How To Play Thirty One

Thirty One is a fast moving game and, due to the simplicity of the rules, can be learned rather quickly by most players. It also goes by a large number of other names such as Scat (which should not be confused with the German trick taking game Skat), Blitz, Clinker, Trenta Et Un, Cadillac and Cad.

The game is designed to be played by two to nine players and uses one standard 52 card deck. Although in this game, there is no real overall relative ranking among the cards in this deck, each card is considered to have a potential point value. The following chart shows the point values for each card in the deck:
CardPoint Value
2 to 10Face Value Marked on Card
Jack, Queen, King10
Selection of seating positions and first dealer can be done using a variety of methods, with cutting for high cards from a shuffle deck often the method used. Once determined, the dealer shuffles the cards and offers the deck to the player at his right to cut. After the cut, the dealer then distributes three cards to each player, one by one, face down in a clockwise direction. The dealer then places the remainder of the deck in a face-down pile in the center of the table to form the stock pile. He then turns over the top card of the stock laying it beside the stock pile to start the discard pile. At the start of the game, each player is also provided with three counters or tokens which he should place in front of himself on the table.

Various Hands in the game Thirty One
Four sample hands in the game Thirty-One. In the first illustration, with one card of each suit, the highest card in the hand would determine the value of the hand, in this case the Jack (10). In the second example, the nine and five added together make the highest total, so the total of that hand would be 14. In the third example, since all cards are of the same suit, the total value of the hand would be all three added together. The last hand shows an example Blitz hand, the highest possible total in a player's hand.
The object of the game is for a player to not be the player or players with the lowest card point total of cards in his hand. As shown in the chart above, each card can contribute a certain point total to a players hand. A player's point count for his hand would be the highest sum of cards of the same suit in his hand. If each of the three cards in a player's hand were of a different suit, his total would be the rank of the highest card in hand. In the case in which two or more players tie with the highest value, the hand with the highest individual card making up this sum would be considered higher. If the high card is also tied, the next highest card comprising the sum would be considered and so on. If all cards are tied, the tying player closest to the dealer would be considered to have the higher hand.

Play begins with the player to the immediate left of the dealer. Each player has the option of one of three actions he can perform during his turn. If a player at any time during the hand (before another player has knocked), finds the point total in his hand to be exactly 31, he calls Blitz and immediately ends the hand. All other players then lose one token.

If the last card of the stock pile is drawn before any player has knocked or managed to collect a Blitz, the round ends in a draw, with no players losing a token for the round.

A player who loses his last token is entitled to continue playing until they would normally be required to lose another token (called a free ride). At this point, that player must then drop from the game. The game continues until there is just one player remaining in the game who is declared the winner.

Variations and Optional Rules

Three of a Kind: Some players prefer to add the rule that having three cards of the exact same rank (but different suits) counts as 30 points for any player having such a hand. If two players both have the highest total in the game consisting of a three of a kind, the three of a kind of the higher rank is considered the higher.

Schwimmen: Schwimmen is a German variant of Thirty-One. It is played similarly to the standard game with several key differences.

Although the full deck may be used in this variant, it is more often played using a modified 32 card deck. This is a deck made from a standard 52 card deck by removing all cards of denomination 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The value of the remaining cards are as in standard Thirty-One.

As in the standard game, each player receives a hand consisting of three cards. In addition, each player receives three tokens or chips which he places on the table in front of himself.

In Schwimmen, after each player has received his regular hand of three cards, three face-up cards are dealt face-down to the center of the table as an extra hand called a widow. The remainder of the stock is set aside. After looking at his hand, the dealer may elect to trade his entire hand with the face-down widow (without looking at the widow). If he elects to do so he takes the three card widow into his hand and replaces it with his entire hand. In either case (whether the dealer traded his cards for the widow or not), the three card widow is then exposed on the table before play of the hand begins.

Initial layout in the card game Schwimmen
Initial setup for the game Schwimmen including the players tokens, the three card widow in the center, and the player's individual hands.
After the deal play begins with the player to the dealer's immediate left. Each player on his turn, instead of drawing from the stock pile as in the standard game, may exchange one card from his hand for any card currently in the widow. Alternatively, a player may opt to exchange all three cards from his hand with all three cards in the widow. Or, finally, a player may elect to pass his turn, exchanging no card from his with the widow. If there are a number of consecutive passes as players in the game, the dealer then discards the three card widow (out of play) and deals a new three card widow to the middle of the table. Play continues using the new widow. If there are not enough cards remaining in the stock to fully replenish the widow, the hand immediately ends in a draw.

