A New Classic Pub Game
by James Ernest
and Paul Peterson
Pairs is a simple press-your-luck card game, using an unusual
“triangular” deck. The deck contains the numbers 1 through 10,
with 1x1, 2x2, 3x3, and so on. You can play many different games
with your Pairs deck, but let’s start off with the basic rules.
The Basics: Pairs has no winner, just one loser. In each round,
players will take turns drawing cards, until one person either
folds or gets a pair. Either of these scores points, and points
are bad. The first player with too many points loses:
Target Scores
Losing Score:31 211613 11
(The formula: Take 60, divide by players, then add 1.)
Penalties: If you like, you can choose a penalty for the loser.
The loser could tell a joke, buy a round of drinks, make a funny
noise, or whatever is appropriate for your group.
Who Should Deal? One player can deal for the whole game,
or the role of dealer can pass around the table. The dealer’s
position doesn’t matter, since the starting player is always
determined by the low card.
Playing the Game
Getting Started: Shuffle the deck and burn (discard) five
cards, facedown, into the middle of the table. This is the start
of the discard pile. Each time you reshuffle, you will burn five
cards again. (This makes it harder to count the cards.)
To start each round, deal one card faceup to each player. The
player with the lowest card will go first.
Ties for Low Card: If there is a tie for lowest card at the start
of the round, deal an extra card to the tied players, and use those
cards to break the tie. (You might have to repeat this.) If any player
catches a pair in this step, you discard the paired card and deal a
replacement. You can’t lose by catching a pair on the deal.
On Each Turn: On your turn, you have two choices: You may
hit (take a card), or fold. If you catch a pair, or fold, the round
is over and you score points. If not, play passes to the left.
Pairing Up: When you hit, you’re hoping not to get a pair (any
two cards of the same rank). If you pair up, you score that many
points. For example, if you catch a pair of 8’s, you score 8 points.
Keep one of those cards, faceup, to track your score.
Folding: You can surrender (fold) instead of taking a card.
When you do this, you take the lowest card in play and keep it
for points. You may choose this card from all players’ stacks,
not just your own.
Folding can be better than hitting, depending on the odds of
catching a pair, but it’s up to you to decide when to do it.
Ending the Round: As soon as one person pairs up or folds,
the round is over. Discard all the cards in play, facedown into
the middle, and start another round.
Players keep their scoring cards aside, faceup. These cards will
not return to the deck until the game is over.
Reshuffling: When the deck runs out, reshuffle the discards.
Pause the game, shuffle, and resume where you left off.
(Remember to burn five cards off every new deck.)
Using a Cut Card: This deck includes one blank card, or “cut
card.” Keep this card on the bottom of the deck, where it
prevents players from seeing the bottom card. When you reach
the end of the deck, you can use the cut card to mark where play
was interrupted. Place it back on the bottom after you shuffle.
Losing the Game: There is no winner, just one loser. The
game ends when one player reaches the target score (see the
Target Scores chart on the left). For example, in a 4-player
game, the loser is the first player to score 16 points.
Keep Playing! We hope you’ll enjoy playing Pairs. Please visit
playpairs.com for more games.
Variation: Continuous
Continuous Pairs is nearly the same as basic Pairs, except
that when a player pairs up or folds, only that player’s cards
are discarded. Everyone else keeps their cards, and that
player is still in, currently with an empty stack. This game
is basically one long round, instead of several short ones.
Here are a couple of rules clarifications for Continuous:
1: When you fold, you may take any card in play.
2: When you have no cards, you must always hit.
Continuous Pairs can be a great change of pace. Try it out!
About the Shallow Ones Deck:
The Shallow Ones deck was illustrated by John Kovalic for
the 2014 Pairs Kickstarter project. This rules sheet includes a
poker-like variant called Monster.
Game Variant: Monster
Monster is a Pairs game based on the best dealer’s choice poker
game of all time, Frankenstein. Monster doesn’t work exactly
the same, since this isn’t poker. But it’s got a bit of the same flavor.
Players: 4 to 8
You Need: A Pairs deck and coins or chips for gambling,
about 100 per player.
