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How To Play

Capsa Susun


This Chinese gambling game is popular in Hong Kong and parts of Southeast Asia and is also played to some extent in the USA. It is known by several different names.

The aim is to arrange your 13 cards into three poker hands - two of five cards and one of three cards - which will beat the corresponding poker hands made by the other players.

Players, Cards, Stakes and Deal

There are four players, each playing for themselves. A standard 52 card pack is used.

Before playing it is necessary to agree on a stake. Below I will describe the payments in terms of units; one unit can be worth whatever the players agree in advance - $1, $10, $100, etc.

The cards are shuffled, cut and dealt out singly: 13 cards to each player.

Arrangement of cards

Each player must divide their 13 cards into a "back" hand of 5 cards, a "middle" hand of 5 cards and a "front" hand of 3 cards. Considered as poker hands, the back hand must be better than the middle hand, and the middle hand must be better than the front hand. The standard poker ranking is used - so the hand types from high to low are: royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pairs, one pair, high card are no wild cards.

Since the front hand has only 3 cards, only three hand types are possible: three of a kind; one pair; high card. There is no value in having a front hand with three consecutive cards or three cards of the same suit: "straights" or "flushes" in the front hand do not count.

Players place their three hands face down in front of them, the front hand nearest the centre of the table and the back hand nearest themselves.

Showdown and Scoring

When everyone is ready, all the players expose their three hands and each pair of players compares the corresponding hands. In the simplest system of payments, you win one unit for each corresponding hand of another player that you beat and lose one for unit each hand that beats you. When the hands are equal you neither win nor lose. Here is an example:

The result would be as follows:

Players Front Winner Middle Winner Back Winner North East South West
North v East North North North +3 -3
North v South South South North -1 +1
North v West North North West +1 -1
East v South South South East -1 +1
East v West East West West -1 +1
South v West South South West +1 -1
Total +3 -5 +3 -1

Notice that although West's back hand is the overall best hand (aces full), West loses on balance because of the weaker middle and front hands. East could have done slightly less badly by putting the sevens in the middle hand, which would then have beaten West. Notice also that it is not legal for East to put the jacks in the front hand, because it would then not be possible to make a middle hand that was better and a back hand that was better still from the remaining ten cards.

Special Hands

It is possible to play using just the payments described above. However, many players add two further features to the stakes: increased payments for certain hands, and some special 13-card hands that win automatically. If you are playing with these it is important to agree in advance exactly which ones are allowed and how much each is worth.

A typical scale of increased payments is as follows:

  • If you win the front hand with three of a kind, you receive 3 units instead of 1 for that hand.
  • If you win the middle hand with a full house, you receive 2 units instead of 1 for that hand.
  • If you win the back (or middle) hand with 4 of a kind, you receive 4 units instead of 1.
  • If you win the back (or middle) hand with a royal flush or straight flush you win 5 units instead of 1.

These bonuses only count for you for hands that you win. For example, if A and B each have a 3 of a kind in front, but B's is higher, A will pay B 3 units for it. A's 3 of a kind will still count against the other players if it wins.

Example: A has 6-6-6, 4-4-4-9-9, K-K-K-8-8 and B has Q-Q-7, J-J-J-2-2, 5-5-5-5-A. A wins 3 for the front hand, but B wins 2 for the middle and 4 for the back, so altogether A pays 3 units to B.

When special hands are allowed, the following 13-card hands win automatically against any ordinary hand, if declared before the hands are exposed. When two special hands come up against each other, the higher wins the full specified amount and the lower loses its value (though it can still win against the other players). After the special hands have been dealt with, the remaining players expose their cards and settle up among themselves in the normal way. A typical schedule of special hands, in ascending order, is:

  • Six pairs: a hand with six pairs and one odd card. When two players have six pair hands, compare the highest pair; if the highest pairs are equal compare the second highest pair, and so on. Win 3 units.
  • Three straights: the back and middle hands are five card straights and the front hand is a three card straight (i.e. three cards of consecutive rank). If two players have three straights, compare the highest (back) straights first, then if these are equal the middle straights, and finally, if all else is equal, the front straight. Win 3 units.
  • Three flushes: the back and middle hands are flushes, and the front hand is a three-card flush (three cards of one suit). If two players have this, the player with the better back hand wins; if tied the better middle hand; if those are also tied, the better front hand. Win 3 units.
  • Complete straight: the hand has one card of each rank: A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K. Suits can be mixed. If two players have this, they are tied. Win 13 units.

A player who has a special hand can choose not to declare it, but instead to set three hands of 5, 5 and 3 cards in the normal way. This loses the right to an automatic win, but it may occasionally be possible to win more units in the normal settlement, when extra payments can be won.

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