Thumb war

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A thumb war

A thumb war or thumb fight is a game played by two players in which the thumbs are used to simulate fighting.[1] The objective of the game is to "pin" the opponent's thumb, often to a count of ten.[2][3] The San Francisco Chronicle called the game "the miniature golf of martial sports."[2]


The players face each other and each holds out their left hand or right hand in a "thumbs up",[4] and they link hands such that each player's fingers curl around the other player's fingers. Players may not use any of the fingers except the thumb to pin down their opponent's thumb. Gameplay has several tactics such as "playing possum", aiming for the knuckle rather than the nail for a pin,[3] going for a quick strike, and waiting for one's opponent to tire.[5] Variations include making the thumbs "bow", "kiss", or both before warring, and to war with both hands at once; or sneak attacks, which involve using your pointer finger to take over the opponent.[6] Players may also engage in the Rabbit Hole maneuver, or ducking their thumb down into their own palm, to escape imminent defeat. These additions are optional and do not need to be included into the rules of play.

The game is typically initiated with both the players uttering the rhyme "One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war", passing their thumbs over each other in time with this rhyme.[7] The rhyme is sometimes extended with "Five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumb straight." or "Five, six, seven, eight. Open up your thumb gate."[8] A regional variation in Boston is "five, six, seven, eight, open up the war gates." In South America, the starting song is "ésta es la pulseada china", as in France, "un, deux, trois, bras de fer chinois" ("this is the Chinese arm wrestling"), with the same thumb dance as in English. In New Zealand, the rhyme goes, "Pea-knuckle, pea-knuckle, one, two, three. I declare a war on thee."

U.S. Marine playing thumb war with a local boy in Afghanistan

There is an official Ladies and Mens World Thumb Wrestling Championships[9] which is contested by thumb wrestlers from across the globe annually. There are official match-play rules[10] and bouts are contested inside a hand crafted wooden thumb wrestling ring over a best of 3 rounds. Previous winners have come from United States of America, Ireland, Poland and the UK. Current 4 time Mens World Thumb Wrestling Champion Paul 'Under the Thumb' Browse is still undefeated and has won the 2016[11] 2017[12] 2018[13] and the 2019[14] World Thumb Wrestling Championships. His mother-in-law Janet 'Nanny-Thumb' Coleman is the current Ladies World Thumb Wrestling Champion.[15] The World Championships were cancelled in 2020, 2021 and 2022 due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however there is a 2023 Championship[16] taking place in Norwich in Norfolk, UK. The World Thumb Wrestling Championships superseded the British Thumb Wrestling Championships which was first held in Lowestoft, Suffolk in 2010.[17] Famous people to have competed in the World Thumb Wrestling Championships are Rory Mcgrath and Will Mellor as part of their show Rory and Will: Champions of the World.[18]

Competitive matches of thumb wrestling have also been held on Long Island[19] and the 826 Valencia Foundation holds an annual thumb-wrestling competition, which has been won three times by San Francisco Chronicle book editor Oscar Villalon.[20] There is no leaning nor tilting when thumb wrestling.


Norman Mailer was passionate about thumb wrestling.[21] Author and humorist Paul Davidson claims that his grandfather Bernard Davidson invented the thumb war in the 1940s.[22] American copywriter Julian Koenig claimed to have invented thumb wrestling in 1936 as a boy at Camp Greylock.[23] In 2011 Rory Van Bellis founded and is the current Head of the World Thumb Wrestling Championships.[24]

Thumb wrestling ring

A thumb wrestling ring is a toy used for thumb wrestling.[25] The players insert their thumbs in opposite sides and proceed with the thumb war.

Notable thumb wars[edit]

While campaigning for the 2019 Australian federal election, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was challenged to a thumb war live on Darwin's Hot 100 radio station on the Danii & Jake Show.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dieleman, Hans; Huisingh, Don (2006). "The Potentials of Games in Learning and Teaching About Sustainable Development" (PDF). Journal of Cleaner Production: 18. ISSN 0959-6526.
  2. ^ a b Villalon, Oscar (8 December 2003). "1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a thumb war". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  3. ^ a b Villalon, Oscar (3 December 2006). "THE SEMI-SWEET SCIENCE One, two, three, four. I declare ..." San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  4. ^ Beard, Polly (27 June 2009). "Games to play in your tent on rainy days". The Times. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  5. ^ Orr, Elizabeth (22 November 2006). "THUMBS UP!". Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  6. ^ Collard, Mark (2005). No props: great games with no equipment. Project Adventure, Inc. p. 218. ISBN 0-934387-05-2.
  7. ^ Gunter, Veronika Alice; Meyer, Clay (2005). The Ultimate Indoor Games Book: The 200 Best Boredom Busters Ever!. Lark Books. p. 128. ISBN 1-57990-625-7.
  8. ^ Haslam, Nick (2004). Relational models theory: a contemporary overview. Routledge. p. 374. ISBN 0-8058-5356-1.
  9. ^ "World Thumb Wrestling Championships 2023 - Thumb War". Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  10. ^ "Thumb Wrestling Rules - World Thumb Wrestling Championships 2023". 2009-07-06. Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  11. ^ World Thumb Wrestling Championships | Tesco Mobile, retrieved 2023-01-11
  12. ^ "Thumbs wrestle for world title". BBC News. Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  13. ^ Victorious reigning champion husband and wife are officially the two best thumb wrestlers, retrieved 2023-01-11
  14. ^ "Family wins World Thumb Wrestling Championships". BBC News. 2019-07-27. Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  15. ^ "Bog snorkelling and thumb wrestling: Weird world championships in the UK - CBBC Newsround". Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  16. ^ "Enter World Thumb Wrestling Championships - World Thumb Wrestling Championships 2023". 2016-05-09. Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  17. ^ "Drayman crowned British thumb-wrestling champion". Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  18. ^ "My5". Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  19. ^ Ketcham, Diane (29 November 1987). "LONG ISLAND JOURNAL". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  20. ^ Mankiewicz, Josh (26 March 2007). "A real thumbs up for helping kids write well". NBC News. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  21. ^ "A Letter From The Publisher". TIME. 16 July 1973. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  22. ^ "Who Invented The Game Thumb War". Words for my enjoyment. 18 May 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  23. ^ "This American Life: Origin Story". June 9, 2009.
  24. ^ Baum, Julie (2017-11-24). "Rory Van Bellis: The head of World Thumb Wrestling, who have recently had their 9th championship | Talk Radio Europe". Retrieved 2023-01-11.
  25. ^ Tweney, Dylan (30 September 2009). "Pocket Players: 13 Great Portable Games". Retrieved 2009-10-20.
  26. ^ "Bill Shorten is challenged to a thumb war". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 18 April 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]