Poker Home Games: 31

May 4, 2008

I learned this game when I was in junior high. Seventh-grade, I think, well before you could play poker online at sites like FullTilt Poker. The guy who taught it to me was only doing it so he could take my money. I remember the scene vividly.

It was toward the end of lunch, the 10 minutes after everyone finished eating but before the call to go outside for recess. Everyone was loaded with quarters because our new cafeteria had vending machines – a first for us. The particularly popular one dispensed multiple varieties of Campbell’s soup. Don’t ask me why that one was a favorite over the candy machine, but it was.
So my “friend’ teaches me the game, I lose a hand here or there, and then quickly pick it up. It’s not that difficult, but I’ve also been playing cards for a few years even at that point.
Long story short, by the time the call came for recess, I was up $4.75, and my friend, defeated but accepting, said, “You’re gonna be my secret weapon to take money off everyone else.”
It never actually panned out that way, but he never ended a session with me up money, either.
31 isn’t really a poker game, not in the true sense of the word. But it borrows a couple poker themes and there’s an exchange of money, so….close enough, right?
On to the rules. Each hand is very quick, but you can play this an unlimited amount of times. Another very unique thing about this is it works best when there’s only 2 people involved, in my opinion. I’ve tried it with 3, and even at that number it doesn’t capture the true spirit of the back and forth of the game.
1.) Each player is dealt 3 cards, hidden. You can look at them. The object of the game is to get as close to 31 of the same suit as you can before your opponent does. Face cards are worth 10, Aces is always 11.
2.) Like in gin rummy, a top card is turned over from the deck, and the non-dealer (you’ll switch off), has the option of taking that card, or offering it to the dealer.
3.) If the dealer declines, the non-dealer then draws a new card from the top of the deck. The player then can choose to keep this card and discard another from his hand, or simply discard the one he took from the deck.
4.) Whichever card was discarded is available to the other player, he then is afforded the same choice between that card and the deck.
5.) The game goes back and forth (there is no betting), until someone KNOCKS. When this happens, the opponent gets 1 more turn, and then the cards are turned over.
6.) The difference in points between the two is then translated into whatever monetary denomination you’re playing for. So if the person who knocked has 29, and the other person ends up with 25, and you’re playing a quarter a point, then player 2 would owe player 1 a dollar.
7.) Rinse and repeat.
STRATEGY: The game is deceptively straightforward…and there’s not an incredible amount of critical thinking or decision making outside of choosing the best time to KNOCK without getting greedy. For example, if you have 21 or more on the first hand, you might want to try your luck and knock right away…you might only win by 5 or 6 points, but the odds are in your favor.
The only other time strategy comes into play is if you know your opponent is going for a certain suit, say clubs. Now if a 10 of clubs comes up and it’s your turn, but you’re not going for clubs, do you take it just to hurt your opponent? Do you switch what suit you were going for as a result? If you hesitate too long on your choice, your opponent might catch wind of what you’re doing, and knock early, guessing you’ve split your suits and are vulnerable.
It’s a fun, quick game, and the money adds up. Highly recommended if you’re stuck with 2 people waiting for the rest of the group to show up, or at the end of the night if only two are left awake.