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Twenty (version 1)

Contributed by Alexander Farrugia from Malta, who invented the game in 1997. It is a game that requires a good amount of skill to play well, but also has a bit of an element of chance thrown in. The rules are very simple to learn, which allows for people to start playing the game almost straight away.

The rules of the game are first listed, following by an illustrative game showing a few of the tactics that are used in this game.

Twenty Rules

  1. Two players participate in the game of Twenty, which consists of two rounds. We shall call the players 'Player 1' and 'Player 2'. In the first round, Player 1 starts, while in the second, Player 2 starts. Otherwise, both rounds are exactly identical.
  2. In this card game, each card has a value. Aces have a value of one, while Jacks, Queens and Kings have a value of ten. Every other card has a value equal to its pip value. For instance, the Four of Clubs has a value of four, the Eight of Hearts has a value of eight, and so on. A card having a value of ten is called a Ten card.
  3. A round starts by thoroughly shuffling an ordinary pack of 52 cards. The top two cards are revealed to both players. The difference of the value of these two cards is worked out. This difference is called the End of Round Bonus. If this difference is zero, the End of Round Bonus is 10 instead. For example, if the two cards revealed are the Seven of Diamonds and the Three of Clubs, the End of Round Bonus is 4 (7 minus 3), while if they were the King of Hearts and the Jack of Spades, the End of Round Bonus is 10 (10 minus 10 is zero, hence the End Of Round Bonus becomes 10).
  4. These two cards are then set aside and take no further part in the round. After doing this, five cards are then dealt from the remaining 50 cards, face downwards, to each player. The players now inspect their hand of five cards.
  5. Player 1 selects one of the cards from his hand and places it face upwards on the table. Player 2 then does the same, and then Player 1 puts another card on the table, and so on. The cards on the table are called Tally Cards, while the total of the value of the Tally Cards is simply called the Tally.
  6. If, at any time, the Tally is exactly 20, the last player who contributed a card to the Tally Cards scores 10 points. This is called scoring for an Exact Twenty.
  7. If, at any time, the Tally exceeds 20, the last player who contributed a card to the Tally Cards scores a number of points equal to the Tally minus 20. For example, if the Tally is 23, the last player who played a card scores 23 minus 20, or 3 points. This is called scoring for Beyond Twenty.
  8. If, at any time, there are five Tally Cards and their Tally is less than 20, the last player who played a card scores 15 points. This is called scoring for Five Tally. If the opponent can now play a subsequent card to the Tally Cards resulting in the Tally still being less than 20, he or she scores twice the amount of points that his opponent has just scored. This would be called scoring for Six Tally, then Seven Tally, Eight Tally, etc. So, Six Tally would be worth 30 points, Seven Tally would be worth 60 points, and so on.
  9. Whenever a player scores for Exact Twenty or for Beyond Twenty, all the Tally Cards are set aside, and the Tally Cards become void.
  10. A player who has exhausted his or her hand of cards is dealt another five cards from the remainder of the deck (face downwards) when it is again his or her turn, and the round proceeds normally. The amount of cards in the deck would permit each player to have 5 hands of 5 cards in all.
  11. When no player can play another card and the deck is used up, the round ends. The player who has last scored points now scores the End of Round Bonus that was made known at the start of the round as a reward.
  12. When the first round finishes, the second round is played, exactly like the first round, with the only exception that, as noted before, Player 2 contributes the first card to the Tally Cards and not Player 1. The points won in the second round are aggregated with those of the first round.
  13. The winner is the player having more points at the end of the second round. In the rare case of both players having an equal amount of points in the end, the game is a draw.

Illustrative Game of Twenty

The two players are Albert and Bertha.

Round 1

The deck is shuffled and the top two cards are shown. They are:

3spade 9heart

The End of Round Bonus is thus 6 points.

Hand 1:

Albert's Hand: 8club 5spade 5diamond 4diamond 2diamond
Bertha's Hand: Tspade 9club 8spade 2spade Aspade

(The card played by each player is displayed, followed by the Tally in brackets and the amount of points scored if appropriate.)

