This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
I’m about to give away a game that I’ve specifically designed to dramatically enhance the profit of cardrooms everywhere — especially those in California that are looking for dynamic ways to attract new customers. It’s free, and it’s not poker. But before I do this, let’s set the record straight …
Yes, I have held public and private discussions with the cardroom industry, warning against paying for innovations based on the standard deck of cards. To me, that deck is in the public domain, and any game you dream up for it is also in the public domain — as it historically has been from variations of poker to solitaire to rummy. But I’m apparently losing this battle of common sense. I’ve warned that the current custom of cardrooms paying tribute to developers of new card games could lead to legal fights over who “owns” the rights to use new sequences of wagering and new winning poker hands.
Entrepreneurs with simple ideas are ignoring me and cashing in with the cooperation of casinos. This casino acquiescence seems dumb to me, but I don’t blame the entrepreneurs. Maybe someday I’ll cash in, too — but not today. Today, I have something to give away. And, if you’re in the casino business, it’s a better free gift than anything you can pay millions of dollars in fees to spread. Just try it and you’ll agree.
You’ll have to get authorization from your cities, states, or gaming boards to spread it, but it shouldn’t be hard. I won’t stand in your way. There’s an obvious element of skill, which is often important to law enforcement, and it doesn’t resemble any of the games that are specifically prohibited by statute in California. As weird as things are now, I can’t even promise that somebody won’t claim that elements of the game that I’m about to give you partially belong to them, even though it’s a simple variation based entirely on concepts I have personally developed.
The permitted “ownership” of ideas — sometimes ideas that thousands of other people have also had — has reached terrorist proportions, in my mind. From software development to genetics to games over the past 10 years, people have gotten the strange notion that they can stake out huge chunks of territory with obvious ideas and then exclude others from contributing to the advancement of society.
Originally, patents (as an example) were intended to reward innovation. Now, through lax interpretation, they are often used as a weapon to stifle innovation — and I’m against it. So, today I fight back in this small way. Here’s a really great game that isn’t closely related to any other game you’ll see in a casino. Therefore, it isn’t likely to cannibalize your own customer base. It’s profitable, very easy to learn, addictive in a good way, and very exciting to play. It should be marketed to new customers who wouldn’t visit your casino otherwise.
So, if you want it — here it is. Take it. It’s yours. My only request is that when you spread this game, you stick to this standard set of rules. If I modify or enhance them, they can be accessed here.
You should know that I’m really serious about giving this to the public domain without personal gain, because — egomaniac that some say I am — I elected not to name this game after myself, my poker university, or my parrot.
Introducing “Champs and Cowards”
Here are the rules:
1. Cards are dealt from a standard 52-card deck or from any number of decks constituting a shoe. It’s your choice.
2.There can be from three to any number of players who can practically be accommodated by the quantity of cards in the deck or shoe. Seven to 11 players is recommended as a maximum per table.
3. Before any cards are dealt, each player puts six chips in front of him. One chip, closest to the player, is designated for the third-place finisher. Two more stacked chips are placed in front of the single chip, and are designated for the second-place finisher. Three more stacked chips are placed in front of the two-chip stack, and are designated for the first-place finisher. Additionally, a fee is paid to the casino. This may be a set fee per hand, a drop, a rake, or a seat rental.
4. The dealer shuffles and distributes cards face up clockwise, one in front of each player. Players never touch their cards, so — for the convenience of the dealer — the face up cards may be dealt closer to the center of the table than is customary in poker. Optionally, markings may be placed on the table to indicate what cards belong to which players.
5. Card values equal the number of pips, with face cards counting nothing. Therefore, as examples, an ace is 1 point; a 7, 7 points; a 10, 10 points; and a queen, 0 points.
6. The action begins with the player having the highest number of points, and proceeds clockwise from that point, regardless of which player has the next-highest number of points. If the highest number of points is the same for two hands or more, the starting point is the player with the highest card by suit, using traditional poker tiebreakers: spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs, from high to low. If no player has any points (all face cards), kings outrank queens and queens outrank jacks in determining the starting point.
