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Big Two: Rules

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The following are the rules that my wife and I use to play the popular Asian card game Big Two (or Choh Dai Di). There are many variations of this game, and these rules should certainly not be considered definitive! I hope you will give the game a try – let me know in the comments if you do.

How to Play

The basis of Big Two is a race to get rid of your cards. It supports 2, 3 or 4 players with one deck, and up to 8 players with two decks shuffled together. You will be dealt 13 cards in each game, and you can play these cards in four different ways: 

  • As Singles (just one card)
  • As Pairs (two cards of matching values)
  • As Triplets or “Trips” (three cards of matching values)
  • As Poker Hands (five cards forming a straight, flush, full house, four of a kind or straight flush)

Note: you must play a fifth card with four of a kind to make a legitimate five card poker hand. 

The game consists of a number of hands, each consisting of a number of rounds. Each hand begins by the players being dealt 13 cards (deal passes to the left after each hand).

The player who is dealt the 3 of Diamonds starts each hand (see below for how to discover this), and must make a play involving this card to begin the first round. For instance, they could just play the 3 of Diamonds as a single, or if they had a straight involving this 3, they could lead with that.

(If no-one has the 3 of Diamonds, the player with the next lowest card leads with that instead).

Whichever type of play is led, the next player clockwise around the table must play a higher card (or combination of cards) of the same type – for instance, if the player with the 3 of Diamonds plays a pair of 3’s to start the round, the next player must play a pair of a higher value.

Players can choose to pass if they don’t want to play, and must pass if they cannot play. When all other players have passed, the last player to successfully make a play has possession and can begin a new round with whatever play they wish. 

Whatever type of play begins a round, all subsequent plays must be of the same type – for instance, if a player begins a round with a straight, the next player must play a higher straight or a better poker hand (e.g. a flush, full house, four of a kind or a straight flush).

The hand ends when someone successfully plays their last card. The winning player scores one point for each card in every other player’s hand, and this score is doubled for each 2 in the final play – for instance, if the player goes out with a pair of 2’s, their score is multiplied by 4 (2x2), and if they go out with four of a kind in 2’s their score is multiplied by 16 (2x2x2x2). 

Play to 49 points or whatever score you choose.

 

Order of Precedence

The game is called Big Two because the highest card you can play is a 2 – that is, the order of values in this games goes 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A, 2. Nothing beats a 2. 

Furthermore, the suits are ranked in the following order (from bottom to top): Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, Spades. Therefore, the lowest card in the game is the 3 of Diamonds, and the highest card is the 2 of Spades.

Example: In a round of singles, if a player leads the King of Clubs, the next player can follow with a higher ranked King (King of Hearts or Spades), or a higher ranked card of any suit (an Ace or a Two).Mr_choh_dai_di

To remember the order of the suits, imagine Mr. Choh Dai Di, pictured right:

He has a Spade on his head
Below the head, you find his Heart
He suffers from a Club foot
And has Diamonds on the soles of his shoes

All plays are ranked on the basis of the highest card in the play, except as follows: 

  • Full houses are ranked on the basis of the three matching cards, never the two – for instance, a full house of sevens full of aces (3 x 7, 2 x A) is considered a full house of sevens, not of aces, so you can play (for instance) a full house of nines full of threes to beat it.
  • Four of a kinds are ranked on the basis of the four matching cards, never the “kicker” – for instance, four sixes with a two can be followed by four eights with a four, because eight beats four.

Examples of legitimate plays: 

  • Following a pair of Jacks consisting of the Jack of Diamonds and Jack of Hearts, another player could play a pair of Jacks consisting of the Jack of Clubs and the Jack of Spades because the first pair’s highest card was Jack of Hearts and the Jack of Spades beats the Jack of      Hearts.
  • Following a straight consisting of A, K, Q, J and 10 in various suits (with the Ace being a Spade) you couldn’t play A, K, Q, J, 10 (because Ace of Spades is the top Ace) but you could play 2, A, K, Q, J with any suits, as any Two beats any Ace. The highest straight, therefore, would be 2, A, K, Q, J with the Two being the Two of Spades.

 

Total Information versus Uncertainty 

If this game is played with four players, all the cards are in play (as in Bridge) so it becomes a total information game. Played this way, the game requires more thoughtful planning and the application of memory to recall what has been played. I hate playing games this way, and so I prefer to play with two or three players.

When there are undealt cards in a hand (as happens when there are fewer than four players), no-one knows for certain which cards will win at any point. This uncertainty makes play more fluid (less time spent thinking) and intuitive, but the game is still fiendishly competitive – one can really shaft the other player in heads-up play with skilful choices. 

To play with four players and uncertainty, use two decks of cards. When playing with more than one deck, you still must play higher than the previous play, so if the previous player plays the 2 of Spades, you must pass, even if you have another 2 of Spades in your hand.

