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A friend recently emailed me asking me for the rules for "liar's dice", a drinking game we played while on a ski vacation up at Whistler, BC. Apparently he couldn't find the rules written out anywhere online -- all he found was a game called Perudo where everyone had their own die to roll. So I spent a few minutes writing down the rules to the version we played as clearly as I could and emailed them back to him. While I was at it I figured I'd post them on my website for the world to enjoy... So here goes:

Materials:

A non-transparent cup and five (5) dice. 2+ people. Beer.

Beginning a round:

To begin a round one person rolls all five dice under the cup. That person then follows from step 5 on in the Pass: section below.

Receive:

The player to your right (the "passer") just passed you one or more dice under the cup, zero or more dice outside the cup and made a claim. That claim is what the passer asserts is the minimum value of the "hand" being passed to you. You have two choices at the beginning phase of your turn: to accept the claim or to challenge the passer.

You accept the passer's claim by peeking under the cup and gaining the knowledge of the state of all five dice -OR- by simply passing the cup along to the person on your left and making a higher claim without looking under the cup. You challenge the passer's claim by saying something along the lines of "bullshit" and then lifting the cup for all to see. The round is over when someone challenges a claim.

If a claim is challenged then either the passer or the challenger wins and the other loses. The passer wins if the actual value of the five dice hand meets or exceeds the value of his claim. The challenger wins if the actual value of the five dice hand does not meet the value of the passer's claim.

The value of five dice hands is much like in poker:

  1. Singleton a.k.a. "high card" (1 2 3 4 5 6)
  2. One pair (11xxx, 22xxx, 33xxx, 44xxx, 55xxx, 66xxx). Note that 22543 is better than 22311 becasue of the 5 vs. the 3.
  3. Two-pair (22113 .. 66554). 44112 beats 33226 because of the 4's. 55446 beats 55442 beacause of the 6.
  4. Three-of-a-kind (11123 .. 66654).
  5. Full house (11122 .. 66655). The value of the three-of-a-kind component dominates so that 33311 is better than 22266. Be explicit when passing these hands -- e.g. say "a full house, three 3's, two 2's" not "a full house, 3's and 2's".
  6. Four of a kind (11112 up to 66665)
  7. Five of a kind (11111 up to 66666)

Note there are no straights (major or minor). Feel free to add them to your own rules if you want.

There's an important subtlety here -- the "meets or exceeds" phrase means that if I passed you "two pair, 1's and 4's", you challenge the claim, and the real hand is three of a kind then I would win. This is because the real value (three of a kind) exceeds the value of my claim (two pair).

The loser drinks some quantity of beer (should be enough to discourage frivolous challenges). You can make the winner give out a drink too if you want. Then the winner begins the next round by rolling all five dice...

Pass:

Once you have accepted a passer's claim you begin the process of becomming a passer and making a claim of your own. If you peek under the cup you must roll at least one die. If you do not peek under the cup you can accept your passer's claim by simply sliding the cup along to your left and making a higher claim. In this case you need not roll any dice.

If you peeked, though, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Optionally pull one or more die from under the cup to show everyone its (their) value(s). Any dice you show to everyone are left in the center of the table.
  2. Optionally pull one or more die from the center of the table and place it (them) under the cup.
  3. Optionally roll any die in the center of the table and leave it (them) in plain sight. Once a die on the table in plain view has been rolled it may not be re-rolled or hidden by the cup.
  4. Roll all dice under the cup. If you peeked under the cup to accept the claim made to you then you must roll at least one die during your turn.
  5. Optionally look under the cup at the roll you made.
  6. Optionally pull out one or more die from under the cup to show everyone their value. Place these dice in the center of the table for all to see.
  7. Make a claim that exceeds the value of the claim you accepted and carefully pass the cup to the person to your left. If you screw up the dice by sliding them on the table and you get challenged then you're out of luck. If you say "Oh it was a full house, I swear. The dice just got messed up in the pass" then you drink double. Likewise, when receiving the cup in a pass don't jostle it around.

One last note: if the passer claims "a pair of twos" when passing you the dice to his left then his claim implies "a pair of twos and a one". Yes, I know you could not have a pair of twos and just a single one... you'd either have more than a single one and therefore get two-pairs/full house or you'd have something higher than a one. The point here is just that if all you say is "a pair of bla" you are passing a pair of bla with an implied high card one. Of course, if you pass "a pair of ones" then you are implying "two ones and a two" not three ones.

