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HOW TO PLAY THIRTEEN: THIRTEEN CARD GAME RULES

Overview

Thirteen is a fun card game with Vietnamese root where it is called tiên lên. A minimum of two players are needed to play the game but the game is best played with four. The game is fast and easy to play which makes it ideal for social gatherings such as family occasions. The game can be played under different sets of rules but the version described here is so easy to learn and play.

Objective

Every player tries to be the first to discard all their cards. 

Thirteen Game Rules

If a player is dealt four 2’s or a sequence from 3 to Ace, that player wins that game instantly without any card being played.

2’s cannot be used in forming sequences.

Once a player passes during a combination, that player is temporarily out of the game and cannot rejoin until a new combination is started.

In the case of multiple games being played, the winner of the previous game starts the next one and in this case, the game does not have to start with a 3 of Spades.

Number of Players Needed

Minimum of 2 players. The game is best played by 4 players.

Equipment

A standard 52-card deck is needed to play the game. A second card deck may be required if more than 6 players are involved.

Paper and pen for keeping scores.

Setting Up

A dealer is chosen from the players. The dealer picks the card deck and shuffles it. The dealer then shares a total of 13 cards to each player, one card at a time starting with the player to the left of the dealer in a clockwise direction. The undealt cards are set aside.

How to Play Thirteen

Before delving into how the game is played, it is important to discuss the card ranking in thirteen. This is because thirteen is played with an unusual card ranking different from the one you may be familiar with.

Cards are ranked in the following decreasing order: 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. This means that 2 has the highest rank and 3 has the lowest rank. 

Another unusual feature of thirteen is that suits break ties when the cards involved in a tie are of the same rank. The ranking order for suits from the highest to the lowest is as follow: Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades. This means that cards of a rank of the two red suits are considered to be higher than cards of the same rank belonging to the two black suits in the case of a tie. So a pair made up of 4 of Hearts and 4 of Diamonds is higher than a pair made up of 4 of Spades and 4 of clubs.

The game begins with the player seated to the left of the dealer. This player has to play a 3 of Spades, either alone or in a combination. If this player does not have the 3 of Spades, any other player with the 3 of Spades will start the game as the 3 of Spades must be part of the first play. Aside from playing a single card, the permitted card combinations in thirteen card game that can be played are:

Pairs

Trips (Three-of-a-kind)

Straight (Three or more cards in sequence e.g. 4-5-6)

The rule guiding card play in thirteen is that the next play must match the previous play in combination type but must be of higher value than the previous play. For example, when a three-card straight say, 3-4-5 is played, the next player can only play a three-card straight but of higher rank such as 5-6-7. A four-card straight, a five-card straight, or any other straight apart from a three-card straight cannot be played on a three-card straight.  

The implication of this is that a three-of-a-kind must be followed by another three-of-a-kind combination, a three-card straight must be followed by another three-card straight, a four-card straight must be followed by a four-card straight, a pair must be followed by another pair, a single card must be followed by another single card etc.

If the starting player plays a pair of 3 of Spades and 3 of Clubs, the next player must reply with a pair of their own but must be of higher ranking such as 4 of Hearts and 4 of Diamonds, 5 of Spades and 5 of Hearts, and so on. Play continues to the left, with each player playing a similar combination but of higher rank than the most recent combination.

If a player cannot beat the current combination in play, that player will skip. A player that skips their turn will be out of the game temporarily. The other players continue to have their turns and try to push the current combination higher. This goes on until all the players except one have skipped a turn.

The remaining player who is yet to skip a turn decides the next combination to be played. The player plays any combination of their choosing and the others rejoin the game. Play continues to the left as before. The next player will be the one on the left of the player that set the new card combination. The players again must match the current combination but with higher value cards. Play continues again until all but one player has skipped and that player sets a new combination. The process is repeated until one player runs out of cards. 

Note that there are exceptions to the rule that a card combination can only be trumped by a similar combination but of higher rank. There are special card combinations known as bombs that a player can play on top of the 2’s. Remember that 2’s are special cards and have the highest rank. Two combinations fall in this category:

  1. Quads (Four-of-a-kind)
  2. Three or more consecutive pairs (e.g. 5-5-6-6-7-7)

A four-of-a-kind or three or more consecutive pairs of cards can be played on top of a single 2. To defeat a pair of 2’s, at least four consecutive pairs of cards (e.g. 4-4-5-5-6-6-7-7) must be played. A treble of 2’s can be trumped by at least five consecutive pairs of cards (e.g. 4-4-5-5-6-6-7-7-8-8).

The playing process as described above is repeated until one player runs out of cards. The first layer to run out of cards wins the game. The game can be played in a way that players earn points for their position. In that case, after the first player runs out of cards, the other players continue to play until other positions are determined. Points are awarded after. For example, 3 points may be awarded to the player in the first position, 2 points to the player in second, and 1 point the player in third. The other players earn no points.

The points are recorded and tallied at the end of each game. The first player to reach an agreed number of points wins the game overall.

Winning the Game

The game is won once a player runs out of cards but it is possible to play multiple games, with points awarded to players based on their position at the end of each game. The first player to score an agreed number of points will be the overall winner in this case.

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