7. In turn, each player may say “Champ” or signal in a blackjack manner to receive additional cards, one at a time, following a burn, until he announces “Coward” or destroys the hand. (Instead of announcing “Coward,” a player may decline cards by making a clearly understood motion, such as that used in blackjack.) Each additional card costs two chips, which are put in a bonus pool in the center of the table to be awarded, as additional compensation, to first place.
8. A hand is destroyed if the suit of any requested card matches the suit of the single previous card in the hand, or if it pairs any of the previous cards. When a hand is destroyed, the dealer turns all but the final card facedown and the player doesn’t win anything, unless zero points ties for prize money, in which case the rank (and possibly suits) of the final cards are compared to determine prize money. Final cards of zero-point hands remain face up as long as the hand has any chance of sharing in the prize money.
9. Any hand that was stopped (because a player didn’t choose to pay for an additional card and declared “Coward”) and doesn’t rank among the top three point counts for players who have already acted is deemed voluntarily destroyed and is turned facedown by the dealer. Any completed hand that previously ranked among the top three, but no longer does, is deemed dealer destroyed and is turned facedown by the dealer. In accordance with these provisions, there can be no more than three completed hands exposed at any time.
10. After all players have acted, the player with the most points wins all of the three-chip stacks plus the bonus fund, if any, and his remaining three chips, wagered for second and third places, are refunded. The first-place hand is then turned facedown by the dealer. The remaining player with the highest number of points is awarded all of the remaining two-chip stacks for second place, and his single chip, wagered for third place, is refunded. The second-place hand is then turned facedown and the third-place hand wins the remaining chips. If eligible points are equal, the tie is broken first by the value of the last card taken in a hand, regardless of the number of cards taken, and then by the high suit, if necessary. So, if Jack’s hand totals 15 points in two cards and Sally’s hand totals 15 points in five cards, Jack’s second card is compared to Sally’s fifth card to break the tie. The higher point count between those cards wins. If the point counts are equal, the “higher” suit decides. Among face cards (0 points), kings outrank queens, and queens outrank jacks.
11. Additional rules: If the deck runs short of cards (not likely), all destroyed hands and all burn cards are shuffled together and the deal continues as usual. If there still aren’t enough cards, the action stops and winners are determined on the basis of their current point standing. Any player to act must continue to buy cards if his total is within three points of the next higher payoff (3rd, 2nd, or 1st), including instances where the total is tied, but the player has a lower tie-breaking final card. (This rule is added to additionally discourage collusion among players who might otherwise choose to split prize money. Remember that all cards are face up, so — unlike poker — players colluding unethically are apt to be spotted quickly.) Once hands are destroyed and turned facedown, no player may look at them, except by permission of management to resolve a dispute.
An Example Hand
There are eight players. It’s a $2-chip game, meaning each player must wager $12 ($2 for third, $4 for second, and $6 for first) immediately. The dealer shuffles and distributes one card face up clockwise to each player. These are the cards:
Seat No. 1: 7♣ (7 points)
Seat No. 2: K♠ (0 points)
Seat No. 3: 2♣ (2 points)
Seat No. 4: 9♦ (9 points)
Seat No. 5: 3♠ (3 points)
Seat No. 6: J♥ (0 points)
Seat No. 7: J♠ (0 points)
Seat No. 8: 9♣ (9 points)
Seat No. 4 is the starting point, because, although there’s another 9, diamonds takes priority over clubs. This player could stop right now and hope that his 9 holds up for a portion of the money. It’s a disadvantage to go first. But the player is optimistic, and pays two chips totaling $4 for another card. It’s the 4♣. He now has 13 points and declares “Coward.”
