Thirty-one (card game)
Thirty-one (French Trente et un) is a gambling card game played by two to seven people, where players attempt to assemble a hand which totals 31. Such a goal has formed the whole or part of various games like Commerce, Cribbage, Trentuno, and Wit and Reason since the 15th century.
The game is also known as Big Tonka, Nickel Nock, Blitz, Clinker, Klinker, Skat, Cadillac in south Louisiana and Mississippi, Cad in Pennsylvania, Whammy! in central Indiana, and as Skedaddle, Snip Snap Snoop, Schnautz, Schnitzel, Stop the Bus and Ride the Bus in other countries.
The object is to obtain a hand with a value total as close as possible to 31, from which the name of the game is taken. The game is usually best played with at least four players.
Details of play
In the version described below, players keep track of how many games they have lost by folding the corners of a five-dollar note. The five-dollar note is also their stake in the game. Obviously, this can be substituted with other denominations or currency, or the game may be simply be played for "fun" rather than money.
Thirty-one uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards. Aces are high, counting 11, face cards count 10, and all other cards count face value. Each player gets a hand of three cards. The rest of the deck sits in the middle of the table as stock for the game, and the top card of the stock is turned over to begin the discard.
After the hands in the first round are dealt, play proceeds as in Gin rummy, with each player, starting with the player to the immediate left of the dealer and going clockwise around the table, taking the top card of either the stock or the discard and subsequently discarding a card. All players are trying to collect a hand value of 31 (or the nearest to it without exceeding 31) in the same suit. Play continues clockwise around the table until any player knocks or obtains a blitz.
When it is a player's turn, and that player believes their hand is high enough to beat at least one of the opponents, they knock on the table in lieu of drawing and discarding. All other players, going clockwise from the player who knocked, have one more turn to draw from the stock and discard, or they have the option of keeping all three cards in their hands, known as standing. The round ends when the player to the right of the player who knocked has had a final turn. If no one knocks by the time a player exhausts the stock, the round ends in a draw. Because knocking relies on the confidence that the player will not have the lowest score, a skilled player may memorise which suits the other players are discarding. If a player discards a different suit than that which he discarded his previous turn, it can be inferred that the player is "changing suits". Changing suits puts a player at a distinct disadvantage because the resulting lowered score raises the risk that another player may knock.
At the end of the round, the players show their hands and total each one up, only counting cards of the same suit. For instance, if the three cards in a hand are all different suits, the highest value card would stand as that player's score. The player whose hand scored the lowest is declared the loser, and must subsequently fold a corner of his/her five dollar bill. When a player has folded all 4 corners of his/her five dollar bill, that player is immediately out of game play. It is important to note that in the event of a tie between two players for lowest score, both players are declared losers and each folds a corner of their five dollar bill. If there is a tie involving the knocker, the knocker pays, this is in accordance with the concept that the one betting must beat at least one player or else they pay up.
If, at any time in the round prior to someone knocking, a player acquires a hand value of 31 in the same suit, known as a blitz, they immediately show it, the round immediately ends, and all other players fold a corner of their five dollar bill.
When a player has folded all 4 corners of their bill, they continue to play on a "free ride", also sometimes called "on the bus" or "on their honor" until that player loses again. At that time, they leave the game. The last player in the game wins all the five dollar bills.
There is one case where it is possible to pick up one's own discard. This happens when there are only two players left in the game and one player knocks. The card that the other player discarded just before the knock is still on top of the pile, so it is now available to take back if desired. For example, if the player had just broken up a suit for tactical reasons, he or she can now restore it.
In most variations, if the knocker fails to beat anyone (has the lowest hand) he/she is charged double.
The play is the same as the regular version of Thirty-one described above, but with the following changes. Before each round, each player has to ante one token or coin onto the centre of the table. While dealing, after each player has received one card, the dealer puts one card face down on the table to form a pile of three cards known as the "widow". A player may use a turn to exchange one or more cards in their hand with an equivalent number of cards in the widow, leaving the cards they put in the widow face up.
At the end of the round, the player with the highest-valued hand takes all the tokens or coins on the table. If any player acquires a blitz in their hand, they immediately show it, the round ends, all other players place one token or coin on the table, and the player who blitzed takes all of the tokens or coins on the table.
West Lansing Cut Throat
The play is the same as the regular version of Thirty-one described above, but with the following changes:
- Three tokens are purchased for the agreed upon amount of money prior to play beginning, and the last player with any tokens wins the pot.
