How to Play 31

Three Methods:Preparing for the GamePlaying the GameWinning the Game

Great for small and large groups, 31 is easy and fun for all ages to play. Competition can be light and friendly or high-stakes, depending on the group. The game provides room for gambling, though gloating rights can prove just as satisfying. Make this flexible and addicting game your group’s new pastime by following the steps below!

Part 1
Preparing for the Game

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    Grab some friends ready to play. Playing groups are recommended at a range of 2 to 9 people, though you really can add as many players as you like.
    • Experts suggest three players to be the perfect amount, however this number is subjective to your group’s preferences. Some people are all about the competition, while others focus on spending some good time with good friends. [1]
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    Grab a standard 52 deck of cards. Throw out those jokers and shuffle up the cards.
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    Grab some space with a flat surface. Although a table is ideal for card games, all you really need is a comfortable space for people to sit around a central location. Cards will be placed in the center for the whole group to share, so be sure to chose a location where everyone will be able to reach and see these communal cards.
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    Explain the game goal of racing to collect a hand totaling 31 points. Hands consist of three cards and totals are determined by adding together cards of the same suit.
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    Agree on card values and scoring. Card game rules can vary from group to group as rules are often spread by word of mouth, so be sure your group agrees. Official 31 rules state that an Ace equals 11 points, while Jacks, Queens and Kings count as 10 and number cards are worth their face value.[2]
    • Cards can only be added together if they are from the same suit. For example, your hand may consist of a 3 of diamonds, an Ace of spades and a King of spades. The hand’s total would equal 21. The 3 of diamonds is not a spade. It cannot be added together with the King and Ace.
    • Any hand with three-of-a-kind is worth 30 points. This means a hand of three fives, three deuces or three kings are all worth 30 points and automatically trump any other hand of the same suit worth 30 points.
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    Select a dealer by cutting the deck. Each player grabs a section of the deck of cards. Players then reveal the bottom card of their cut. Whoever has the card of the lowest value is the chosen dealer.
    • Each game, the person to the left of the previous dealer takes over the position.
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    Receive three “lives”. Although it is not necessary, some people prefer to play 31 with “lives”, represented by three chips, three pennies or three of any marker the group chooses. At the end of each round, a loser is determined. That loser must place one of their lives in the middle.
    • After a player looses three lives, they cannot move on to the next round. The game continues until all but one player is eliminated.

Part 2
Playing the Game

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    Deal to the left, placing one card face down in front of every player in a clockwise rotation. After everyone has received three cards, each player may look at his or her hand. Under no circumstance should a player allow any other player to see their hand.
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    Place three cards face up in the middle to create the window. Players will be taking and replacing these three cards in turn throughout the game.
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    Assess your cards. Look at the three cards in your hand and the three cards in the window. Decide which cards, both in your hand and in the window, will push you closer to a hand totaling 31.
    • Never forget you can only add together cards of the same suit! Keep this in mind while strategizing.
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    Place bets. Although betting is not necessary, it can heighten the stakes. If you chose to bet, every player should place an equal amount of chips into the center before anyone takes a turn.
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    Begin play with the player to the left of the dealer. This player has the option to exchange one of their own cards for one of the cards in the window. Players can switch out as many cards as they wish as long as it is their turn.
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    Play continues in a clockwise fashion. Players continue to add value to their three-card hands.
    • Always make sure you have three cards in your hand, no more or no less.
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    Asses your competition's emotions as you play. Try to reach a hand of 31, but also keep an eye on your opponents. Determine if they seem pleased or agitated by gestures, facial expressions and the tones in their voices.
    • Scoring exactly 31 can be a difficult task. Sometimes a player must decide they are as close as they will get. Use your knowledge of the other players to decide if your hand has a good chance of winning. Perhaps you only have a score of 23, but everyone seems disgruntled and the game has been lagging on. You may be the winner.

Part 3
Winning the Game

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    Knock when you believe your hand has reached its greatest potential. As soon as you have reached as close to 31 as you believe you can, knock on the table. All other players then have one final turn exchanging cards with the window.
    • If your hand is exactly 31, knock and declare that you have 31. Players do not receive another turn and you show your cards to the group. Everyone else looses and forfeits a life. This can happen at anytime, even after another player has already knocked to begin the final round.
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    Begin the showdown by revealing your cards to the group. The player with the cards of the same suit closest to totaling 31 wins the game.
    • In case of tie, the player with the highest-ranking cards wins. For example the combination Ace, Jack, and 4 equals 25 as does a King, Queen, and 5 combination. However the Ace has a higher rank than the King. The Ace, Jack, 4 hand beats the King, Queen 5 hand. [3]
    • If the tie continues, the second highest cards are compared (Jack and Queen in the case of the previous example), and so on until a winner is determined.
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    Declare the lowest scorer as loser. The player with the lowest total looses and forfeits a life. Once a player looses all three lives they are eliminated from the game and may not move on to the next hand.
    • In the event that one player knocks but another ends with the highest score in the final round, the knocker looses a life.
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    Declare the highest scorer as winner. Whether the prize is money, bragging rights, a personal favor or a boost in self-esteem, winning is always fun.
    • Collect cards, reshuffle, switch dealer to the left and repeat the steps above until all but one have been eliminated.
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    Declare the last player standing as winner of the game. The amount of rounds per game will change depending on how many people are playing. More players increase game length as there are more lives to be lost.


  • Face cards greatly boost your hand, hold on to them.
  • 31 can only be achieved with two face cards and an Ace.
  • Sometimes collecting three-of-a-kind is a better strategy than adding cards of the same suit. Be on the look out for like cards.

Things You'll Need

  • Opponents
  • A standard 52 deck of cards
  • A flat surface or space to play

Article Info

Categories: Card Games