Albert: 8club (8)              Bertha: Aspade (9)
Albert: 2diamond (11)             Bertha: 9club (20; 10 points)
Albert: 5diamond (5)              Bertha: 2spade (7)
Albert: 4diamond (11)             Bertha: Tspade (21; 1 point)
Albert: 5spade (5)              Bertha: 8spade (13)

Albert: 0 Bertha: 11

Bertha starts the game very well, owing to her exceptional opening hand and Albert's very poor hand. In general, a hand that has more than three low value cards spells trouble.

Hand 2:

Albert's Hand: Kspade Jspade 6diamond 4heart 2club
Bertha's Hand: Kheart Qspade Tdiamond Theart 6heart

Albert: Jspade (23; 3 points)   Bertha: 6heart (6)
Albert: 2club (8)              Bertha: Tdiamond (18)
Albert: Kspade (28; 8 points)   Bertha: Qspade (10)
Albert: 4heart (14)             Bertha: Kheart (24; 4 points)
Albert: 6diamond (6)              Bertha: Theart (16)

Albert: 11 Bertha: 15

Albert recovers, due to Bertha's very poor hand. Having more than 2 Ten cards in your hand is usually a disadvantage, and having 4 is very bad. Bertha was lucky that when she led the Queen of Spades, Albert didn't have any Ten cards left, otherwise she would have given Albert a free 10 points.

Hand 3:

Albert's Hand: Jdiamond 7spade 7club 2heart Aheart
Bertha's Hand: Jclub Tclub 9diamond 3diamond 3heart

Albert: 7spade (23; 3 points)   Bertha: 9diamond (9)
Albert: 2heart (11)             Bertha: Tclub (21; 1 point)
Albert: 7club (7)              Bertha: Jclub (17)
Albert: Jdiamond (27; 7 points)   Bertha: 3heart (3)
Albert: Aheart (4)              Bertha: 3diamond (7)

Albert: 21 Bertha: 16

Notice Albert playing the Seven of Spades instead of a Ten card to win only three points instead of six, conserving his Ten card for later. Bertha was forced to play her second Ten card when Albert played the Seven of Clubs. With her other cards having both a value of three, she would have given Albert a probable 10 points if she played one of them at that point. This makes Albert's earlier decision to conserve his Jack of Diamonds even more strategically correct.

Hand 4:

Albert's Hand: Kdiamond Jheart 8diamond 3club Adiamond
Bertha's Hand: 9spade 8heart 6spade 5heart 4spade

Albert: Adiamond (8)              Bertha: 4spade (12; 15 points)
Albert: 3spade (15; 30 points)  Bertha: 5heart (20; 10 points)
Albert: 8diamond (8)              Bertha: 6spade (14)
Albert: Jheart (24; 4 points)   Bertha: 9spade (9)
Albert: Kdiamond (19)             Bertha: 8heart (27; 7 points)

Albert: 55 Bertha: 48

With the fourth hand starting with a Tally of 7 and three Tally Cards already on the table, it is no surprise that a Five Tally was on the cards. Albert plays his Ace to give himself a chance of scoring a Six Tally himself. Bertha's response of the Four of Spades is bad. She should have played a high card to prevent Albert from scoring a Six Tally. As it were, she was lucky that she could respond to his Six Tally with an Exact Twenty score.

Hand 5:

Albert's Hand: Kclub Qdiamond 7diamond 5club Aclub
Bertha's Hand: Qclub Qheart 7heart 6club 4club

Albert: 7diamond (7)              Bertha: 4club (11)
Albert: Kclub (21; 1 point)    Bertha: 7heart (7)
Albert: Aclub (8)              Bertha: 6club (14)
Albert: Qdiamond (24; 4 points)   Bertha: Qheart (10)
Albert: 5club (15)             Bertha: Qclub (25; 5 points)

Bertha takes the End of Round Bonus of 6 points.

Albert: 60 Bertha: 59

In the last hand, the players would know exactly what the opponent would be holding if they have a perfect card memory. Albert didn't get a very good hand but makes the most of it. He couldn't prevent Bertha from taking the End of Round Bonus though.

Albert has the slimmest of leads going into Round 2. The winner of the game is still pretty much undecided.

Round 2

The deck is reshuffled and the top two cards are shown. They are:

4diamond 2spade

Hence, the End of Round Bonus is 2 points.

