Big Two is a climbing-shedding game, similar to the Chinese Dou Dizhu card game, played in many parts of Southeast Asia.
Most particularly, Big 2 is a favorite of Hong Kong and Shanghai, the “Foreign” ports of China which were its main points of foreign contact.
How to Play Big Two?
Big Two is played using a standard 52-card deck. Generally, and is playable by four players exclusively. Although there are two-player and three-player variations of the game, there are distinct rule changes for those variants that will not be discussed in this guide.
Cards are ranked from highest to lowest in the following manner: 2, A, K, Q, J, 10-3.
One must also remember that suits are ranked as well: Clubs are the lowest ranking suit, beaten by Diamonds, which are beaten by Hearts, which are beaten by Spades: ♣ >♦ > ♥ > ♠
The traditional Deal of Big Two can be rather complicated, and is not necessary to emulate unless one wants to follow Tournament-Style rules, or to play the game traditionally.
For home games, it will be sufficient to determine a Dealer randomly, and deal out the entire deck counter-clockwise to all four Players starting from the first Player to the Dealer’s right.
The first Player to empty their hand of cards will be the Dealer in the next hand.
If one wishes to follow the traditional dealing method:
- Select a Dealer by random means.
- They will then shuffle the deck, and grab roughly half of the cards from the top of the deck.
- They will show the bottom card of this collection to each Player, before placing the cards back down onto the deck.
- The Dealer will then begin milling cards, turning them over until a card of the same suit as the exposed card is milled.
- Once this occurs, the number on the card shall determine the first Player to be dealt cards.
Cards for this purpose are ranked as normal, with 2 as the lowest and Ace as the highest.
Each number corresponds to a Player, going around in order. So, The Ace would mean Player 1 is dealt cards first. The 2 would deal to Player 2, the 3 to Player 3, and the 4 to Player 4.
This continues as a cycle; such that Player 1 would receive the first cards on a 5. Player 2 on a 6, etc.
Once a card of the same suit as the exposed card is shown, the milled cards are placed on the bottom of the deck, and cards are dealt normally from the deck counter-clockwise, one card at a time, starting from the Player which won the traditional dealing procedure.
Once all of the cards in the deck have been dealt to all four Players, the game can properly begin.
- If using the traditional method of dealing, the Player who won and was dealt the first card from the deck shall take the first turn.
- The alternative Home-Method will give the Player to the Dealer’s immediate right the first chance to shed cards.
On their turn, Players will attempt to “shed” cards from their hand, which is the ultimate goal of the game.
The first Player to empty their hand of cards is the winner of the hand. All other Players will take penalty points for the cards remaining in their hand when the game has ended.
To shed cards more efficiently, Players may shed combinations. Combinations are groups of cards that can be shed at once. The specific legal combinations available to each Player will be given and explained in the “Combinations” section below.
The first Player to Shed into the pile, the “Lead”, shall be the first Player to be dealt cards during the Deal.
When no other Players can shed cards into the pile, that pile will be pushed away and a new pile will be created, led by the last Player to shed into the previous pile.
Players must follow the combination of the leading cards, and must “Climb” the pile by playing cards that are higher ranking than the previously highest cards on the pile.
So, a Pair (4♦ 4♠) could be played on a lower pair (3♦ 3♠) but it could not be played on a single (3♠)
Gameplay continues in this way, with Players shedding cards that climb the pile and match the leading combination of the pile. Players cannot exceed the leading combination.
For example, a Player could not play a pair when the leading combination is a single card, even though a pair is stronger than a double.
Players continue to shed cards legally, passing when they cannot, until one of the four players completely sheds their hand of cards.
At that moment, the game immediately ends, and the remaining players must assign themselves penalty points for the cards in their hands.
Generally, Big Two is played over multiple rounds up to a score or round limit. Scores are kept between rounds, and when the score limit or round limit is reached, the Player with the score closest to 0 is the winner.
|RANK (LOW TO HIGH)
|7♠ 7♣ 7♦
|6♠ 7♦ 8♠ 9♦ 10♣
|2♠ 3♠ Q♠ 6♠ K♠
|J♦ J♥ J♣ 4♠ 4♥
|8♥ 8♠ 8♦ 8♣
|9♣ 10♣ J♣ Q♣ K♣
There are multiple combinations in Big Two, sometimes called melds. Players can shed these combinations if they are leading the pile, or if a matching combination has already led the pile.
