31 / Scat / Ride the Bus / Cadillac

This page is based on contributions from many players including Eric Kent, Paul Welty, Duine Buile, Jim Black, William Priester Jr., Monty Martin and Kent Hamilton.

Introduction

This is a simple draw and discard game, suitable for players of all ages. Players have a three card hand and the aim is to collect cards in a single suit worth 31 points or as near as possible to that total. It is played in the USA, the UK and other places. There are many slightly different versions of the rules: some of these are listed in the variations section. In the USA it has various names including Scat, 31, Blitz, Cabbage, Cadillac, Kitty, High Hat and Geronimo. Some of these names can cause confusion with other games:

  • This Scat has no connection whatever with the German national card game Skat;
  • There are at least two other games called 31:
    • the German game 31, also known as Schwimmen, Schnauz or Hosen 'runter, which is like the game on this page, except that cards are swapped with a central pool of three cards, rather than using a draw and discard mechanism;
    • the Greek banking game 31, which is similar to 21 except that the object is to draw cards adding as near as possible to 31 without exceeding it.
  • This Blitz is not to be confused with Dutch Blitz, which is a version of Racing Demon, sometimes played with special cards.

Eric Kent learned the game in the late 70's from older siblings, who had in turn learned it from friends visiting from the UK, and they called it Ride the Bus, and used a somewhat different method of keeping score. Some people call it Stop the Bus, but this is also the name of a similar game based on Brag hands.

Players

From 2 to 9 or more people can play. Eric Kent suggests that the game is perhaps best when played with 3 players, but it should also work well with a larger group.

Cards and their value

A standard 52 card deck is used. For scoring hands, the Ace is worth 11 points, the Kings, Queens, and Jacks are worth 10, and all other cards are worth their pip value.

The value of a three card hand is calculated by adding up the value of the cards held in any one suit. So if you have three cards of the same suit, you can add up all three. If only two cards are in the same suit you can add those, or use the value of the odd card if it is higher than the sum of the other two. If you have three different suits the value of your hand is the value of the highest card in it. The maximum hand value is 31, consisting of the ace and two ten-point cards in the same suit.

Examples:
heartK-heart8-heart5: value 23 (sum of all 3 cards)
spadeQ-diamond9-diamond8: value 17 (9 + 8)
clubA-spade6-spade4: value 11 (the ace is worth more than the spades)
clubJ-heart7-spade4: value 10 (the jack)

Deal

Determine the first dealer in any manner you desire. The turn to deal passes on clockwise after each hand. The cards are shuffled and are dealt out one at a time, starting with the player to dealer's left and continuing clockwise until everyone has a hand of three cards.

The next card is turned face up on the table to start the discard pile, and the remaining undealt cards are placed face down next to it to form the draw pile or stock. During play, the discard pile is always kept "squared up" so that only the top card is visible and available to be taken.

Play

The player to dealer's left begins and the turn to play passes clockwise around the table. A normal turn consists of:

  1. drawing the top card either from the stock pile (without showing it to the other players) or from the discard pile;
  2. discarding one card face up on top of the discard pile.

Note that if you choose to take the top card from the discard pile, it is illegal to discard the same card, leaving the position unchanged. You must keep the card you took and discard one of the cards that was previously in your hand. However, if you draw the top card of the stock, you are free to discard the card that you drew onto the discard pile, leaving your hand unchanged.

Knocking

If at the start of your turn, you believe that your hand is not the lowest and that at least one other player will be unable to beat your hand even if they are allowed one more turn, you can knock instead of drawing a card. Knocking ends your turn. You must keep the hand you had at the start of that turn, but each other player gets one final turn to draw and discard. After the player to the knocker's right has discarded, all players reveal their cards. Each player decides which suit is their point suit, and totals up their cards in that suit.

The player with the lowest hand value loses a life. If there is a tie involving the knocker, the other player(s) lose a life, but the knocker is safe. If the knocker's score is lower than that of every other player, the knocker loses two lives. If there is a tie for lowest between two or more players other than the knocker, then both (all) of those players lose a life.

There is just one case where it is possible to pick up your own discard. This happens when there are only two players left in the game and your opponent knocks. The card you discarded just before the knock is still on top of the pile, so it is now available for you to take back if you want it - for example if you had just broken up a suit for tactical reasons you can now restore it.

Declaring 31

If after drawing and discarding a player achieves hand value of 31, they show their cards immediately and claim victory. In this case all the other players lose a life. A player who makes 31 after another player has knocked still declares it and every other player including the the knocker loses one life.