Hand 1:

Bertha's Hand: Qclub Theart 8diamond 5heart Aclub
Albert's Hand: Kclub Tspade 8spade 6diamond 5spade

Bertha: 8diamond (8)              Albert: 5spade (13)
Bertha: Qclub (23; 3 points)   Albert: 8spade (8)
Bertha: Aclub (9)              Albert: 6diamond (15)
Bertha: 5heart (20; 10 points)  Albert: Tspade (10)
Bertha: Theart (20; 10 points)  Albert: Kclub (10)

Albert: 60 Bertha: 82

Albert pays for his grave mistake of playing his Six of Diamonds in response to the Ace of Clubs instead of a Ten Card. He's then forced to play one of them and give Bertha a free 10 points, and a probable further 10 points in the next hand. Since there are 16 out of 52 cards having a value of ten, the probability that Bertha is dealt a hand containing at least one Ten card in the next hand is quite high.

Hand 2:

Bertha's Hand: Jspade 8club 7spade 7heart 6spade
Albert's Hand: Kdiamond Tdiamond 9heart 6heart 2club

Bertha: Jspade (20; 10 points)  Albert: 9heart (9)
Bertha: 6spade (15)             Albert: Kdiamond (25; 5 points)
Bertha: 8club (8)              Albert: 6heart (14)
Bertha: 7heart (21; 1 point)    Albert: Tdiamond (10)
Bertha: 7spade (17)             Albert: 2club (19)

Albert: 65 Bertha: 93

Albert notices that Bertha didn't play a Ten card in response to his Six of Hearts, and concludes that she doesn't have any left, so he plays his Ten of Diamonds. However, he is unlucky that his last card is only the Two of Clubs, allowing Bertha to win a probable nine points in Hand 3. If he knew that Bertha did not have any Ten cards left at the time when he played his Six of Hearts, he would have played his Two of Clubs there instead.

Hand 3:

Bertha's Hand: 9club 8heart 7diamond 6club 2heart
Albert's Hand: Qspade Jclub 7club 5diamond Adiamond

Bertha: 8heart (27; 7 points)   Albert: 7club (7)
Bertha: 2heart (9)              Albert: Aheart (10)
Bertha: 6club (16)             Albert: Qspade (26; 6 points)
Bertha: 9club (9)              Albert: Jclub (19)
Bertha: 7diamond (26; 6 points)   Albert: 5diamond (5)

Albert: 71 Bertha: 106

In turn, Bertha is somewhat unlucky not to be drawn any Ten cards in her hand. She decides to conserve her Nine of Clubs for later and lead with the Eight of Hearts. This sends a message to Albert that Bertha probably doesn't have any Ten cards, so he risks making the Tally 10 by playing the Ace in response to Bertha's 2 of Hearts, a risk which pays off by scoring 6 points with his next card.

Hand 4:

Bertha's Hand: Kspade Qheart 4spade 3diamond 2diamond
Albert's Hand: Qdiamond Jdiamond Jclub 4club 3club

Bertha: 4spade (9)              Albert: 3club (12)
Bertha: Qheart (22; 2 points)   Albert: 5club (5)
Bertha: 3diamond (8)              Albert: 4club (12)
Bertha: Kspade (22; 2 points)   Albert: Jdiamond (10)
Bertha: 2diamond (12)             Albert: Qdiamond (22; 2 points)

Albert: 73 Bertha: 110

This hand was played in a rather straightforward manner. Bertha conserves her lead, and knows now that the win is in the bag.

Hand 5:

Bertha's Hand: 9spade 4heart 3spade Aspade Aheart
Albert's Hand: Kheart Jheart Tclub 9diamond 3heart

Bertha: 9spade (9)              Albert: 3heart (12)
Bertha: Aspade (13)             Albert: Tclub (23; 3 points)
Bertha: 4heart (4)              Albert: 9diamond (13)
Bertha: Aheart (14)             Albert: Jheart (24; 4 points)
Bertha: 3diamond (3)              Albert: Kheart (13)

Albert takes the End of Round Bonus of 2 points.

Albert: 82 Bertha: 110

Albert makes the score look a bit more respectable in his last hand, more due to Bertha's bad hand than anything else. However, it's too little too late for him, and Bertha wins comfortably in the end. Had Albert not committed that nasty mistake in the first hand of the second round, the score would have likely been much closer.


A variation of the game is to play with both players' hands exposed, and having a player's hands in Round 1 given to the opponent in Round 2. This allows for a game of practically pure skill.

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Last updated: 15th September 2008