Best, Pair and Thirty-one
Contributed by Robert Reid
This game is based on three closely related betting games popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The largest contribution is from an early form of Brag described in later editions of The Compleat Gamester but I have also incorporated elements from the French Belle, Flux et Trente-un and from Post and Pair (the latter game is also described in The Compleat Gamester, though not very lucidly). These were all multiple-player betting games, involving three separate stakes that could be won in the course of play. The game described here is an adaptation for two players using a point-score system.
A full pack of 52 is used. Cards rank A, K, Q, J, 10-2. Suits rank (from the highest down) diamonds, hearts, clubs, spades.
Players cut for deal and the lowest takes it. Thereafter the deal alternates. The non-dealer cuts the pack and the dealer gives his opponent and himself two cards face down one at a time, and then one card each face up.
The first player to score 11 points wins the game. If your opponent reaches 11 before you reach 6 you lose a double game.
In each deal there are three distinct stages of play: Best, Pair and Thirty-one. The winner of Best scores 1 point and the winner of Thirty-one likewise. Pair is won by betting and it’s possible for the winner of this stage of the game to score multiple points.
Stage 1: Best
The player whose face-up card has the higher card-rank (irrespective of suit) scores 1 point for Best as soon as the cards are dealt. If the two face-up cards are of equal card-rank (e.g. both twos, tens, aces etc.) the card with the highest suit-rank gains the point (thus the two of diamonds beats the two of hearts).
Stage 2: Pair
The players now bet on who has the higher pair or, in the absence of a pair, the highest single card. For this purpose the cards rank from two aces (highest) down to two deuces (lowest). If both players have a pair, the one with the higher pair has the winning hand. If only one player has a pair, the one with the pair has the winning hand. If, as more frequently happens, neither player has a pair, then the winning hand is the one containing the highest ranking single card (irrespective of suit).
If the players tie for pair (very rare) the pair containing the diamond is the winner. If players tie for highest single card, the one with the higher suit-rank is the winner (as for Best). The Ace of Diamonds (known as ‘Bone-Ace’) thus outranks all other single cards though, of course, any pair will beat it.
If you are dealt a prial - three cards of the same card-rank (a rare event) - you should announce it straight away: your score immediately goes up to 11 points and you win the game without further play.
The betting proceeds as follows. Non-dealer has two choices:
- he can pass, but must re-enter the game if the dealer decides to bet;
- he can bet by raising the stake by 1 point.
The stake from which betting commences is 1 point, so his raise means that he is proposing that it should now be 2 points.
If the non-dealer has raised, the dealer now has three choices:
- he can fold, leaving non-dealer to score 1 point;
- he can raise by 1 point, i.e. propose that the stake should now be 3 points;
- he can ‘see’ the non-dealer’s raise.
‘Seeing’ the non-dealer’s raise means that the dealer accepts that the stake is 2 points and is asking for a showdown: both players announce the value of their pair or highest card, and the one with the winning hand shows his pair or card and scores 2 points. If your opponent ‘sees’ you, you cannot refuse.
If the dealer raises (proposing a stake of 3 points) the non-dealer now has the same three choices:
- he can fold, leaving the dealer to score 2 points;
- he can ‘see’ the dealer’s raise for 3 points;
- he can raise (proposing a stake of 4 points).
The raise is always by 1 point. Several raises can be made in succession, the only limitation being that a player may not make a raise that will take him over 11 points when added to his current score (see below).
If the non-dealer initially passes instead of betting, the dealer has two choices:
- he can raise (proposing a stake of 2 points);
- he can fold.
If the dealer folds, neither player scores for Pair since neither has bet.
As already mentioned, a player is not allowed to make a raise that will take him over 11. For example, you are at 7 points and I am at 9; it is my turn to play and I raise by 1, thus proposing a stake of 2 points. You respond with a raise (proposing 3 points). I cannot now reply with a further raise since, being at 9 points, I would be raising over 11. I must either ‘see’ your raise or else fold, leaving you to score 2 points. If I ‘see’ you and have the better hand, I win the game. If you have the better hand, you score 3 points, in which case I will still be on 9 and you will be on 10.
If the non-dealer is at 10 points before the betting starts, he cannot begin with a raise because the 2 points would take him over 11. He has two choices:
- he can pass;
- he can see the dealer for the 1 point that the game is worth when betting begins.
If the dealer is at 10 points and the non-dealer passes, the same choices apply to the dealer:
- he can pass (in which case neither player scores);
- he can ‘see’ the non-dealer for 1 point.
Being at 10 points is the only occasion when you may ‘see’ your opponent before any betting has begun.
Stage 3: Thirty-one
The winner of this last stage scores 1 point for holding a hand totalling thirty-one or, if neither player holds thirty-one, the hand that comes closest to that figure. For this purpose all cards have a numerical value and suit is disregarded: aces count as eleven, face cards count as ten and plain cards have their face value. A player can draw a card or cards from the pack if his hand is below thirty-one, but if he goes over thirty-one, his opponent scores the point.
This stage of the game proceeds as follows:
- If one of the players already has thirty-one in his hand, he shows it and scores 1 point.
- If both players already have thirty-one, the player whose ace has the higher suit-rank scores the point.
- If one of the players has thirty-two in his hand (two aces plus ten or face card), he announces it and his opponent scores the point - provided he has not already scored it for having thirty-one.
If thirty-one or thirty-two have not been declared, the non-dealer now has two options:
- If he is satisfied with his hand as being close enough to thirty-one he says so.
- If he thinks he can improve his hand he asks the dealer to give him a card face down. If this card makes his total thirty-one he shows his hand and scores 1 point. If it takes him over thirty-one he announces the fact and the dealer automatically scores 1 point.
If the non-dealer has not made thirty-one, nor gone over it, the dealer now has the same two options, drawing a card from the top of the pack himself in the case of the second option.
The alternate drawing of one card from the pack by the players continues until one player ends his turn by announcing that he has either made thirty-one, gone over it, or is satisfied with his cards.
If one player declares himself satisfied with his cards his opponent can then continue drawing cards in succession until he has made thirty-one, or has gone over, or is satisfied with them.
If both players have declared themselves satisfied with their hands and are below thirty-one, they announce their totals and the higher scorer shows his hand and scores 1 point.
If both hands have equal totals and are below thirty-one the players each announce their highest card by card-rank and the player with the higher card wins the point. If both players have highest cards of equal card-rank, the card with the higher suit-rank gains the point.
After Thirty-one has been scored the deal passes and the cards are shuffled and cut for a new hand..
Note on scoring: Points are scored as soon as they are made and are added to the player’s current count. For instance, you are at 6 points and I am at 8. I win Best and move up to 9. You score 3 points for Pair (because I saw your 3-point raise and lost) and now we are both at 9. You win the point for Thirty-one, moving you up to 10. If you win Best at the next deal you will have reached 11 and won the game. If I win Best we will both be at 10 and the game will be decided either by a ‘see’ for Pair or, if both of us pass on Pair, by the point for Thirty-one.
‘The Ingenious and Pleasant Game of Bragg’ in Charles Cotton, The Compleat Gamester, fifth edition, London, 1725, pp. 58-65.
‘Post and Pair’ in Cotton, pp. 95-6 (appears in the first edition of Cotton - 1674).
‘Le Jeu de la Belle, le Flux et le Trente-un’ in La Maison des Jeux Académiques, Paris, 1668, pp. 82-3.
‘Le Jeu de la Belle, du Flux et du Trente-un’ in Académie Universelle des Jeux, Paris, 1730, pp. 330-2.