A player who is dealt 31 in their original three cards declares it - there is no play and all the other players lose a life. If it happens that two or more players get 31 on the initial deal then all the players other than those with 31 lose.

A player who has 31 in their hand and does not declare it as soon as they make it or are dealt it cannot claim it later. An undeclared 31 in a player's hand effectively counts as 30 - if another player declares 31 the holder of the undeclared 31 will lose a life along with the other players.

Draw pile exhausted

If the stock runs out the play can continue as long as each player wishes to take the previous player's discard. If the player whose turn it is does not wish to draw the top discard, the play ends and all players show their cards and the hand is scored. If no one has knocked then the player who has the lowest score loses one life, or if there is a tie all the players with the lowest score lose a life.

Scoring

The normal way of scoring in Scat is that each player begins the game with three pennies. When you lose a life, you have to put one of your pennies into the kitty in the centre of the table. If you knock and lose, having the sole lowest hand, you pay two pennies (if you have that many).

If someone declares 31, all the other players have to put a penny in the kitty. If someone declares 31 after another player has knocked, the knocker just pays one penny, like everyone else.

If you have no money left, having lost all three of your pennies, you are said to be "on the county" (meaning receiving charity from the county, etc.), or "on poverty", "on your face", "on your honour", "on welfare" or "floating". If you lose while on the county, you are out of the game. If you lose two lives when you only have one penny you are also out of the game. The game continues until only one player has not been eliminated, and that player is the winner.

There is a theoretical possibility of a draw if all the remaining players are on the county, the draw pile runs out before anyone knocks or makes 31, and all remaining players have equal scores. If this unlikely situation were to arise and it was necessary to determine a winner, the hand would have to be replayed.

Variations

Some play that in case of a tie for lowest score between a knocker and one or more other players, the knocker loses two lives while the other players in the tie lose one life. If a player declares 31 after a knock, the player with 31 is safe, knocker loses two lives and the other players each lose one life. In this variant it is possible for all the remaining players to lose their last life simultaneously, in which case those players play another hand (in which they will all be on their honour / on the county) to break the tie.

Some play that in a tie involving the knocker, only the knocker loses.

Some play that a knocker who has the lowest score only loses one life, not two.

Some play that 3-of-a-kind of any rank counts as 30 (or 30.5) points. When it counts 30, it ties with three ten-point cards of the same suit. If it counts 30.5, it beats all hands except a 31.

Rarely, people play that any straight-flush (three cards of the same suit in sequence) is worth 30 (except for A-K-Q, which is 31).

Some play that there is a minimum score with which you are allowed to knock - for example 17, 19 or 21. Some play that a knock is only allowed by a player who has three cards of the same suit.

Some players have recommended a variant in which instead of drawing, the very first player, to the left of the dealer, has the option to call a "hammer". This is also known as "knocking under the gun". Everyone must show their cards - no one gets to draw a card - and the hand is scored exactly like a knock. If the first player, the one who called for the cards to be exposed, has the lowest hand value, they lose two lives - otherwise the player with the lowest score loses a life. If anyone was lucky enough to be dealt 31 all the other players lose a life. Obviously, this round of the game takes very little time, thus speeding up the game. Some play a version of this known as "throw-down" or "shotgun" where the first player must decide before looking at their cards whether or not to call for an immediate showdown in which everyone reveals their cards and the worst hand loses as above.

Doug Moyer describes a variant in which after a player knocks, the next player, to the left of the knocker, may also knock. In this case the play ends immediately and the hand is scored. In this variant the holder(s) of the lowest card(s) simply lose(s) one life - there is no extra penalty for knocking and losing. If all surviving players are knocked out together (having one life each and tied scores) they keep their lives and another deal is played. Also in this version, the dealer has the option of declaring a "sudden death" hand after dealing just a single card to each player: the dealer may then (often with dramatic gusto) drop the deck and turn over their card, in which case the cards are immediately compared and the player(s) with the lowest card(s) lose(s) a life.

Kent Hamilton describes a variant Cadillac in which each player begins with four nickels. A player losing a life pays a nickel to the pot, a player who has no nickels is on poverty and a player who loses a life when on poverty is out of the game. If the knocker ties with one or more other players for lowest hand the knocker loses two lives and the others lose nothing. A hand worth 31 is declared by calling "Cadillac" and every other player loses a life. Three Aces make a "Grand Cadillac" worth 33 points - this is declared in the same way as a Cadillac and each other player loses a life. Three-of-a-kind of a rank other than Aces is worth 30 points.

