Bastard Brag

Introduction

This is a variant of the English card game Three-card Brag, in which an extra three-card hand is dealt and the players have the opportunity to improve their hands by exchanging cards with this spare hand. There are several different ways to play. On this page, after explaining the ranking of Brag hands and the initial deal, I describe two versions.

  1. A game for lives. Here the the objective is not to have the worst hand. Players continue to exchange cards until one of them 'knocks', after which everyone exchanges just once more. Then the player with the lowest Brag hand loses a life, a player who loses three lives is eliminated and the last surviving player is the winner.
  2. A game for money. There are just two rounds of exchanges. After everyone has exchanged twice, the players bet on who has the best hand in the same way as in ordinary 3-card Brag.

Other variants and hybrids of these also exist, so new players will need to check the local rules before joining an established game.

With thanks to Nick Cleveland, Craig Atkinson, Mark Anson and Tony from 3cardbrag.co.uk for providing information about this game.

Players and Cards

A standard international 52-card pack is used. The cards rank from high to low: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.

While it is possible for as few as 3 or as many as 10 people to play, the game is probably best for 4 to 6 players. The game is dealt and played clockwise.

Brag Hands

Since the object is to have the best 3-card Brag hand (or at least to convince the other players that you have so as to win the pot without showing your hand), it is necessary to know the types of Brag hand and what beats what. The hand types from highest to lowest are:

  1. Prial. Three cards of equal rank. The best prial is 3-3-3, then A-A-A, K-K-K and so on down to 2-2-2 which is the lowest.
  2. Running Flush. Three consecutive cards of the same suit. The best running flush is 3-2-A of a suit. Second best is A-K-Q, then K-Q-J and so on down to 4-3-2 which is lowest.
  3. Run. Three consecutive cards, not all of the same suit. The best running flush is 3-2-A of a suit. Second best is A-K-Q, then K-Q-J and so on down to 4-3-2 which is lowest.
  4. Flush. Three cards of the same suit which are not all consecutive. To compare two flushes compare the highest card first, then if these are equal compare the second highest and if these are also equal compare the third card. So for example J-9-2 beats J-8-7 because 9 is higher than 8. The highest flush is A-K-J of a suit and the lowest is 5-3-2 of a suit.
  5. Pair. Two equal ranked cards and a different card. To compare two pairs compare the equal cards first. If two players have the same pair compare the third card to decide which hand is better. So for example 5-5-3 is better than 4-4-K. The best pair hand is A-A-K and the worst is 2-2-3.
  6. High Card. A hand that does not fall into any of the categories above: three different ranks, not consecutive and not all the same suit. If two players have High Card hands compare the highest card first, if these are equal compare the second highest and if these are also equal compare the third card. So the best High Card hand is A-K-J and the worst is 5-3-2.

Deal

The first dealer is chosen by any convenient method, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

The dealer deals the cards one at a time clockwise to the players plus one extra hand in the centre of the table. The players' cards and the first two cards of the extra hand are dealt face down. The third and last card of the extra hand is dealt face up.

The Game for Lives with Knocking

This game is sometimes known as Stop the Bus.

It may be convenient for each player to begin with three tokens representing their lives. Each time a player loses, they surrender one of their tokens. A player who has no tokens left is out of the game. The last survivor is the winner.

Card Exchange

The player to dealer's left begins, and play continues clockwise around the table. At your turn you must do one of the following three things.

  1. Exchange one card. Discard one card from your hand to the table and replace it by taking a different card from the table in exchange.
    If you take the face up card, the card from your hand must then be turned face up.
    If you take a face down card the card you discarded from your hand remains face down and the other players do not see either card. To ensure that they are different you must keep the discarded card separate from the table cards your hand until you have drawn a card from the table.
  2. Exchange three cards. Put your whole hand on the table, turning one of its cards face up, and take the three table cards as a new hand in exchange.
  3. Knock. Keep your hand as it is, with no further opportunity to exchange cards. Knocking is only allowed from the second round onwards, after each player has exchanged at least once.

This process continues until a player knocks, after which each of the other players has one more turn in which they must exchange one or three cards. When the turn comes back to the player who knocked the exchange phase ends.

Showdown

All players show their hands, and the player who has the worst Brag hand loses a life. Ties, in which two players have the exact same hand, are rare, but if it happens they are broken by looking at the suit of the highest cards in the tied hands using the ranking spades > hearts > diamonds > clubs.

The Game with Two Exchanges and Betting

Before the game, players must agree the initial stake (ante), the minimum and maximum for the first bet and the maximum amount by which the bet can be raised. Before the deal all players must pay the amount of the ante to the pot.

There are just two rounds of exchanges, beginning with the player to dealer's left and ending with the dealer. At your turn you must exchange, even if it damages your hand. In the first round the only possibilities are:

  1. Exchange one card. Discard one card from your hand to the table and replace it by taking a different card from the table in exchange.
    If you take the face up card, the card from your hand must then be turned face up.
    If you take a face down card the card you discarded from your hand remains face down and the other players do not see either card. To ensure that they are different you must keep the discarded card separate from the table cards your hand until you have drawn a card from the table.
  2. Exchange three cards. Put your whole hand on the table, turning one of its cards face up, and take the three table cards as a new hand in exchange.

In the second round players may exchange one or three cards as above or may pass and keep their cards as they are.

Note: If you were dealt a perfect hand, the best you can do is probably to exchange one of your cards in the first round and hope that no one else takes it, so that you can get the same card back in the second round.

Betting and Showdown

This works the same way as in 3-card Brag, but without the possibility of betting blind. The player to dealer's left begins and the turn to act passes clockwise around the table. Each player must either bet or fold. A player who has folded takes no further part in the betting and cannot win the pot.

The first bet may be anywhere from the agreed minimum to the maximum. Each subsequent bet must be at least the amount bet by the previous bettor and at most that amount plus the maximum agreed raise. All bets are added to the pot. If at any point all players but one have folded, that one player wins the contents of the pot without needing to show any cards.

When there are only two players who have not folded there is an additional option. Either of the players can, at their turn to bet, 'see' the other player by putting into the pot twice the amount of the previous bet. The other player must expose their three cards, and then the player who paid to see either exposes their own three cards and wins the pot if they make a better Brag hand, or concedes and lets the other player take the pot. If the hands are equal the player who paid to see loses.

Note. The poker concept of calling or equalising the stakes does not exist in Brag. For example if everyone bets 2 chips, the betting does not end. When the turn comes back around to the first player they have to put in (at least) another 2 chips to stay in. There can be no showdown until the field is reduced to two players, and then only by one player paying double to see the other.

Variations

Variations and hybrids of these games also exist. For example the game with betting can be played with exchanges continuing until someone knocks, and the game for lives can be played with just two rounds of exchanges.

In the version with knocking, some do not allow a player to knock on their first two turns. Everyone must have exchanged at least twice before anyone is allowed to knock. On the other hand, some groups allow knocking right from the start.

Some allow a player exchanging with a face down card from the table to choose a table card first and look at it before deciding what card to discard from their hand. They cannot, however, discard the card that they picked up.

Some play with not just one but two or all three of the table cards face up.

In the game with knocking, some people do not require the other players to exchange after a knock. Each player gets one more turn and they may either exchange or keep the three cards they have if they are satisfied with them.

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2021. Last updated: 6th January 2021

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