Betting on 9-5-2: Arguments for and against, and other cautionary statements.
Sergeant Major, or 9-5-2 as most of us Canadians know it, is a fantastic choice when just three friends are up for a card game. It’s quick, it’s fun, and its rules are built on the concept that another player can easily make or break your hand before the game even gets underway!
I know a lot of people like to play card games for money. I’m not talking about casino games like blackjack or poker, but friendly wagers on something as innocent as friends and family game night. My family used to do it all the time, and we still get together on occasion for an anything-but-quiet evening of Bridge, Hearts, Canasta, Coup, or – when just three can make it – 9-5-2. But one serious has been raised many times among fans of this game…
Is Wagering on 9-5-2 a Good Idea?
This is an excellent question, but not one so easily answered. Most
card games are perfect for a little friendly wagering. Everyone
tosses in a nickel, quarter, or dollar, just to make things a little
more interesting. But in most card games, there aren’t too many
blatant opportunities to for duplicitous behavior.
9-5-2 is unique in this way. Before many hands of play, cards are going to be exchanged between players. The winner(s) of the last round gets to toss a bad card to the loser(s). In reverse, the loser(s) must submit their highest card of the same suit to the winner(s).
This particular rule is what makes the game so treacherously
entertaining. It’s also what makes it a questionable one to put money
on. There are two important factors to consider.
How much do you trust your opponents?
Do you honestly trust these players to remain perfectly honest when
there’s cash at stake? Hopefully you can answer yes to that question
without hesitation. And even if you can, there’s always the chance
you’ll find out they aren’t so honest as you thought. At least, you
might if you pay close enough attention. Which brings us to the next
Are you prepared to watch everyone like a hawk?
How much attention are you willing to pay to the sequence of plays
following the trading of cards? The only way to determine if someone
fibbed their way through the trade is to pay close attention
throughout the hand. If a player turns up with a card they aren’t
supposed to have, according to the rules of trade, you can call them
out on it. But things tend to get a little awkward at this point. I
can tell you from past experience, it’s not always worth it…
Cautionary statements and advice before betting
My best advice for anyone who wants to go ahead with betting on Sergeant Major is to keep the wagers friendly! When my friends or family and I play, we start with $1 in the pot each. Each player who fails to make a contract will add a quarter before the next hand. With 3 players, the pot usually ends somewhere between $5-$10. Nice to win, but no big deal.
Only once have we caught a player cheating, and the response wasn’t
the friendly, “oh, you caught me, haha, sorry guys!” you
might expect. Following a rather strained verbal altercation, that
person is no longer welcome at the gaming table, and it convinced the
rest of us to invoke this useful anti-cheating rule.
If anyone is caught cheating, whether deliberate or by accident, they
must pay $5 – $3 to the pot, and $2 to the person that caught them.
Furthermore, they are not eligible to win any more than their own
contribution to the pot for that game. This helps discourage
intentional cheating, while encouraging a double-check for mistakes
before passing cards, and entices everyone to pay close attention to
what others pass and play. I’m happy to report we’ve had no issues
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