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Big Two

This climbing game probably originated in coastal China around 1980; it became very popular in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan and also in the Philippines and Singapore; it has also spread to some western countries. It has several alternative names:

There are many variations of this game. First I will describe the basic game as played in China.

Players and Cards

The game is for best for four players, each playing for themselves. (It is possible to play with three or two - the necessary adaptations are given later.)

A standard 52 card pack is used, the cards ranking from high to low: 2-A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3. There is also an ordering of suits - from high to low: spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds (but see variations).

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to be the first to get rid of all of your cards, by playing them to the table. Cards can be played singly or in certain combinations. If you cannot be first to play all your cards, then your aim is to have as few cards as possible when another player finishes.

Playable Combinations

There are four types of legal play: single cards, pairs, triples and five card groups.

Single cards
These rank from two (high) down to three (low), and between cards of the same rank a higher suit beats a lower suit.
A pair of equal ranked cards - twos are highest and threes are lowest. Any higher ranked pair beats one with lower ranks. Between equal ranked pairs, the one containing the highest suit is better - for example 9-9 beats 9-9 because the spade is higher than the heart, but Q-Q beats J-J because queens beat jacks.
Three equal ranked cards - three twos are highest, then aces, kings, etc. down to three threes, which is the lowest triple.
Five card groups
There five types of playable five-card combination. In ascending order they are: straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush.
  1. A Straight consists of five cards of consecutive rank with mixed suits. A straight with higher ranks beats a lower one, irrespective of the suits of the cards. When the ranks are the same, the suit of the top card determines which is higher. So for example K-Q-J-10-9 beats Q-J-10-9-8, which beats Q-J-10-9-8. Twos do not rank high in straights, but below the 3, so the highest straight is A-K-Q-J-10 including the ace of spades. Aces can be counted as low to make the lowest type of straight 5-4-3-2-A, which is beaten by 6-5-4-3-2 and 7-6-5-4-3. An ace can be used at either end of a straight, but not in the middle, so collections like 3-2-A-K-Q or 2-A-K-Q-J are not valid straights (but there are variations on this rule).
  2. A Flush consists of any five cards of the same suit. A flush in a higher suit beats a flush in a lower suit, irrespective of the ranks of the cards. Between two flushes in the same suit, the one with the higher top card is better. So for example 9-7-6-5-3 beats 2-J-9-6-4, which beats A-K-Q-10-7.
  3. A Full House consists of three cards of one rank and two of another rank; between two full houses, the one whose triple is of higher rank is better - so for example 9-9-9-4-4 beats 8-8-8-K-K.
  4. Four of a kind (or quads) are made up of all four cards of one rank, plus any fifth card. The fifth card must be included - four equal cards by themselves are not a playable combination. Between two fours of a kind, the rank of the four cards determines which is higher.
  5. A Straight Flush consists of five consecutive cards of the same suit, twos ranking below threes and aces ranking high or low, as in straights. The rank of the highest card determines which of two straight flushes is higher; between two equal ranked straight flushes, the one in the higher suit is better, so the Royal Flush in spades A-K-Q-J-10 is the highest straight flush and the best five-card combination, but there are variations on this rule.

A combination can only be beaten by a better combination with the same number of cards: so a single card can only be beaten by a single card, a pair by a better pair and a triple by a better triple. You cannot for example use a triple to beat a pair or a straight to beat a triple. However, a five card group can be beaten by a five card group of a stronger type - any flush beats any straight, any full house beats any straight or flush, any four of a kind plus an odd card beats any straight, flush or full house and any straight flush beats all of the other type of five card group.

Note that although the playable combinations are similar to poker hands, there are important differences. For example, there is no "two pair" combination, and although a four of a kind requires a fifth card to complete the combination, a triple cannot be accompanied by extra cards (unless of course these make it into quads or a full house).

The Deal

Deal and play are normally anticlockwise. Any player may deal first; thereafter the winner of each hand deals the next. The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts.

Having completed the cut, the dealer exposes a card to determine who will be dealt the first card. This is done by lifting the top part of the pack, showing the bottom card of the lifted part, and replacing the lifted section on top of the pack, so that this second "cut" does not disturb the order of the cards in the pack and the exposed card remains in the middle. To determine who gets the first card, count the players starting with the dealer and continuing in the direction of play until the rank of the exposed card is reached. So if it was an ace, 5, 9 or king the dealer will get the first card, if it was a 2, 6 or 10 the player to dealer's right, if it was a 3, 7 or jack the player opposite the dealer and is it was a 4, 8 or queen, the player to dealer's left.

The dealer deals out the cards, one at a time, starting with the player designated by the above process and continuing anticlockwise until all the cards are dealt. So everyone will have a hand of 13 cards, which they can look at and sort.

