Brag, a betting card game originating in Great Britain, is one of several games that could be considered precursors of poker. The most common version, Three Card Brag, is the card game prominently featured in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and can be played comfortably with 4-8 players. I'll explain this basic version and some variants.
Rules for Brag (Three Card version)
To start with, a standard deck of 52 cards is shuffled. The deck won't be shuffled again (with one exception). Each player puts in an ante to enter the hand. One of the players deals cards clockwise to everyone in the hand until everyone has three.
For the examples below, let's assume you have 5 players, A through E, and that the dealer is player A. Let's also presume the ante is 1.
After the deal
starts with the player to the dealer's left, proceeding clockwise
. Players have the option to:
- match the amount bet before them (analogous to a call in poker). When a player is the first to put in a bet, this bet must at least match the ante.
- raise to a higher amount. I often play without a limit, so any bet is typically fair game, but others establish maximum raises.
Play continues in this fashion until all but two players have folded. Once at this point, either player may bet exactly twice their opponent's last bet to force a showdown and see the opponent's cards. (Appropriately enough, this is called "seeing.") If the opponent has a better hand, the seeing player does not show his losing hand.
In the event of a tie, the player who paid to see loses. Thus, the seeing player is always at a very slight disadvantage and risks money that the opponent won't match to win the pot. Depending on what kind of player you are, it may pay off in the long run to bet hard and be "seen" instead.
Examples of play
- A is the dealer, so B has the action.
- B folds.
- C bets 1.
- D raises to 3.
- E bets 3 (matching).
- A folds.
- C bets 9.
- D folds (leaving only C and E).
- E bets 18 and says "see" to end the hand.
- C shows his hand. If E has a better hand, he shows it and takes the pot; if E's hand won't beat C's, he doesn't show the hand and C takes the pot.
- B collects the cards by putting the discarded hands at the bottom of the deck, and deals the next hand without shuffling.
- A is the dealer, so B has the action.
- B bets 4.
- C folds. D folds.
- E bets 4 (matching).
- A folds (leaving only B and E).
- B needs to bet at least 4 to stay in the hand. B bets 4.
- E bets 4.
- B bets 8 (but doesn't ask to see, which is fine).
- E bets 8.
- B bets 25.
- Needing to bet 50 to see, E folds.
- B takes the pot, collects the cards and deals the next hand.
Pots can grow exponentially
if players choose not to see or are unwilling
to fold. Successful bluffing
) can win many pots. However, not every hand can be won by bluffing, so you need to know the...
Ranks of hands
Hands are listed from lowest to highest value. Aces are high cards.
- High card: Without any higher hand, the player with the highest card in their hand wins. If the last two players have the same highest card, the next highest card in the hand will determine the winner. For example, 9-7-5 defeats 9-7-4. Ace high takes the pot more often than you'd expect in this game, because the odds of hands coming down to high card are a bit better with three cards than 5. The worst possible hand in Three Card Brag is a 5-3-2 of at least two suits.
- Pair: Two cards of the same rank, with ties broken by the remaining card (in poker, this would be the kicker).
- Flush: Any three cards of the same suit. Flushes are ranked in the same fashion as high card (e.g., A-K-10 of clubs beats A-K-2 of hearts). Suits are not ranked, so ties are possible, with the pot going to the player who was seen.
- Run: Any three cards of consecutive rank, similar to poker's straight. Unlike 5-card poker, you have better odds of being dealt a flush than a run, so runs outrank flushes. The highest run is A-2-3. Next is A-K-Q, K-Q-J, and so on down the ranks to 4-3-2. Aces are either high or low, not both; thus K-A-2 is not a valid run.
- Running flush: Three cards of the same suit and consecutive rank. Again, the highest running flush would be A-2-3.
- Prial (short for pair royal): Three cards of the same rank. The best possible hand is a prial of threes, followed by a prial of aces, kings, and so on down to fours, then twos. The deck is shuffled after a prial, but at no other time.
A player may choose not to look at the hand he's dealt and stay in the hand, playing "blind" instead of open.
- A blind player's bets count for twice the money he actually puts into the pot. Thus, he can call an open player's bet of 6 with only 3, or raise the stakes to 12 by betting 6.
- On a blind man's turn, he can choose to look at his cards, after which his bets are counted normally.
- An open man cannot see a blind man. That is, if the hand comes down to two players, one playing blind and one playing open, the open player can never "see" his opponent by betting twice the opponent's bet, but could always try betting enough to encourage the blind player to peek at his cards on his next turn.
- Ironically, a blind man can see an open man on any turn of his.
- In a hand down to two blind players, either player can still pay to see.
What happens when Player X cannot match the bet at hand, or doesn't have enough money to see his opponent? Rules on this vary, so it's a very good idea to set a rule for this in advance. Some options include:
- If the hand is down to two players, Player X can bet the rest of his money to see. One bit of controversy: this rule puts Player X at less of a disadvantage for seeing.
- In a hand with more than two players still playing, Player X can put the rest of their money (and their hand) into the pot, with the remaining players betting on a side pot only available to them. Once side pots have been settled, if Player X's hand wins the main pot, he can show it and take it.
- The players may require that Player X borrow enough money from another player to stay in the hand.
Folding out of turn, showing one's cards to anyone outside of a showdown and showing losing cards after a hand are all considered extremely bad form.
Four and Five Card Brag
You can shake things up a bit by playing some hands of Four or Five Card Brag, or choose to play these games exclusively on a given night. The dealer deals four or five cards, from which a player uses the best possible three card hand, discarding extra card(s). The odds that you'll see a hand better than high card increase a bit when these options are available, changing some of the logic of betting and playing blind.
Since betting can go on indefinitely, pots can and do grow rapidly in brag, and make for very exciting (and perhaps nerve wracking) play, in a different way from poker. The advantage often belongs to the most aggressive player and to players who are "seen." Not needing to shuffle after each hand reduces downtime, making play much faster than a typical home game of poker. You can also bring about some psychological play when one can keep track of which cards to expect...
In all, a good way to get one's gambling fix.
Facts checked at www.pagat.com. /msg with questions.