- There is no "free ride". A player who knocks but does not beat at least one other player, pays two tokens. In this scenario the knocker tying for the lowest score will lose two tokens. All others with the same total as the knocker will not lose a token.
- Three cards of the same rank count as a score of 30½, however all hands ranking as 30½ are equal and considered a tie, i.e. 2,2,2 and A,A,A.
Side wagers between individual players are quite common and often encouraged. Typically the first players knocked out will often choose an active player and place a "side bet" on which player will win or go further in the game.
The goal of the game is the same as in normal thirty-one. The difference between this version of the game is that instead of picking from the pile or the discards players exchange cards from two hands on the table. At the beginning of the game the dealer is dealt two hands and one extra hand is dealt in the middle of the table face-down. The dealer chooses which hand they want and places the other hand down face-up next to the face down hand. Then it is the turn of the player next to the dealer.
During a turn, a player has four options:
- Pick up a certain card in one of the hands on the table and exchange it for one of the cards held in their hand (if they pick up a face down card their discard will be face up).
- Swap one of the hands with their own hand entirely.
- Renew one of the hands on the table. (If they renew a hand on the table they have the choice to place it face up or face down. If they choose face up their turn is over, if they choose face-down their turn continues.)
- "Nock". Nocking applies the same as it does in the normal game.
At the end of the game the winner is decided in the same way as in the normal game, although if a player has a hand of three cards of the same suit and is greater than 21, they may choose to restart the game making their hand the new face up hand for the new game and re-dealing everyones hands and the face-down hand.
Stop the Bus
Stop the Bus is a variant common in England, where it is also known as Thirty-one. The game uses the hand rankings from three card brag, instead of scoring closest to 31. The hand rankings are: three of a kind (a "prial") as the best hand, followed by a running flush, then a run, then a flush, then a pair followed by a high card. If a hand is otherwise similar then the card is ranked by high card or high pair, then by middle card or kicker, then low card. Suits are irrelevant.
Instead of drawing from a stock, the game starts with three face-up cards on the tables. On their turn, players may swap one or three cards from their hand for the table cards.
Variations on play
- When a player has exhausted his or her tokens, that player is immediately out of the game (instead of continuing as a "free ride" player.)
- Instead of using coins or tokens, each player uses paper money (usually dollar bills), and in lieu of adding a coin to the pot, a player will fold a corner of the bill until four corners have been folded. That player is then out of the game.
- When there are no more cards in the stock, the discard pile, less the top card, can be shuffled and turned over to replenish the stock.
- A blitz may only count as an Ace, King, and Ten of the same suit.
- Three cards of the same rank may count as a score of 30½ (as a tie breaker when two or more players have three cards of the same rank, the hand with the highest numerical or face card is the winner of that hand).
- 3-3-3 counts as a blitz.
- In a similar vein to the above, three Aces are worth 33, i.e., they outrank even a blitz. "33" can be called without knocking.
- When showing one's hand at the end of a round, all three cards are totaled to comprise the player's score.
- When the game is down to two players and one or both of them are on the bus, if the round ends with both players having the same value in their hands, the player who holds the highest-ranking card among the two hands wins the game. If the highest card in each of the two hands is the same rank, the second-highest-ranking cards in the two hands determines the winner. If the two hands have exactly the same ranks of cards, e.g. if they both have a Queen, Ten and Five, the game is declared a draw and the tokens or coins on the table are split between the two remaining players.
- A player who knocks but has the lowest hand, or who knocks and a blitz subsequently follows, pays two (not one) tokens or coins.
- Instead of instantly exposing their hand, a player with 31 must knock in turn.
- Playing without tokens: players can gain a point for a win (either 31 or by having the highest hand on the board when a knock has been made); the first player to five points wins.
- Guts Knock: Person after dealer knocks on the table (to demonstrate dominance) and cards are dealt face down. Once cards are all dealt all cards are shown. Only one round of the game takes place.
- Ultimate 31 is another variation of the game. It is played with 4 quarters and no bonus life at the end. Using quarters is a must because when a person loses or ties for the lose they have a chance to keep their quarter. Once the losers of the round are determined a small bowl is set straight across the table. The loser then bounces the quarter off the table in an attempt to make it in the bowl. If it is made then they will keep the quarter thrown. They then flip the quarter to determine who bounces next. Heads goes to the person on the player's right and Tails goes to the left. Then that person risks losing their quarter and continues until the quarters are paid to the pot.
- The player who knocks may not score lower than any of the other players (must be the highest), otherwise the point goes against the knocker. This results in less guess and a bit of extra assurance on the part of the knocker to ensure their hand will stand up.