 

Determining Who Starts 

At the beginning of each hand, it is necessary to determine who has the 3 of Diamonds. In a four player game, the player with this card simply declares it. In two or three player games, the following kind of communication can reveal the player who must lead:

  • If your hand doesn’t include the 3 of Diamonds say “I don’t have the 3 of Diamonds” or “I don’t have it”
  • If no-one has the 3 of Diamonds, but you have a 3 of another suit say “I have a three”. Cycle through the 3’s in sequence (Clubs, Hearts, Spades) until the lead card is found.
  • If you have no threes, say “I have no threes.” If no-one has any threes, repeat this process with the fours and so on until the lead card is found.

For example: 

Alan’s lowest card is the 4 of Spades, and Christie’s lowest card is the 4 of Clubs. Alan sees he has no 3’s and says “I don’t have it”. Christie sees the same and says “Neither do I”. Alan replies: “I don’t have any threes” to which Christie says “neither do I”. Alan asks: “do you have a four?” Christie replies: “yes”. Alan knows his four is the 4 of Spades – the highest four – so by definition, Christie must lead. “Lead with your lowest four, then,” Alan says.

 

Optional Advice on Organising Your Hand 

When you first play Big Two, it can be confusing working out how to organise your hand. Should you break up pairs to make a straight, for instance? Here is my advice on how to organise your hand.

  • Start by checking for flushes – do you have five cards of the same suit? And, just as importantly: what will the rest of your hand look like if you form a flush? It’s no good having a poker hand if you don’t have any means of gaining possession (a two, or a pair of aces, say) as you probably won’t get to play it.
  • If you have a lot of pairs, and especially if some of your pairs are highly ranked, it may be best to aim to play in pairs: other players often run out of pairs, and once they have no pairs you can play the rest of your pairs unopposed.
  • Other players don’t often have trips, so you can usually win a round with any triplet. You can also make a triplet into a full house by adding a pair, and have a great chance that no-one will beat you – but you can be caught out by a higher full house, a four of a kind or a straight flush!
  • Every game is likely to include at least one round of singles, because few hands can be fully disposed of without ditching a lot of singles. However, there might only be one or two rounds of singles – if  your hand consists mostly of singles, you will struggle to go out. If you have a good single (a high two, for instance) that could get you possession, you can try forming straights or flushes to ditch as many cards as possible easily.
  • Victory in this game is about winning rounds so you gain possession and can control the type of play in the next round, therefore you should plan your hand in whatever way gives you the best chances of winning rounds. For instance, a pair of Aces has a good chance of being the highest play in a pairs round, but a straight with an Ace in it might be beaten by almost any other poker hand.
  • Similarly, three Twos seems like an awesome play, but it may be better to play them as singles or a pair and a single as this will win you possession more often.

Lastly, don’t forget that however you organise your hand after the deal, you can reorganise your hand to play differently whenever the need arises. For instance, if another player just played a weak straight (say, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3), check your hand to see if you can make a better straight – and decide if this would be a better play than passing. 

It’s these tricky decisions on how to play your hand that are at the heart of the play of Big Two – do you hold onto your twos to try and go out with them for the bonus multiplier, or do you use them to win rounds? The choice is yours!

With thanks to John McLeod for the rules I used to learn to play, Matt Mower for pointing them out to me, and my wife for beating me so often at it!

If you decide to give Big Two a try, do let me know in the comments! It’s a great two player game, which makes it easy to give it a try as you only need to find one other person to play with. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with learning the game from these rules, and I'll check back in a month to see if anyone has been giving it a go. Have fun!

Comments

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Hi all.

Just to let you know, you can play Big Two on your mobile phone -- just go to http://www.big2pro.com and follow the instructions to download it.

(Disclaimer: I work for the company that produces Big 2 Pro, and though I think it's pretty cool, I'm biased!)

Neil.

When I was taught the game, we never played for points - just single games. Also, we just dealt the whole deck - though it was usually 2 or 3 people playing. Both were probably just for simplicity.

Though we'd often play more than one game, I think it was more fun keeping them separated. Everybody wins a few, loses a few and no-one really bothers to keep track too much, so no-one gets too upset.

Different strokes for different folks of course, but I personally prefer the 2p version with all cards dealt.

Having said that, whilst we didn't run into decision paralysis, I suppose adding more hidden information would make it more of a casual party game. Will give it a go.

Bezman: I can see why strategic players would prefer the total information game, with all of the cards in play; I found I had enough decision material with incomplete information, though.

Best wishes!

When I play Big 2, we have sister pairs (pair consecutive ex. 2233)

We also play with bombs (bombs can be bombed anywhere including doubles, singles, etc)
Bombs are: Four of a kind + card, full house, or three pairs consectuive (ex. 22334455)

Maddie: Thanks for sharing your rules variant! I'm especially interested in the idea that you might "Bomb" with a powerful hand even if it isn't the lead - that must change the play quite considerably!

Some people in my school play Big Two by starting with a diamond 3 first, and then after that the winner goes first on the next round.

Does the person automatically lose if they have a spade 2 last in their hand?

If a person has all 4 two's is it a auto reshuffle?