The Play

The player who holds the three of diamonds begins and must play this card, either by itself or as part of a legal combination. The person to this player's right plays next, and so on round the table. At your turn you must either pass (play no cards) or beat the previous play by playing a higher combination of the same number of cards. All plays are made by placing the cards face up in the centre of the table, so that a heap is formed. This continues for several circuits if necessary, until all but one of the players pass in succession, no one being able or willing to beat the last play. When this happens, the heap of played cards is set aside face down (or in many places, the players just leave all the played cards in a face-up heap on the table). The person who played highest (all the others having passed) begins again by playing any card or legal combination of cards.

You are never under any obligation to beat a card or set of cards just because you are able to - you may always choose to pass and keep your high cards for a better opportunity. Passing does not prevent you from playing when your turn comes round again.
Example: At a late stage in a game, South starts with a 4, East beats it with a jack, you (North) pass, West plays an ace, South and East pass. You suspect that West will be able to win by playing all her remaining cards as a group if you pass, so you now play your 2, which you held back before.

Everyone is allowed to know how many cards the other players have in their hands at any time - if asked you must answer truthfully.

The first player who succeeds in playing all the cards in their hand wins. As soon as this happens, the play ends and the hand is scored. (The other players do not get a chance to get rid of cards by beating the final card(s) played by the winner.)


The players other than the winner score penalty points for the cards remaining in their hands. The penalty is one point per card in your hand if you have 9 cards or fewer, two points per card if you have 10, 11 or 12 cards, and three points per card (i.e. 39 points) if you have all 13 of your cards left at the end, because you never played any cards at all. The winner, having no cards, gets no penalty points for the hand.

This game is often played for money. In this case, before starting to play the players agree a stake - for example $1 per point - and at the end of the session each pair of players settles up according to the difference between their scores. When playing for money, if the person playing after you has only one card left, you should take precautions as follows to hinder them from winning:

If you ignore these precautions, and as a result the person after you wins by playing their single card, you have to pay the losses of all three players.


There are many, many variations of Big Two - in fact I have not seen any two independent descriptions of the rules that agree completely.

One Chinese web site (GameSky - unfortunately no longer in existence), used the names Da Lao Er and Bu Bu Gao Sheng for a slightly different game from the one described here, which they called Choi Dai Dee. According to this site, in Dao Lao Er or Bu Bu Gao Sheng there are no flushes, and a full house cannot be used to beat a straight. Four of a kind or a straight flush can be played out of turn to beat any combination. When someone wins the others score 1 per card if they have 10 or fewer cards, or 2 per card if they have 11 or more.

Direction of play

Some people play clockwise - I believe this is especially common in America, where virtually all card games are played in that direction. Harold Hutabarat tells me that clockwise play is usual in Indonesia. Some people play alternate hands anticlockwise and clockwise, which neutralises the advantage or disadvantage of playing next after a certain opponent. (The person playing immediately after a weak player is at an advantage).

Dealing and starting the play

Many groups omit the procedure for deciding who receives the first card of the deal - the deal simply begins with the player to dealer's right (if playing anticlockwise) and therefore ends with the dealer.

In many groups, instead of the holder of the lowest card (normally the 3) playing the first card after each new deal, this only applies in the very first deal of a session. Thereafter the winner of each hand plays first in the next.

Some play that when the holder of the lowest card starts, this lowest card does not have to be included in the first play.

Others play that the 'loser' of each hand plays first in the next - the loser being the player who had most cards at the end of the play. If there is a tie for most cards, then those involved in the tie must expose their cards and each form the largest playable combination that they can from their cards. The next dealer and starter will be the player whose combination has the smallest number of cards, or in case of equality the weakest of these combinations.

In Indonesia, the game is played in "rounds" of ten deals. Only the first deal of the round is begun by the 3. The next nine deals are started by whoever won the previous deal, and this player can begin with any legal card or combination. After each round (10 deals) is completed, all the cards are placed face down and each player draws one card. The highest will shuffle the cards and deal the player with 3 will start the play of this first deal of the new round.

Order of suits

In the game Pusoy Dos, played in the Philippines, the order of suits from high to low is diamonds, hearts, spades, clubs. In this case it is the player who holds the 3 rather than the 3 who starts.

Some players in Taiwan and a few in Hong Kong interchange clubs and diamonds, so that the order is spades (high), hearts, diamonds, clubs (low) - as in Bridge. In this case the 3 starts.

Use of twos and aces in straights and straight flushes

Some play that A-2-3-4-5 is the highest, rather than the lowest type of straight or straight flush. Some play that 2-3-4-5-6 is highest, beating A-2-3-4-5, which in turn beats A-K-Q-J-10. Some play that 2-3-4-5-6 is highest, but A-2-3-4-5 is lowest.