As in standard Thirty-One, the players attempt to obtain the highest sum of cards in hand. This total is determined by the highest sum of cards of the same suit in that players hand.

Play continues in this manner until a player either receives a special hand or a player elects to Knock. If a player manages to arrange his hand such that it consists of exactly three Aces, or his hand consists of three cards of the same suit totaling exactly 31, the hand instantly ends. In the case of having the hand consisting of three Aces, each other player must lose one token. In the case of amassing a total of thirty one, the player with the lowest score loses one token.

A player may knock at the completion of his turn if he believes his hand is a winning hand. Each other player in turn then has one last turn to exchange zero, one or three cards with the widow if they would like. After this the hands are totaled. As mentioned, the total of the hand is the highest sum of a player's hand, adding all cards of the same suit. In addition, a hand consisting of three cards of the exact same rank (regardless of suit) is considered to have a total of 30.5 points (unless the hand consists of three Aces, which are considered to have a total to 32 points).

Once the hand is ended, the player with the lowest total then loses one chip. If two or more hands tie for the lowest score, these hands are further ranked as follows; For two or more three of a kinds, these hands are ranked by ranking of the cards making up the three of a kind with a higher one beating a lower one. For ties involving cards of a summation, the hands are ranked by suit of the cards making up the sum in the following order (from highest to lowest); Clubs, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds. If the tying hands are of the same suit, all tying players for the lowest score lose one token.

If a player loses his last chip, he may still continue in play of further hands (this is called Schwimmen, German for swimming) until required to lose another chip or chips, at which point he must drop from the game. The game continues from hand to hand until only one active player remains, who is declared the winner of the game. If, in the rare case, all the last remaining players all tie for lowest hand, then another hand must be played to determine the final winner.

Stop the Bus: This is a variant of Schwimmen which appears to have originated in England and is quite popular there. The mechanics of the game are identical to standard Schwimmen as described above, however, instead of players attempting to obtain the highest card total, they attempt to form the highest ranking hand. The hands are ranked as per the following list, from highest to lowest: Ranking for Combinations in Stop the Bus
  1. Prial
  2. - Three cards of the exact same rank. In the event one or more other players also has a Prial, the Prial of higher ranked cards is considered the higher.
  3. Running Flush
  4. - Three cards in sequence of the same suit. In the event of multiple players having a running flush, the running flush with the highest top card would be the considered higher. If this is also, equal the players tie for highest and no score occurs on the hand.
  5. Run
  6. - Three cards in sequence but not all of the same suit. If two or more players have runs, the run with the highest top card is considered higher ranked. If both runs have the same highest top card, the hand is considered a draw and no scoring occurs for the hand.
  7. Flush
  8. - Three cards of the same suit, not in sequence. If two or more players have Flushes, the highest card in the flush would be compared to determine the highest. If the highest card ties, the next highest, and so on. If all cards are tied, the hand would bed considered a tie and no score occurs for the hand.
  9. Pair
  10. - Two cards of the same rank, with any other third card. If multiple players have such a pair, the pair consisting of the highest cards is considered the highest. If the highest pair is tied, the rank of the third card in the hand is compared. If this card is also tied, the hand is a tie and no score occurs for the hand.
  11. Highest Card
  12. - The highest card in a players hand. When comparing hands for highest card, if the highest card is tied amongst multiple players, the next highest card would be compared, continuing to the lowest card. If all three cards are of the same denomination for the highest ranking players, the hand is considered a tie and no score occurs on the hand.
In all other aspects this game is played identically to Schwimmen.

No Elimination Thirty-One: Another variant of Thirty-One sometimes played is one in which no tokens are used and players are never eliminated from the game. Instead, points are accrued by certain players at the end of the hand. The following chart shows the possible scores during a hand:
Scoring CategoryDescriptionScoring Value (Knocker)Scoring Value (Player other than Knocker)
BlitzThe Knocker or another player getting a count of exactly 3166
Highest TotalPlayer holding the highest card total at the end of a hand34
Middle TotalsAny player's score is not the highest or the lowest12
Lowest TotalPlayer having the lowest card total at the end of a hand01
As will be noted from the chart, multiple players will score on each hand. In the event of tied counts, all tying players are allotted the scoring category which provides them the highest score on the hand.

After a set amount of time or number of hands, the player with the highest total accumulated score over the session is declared the game winner. In all other aspects this variant is played identically to the standard game.
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