Ryukuo: thanks for letting me know about your rules variants. I'm not sure I would want to play with the winner starting the next round - the requirement to have to play the 3 of diamonds in the opening play is part of the charm of the game for me.

I've never run across the other two variants you list here - losing for a 2 of spades, nor reshuffling with 4 twos - I can't imagine why anyone would want to reshuffle when they were dealt the best possible hand! :)

Thanks for your comment!

Which straight is bigger? 2,3,4,5,6 or 3,4,5,6,7?

King: Generally speaking, the highest card breaks ties so a 7-high straight beats a 6-high straight. However, A,2,3,4,5 ("The Wheel") is generally considered to beat every straight but A,K,Q,J,10.

However, house rules do vary considerably!

isnt the order wrong? shouldn't it be from highest to lowest spades, hearts, diamonds then clubs?

Hi Albert,
If you're right, then I've been playing this game wrong all my life! But I'm pretty sure it is Spades, Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, as presented here. By all means dig up counter-evidence, though!

Chris.

If straight 3,4,5,6,7 beats 2,3,4,5,6 (even though '2' is the highest single card)
Then how comes A,2,3,4,5 can beat every straight (except A,K,Q,J,10).
Isn't straight 6-high bigger than straight 5-high?

Would A,K,Q,J,10 be the highest straight if the suit is Clubs?

Hi Lam,
Cho Dai Dee has substantial variability in the house rules for dealing with straights. These two websites both have solid versions of the rules, but disagree on how to handle straights:

"Twos do not rank high in straights, but below the 3, so the highest straight is A-K-Q-J-10 including the ace of spades."
https://www.pagat.com/climbing/bigtwo.html

"In a Straight, 2 is treated as being low for the purpose of making the Straight but it is always the highest ranked card when comparing two Straights, whereas A can be high or low (both not both at the same time) for the purpose of making the Straight but it is always the 2nd highest ranked card when comparing two Straights"
http://whitey.net/en/big-two-card-game-rules.htm

The rules as posted here assume that Aces are the highest ranked card for straights, hence the A,K,Q,J,10 is the top straight and the Wheel (A,2,3,4,5) is just behind it. However, I would note that my wife and I never play this way in practice and align more with the second rules description above.

Thanks for the query!

how do you play the double 2 bomb?

Hey Marvel,
Was that in connection with Maddie's rules variant? I doubt she'll be back here to comment...

As a general rule which we play by:
First hand - Diamond 3 goes first in any legal combo containing the card. Winner goes first in the next game. The 'Winner goes first' rule tends to separate good from mediocre players quickly by giving a bonus to players who can consistently win more hands. A player who consistently eeks out close wins, pulls away if their next hand is very strong, or limits damage if next hand is weak. To me anyone can win with good hands, but good players can eek out wins with mediocre hands and occasionally win with poor hands. At the very least, good players know how to limit losses on bad hands. I play sessions that can last for several hundred hands and consistently this rule tends to hold up when ranking player strength.

Straights: strength is determined by the last card in the sequence, therefore A2345 is the lowest, 10JQKA is the highest. It doesn't make sense for a set of cards played in an ordered sequence to have value judged at different points of the sequence depending on the sequence. With A2345 valued as lowest straight a player must weigh the cost of using A's and 2's to get rid of their low cards. No wrap around aces.

Flushes: the strength of 2 flushes are determined by the highest value card, and then look to next highest card if they're the same. If all cards are same, then suit is tie breaker. This is the basic tenet of Big2. For singles, the value trumps the suit...only if same value card is played, then the suit determines strength. This way of valuing flushes preserves this basic rule. Some variants ignore card value with sole basis on suit which does not make sense. The game has always been based on card value first, and then suit second.

Less than 4 player game: each player is dealt 13 cards, with the remainder forming 'pick up' pile for passing.
Intuitively this might sound like a lot of luck is injected in the game but I assure you it is quite the opposite. A 4 player game is largely robotic and mechanical...there is little in the way of change that your initial hand will play out, from start to finish. So the luck here is based on what cards you are dealt. Which is why i prefer a 3 player game - which adds so much more depth and strategy in which re-assessments must be ongoing. An astute player can make informed deductions on what's in the pickup pile and play accordingly. Also, timing of when to play certain cards or hands become much more important. This takes the game to much deeper levels than a straight 4 player game can ever go.

Thanks for sharing your Big Two practices, Andy! Very interesting.

I wouldn't personally choose a way of playing that benefited those that were already winning, since I tend to prefer closed feedback loops that offset differences in skill (making the game fairer) rather than open feedback loops that reward victory (making the game more competitive, and more rewarding for competitive players).

Your take on straights makes a lot of sense, although I personally like the instability caused by wrap around straights.

As for the 3 player game, I'm not at all interested in the 4 player game for precisely the reason you outline. No hidden information makes the game too mechanical. I personally like it as a 2 player 'heads up' game, which I play with my wife. She tends to win - I think I too rigidly define my strategy up-front, whereas she is more fluid with her play, which is a huge benefit in this game.

Thanks again for sharing your perspective on this great card game!

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