Some do not allow A-2-3-4-5 as a valid straight or straight flush at all. Some allow twos to rank high in these combinations, so that 2-A-K-Q-J is valid and is the highest type of straight or straight flush and 6-5-4-3-2 is lowest.

Yet others count 6-5-4-3-2 as second highest, between 2-A-K-Q-J and A-K-Q-J-10. The logic behind this ranking is that you compare the cards in descending order of their normal rank, so 2AKQJ beats 26543 because ace beats 6, and 26543 beats AKQJT because 2 beats ace.

Some simply play that for straights and straight flushes, the cards rank from 2 (high) to 3 (low) and twos and threes are never consecutive, so that the highest type of straight is 2-A-K-Q-J and the lowest is 7-6-5-4-3. Karl Boehnker tells me that this version is the most common one in Hong Kong.

In Indonesia, straights containing a two (A-2-3-4-5 and 2-3-4-5-6) beat all other straights, and between each other they are ranked according to the suit of the two (A-2-3-4-5 beats 2-3-4-5-6, which beats A-2-3-4-5).

Ranking of flushes

Some play that the rank of a flush is determined by the rank of its highest card; the suit only becomes relevant if the highest cards are equal. So for example 2-J-7-5-3 beats A-J-10-7-6, which beats A-K-J-9-8. This is the usual version played in Hong Kong.

Some compare all the ranks first, from the top card downward, as in Poker. Only if all five ranks are equal does the suit of the highest card determine which flush is higher. Using this method, A-K-J-9-8 beats A-J-10-7-6 because the king is higher than the jack.

Order of royal flush, quads and straight flush

Some play that only a Royal Flush (A-K-Q-J-10) can beat a four of a kind. Any four of a kind beats any other straight flush. So A-K-Q-J-10 beats 2-2-2-2-6, which beats 3-3-3-3-8, which beats K-Q-J-10-9.

Playing without triples and flushes

Some play without triples and flushes - I have one report of this from Singapore (Gary Chan) and one from Taiwan (Todd Latta). So only single cards, pairs and 5-card combinations can be played and the only 5-card combinations are straight, full house, four of a kind, and straight flush.

Playing quads without an odd card

Some allow four of a kind can be played by itself, without a fifth card. In this case fours form a separate type of combination, which can only beat lower fours and be beaten by higher fours.

Honour hands beat all combinations

An honour hand is a four of a kind plus a card or a straight flush. Some allow an honour hand to be played not only to beat a lower 5-card hand, but also to beat singles pairs or triples. played it. Jonathan Dushoff reports that this variation is common in Lukang (central Taiwan).

Two extra cards with a straight flush

In Todd Latta's version, a straight flush is played with any two extra cards, making a seven card combination. A four of a kind plus a card or a straight flush plus two cards can be played to beat any single card or other combination. A four of a kind plus a card can only be beaten by a higher four plus a card or a straight flush plus two, and a straight flush plus two is only beaten by a higher straight flush plus two.

Dragon wins

In Hong Kong, some play that a player who is dealt a dragon, which is one card of each rank: A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K, immediately wins the game. Each of the other players scores as though they lost without playing any cards (39 penalty points).

No Play after a Pass

In Indonesia, a player who has passed is not allowed to play cards in subsequent turns of the same trick. Having passed, you cannot play again until a card or combination is passed by all players and the play is restarted. If you play a card or combination and no one else beats it, you are allowed to beat your own cards. In this case, no one will be allowed to beat your second play, since they have all passed your first play. Example: you hold 3-3-8-8-10-10. You lead your 3-3 and the second player, holding 2-2 and no other pairs, decides not to waste these high cards. The other two players also pass. Now you can play your 8-8, the player with 2-2 is not allowed to play, having passed, and so you win with your 10-10.

Last Card

Some require that a player who has only one card left must announce this.

Some require that if you are playing immediately before a player who has only one card you must play your highest single card or a combination of more than one card. (This could be against your interests - you might otherwise wish to help the player after you to win, so as to catch another player with a large number of cards.)

In Indonesia, a player with only two cards or only one card is obliged to announce this, but the next player is not placed under any constraints as a result.

Some play that you cannot win by keeping the two of spades as your last card.

Playing until only one player has cards

Some do not end the play when one player runs out of cards. Instead the others continue to play, dropping out as they run out of cards, until only one player remains. If a player's last card (or combination) is not beaten by any other player, the turn to start again with any legal play passes to the next player in turn after the one who has just finished.

Scoring variations

Some play that only the winner collects money from each of the other three players, according to the number of cards each has left. there are no payments between the losers.

Some play that the double score for having 10 or more cards at the end applies only to the starter - the person who played the first card of the deal.

Some play with greater penalties - double score if you are left with 8 or 9 cards, triple with 10-12 and quadruple with 13 cards.