Players must form the same type of combination that led the trick. The highest suit of a combination will always determine the suit for the overall combination.
As their name suggests, singles are merely individual cards played into the pile. These cards are ranked according to rank (2, A-3) and suit (♣♦♥♠).
As straight-forward as a single, Pairs are a combination of two cards of the same rank, with different suits.
E.g. 3♦ 3♠
A combination of three cards that are all the same rank.
E.g. 7♦ 7♣ 7♠
Played the same way they are in poker games, a straight is a combination of five cards that are in ascending order. Suits can be mixed, with the highest ranking suit determining the overall suit for the straight.
An Example Straight: 7♦ 8♣ 9♠ 10♣ J♠
A combination formed of five cards that are all the same suit, irrespective of rank.
The following is a possible Flush: 3♦ 5♦ 6♦ 9♦ 2♦
This five-card combination is formed from a Pair, and a Three-Kind in the same five-card combination.
E.g. 3♦ 3♣ 8♣ 8♠ 8♥
The Four-Kind is a combination of four cards with the same rank. Despite its name, the Four-Kind is actually a five-card combination, with a fifth “kicker” added on.
E.g. 4♦ 4♣ 4♠ 4♥ 8♠
A Five-card combination formed of cards that are all the same suit, in an ascending immediate ranking.
E.g. 6♦ 7♦ 8♦ 9♦ 10♦
As you may have noticed, the above hands are quite similar to Chinese Poker combos.
Big Two is scored using a system of penalty points. The Player the closest to 0 by the end of play is considered the overall winner of the game. Players cannot gain points, only lose them.
Each card is worth one penalty point, Players deduct points from their total for each individual card remaining in their hand after another Player has emptied their hand. There are, however, additional penalties.
- If a Player has 10-12 cards remaining in their hand, then their overall penalty is doubled.
- If the Player has 13 cards remaining in their hand, completely unable to shed a single card, that Player must assumed 39 penalty points, each card is assigned 3 penalty points.
Games can be played to a score limit, with the first Player to reach a score threshold losing automatically, and the Player closest to 0 winning.
Game can also be played to a round limit, with scores being compared as a final total once a certain number of rounds have been played.
Suppose Player 1 leads with a pair, one of the legal combinations formed from two cards of the same rank. The highest ranking suit determines the suit of the combination.
- Suppose Player 1 leads their pile with a pair of 7♦ 7♣, making the suit of the combination ♦.
- Player 2 passes, because they do not have any pairs that are more highly ranked than the pair of 7s.
- Player 3 plays a pair of 8♣ 8♦. As their suits are the same, it comes down to the rank. 8 is more highly ranked than 7, so Player 3 successfully sheds their cards into the pile.
- Player 4 then plays a pair of 3♠ 3♦. Since Spades are a higher ranking suit than ♦, even though the 3 is a lower ranking card than an 8, Player 4 successfully sheds their cards into the Pile.
All three players following Player 4 pass. As such, Player 4 wins the pile, and earns the right to lead the next pile.
Strategy and Tips
Play your highest-ranking combination when you win the right to lead a pile. As you cannot know for certain the composition of your opponent’s hands, you must attempt to shed cards as quickly as possible.
Other Players are unlikely to match your five-card combinations, and as such you increase your chances of leading the next pile.
Leading the pile comes with immense advantage because you determine the combination for the entire pile, and could potentially shed several cards while denying your opponents the ability to shed at all.
The most important aspect of being a good Big Two Player is knowing when to break up your large melds, and when to leave them in your hand.
While playing a large combination when leading a pile is a great advantage, remember that you cannot lead piles if you never shed cards. Only the last Player to shed earns the right to lead.
There needs to be a balance between maintaining five-card combinations in the hand, and breaking them up to shed cards to get the chance to lead.