Beggar My Neighbor is a British counting and matching card-game, traditionally played with Two Players. Famously, the game is mentioned in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations. The game is used narratively to demonstrate a boy named Pip’s, the Protagonist, lack of education due to the game’s simplicity.
How to Play Beggar My Neighbor?
The Beggar My Neighbor card game is played using the standard Anglo-American, 52-card deck. The deck should then be shuffled, and the deal may then begin.
The game begins with both Players being dealt half of the deck. The cards will be dealt face down, in packets of ten at a time, and neither Player should look at their cards. The dealt cards should then be cleanly stacked by each Player, creating two half-decks.
The non-dealing Player will then take the top card from their deck, and place it face-up in the center of the play area. The dealing Player will then do the same, both Players flipping up a single card on each turn. This regular play continues until a “penalty” card is upturned.
Penalty cards are:
The Player that did not flip the penalty card must then pay the other Player the penalty, with a greater penalty associated for a higher value card.
- Aces require a Player to pay four cards to the other Player.
- Kings require three.
- Queens require two.
- Jacks require one.
In order to “pay”, a Player upturns those cards into the play area.
If none of the payment cards are penalty cards, the Player which flipped the penalty card may take all of the cards in the play area.
However, if one of the payment cards is a penalty card, then the penalty switches back to the other Player, who must then begin paying based upon the penalty card which was drawn.
This play goes back and forth, and the game ends when one of the Players is able to assume all of the 52 total cards in play. When this happens, that Player is declared the winner.
- Penalty cards have varying payouts: Aces are 4, Kings are 3, Queens are 2, Jacks are 1.
- The Player who holds all of the cards immediately becomes the winner.
- If a Player’s deck is emptied, they immediately lose, even though there are cards still remaining in the play area.
- Suit does not matter in any way.
- The decks may not be inspected, neither Player should know which cards are in their deck, nor the order of those cards.
Strategy & Tips
Beggar My Neighbor is a game of pure chance. There is, in reality, no true strategy to the game. Any “Strategy” employed that could reasonably alter the course of play would be considered cheating.
It is for this reason that the game is used to demonstrate Pip, from Great Expectations, as being an uneducated young boy. The story of Great Expectations is about a poor young boy being given a chance to receive a gentlemanly education, on the behalf on an anonymous benefactor. Pip only being able to play Beggar My Neighbour, a game that is entirely chance based, shows to the reader that his education is very poor, only able to play a game with no real long-term strategy.
The following is a possible string of plays made by two Players in Beggar My Neighbor:
- Player 1: 5
- Player 2: 10
- Player 1: K
- Player 2: 2, Q
- Player 1: 10, 8
- Player 2: Ace
- Player 1: 5, 9, Q
- Player 2: 6, 9
Notice that after Player 1 played a King, Player 2 only paid out two penalty cards, as a Queen was drawn and flipped. This Queen then shifts the onus of penalty onto Player 1. Now Player 2 is not required to pay out the third penalty card owed to a King.
Further, notice that Player 2 plays an Ace, forcing Player 1 to pay penalty until they draw the Q, ending their penalty one card early and shifting the onus back onto Player 2.
This back and forth is the core gameplay of Beggar My Neighbor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Beggar My Neighbor go on forever?
Theoretically, it is entirely possible for a game of Beggar My Neighbor to continue on for infinity. However, because of the way statistics are calculated, an “infinite” game of Beggar My Neighbor has an infinitesimal likelihood of occurring.
How many people can play Beggar My Neighbor?
The games regular rules, as listed above, are only playable by two Players. With some modification to the game, three Players could be involved.
By sitting in a circle, assume the Player to the clockwise is the Player whom must pay your penalties, while the Player to your counterclockwise will be the Player you must pay penalties to.
Then, scan the deck and remove the 2 of ♠. By removing this card, all three Players will be able to be dealt an even number of cards.
What is the difference between War and Beggar My Neighbor?
War and Beggar My Neighbor are very similar, with Beggar My Neighbor acting as an even more simplistic version of War.
In War, while suits still do not matter, the rank of cards is actually taken into account. The higher ranking card in wins.
Further, War is more similar to a “trick-taking” game, while Beggar My Neighbor is a counting game of penalties.