Thirty-one (card game)

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Thirty-one or 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.[1]

The game is also known as Big Tonka, Nickel Nock, Blitz, Clinker, Klinker, Scat, Cadillac in south Louisiana and Mississippi, Cad in Pennsylvania, Whammy! in central Indiana, Juble in Oklahoma and Kansas, and as Skedaddle, Snip Snap Snoop and Schnitzel in other countries. Like cribbage and many other card games. 31’s depending on the players can have the choice of runs. The traditional German version has runs where the French version does not. Scoring also consists of cards of the same suit.


Thirty-One is first mentioned in a French translation of a 1440 sermon by the Italian, Saint Bernadine, so may be of Italian origin. However, it spread rapidly across Europe to become popular in France, England and Ireland and is a precursor to Vingt-Un.[2]


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.[3] The game is usually best played with at least four players.

Details of play[edit]

Thirty-one uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards (in the Dutch version - Eenendertigen - only 32 cards - 7 and higher - are used). Aces are high, counting 11, court 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. 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. This can be substituted with other denominations or currency.

After the hands in the first round are dealt, play proceeds 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) 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. 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 bike" 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.

If the knocker fails to beat anyone (has the lowest hand) he/she is charged double.

Common variations[edit]


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.


One optional rule is that if a player has three cards of the same value from different suits, the hand is worth 30.5 points.[4]

West Lansing Cut Throat[edit]

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, E.g. 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 for this version called Switch is that instead of picking from the pile or the discard up-card, 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 and placed in the middle of the table face-down. The dealer looks at both hands and chooses the hand they want to play with and places the other hand 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 entirely with their own hand.
  • 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 of Thirty-One, 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 all hands for the other players and the face-down hand.

No-Elimination Thirty-One[edit]

This is a version which uses no money or tokens. The main difference between this game and the normal Thirty-One is in the scoring. It is a good game for social groups as all players are able to play every hand (no elimination), from beginning to end.

Object of No-Elimination Thirty-One: To obtain the highest total count of cards in one suit. The highest score possible is 31, which is an ace and 2 face cards (or the 10).

Setup: Use a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. First dealer is determined by picking the highest card. Shuffle and deal three cards to each player. The remainder of the pack is placed in the center of the table, forming the stock. The top card of the stock is flipped face-up and placed next to it and is called the up-card, the top card of the discard pile.

Object of the Game: Each player is trying to obtain - as close as possible - a score of 31 (an ace and two face cards) in one suit. The value of each card is as follows:

  • aces are worth eleven points
  • face cards are worth ten points
  • all other cards are worth their face value in points

Game Play: The player to the left of the dealer goes first. This player takes either the up-card or the top card from the stock, then discards one card face up onto the discard pile. Play then continues with the next player to the left. (A player can take a card ONLY when it is their turn. A buried card is gone from that hand.)

If and when a player obtains a score of 31 card points in one suit, this is called a blitz, and the player immediately reveals it, saying "Blitz” or “Thirty-One,” ending the hand. All play stops, all players reveal their hands, and card points are tallied for each hand.

If no blitz has not yet been called, and a player is satisfied with their card point tally, instead of drawing and discarding, they knock once on the table. Each player after them has one additional turn to improve their hand (and perhaps get a blitz). When the turn of play returns to the player who knocked, the hand ends.

Scoring: At the end of the hand, whether by a player knocking or revealing a blitz, all players reveal their hands, and card points are tallied for each. If a hand contains three cards of different suits, the highest card is the hand’s score. If the hand contains two or three of one suit, the point values of these cards may are totaled to score the hand - whichever gives player the higher score. For instance, a king of spades (10 points) is a higher value than a 5 and 3 of hearts (8 points).

How to Score:

  • Lowest score – 1 point, except Knocker gets 0 points
  • Middle score(s) – 2 points, except Knocker gets only 1 point
  • Highest score – 3 points, except Knocker gets 4 points
  • Blitz (31) – 6 points
  • Ties – All ties get highest score possible. For instance, a tally of 30, 27, 27, 27 means 30 is high, and all 27s are middle (no low score for that hand).

Stop the Bus[edit]

Stop the Bus is a game common in England that 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Parlett, Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, pg. 307-308 Oxford University Press (1996) ISBN 0-19-869173-4
  2. ^ Parlett (1991), pp. 80–81.
  3. ^ Diagram Group The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Card Games pg. 341 Sterling (1995) ISBN 0-8069-1330-4
  4. ^ "31 (Scat) - Card Game Rules".


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