three were taped in 1978, with a few differences from the series (different contestant podium, Johnny Olson announcing, etc.); the third was allegedly shot as a normal episode. NBC actually used a shot from the second pilot as the show's tel-op slide (which would show up during technical issues).
    • Two were taped on May 6, 1985. These featured different nametags, a different microphone for Eubanks, different main game desk, a printed-in Money Cards sign instead of popped out, and one of the dealers was Laurie Dureau instead of Lacey Pemberton.
    • At least two were taped in 1996 for a potential syndicated revival. Every question used the Audience Poll format from the Eubanks/Rafferty versions, only one row of 10 cards was used (arranged in a pyramid fashion, for some reason), and had a shell game style bonus round with a top prize of $5,000. It failed to sell.
    • The Bullard version also had one. It still had the Chip Clips, but had two different rounds prior to the third round, which was the NBC/CBS main game (though it still used the same Clip Chip-esque "dilemmas" in lieu of survey questions).
  • Player Nudge: After the “push” rule was implemented, the hosts encouraged players to bet it all for lower than an ace or higher on a deuce during the Money Cards.
  • Recycled Soundtrack:
  • Shout-Out: The prop that housed the question cards in the Perry run was nicknamed G2-T2.
  • Stock Footage: The opening titles for the NBC run, showing a different tiebreaker board and Money Cards logo, was lifted directly from the two March 17, 1978 pilots.
  • Studio Audience: A group of ten people, all with something in common, were involved in certain questions during the Eubanks/Rafferty runs.
  • Take That!:
    • On one episode, Bob Eubanks asked a contestant how many Catholics have gained sainthood and added, "Everyone should know this." The contestant said "Everyone but me", and Bob added "...and everyone at Goodson-Todman."
    • On another episode, he said that The Diamond Head Game was the "biggest piece of boop-boop" he'd ever done.
  • Tiebreaker Round:
    • If neither contestant finished their row of cards before the last question, whoever got that last question right could either choose to play (and can change his/her card) or pass (the opponent must play and can't change cards); whoever plays must complete their row and one mis-guess means the opponent automatically wins.
    • The later part of the Eubanks era had it if both contestants won one game each, the "tiebreaker round" went from three questions to just one Sudden Death one; both contestants then got to see their base card, but only the one who won the question got to determine who would play. The same above rules applied.
  • Title Drop: "Let's meet today's card sharks!"'
    • Also, during the Eubanks/Rafferty versions when Gene Wood says "If you play your cards right, you could win a new car!"
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Play Your Cards Right, which itself had a Foreign Remake in Australia (though outside of the name, it was mainly a clone of the Perry version). Versions have also been made in Germany, Belgium, and Brazil, among other countries.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: Educated Guess questions in the Eubanks/Rafferty era.
  • Viewer Gender Confusion: Invoked on one episode of the Rafferty run. When asked how many men said Madonna was sexy, one contestant thought she was male.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: The 2001 revival had two players calling one row of seven cards. One player could sweep the first six and get an incorrect call on the last card, giving their opponent the win.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: This clip from an episode where Bill Daily and Marcia Wallace (then both from The Bob Newhart Show). Bill changes a queen to an eight (the worst card in the deck), then proceeds to run the board by correctly calling the next four cards in a row. Marcia's astonished "He changed a Queen and he WON?!?" is priceless.