This page is mainly based on information from Kamel Sidiqi.
Panjpar is a popular Afghan two-player card game which is featured in the novel "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini. 'Panjpar' simply means 'five cards', the number of cards in each player's hand at the start of the game. It is closely related to the Russian game Prostoy Durak, but Panjpar is played with a full 52-card pack.
As the players play their cards they draw new ones from the stock of undealt cards to keep a hand of at least five cards. The aim is to collect a hand with which you can win after the stock runs out. When the stock is empty the player who manages to play all their cards wins, and the player still holding cards at the end is the loser.
Players and Cards
Panjpar is a two-player game.
A standard international 52-card pack is used, the cards of each suit ranking from high to low: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
The pack is shuffled and five cards are dealt to each player. The next card is placed face up on the table and its suit is trumps. The remaining cards are stacked face down on top of the trump indicator card and at right angles to it, so that the value of the trump indicator card can be seen. this stack of cards is the stock from which fresh cards are drawn during the play.
Before the deal one of the players guesses what colour the trump suit will be. If the guess is right, the player who guessed it plays (attacks) first; if not the opponent plays first.
The play consists of a series of battles in which one player attacks and the other defends.
The attacker plays ("throws") one, three or five cards from hand, placing them side by side face up on the table.
- For a one-card attack, any card may be played.
- A three-card attack must consist of a pair plus a third card, for example 7-7-9 or Q-Q-2. The third card could be the same rank as the pair - for example 8-8-8.
- A five-card attack must consist of two pairs plus a fifth card, for example K-K-4-4-7. The fifth card could be equal to one of the pairs, or the two pairs could be equal to each other: 10-10-3-3-3 and 6-6-6-6-J would both be valid five-card attacks.
The defender may now beat ("kill") any or all of the attack cards by playing cards from hand, one card on top of each attack card. A card can be beaten by a higher card of the same suit. Any non-trump card can be beaten by any trump. A trump can only be beaten by a higher trump.
The attack cards that were beaten and the cards that were used by the defender to beat them are set aside and are not used again until the next deal. If the defender beat all the attack cards, it will be the defender's turn to attack next.
If the defender did not beat all the attack cards, then any cards that were not beaten are added to the defender's hand. The player who attacked will attack again.
You are never obliged to beat cards that are used to attack you. You always have the option to pick up some or all of the attack cards and add them to your hand instead. If you are attacked with good cards such as aces or large trumps, you will often prefer to pick them up for later use even if could have beaten them, and allow your opponent to attack again.
Until the stock pile is exhausted, each player must have at least five cards in hand at the start of each attack. If after playing, either to attack or defend, you have fewer than five cards in your hand, you must draw enough cards from the top of the stock to bring your hand back to five cards.
Example: Players A and B hold five cards each. Diamonds are trumps. A attacks with 5-5-K. B beats the 5 with the 7 and picks up the 5 and K. A has two cards left and must draw three from the stock to make a hand of five cards. B has seven cards and does not draw. The 5 and 7 of clubs are set aside face down. Since B picked up, it is A's tun to attack again. This time A attacks with 9-9-3. B beats the 3 with the 4, the 9 with the K he just picked up, and trumps the 9 with his 5. All six played cards are set aside face down. A draws three cards once again, and B, who has four cards left, needs to draw one. Since B beat A's attack completely it is B's turn to attack next. B attacks with the 6. A has no spades and does not wish to use a trump, so A picks up the 6. B draws one card and attacks again. And so on.
Each player is allowed to know at all times how many cards are in the other player's hand (but not of course what the cards are), and you must answer truthfully if asked how many cards you have. However, it is forbidden to count the remaining cards in the stock. Also, players are not allowed to look through the pile of used cards that have been set aside. To help with this, used cards can be collected in a face down heap. Some players prefer to keep the used cards face up but in that case they should be stacked in such a way that only the most recently added card(s) are visible.
Note. Unlike the related Russian game Durak, in Panjpar there is no possibility to acquire the trump indicator card by exchanging it for a low trump in your hand before the stock runs out. The original trump indicator card remains in place until all the face-down cards of the stock have been drawn.
The face-up trump indicator card is drawn as the last card of the stock. After that play continues without drawing replacement cards.
A player is not allowed to attack with more cards than the opponent holds. So if your opponent has only 3 or 4 cards you are only allowed to attack with 1 or 3 cards, not 5. If your opponent has only 1 or 2 cards, you can only attack with a single card.
When a player runs out of cards, the play ends at the end of that battle. The player left holding cards after the final battle is the loser.
Sometimes both players use all their remaining cards in the final battle. For example the players have one card each, the attacker plays his last card and the defender's card beats it. In such a case, the game is a draw.
When reaching the end of the stock, the order of drawing cards is important. It can be a big advantage to draw the face up trump at the bottom of the stock, and since there are no more cards to draw after that, one or both players may begin the endgame with fewer than five cards.
Example. Players A and B have 5 cards each and there are 4 cards in the stock including the face-up trump.
- Suppose A attacks with 3 cards and B beats them all. A draws the last 3 face-down cards and B gets the trump. So it is now B's turn to attack from a hand of three cards. If they include a pair, B can win immediately.
- Suppose instead that A attacks with 5 cards and B beats 4 of them, picking up the fifth card. Now A draws the last 4 cards of the stock including the trump and B draws nothing so just has two cards - the fifth card from his hand and the one he just picked up. Since B has only two cards, A can only attack with one of his four cards. If B can beat this card, B can then attack with his other card and win.
The page Card Games in Afghanistan includes a fairly brief description of Panjpar. It includes some apparently unusual rules and may relate to a different version of the game from the one described above