Greek 31

This page is based on information from Alexandros Kouridakis and Martin Heath.

Introduction

Thirty-one is a classic hand comparison card game played in Greece. Although it involves betting, it is never encountered in casinos or formal gaming environments, but is played as a home game, particularly on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve parties. It is suitable for a largish group of up to around 8 people, and the basic aim is to collect cards with a total value as near as possible to 31 without exceeding that number.

The players do not compete with each other but only with the dealer, who acts as a banker, paying the players with winning hands and collecting the bets of the losers. However in 31, unlike most casino banking games (such as Blackjack for example), the same player does not keep dealing throughout the game. When the dealer is 'bust', having a hand worth more than 31 points, the right to deal passes on to the next player.

Players and Equipment

The minimum number of players is 2, but the game works well for larger groups of up to 8 players or more. Deal and play are anticlockwise.

31 is played with a standard international 52-card pack without jokers. With a larger group of players, more decks may be added. It is recommended to use two decks if there are more than 5 players.

Before beginning, the players should agree whether they will be playing for real money or for tokens (play money). They should also agree the minimum and maximum bet allowed per deal. The currency (real or not) may be represented by any agreed means. It is convenient to use poker chips, but in casual games other types of token such as nuts may be used. Very often the game is played with actual money, and the players bet using bank notes and coins.

Card Values and Objective

The cards have numerical values. Cards from 2 to 10 are worth their face value, Jacks, Queens and Kings are worth 10, and Aces count as 1 or 11 at the player's choice. However, a player who has more than one Ace must count at least one of them as 11. So for example A-K-7 can count as 18 or 28, but A-A-9-3 must count as 24 and not as 14.

A hand counts as the total value of its cards with one exception: a two-card hand consisting of a pair of Twos is worth 14 (instead of 4). This rule does not apply if the Twos are accompanied by other cards - for example 9-8-2-2 is worth 21, not 31.

  • The best hand is one with a value of exactly 31 points.
  • Second best is a hand of 14 points.
  • Below that come hands with 30 or fewer points, the more points the better.
  • A hand with more than 31 points is worthless (bust).

The effect of the special rule that a pair of Twos without other cards counts 14 is that whatever card a player is dealt first, there is always a chance that their second card will make 14, which is the second strongest hand, for example A+3, 2+2, 3+A, 4+10, 5+9, 6+8, 7+7 and so on.

Deal and Play

The initial dealer is chosen by any convenient method. This player shuffles the deck before dealing the first hand.

To begin, the dealer deals one card face-up in front of each of the other players in anticlockwise order, beginning with the player to dealer's right and ending with the player to dealer's left. Each player then places a bet on their card, which can be any amount between the agreed minimum and maximum.

Next, the dealer draws cards from the top of the deck, without showing them to the other players, aiming to make a winning total without going over 31. The dealer can choose to "stand" (stop drawing cards) at any point when satisfied with the total. There are four possible results of this process:

  1. The dealer draws a card that makes the total more than 31. The dealer is "bust" and must stop drawing cards. All the dealer's cards are exposed, and the dealer pays each of the other players an amount equal to their bet. This ends the deal.
  2. The dealer stands with a total of exactly 31. All the dealer's cards are exposed, and the dealer collects all the bets placed by the players. This ends the deal.
  3. The dealer stands with a total of exactly 14. All the dealer's cards are exposed, and each player in turn has a chance to try to beat the dealer's total.
  4. The dealer stand with a total of less than 31, but not 14. The dealer chooses any one card to keep concealed and must expose all their other cards. Each player in turn has a chance to try to beat the dealer's total.

In cases 3 and 4, each of the other players now has a turn, beginning with the player to dealer's right. At your turn, you call for cards to be dealt face up one at a time by the dealer and added to your hand. You may do this as many times as you wish, until either your total exceeds 31 or you decide to "stand" and take no more cards. Then it is the next player's turn. In case 3, where the dealer has 14, you will go on until either you win with 31 or you bust. In case 4 the dealer has one face-down card so the dealer's total is unknown, and you have to judge how close to 31 to go before standing rather than risking a bust with the next card.

If a player's total exceeds 31 the dealer immediately collects their bet. If as player stands with exactly 31 the dealer pays them the amount that they bet. In all other cases, the settlement must wait until all players have had their turns. Then the dealer's concealed card is exposed. The dealer pays each player who has a better hand than the dealer an amount equal to their bet, and collects the bets of all players whose hand is equal to the dealer's hand or worse.

All used cards are added to the bottom of the deck, without shuffling. Cards belonging to players who had more than 31 points are placed on the bottom of the deck as soon as they go bust; all other used cards are gathered up and added after all the bets have been settled.

If the dealer was not bust, the same player deals the next hand. If the dealer was bust and has dealt at least two hands in succession, the turn to deal passes to the dealer's right-hand neighbour. However, a player who becomes the dealer always has the opportunity to deal at least two hands, even if they are bust on their first deal.

End of the Game

It should be agreed at the start of the session whether to allow players to 'buy in' during the game - buying more chips or introducing extra money into the game. If buying in is allowed, the game continues until the players agree to stop playing.

Alternatively the players may agree to play for table stakes, in which case players can only bet using the money or tokens that was on the table at the start of the session and anyone who runs out of money is eliminated from the game. In this case the game can continue until one player has collected all the money on the table. It can of course finish earlier if the players agree. In this version, if the dealer is running short of money/chips, then the total amount bet by the other players cannot exceed the amount the dealer has in front of them. This may prevent some players later in the turn order from betting at all.

Variations

Some play that the deck is shuffled only before the first deal. After this cards are dealt from the top and used cards are placed on the bottom of the deck without shuffling between deals. To avoid the same cards repeatedly coming up in a similar sequence, some prefer that each new dealer should shuffle the deck before dealing for the first time when the cards are passed on to them.

The version of 31 described by Martin Heath differs from the above game as follows.

  • A hand consisting just of a pair of Twos is better than a normal hand with value 14. So if the dealer has an ordinary 14, this can be beaten by a player's pair of Twos, but if dealer has a pair of Twos, the only hand that can beat it is a 31.
  • Aces in a hand must be valued alternately as 1 and 11. So one Ace can be 1 or 11, but two Aces must be worth 12. Three Aces can be worth 13 or 23, but four Aces must be counted as 24 (not 14).