Big Three

Big Three, also known as Dig a Hole, is a Chinese climbing game for three players. Unique among the climbing games, Big Three starts each hand with a bidding round. The bidding round determines the stakes for each hand, as well as determining a temporary partnership for that hand only. The two players who lose the bid form an alliance to help each other defeat the high bidder.

Object of Big Three

The object of Big Three is to be the first player to discard all of your cards.

Setup

Big Three is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. If you choose Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, not only will we be happy, but so will you.

You also need something to keep track of the score with. The most convenient way of doing so is by having a pool of counters, such as poker chips, beans, buttons, coins, or any other comparable trinket. By mutual agreement, these may each represent some cash value. If so, collect money from each player and distribute the appropriate number of chips. If not, simply give each player the same number of chips.

The dealer shuffles and places the deck face down in the center of the table. Starting with the dealer, each player in turn draws one card. This repeats until each player has sixteen cards. Place the four remaining cards in the center of the table, forming the widow.

Card ranking

As in many other games in the climbing family, the cards rank out of order in Big Three. The 3 is the highest card, as you might expect from the title of the game. This is followed by the 2, then the ace, then the rest of the cards in their usual order. This gives us a complete ranking of (high) 3, 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).

Unlike in Thirteen and some other climbing games, the suits have no rank relative to one another. Cards of the same rank simply tie.

Game play

Bidding

A hand of Big Three begins with a bidding round to determine the partnerships for that hand. The player holding the 4♥, or the player holding the lowest heart if nobody holds the 4♥, bids first, and must make a bid of at least one unit. The next player to the left bids next, and may bid either two or pass and drop out of the bidding. This continues until either someone bids three, or two players have passed, whichever comes first.

The player that wins the bid plays solo against the other two players. The solo player then picks up the widow and adds it to their hand. While they now have 20 cards compared to their opponents’ 16, they can theoretically form more combinations with the extra cards, which will allow them to get rid of their cards faster. (This is where the name Dig a Hole comes from—the high bidder is digging themselves further in the hole by getting more cards, in search of treasure that will help them ultimately win the hand.)

Play of the hand

Play begins with the player who bid first (the holder of the lowest heart). That player lays a valid combination of cards, face up, in the center of the table. These are the permissible card combinations:

  • Single card
  • Pairs
  • Trips (three of a kind)
  • Quads (four of a kind)
  • Straights (three or more cards in sequence, e.g. 4-5-6)
  • A run of three or more consecutive pairs, trips, or quads (e.g. 4-4-5-5-6-6, or 6-6-6-7-7-7-8-8-8, etc.)

Aces, 2s, and 3s cannot be used in straights or runs of multiple pairs, trips, or quads.

The next player to the left must play a higher-ranking instance of the same type of combination. Straights and runs must be followed by another straight or run of the same length.  For example, a four-card straight must be followed up by another four-card straight, not a three-card or five-card or any other straight. The highest-ranking card present is used to determine the ranking of the entire combination.

Play continues to the left, each player playing higher than the most recent combination. If a player cannot or does not want to play higher, they may pass. They may play again when it comes back to their turn.

If there are two consecutive passes, however, the sole remaining player is free to play whatever combination of cards they choose (i.e. they are not compelled to play the same type of combination as before). The next player must then play higher than this new combination, and so on.

Settlement

Game play continues until one player has cleared their hand of all cards. If the solo player achieved this, both of their opponents pay them chips equal to the amount of the winning bid (a bid of one equals a one-chip payout, a bid of two equals two chips, and so on). If one of the solo player’s opponents exhausted their hand first, the solo player must pay the amount of the bid to both of their opponents.

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