Seat No. 5 is also optimistic, and pays $4 for a card. It’s the 2♦. He’s gone from 3 to 5 points and stubbornly doesn’t want to quit. He pays another $4 and receives the Q♦. Too bad! That matches the suit of the previous card, so his hand is destroyed and the first two cards are turned facedown. (Remember, a hand is destroyed if the new card matches the suit of the card immediately preceding it in the hand or pairs any card in the hand.) Note that seat No. 5 is still in the race for prize money with a queen as a final card, since there aren’t yet three opponents who stopped by declaring “coward” with more than zero points.
Seats No. 6 and No. 7 stop (cowards!), but only seat No. 6 is considered dealer destroyed and turned facedown. That’s because seat No. 7, with the J♠ outranking the J♥ is still theoretically alive for third place — even with zero points — as are seat No. 5 and seat No. 2, also with zero points and a queen high and king high, respectively. We already have a guaranteed 13-point hand (seat No. 4).
Seat No. 8, showing no courage whatsoever, decides to stop at 9 points and hopes to win second-place money, eliminating seat No. 7 (zero points), whose final card is now turned face down.
Seat No. 1 could stop with his original 7 points and have a good shot at third place, but he decides to gamble for $4. The card is the A♠, giving him 8 points, but he’s not stopping there. He gambles another $4 and gets another card. It’s the 10♥ and he decides to declare “Coward” and stop at 18. This eliminates seat No. 5 (zero points), whose final card is now turned face down.
Seat No. 2 is no coward. He might be broke soon, but he’s definitely no coward. He pays $4 for the 5♥, $4 for the A♦, $4 for the 8♠, and then, in second place with 14 points, continues to prove his courage by paying another $4 for the 5♣. Unfortunately, that gives him a pair of fives, destroying his hand!
Seat No. 3 then decides to declare himself a coward and stop at 2 points. Since this doesn’t put him among the top three point counts, his hand is voluntarily destroyed.
Here’s the final situation:
Seat No. 1: 7♣ (7 points), A♠ (8 points, champ), 10♥ (18 points, coward); first place = $90
Seat No. 2: K♠ (0 points), 5♥ (5 points, champ), A♦ (6 points, champ), 8♠ (14 points, champ), 5♣ (destroyed)
Seat No. 3: 2♣ (2 points, coward)
Seat No. 4: 9♦ (9 points), 4♣ (13 points, coward); second place = $28
Seat No. 5: 3♠ (3 points), 2♦ (5 points, champ), Q♦ (destroyed)
Seat No. 6: J♥ (0 points, coward)
Seat No. 7: J♠ (0 points, coward)
Seat No. 8: 9♣ (9 points, coward); third place = $12
Seat No. 1 has 18 points and takes $90 for first place. This $90 consists of $6 (three $2 chips) from each of eight players ($48), including himself, $6 in his own refunded second- and third-place wagers, and $4 for each of nine “champ” cards paid ($36). Of that $90, $70 is profit.
Seat No. 2 was destroyed on the fifth card and lost $28.
Seat No. 3 lost only his original $12.
Seat No. 5 was destroyed on the third card and lost $20.
Seat No. 6 stopped after the first card and lost $12.
Seat No. 7 stopped after the first card and lost $12.
Seat No. 8 stopped after the first card and won $12, breaking even.
The dealer procedure for awarding the money is straightforward. For the first-place award, the dealer simply sweeps in all of the three-chip stacks and pushes them to the winner, with that player’s second- and third-place chips riding along at the end. Then the dealer pushes the bonus pot to the same player. For the second-place winner, the dealer sweeps in all of the remaining two-chip stacks and pushes them to the entitled player, with that player’s third-place chip riding along. That hand is turned facedown. Then the dealer pushes all remaining chips to the third-place winner.
And remember, in “Champs and Cowards,” you often need to show courage. But there’s a time for discretion, and a player whose last act was as a coward will always beat an opponent whose last act was as a champ. Think about it and you’ll see why. As you noticed in the example hand, all of the prize winners ended up being cowards. In other words, there’s plenty of room for bravery along the way, but you’ve got to quit sometime, and champs ultimately are destroyed by their courage and only cowards win! — MC