Game Theory: Keeping the “Play” Element in Your Tarot Readings


I’ve written before about the benefits of playing games, how playing games can make us more empathetic with one another, and even of introducing your tarot reading client to games as a way of breaking-the-ice, building trust, and relieving anxiety. What are some ways you can introduce game-playing into your tarot readings?


Part of the philosophy of game playing is that it allows the client to feel like they are participants in the process—an important factor for readers who abide by the practice of encouraging the client to discover solutions and bring away choices that they have helped to formulate themselves. Participating in the reading gives clients a sense of empowerment.


Many tarot readers consider that simply allowing the client to shuffle or touch the cards is a means to allow the client to “participate.” But ask a room full of readers at a tarot convention whether they feel comfortable allowing clients (or anyone else) to fondle their decks of beloved cards, and you’ll get a broad range of opinions from a totally relaxed attitude about it –to– absolute horror. If I am to be honest, I don’t mind people touching my cards at all. However, I do have some persnickety quirks… I don’t allow clients to shuffle the cards. I often ask clients to “cut” the deck, but shuffling requires some dexterity, which not every individual has. Many people are either unfamiliar or inexperienced at knowing how to shuffle a deck of cards—much less overly large deck sizes—and too much probability exists for cards to get bent or damaged. So the shuffling part I do myself; it is the perfect time to absent-mindedly tend to this chore while asking the client preliminary questions and discussing the issue. Alternatively, you could also use the time in which you are shuffling cards to explain your reading session “rules” and ethics.


Shuffling cards


Also, when I am performing at benefit events where there will be a large number of readings and clients handling the cards, I ask clients to use a sanitary hand wipe before the reading. I keep a handy container of disposable wet-wipes with my tarot-reading kit for this purpose. This is primarily a health and safety measure—with so many people handling the cards in a short period of time, the spread of germs is a risk. So asking people to “wash” their hands seems like a small concession to keep clients healthy. I’ve also read at BINGO events where people have come to my table with dauber ink all over themselves because their dauber burst. In such cases, the wet-wipes have seemed like the best idea ever, and even with those wet-wipes on hand I still am sometimes forthright in telling the client to keep their ink-stained hands to themselves during the reading!


Outside of the physicality of touching the cards, what are other ways to involve the client in active participation? …Game playing can be an excellent choice. Tarrocchi—the Renaissance game played with the tarot deck—began as a trick-taking game, and just like with a regular pack of playing cards, there are an endless number of games and game variations that can be played with a tarot deck. Here is one of the easiest ways to insert an element of “play” into your reading…


Decide on either a three- or a four-card spread. (Obviously, there are endless variations of what the spread can look like and what the cards can represent. I am using simplified spreads here for illustration purposes.) For each position lay two cards. Thus for a three-card spread, you will lay down six cards. Lay them face down…


Game theory: 6 cards laid face-down for a 3-card spread


Determine what each position will represent or what question is attached to them. For instance, in a three-card spread, common designators are “Past,” “Present,” and “Possibilities” (or “Future”).


Game theory: Designations determined for a 3-card spread


Still without having turned over the cards, focus on the first position designation (for example purposes, let’s say we are focusing on the “Past” position). Now it will be a “contest” between the two cards vying for the position result. Ask a relevant question about the character of the cards—the question should be relevant to the subject of the position. Since the position we are focusing on is about the “Past,” we could ask questions such as:


  • Which card is more conservative?
  • Which card is more nostalgic?
  • Which card has a better memory?
  • Which card is more likely to have a trophy case?
  • Which card depicts the oldest person, place, or thing?
  • Which card is more likely to still believe in Santa Claus?
  • Which card would get more upset if the Girl Scouts discontinued Thin Mint cookies?


Choose just one of these questions, or come up with one of your own. The questions shouldn’t have anything to do with the client’s actual issue brought to the reading. This is the game part…where you engage the client’s sense of “play” and take their mind off of heavier things. All of the questions above are impish and trivial, but they all reflect ideas about how people relate to the past.


Now…turn the two cards over, and allow the client to choose which card “wins” the question based on its imagery. There are no wrong answers. And the losing card gets eliminated and put back in the deck. (Obviously this game-playing works best with more contemporary decks in which the pips are illustrated.) The bonus of this game-playing is that it forces the client to engage in thinking and reasoning, introduces clients to the concept of making choices, and also may give you, the reader, some sense or insight of their unconscious psyche (i.e.: may give context clues as to what the real or deeper issues might be).


Game Theory: First card "won" in 3-card spread


Continue the same process for the remaining positions… For example, when addressing the position designated for the “Present,” the game-element “contest” questions could include:


  • Which card is more apt to live in-the-moment?
  • Which card is more likely to take a break from a work deadline to enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation with co-workers?
  • Which card is most likely to be a journal-writer?
  • Which card is most likely to call into work sick because friends are visiting from out of town and want to go see a show or museum exhibit?
  • Which card is the bigger social drinker?
  • Which card is the bigger social geek?


Game Theory: second card "winner revealed in 3-card spread


And for the “Future”:


  • Which card is more likely to have a 401K or create a family endowment?
  • Which card is more into health food?
  • Which card likes gardening?
  • Which card is willing to stand in line overnight for the latest iPhone or for tickets to see a Beyoncé concert?
  • Which card is better at chess?


Once you nave eliminated three cards, and there are only three cards that remain staring at you face up, you can get down to the nittier-and-the-grittier subject, and interpret the spread that remains in front of you as it relates to the issue initially brought by the client to the reading.


Game Theory: The three "winning" cards in a 3-card spread


It’s important to formulate and ask a “contest” question before you turn the two contestant cards over to observe them. This keeps you, the reader, from loading the question or influencing the client’s response. It also is essential for the surprise and random chance element to occur that is so essential for game-playing. Also, try not to influence the decision of the client towards choosing a certain card between the two card choices—this also is the point of game-playing; you have to be willing to concede the choices that the client makes (and perhaps help them understand the consequences of their choices).


In a future blog post, we’ll explore this reading tactic with a four-card spread…





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Posted in Psychology of Tarot, Tarot Business, Tarot Reading, Tarot Spreads and tagged , , , , , , , .

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