This week we are exploring a popular card game from Elizabethan England called One and Thirty. This game is very similar to BlackJack, can be played with two or more people, and is pretty easy to learn. Press play to learn how to play.


This card game dates back to at least 1440 we give it that “start date” because of a sermon by Bernadine of Sienne that calls out One and Thirty as an example of the kind of game you should not play.

Bernardino of Sienna. Photo of a painting of 16th century in Langeais Castle, France. Unknown painter. Source

Despite the many sermons which preached against gambling or games of chance, card games and playing dice were extremely popular in Elizabethan England and played frequently both for leisure as well as to mark the holidays.

One and Thirty is an ancestor of BlackJack, and when we play it you will see similarities if you are familiar with BlackJack.

The growth of playing cards falls in line with the arrival and popularity of the printing press. Cards being a product of the printing industry, as it grew, so did the playing of cards and the availability of importing cards from other countries. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, French cards were the most popular, but the government became concerned over the money being sent abroad (not big fans of France at this time they probably particularly disliked the popularity of French cards growing in England) The growth of cards in England grew so rapidly that it became a hindrance to the English economy causing Edward IV in 1463 to ban the import of foreign cards as a way to force the English to make and purchase cards made in England.

Etching of the printing press, dated approximately 1770. Source

In 1495-6, an edict signed by Henry VII “expressly forbids the practice of card-playing by servants and apprentices, excepting during the Christmas holidays, and then only in their master’s houses.”

In the rules for the gentlemen of Henry VIII’s privy chamber, ‘immoderate and continual’ playing of cards, tables or dice was forbidden, although ‘moderate’ play of chess, tables and cards was allowed.

Despite the continual battle between do we or don’t we play cards in legal terms, One and Thirty was one of many popular card games during Shakespeare’s lifetime, in fact–while Shakespeare’s works do not mention one and thirty specifically, other playwrights contemporary to Shakespeare like Middleton do mention this game and their works serve as one major source for how we know the way to play the game today.

Thomas Middleton, frontispiece of Two New Plays, a 1657 edition of Women Beware Women and More Dissemblers Besides Women | Source

In a play of Middleton’s, Christmas, the game is described as being for children and mentions that you pay the game to 31 points.

Are you ready to learn how to play? Here’s how it goes.

The game is for two or more players. Today, we will play with two players but the game works the same if you have more.

Each player is dealt three cards, face down.

The dealer starts the deal to the player on his left.

That player chooses a card from his hand to discard and face up on the table and in so doing establishes the discard pile which is where each player will place their cards moving forward. The player replaces the card he discarded by either drawing a card from the deck or picking up the previously discarded card.

Two or more players take turns first discarding then either drawing or picking up a replacement card.
Screenshot from YouTube video on How to Play One and Thirty
|Photo by Cassidy Cash, All Rights Reserved.

At all times you keep three cards in your hand, and you are trying to get as close as possible to 31 points by the three cards you are holding. The key is that your three cards have to be of the same suit.

The player that comes closest to 31 with three cards in the same suit is the winner.

Play continues around the table, discarding one card at a time until a player knocks twice on the table.

After the knock all of the players get one last discard.

Everyone shows their hands, and the hand with cards closest to 31 in the same suit wins the round.

If you hit 31 points exactly in your hand, you win automatically and do not have to knock.

If someone knocks, everyone shows hands, and there is a tie, no one wins and you re-deal.

In this game, One and Thirty, the goal is to get as close to 31 points as possible, or to equal 31 points (not going over). Here, with two Jacks and an Ace, exactly 31 points is shown. | Photo by Cassidy Cash, All Rights Reserved.

So how to score the cards?

Ace = 11 points

Face cards = 10 points

And the rest of the cards are worth the number of points shown on their face value. Three of a kind (different suits) is worth 30.5 points

That’s how to play One and Thirty, an Elizabethan card game straight from the life of William Shakespeare.

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