Angie Barry described a variant called GIN is which a knock is a promise to have the highest score. The three lives are represented by the letters of the word "gin" and a player who has all three letters is out of the game. After a knock each of the other players takes a turn and if after this the knocker's hand is highest or equal highest, everyone except the knocker gets a letter. If another player beats the knocker, the knocker gets a letter. A player who has 31 declares it and everyone else gets a letter. In this variant a three-of-a-kind is worth 30.5 points.

Ride the Bus has a different way of keeping track of wins and losses. All players start out "seated" at the back of the bus. Players who lose a hand move toward the front in a sequence. The sequence is usually: first, you stand at the back of the bus, then you are in the middle of the bus, then at the front of the bus, then you are on the stairs, then you are off the bus. Players who are no longer "riding the bus" are out of play. Winning a hand simply keeps your position; you do not move back a step if you win a hand.

The scoring system of Ride the Bus can be changed to suit how many hands people want to play. Because this game is very casual, this often happens in the middle of the game by mutual agreement of all players; for example, a player who is "on the stairs" loses another hand and would normally be out of play, but since everyone is having so much fun, it is declared that the player is "on the second step" or "asking the driver to stop" instead of out. If extra levels are introduced, they apply to all players.

On the site Cribbage.ca is a description of a French Canadian version of 31 in which after a player has knocked and everyone else has taken a turn, the player with the highest score is awarded one point. If there is a tie the player who did not knock wins it. Presumably if there is a tie between two players neither of whom knocked they get a point each. A player who makes 31 declares it and score a point immediately. The game apparently goes on until someone reaches a score of 31 - a long game. Jeffrey Jacobs describes a version of this game in which players are not allowed to knock unless they have three cards of the same suit. If two players have equally high scores the tie is broken if possible by looking at the ranks of the cards as in poker - for example A-10-9 beats K-Q-J, K-10-9 beats Q-J-9 and K-J-7 beats K-9-8.

Mike Armstrong describes a rather different version of 31 with a play mechanism similar to Golf. It was learned from players in Washington state, USA. Each player is dealt three cards in a row face down and they must not look at them. The next card is dealt face up to start the discard pile and the remainder stacked face down as a stock. At your turn you must either

  • take the top card of the discard pile and put it face up in place of one of your (unknown) face down cards. The replaced card is discarded face up, or
  • draw the top card of the stock, look at it and then either
    • place it face up in place of one of your face down cards as above, or
    • discard the card you drew face up and turn one of your face down cards face up.

Face up cards cannot be discarded or replaced. There is no knocking. After everyone has had three turns all the players' cards will be face up and the hand is scored. A player may score for either all cards of one suit or all cards of one rank, whichever is greater. So for example heart5, heart8, club8 would score 16 for the two 8's rather than 13 for the two hearts. Each player starts with three lives (represented by quarters) and the player(s) with the lowest score(s) lose one life. A player who loses their last life is 'on the bus'. A player who loses while on the bus is eliminated. Only one player at a time can be on the bus, so if a player who loses their last life while another player is on the bus is eliminated immediately.

Antonio di Sebastiano describes a version of 31 played in Italy with an Italian 40-card pack (no 8's, 9's or 10's). The highest combination is 3-of-a-kind (any rank), which is better than 31. If more than one player has 3-of-a-kind they rank from high to low AKQJ765432 so three Aces are unbeatable. Everyone starts with three tokens. After a knock the other players have one more turn each and then the player(s) with the lowest hand(s) lose(s) one token. Anyone who loses their last token can continue playing until they lose again and are eliminated. There is no extra payment for 31 (or for three Aces): players with these hands can just knock in the usual way.

Scat software

You can download Ryan Skeldon's free Blitz 31 for Windows.

Here is Bob Dolan's Scat program for Windows.

In some computer versions you knock and then draw a card and discard in the same turn of play, but you cannot knock at your first turn to play. The players also score points when the play ends according to the cards in their hands. There are two implementations that can be played free online in a browser against computer opponents. Both feature a bus that travels around the table.

  • Tomas Mertens' Solitaire Paradise has a version under the name Stop the Bus.
  • The Solitaire.com version is called Ride the Bus.
This page is maintained by John McLeod (john@pagat.com).   © John McLeod, 1998, 2006, 2020, 2021. Last updated: 18th October 2021

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