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Card Sharks

Card Sharks was an American television game show in which contestants guessed whether a playing card was higher or lower than the card that preceded it.

Broadcast history

Card Sharks debuted on NBC on April 24, 1978, with Jim Perry as host. That version lasted until October 23, 1981. The show returned to CBS on January 6, 1986, where it ran through March 31, 1989, with Bob Eubanks hosting. A syndicated version, hosted by Bill Rafferty, aired during the 1986-87 season.

A short-lived syndicated revival, with different rules than those described in this article, aired during the fall of 2001 with Pat Bullard as host.

The main game

Two contestants competed to see who could complete a row of five playing cards first. Two rows of cards, one for each contestant, were placed on the game board by the two dealers who assisted the host. Each contestant had a standard 52-card deck (minus jokers); the ace ranked highest and the deuce (two) ranked lowest.

Toss-up questions

Control of the board was determined by whoever was more accurate in predicting the outcome of a toss-up question based on a survey of 100 people. The contestant who received the question had to guess how many people gave the answer that the host gave; the opponent had to guess whether the correct number was higher or lower than that guess. Whoever was closer to the correct number earned control of the board. (Starting in the fall of 1980 an exact guess netted a $500 bonus for the contestant.)

In addition to the regular 100-person survey questions, some questions on the CBS and first syndicated versions were based on a panel of ten studio audience members who shared a common profession or characteristic; the panel stayed on the show for an entire week. General-knowledge "educated guess" questions that had numerical answers were also asked.

Playing the cards

After the first card in the row of five -- the "base card" -- was revealed, the winner of the question had the option of either playing that card or changing it with the top card from the deck, hoping to play a better card. The contestant then had to guess whether the next card was higher or lower; if correct, he or she had to guess the card after that, and so on. An incorrect guess brought the contestant back to the base card, and it gave the opponent (who was not allowed to change his/her base card) a chance to play. Contestants also had the option to "freeze" instead of guessing higher or lower, thus making the last card that was played the new base card; if the winner of the toss-up question opted to "freeze," the opponent was not given the chance to play the cards. If neither contestant guessed all the cards on his or her row correctly, another toss-up question was asked and the same procedures were followed until someone cleared the row or the fourth question in the round was asked.

The 1986-87 syndicated version included prize cards that were shuffled into the main decks (and replaced with another card from the deck if one came up). The contestant only won the prizes if he or she won the game.

Sudden death

The fourth question in each round was always a "sudden death" question. Whoever won control of the board had the opportunity to play the cards (and could change the base card if desired) or pass them to the opponent (who had to play the cards that were given). An incorrect guess at any time caused the contestant to lose the game. The winner of each game won $100.


The first player to win two games won the match and a chance to play the Money Cards bonus round. If the match was tied after two games, a tiebreaker game was played to determine the winner. Contestants played rows of three cards in the tiebreaker instead of five, and three questions were asked instead of four, with the third being sudden death (by 1988 the tiebreaker was changed to only one sudden death question).

The Money Cards

The winner of the main game played the Money Cards for a chance to win additional money. The Money Cards board consisted of seven cards on three rows; three cards were dealt on the bottom two rows, and one card was dealt on the top row.

In addition to guessing whether a card was higher or lower, the contestant had to wager money on that prediction. The contestant was given $200 to bet with and had to bet at least $50 on each card on the first two rows. The contestant gained money with each correct guess and lost money on each incorrect guess.

After completing the first row -- or if the contestant "busted," i.e., lost everything on that wager -- the last card was moved onto the second row and the contestant was given an additional $200 (changed to $400 in 1986). The contestant had to play three more cards before reaching the last card on the top row, known as the "Big Bet." (If a contestant "busted" after this point, the game ended.) The contestant was required to wager at least half of his or her earnings on the Big Bet.

The most a contestant could win on the NBC version -- by wagering everything on every card -- was $28,800; that was done exactly once. Contestants could win up to $32,000 on the CBS and first syndicated versions, but the top prize was never won.

Rule changes

Originally, a contestant could only change the first card on the bottom row. In mid-1978 the rule was changed so that the first card on every row could be changed. In the CBS and first syndicated versions, one card on each row could be changed by choosing one of three pre-dealt cards.

Duplicate cards (e.g., two eights in a row) originally counted as losses against the contestant. In the fall of 1980, this rule was changed so that the contestant neither won nor lost money if a duplicate was revealed. From that point on, hosts encouraged the contestant to wager everything on an ace or deuce since there was no chance that the contestant could lose on either card.

Car games

Starting in the fall of 1986 a second bonus round following the Money Cards, giving players a chance to win a new car, was added. Two different car games were played. The first was played using jokers; the contestant earned one for winning the main game and could win more if any of the three jokers that were placed in the deck for the Money Cards came up. The contestant then placed the jokers in a row of seven numbered cards; if any of the chosen cards revealed the word "CAR" after it was turned over, the contestant won the car. In mid-1988 that game was replaced with a survey question based on the current week's ten-member studio audience panel. The contestant moved a pointer (on a board with a scale of 0 to 10) to what he or she thought was the right answer, winning the car if the guess was exactly right or an additional $500 if the guess was one number away from the correct answer.

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