Some reckon double penalty points for any hand with 8 or more cards when someone finishes. Some apply a further double for 10 or more cards (i.e. 40 points for 10 cards, 44 for 11 and so on). Some double the penalty yet again for each two remaining in a player's cards at the end. So if you had nine cards at the end including two twos you would lose 9 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 72 points.

Anthony Kam reports a variant, which may be rare, in which it is the difference between the number of cards held by each pair of players that determines whether the payment between that pair of players is doubled. For example, playing with double payments for 9-11 cards, a player with 10 cards would pay 20 stakes to the winner, but only 8 stakes to a player with two cards (because 10-2 is less than 9).

Some simplify the scoring by simply paying one point per card, without doubling. Unfortunately this reduces the incentive for a player to take a risk in order to catch someone with a large number of cards.

Some play that if the winner's last play consists entirely of twos (a single two, a pair of twos or even three twos), the penalties for the other players are doubled.

Some count penalty points by adding up the values of cards left in the players' hands. There are various scales of values, for example in some groups numeral cards 2-10 score 1 point each; jacks, queens and kings 2 points; aces 3 points; and twos 4 points each. Some count 1 point for a three, 2 for a four, 3 for a five, and so on up to 11 points for a king, 12 for an ace and 13 for a two. These penalty points are doubled for a player who has 10 or more cards.

Jonathan Dushoff reports a version played in Taiwan in which the winner is paid a fixed amount by the loser only. Which player is the loser is determined by looking at the remaining cards of the players other than the winner:

The Philippine game Pusoy Dos is normally played with positive points rather than penalty points. The winner (the first player to run out of cards) normally scores 1 point and the others score nothing. However, if you win and your last play includes a deuce (two) you score 2 points; if it contains two deuces you score 4 points, if it includes three deuces you score 8 points, and if you were to win by playing all four deuces you would score 16 points.

When playing the version that goes on until only one player has cards left, the person who runs out of cards first wins five points, the second player wins 3 points, the third wins 1 points and the last one gets no points.

Harold Hutabarat reports that in Indonesia the following scoring is used:

  1. Special cards: The following combinations are rewarded with negative points if played during the hand and not beaten. They are worth nothing if the holder does not play them before the play finishes, or if they are played and beaten.
    Four of a kind (any but four twos):   -20 points.
    Straight flush: -40 points
    Four twos: -80 points
    If you play one of these combinations as the final cards in your hand, so ending the play, the score for it is doubled.
  2. The player who finishes the game with a normal card (from 3 to Ace) or a combination of normal cards scores -5 points. Each two used in the combination that ends the game is valued as -10; for example if you end the game with a pair of twos, then you get -20.
  3. The scores of the players other than the winner are calculated as follows:
    • Each card from 3 to Ace remaining in hand scores 1 point
    • Each two remaining in hand scores 5 points.
    • A player left with 11 or 12 cards when the play ends scores double points. If you still have all 13 cards then your score for that hand will be multiplied by three.

Hong Kong Big Two

Ivan Ip describes a version of Big Two that he says is standard in Hong Kong (though other variants certainly exist there). Flushes are compared according to the rank of the highest card. JQKA2 is not a valid straight or straight flush. The highest straight or straight flush is A2345, then 23456, TJQKA, 9TJQK, and so on down to 34567 (lowest). A dragon wins the hand outright. The deal cannot be won by playing a single 2 as your last card. The second and subsequent deals are begun by the winner of the previous deal.

Three Player Game

Seventeen cards are dealt to each player, and the last card is placed face up in the centre of the table (one report says that this last card is dealt face down). The holder of the three of diamonds adds this extra card to their hand. If it turns out that the last face down card is the 3 then the holder of the 3 must take it. The rest of the play is as in the four-player version.

Some play that from the second deal onwards, immediately after the deal, the loser of the previous deal must give their highest card to the winner in exchange for an unwanted card from that player. This rule applies only to the three-player game.

Some play with only 13 cards dealt to each player. In this case the holder of the lowest dealt card starts. Anyone who passes must draw a card from the undealt stock and add it to their hand. When the stock is used up, play can continue without drawing, or in some groups the played cards that have been set aside are shuffled and used as a new stock for drawing. Some play that if you pass when a combination of cards was needed, you draw not one card but the number of cards you would have had to play.

Normally the payment per card at the end from a player holding more than 13 cards is the same as from a player with 13 cards, usually 3 points per card.

Two Player Game

Practice varies on the number of cards dealt. Some play that 17 cards are dealt to each player and the remaining 18 cards are set aside unused. Others play with 21 cards each and 10 cards unused, yet others with 13 cards each and 26 unused. The play is as in the four-player game; the holder of the lowest dealt card starts.

Some play that a player who passes must draw a card or cards, as in the equivalent variation of the three-player game.

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Descriptions of the game and variations.

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