Summary: Monster is a self-contained gambling game, like
poker, although a single game can take several rounds. The
deal passes to the left after each game (when the pot clears).
This means that the same player can act first for many rounds.
This is balanced out over multiple games.
To Begin: Start by paying an ante into the pot. If you have 4
or 5 players, the ante is 2 coins. With 6 or more, the ante is 1
coin. (The ante is paid only on the first round of every game).
Shuffle the deck and deal a hand of six cards to each player.
The player on the dealer’s left will act first.
On Each Turn: Each player acts once, in turn. On your turn,
you may discard zero to three cards, or fold. You are not allowed
to keep a hand that includes a pair. You may want to fold some
other hands as well, depending on circumstances.
Your discards go facedown into a pile in the middle, which
becomes the Monster’s hand. Folded cards do not go to the
Monster; they are completely out of play.
The Showdown: After each player has acted, there is a
showdown for best hand. Then, the high hand must compete
against the Monster.
Definition of High Hand: Any player hand that contains a
Pair is a losing hand, and can’t be kept for the showdown.
All hands in the showdown will be compared by highest
card, then second highest card, and so on. The best player
hand is 10-9-8-7-6-5. A card is better than nothing, so a
hand with 10-8-7-4 is better than just 10-8-7.
This is similar to comparing poker hands for high card, except that there is no limit on the number of cards that can
play, and it doesn’t matter if your cards are in sequence.
The Monster uses the same rules, but it ignores pairs. Treat
the Monster as if it had only one card of each rank.
When a player faces the Monster, he must beat it to take the
pot. Otherwise, the player loses, pays 5 coins, and is out of the
game. (The Monster beats the player in a perfect tie.)
Moving Forward: If no one beats the Monster, shuffle and
play another round with the surviving players. Players who
fold, or who lose to the Monster, are out. The game ends when
someone beats the Monster, or when only one player is left.
Ties: Two players who beat the Monster with exactly the
same hand will split the pot. Two players who are exactly tied,
but lose to the Monster, must each drop out and pay the 5
coin penalty, unless they are the only two players remaining,
in which case they pay 5 coins but play another round.
Strategy: In the first few rounds, you may want to “duck,”
playing low hands and trying not to fight the Monster. As
players leave the game, it becomes easier to fight for the pot.
You’ll have to experiment with different strategies as your
group learns the flow of the game.
Other Gambling Rules
Here are a few ways to gamble on the basic Pairs game. Feel
free to invent your own!
Note that you don’t have to play for real money just to make
gambling fun. Just keep score with chips, and see who has the
most at the end of the night.
Seattle Rules: At the end of the game, the loser pays one
coin to every player.
Tacoma Rules: The loser pays a predetermined amount
(for example, 6 coins) to the player with the lowest score.
Tied players split the prize. If the award is split, leave odd
coins in the pot for the next game.
Olympia Rules: The loser pays the player(s) with the lowest
score, as in Tacoma, but the penalty is equal to the difference
in those players’ scores. This makes each point more interesting! (It sounds more expensive than the versions above, but you
can play for smaller stakes.)
Pairs was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson, with help from
Joshua Howard and Joe Kisenwether. Frankenstein was invented by
E. Jordan Bojar. Shallow Ones artwork by John Kovalic. Playtesters include Adam Sheridan, Ahna Blake, Bob De Dea, Boyan Radakovich, Carol
Monahan, Cathy Saxton, Daniel Solis, Debbie Mischo, Don Flinspach,
Hal Mangold, Jeremy Holcomb, John Mischo, Jonathan Fingold, Kenneth
Hite, Mike Selinker, Nathan Clarenburg, Nora Miller, Owen Jungemann,
Rick Fish, Shawn Carnes, Tom Saxton, and many others. Edited by Carol
Monahan, Cathy Saxton, Christopher Dare, and Mike Selinker. Made possible through Kickstarter!
Pairs and the Pairs logo are © and ™ 2014 James Ernest and Hip
Pocket Games, Seattle WA: www.hippocketgames.com.
For more rules, variants, alternate decks, and more, please visit us at: