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The Thirty-one Game


This is a game that used to be (and may be to this day, for aught I know) a favourite means of swindling employed by card-sharpers at racecourses and in railway carriages.

As, on its own merits, however, the game is particularly interesting, I will make no apology for presenting it to my readers.

The cardsharper lays down the twenty-four cards shown in the illustration, and invites the innocent wayfarer to try his luck or skill by seeing which of them can first score thirty-one, or drive his opponent beyond, in the following manner:—

One player turns down a card, say a 2, and counts "two"; the second player turns down a card, say a 5, and, adding this to the score, counts "seven"; the first player turns down another card, say a 1, and counts "eight"; and so the play proceeds alternately until one of them scores the "thirty-one," and so wins.

Now, the question is, in order to win, should you turn down the first card, or courteously request your opponent to do so? And how should you conduct your play? The reader will perhaps say: "Oh, that is easy enough. You must play first, and turn down a 3; then, whatever your opponent does, he cannot stop your making ten, or stop your making seventeen, twenty-four, and the winning thirty-one. You have only to secure these numbers to win."

But this is just that little knowledge which is such a dangerous thing, and it places you in the hands of the sharper.

You play 3, and the sharper plays 4 and counts "seven"; you play 3 and count "ten"; the sharper turns down 3 and scores "thirteen"; you play 4 and count "seventeen"; the sharper plays a 4 and counts "twenty-one"; you play 3 and make your "twenty-four."

Now the sharper plays the last 4 and scores "twenty-eight." You look in vain for another 3 with which to win, for they are all turned down! So you are compelled either to let him make the "thirty-one" or to go yourself beyond, and so lose the game.

You thus see that your method of certainly winning breaks down utterly, by what may be called the "method of exhaustion." I will give the key to the game, showing how you may always win; but I will not here say whether you must play first or second: you may like to find it out for yourself.

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