Let’s say you are out to lunch or dinner with a group of friends. Maybe this is even a subset of the people you normally go out with. Unfortunately, not everyone has cash on them! Splitting the bill is a hassle for the server and for the group, so instead: use the Credit Card Game (sometimes called “Credit Card Roulette”).

Each player puts their credit card in the middle. Players may opt out – they pay cash to the central pot instead. The cards are shuffled and removed one by one, usually with the most recent player out to name a number (1 through “number of cards left”) for the next player out. Whoever remains at the end pays the entire bill for the table.

(Remember the cash in the middle? The original version of the game gives that cash to the “winner” – so that the game is only for the amount owed by all players – but since then, the popular “next level” game has taken hold, and instead the cash goes to the second-to-last player. In the next-level game, you can actually MAKE money! I’ve been trying to get the next level of variance – recruit other tables in the restaurant and add their bills to the mix – but nobody’s biting.)

The credit card game is an interesting risk study, because assuming everyone orders comparable amounts, the expected value between playing and not playing is equal – you pay the cost of your meal – but the variance in playing is MUCH higher: a (N-1)/N chance of paying $0 and a 1/N chance of paying the full N times the cost of your meal!

I’ve had the credit card game on my mind because we are eating pre-Cruise tonight at famous Brazilian Steakhouse Fogo de Chao, and I expect I’ll get pressured into playing this particularly high-stakes and ill-timed game. Can I afford to? Can I afford NOT to? (In terms of excitement and hilarity, that is!)