Strategery (a.k.a. Strategy):

Remember the subtlety above -- if you roll four of a kind you need not pass four of a kind. Likewise if you roll four 5's you need not pass four fives -- depending on the claim you accepted maybe four 2's will do. If you are in the enviable position of having a killer roll and a wussy claim to beat think about who you want to set up and how far around you want to dice to pass when making your claim. Underclaiming is powerful, especially if rolling a single die will perturb the hand.

Trust fate: if you have a 50-50 chance of beating a claim (I just passed you four 5's and a two, you accepted. Pull out the 4 5's, roll the remaining dice under the cup, if you get a 3, 4, or 5 you win). Don't bother to look. Just pass the cup and say "four fives and a three". The advantage here is that you can't betray your own lie by peeking under the cup. The person to your left will be forced to think about the odds and not whether they think you lied. The disadvantage here is that you deprive yourself of the knowledge of what's under the cup. If the dice come back to you (i.e. if there are a very small number of people playing) then you are at a disadvantage.

Also note that if I was your receiver in the above example (you had a 50-50 chance to beat your claim, rolled 1 dice and didn't look) I'd be tempted to not look either and just pass it along with "four 5's and a four".

Think about the odds, not bluffs. What you ask yourself when receiving a claim is not "is that person lying" but rather "given what I know, what are the odds that I can beat that claim". A pair of whatevers is pretty easy to beat even if there's nothing at all under the cup.

The combination of pulling out some die and underclaiming has a befuddling effect on drunk opponents.

Have fun. Make sure to follow the steps in the Pass: section because you can get confused with the pulling out / pulling in if you don't -- the important part is roll the dice on the table before the ones under the cup (if you choose to roll on the table at all). What you want to avoid is the illegal process of rolling the cup, peeking, then rolling on the table. Also remember if you look under the cup then you must roll at least one die during your turn.

Variants:

Well I have gotten some email from other people who play liar's dice with different rules. It seems like there are a lot of variations out here. Here's one that I really liked which I received in email from a guy named Randall Olson:

...

"I work in a fire department where we play liar's dice after we eat lunch and dinner. The loser has to wash the dishes (put dishes in dish washer, clean pots and pans, clean up kitchen, etc) It's a tradition that has been going on since well before I came into the fire department 24 years ago.

We don't play with poker type hands though. When a person makes a call, they are just stating how many of a certain number there are total, under everyone's cups. Everyone has their own cup with 3 dice. (or if less than 4 or 5 people are playing we might use 5 dice each) We usually have 9 people playing, We also have a big red die that we roll every hand, that is the wild number.

So basically, with 9 people playing, each with 3 dice, someone usually starts with a call like "9 sixes". The next person has to call something higher (ten of something), like 10 ones, 10 twos, ten 6's, etc. Then 11 ones, 11 twos, etc. Eventually the number high enough where someone challenges it. We don't say "bull-shit", we say "bang!" or just lift our cup. If you lift your cup and are wrong (the stated number was there) you get one "bad" added to your score (someone keeps score on a piece of paper). If you were correct in your challenge, and the stated number wasn't there, then the person who made the call (the person sitting next to you on your right) get one "bad".

For example, if the call was 13 5's, and someone bangs it (lifts their cup), everyone pushes all their 5's into the middle of the table (to make it easier to add them up) plus any wild dice they have (say the wild number for that round was 4, you push out all of your 5's and 4's, then add them all up. Every once in a while some will "call the wild number" by mistake, (they might say 12 4's, when the wild number was 4). Usually several people will simultaneously yell "bang!", because there usually only be half as many dice in the total if you are only adding up the wild number without another number to go with it. (it takes newcomers a while to understand that...newbie's usually call the wild number at least once their first few games)

You can also call "out of turn". Say someone makes a call (like 12 sixes), and you are sitting several seats away from them. You can yell out "bang", and lift your cup. If you are right, and there are less than 12 sixes, you get two goods (which erase bads or give you a positive total) and the person you banged get one bad. If you are wrong you get two bads. Then you have to start the next round by rolling the wild die (creating a new wild number...which counts as anything) and making a new opening call (like 9 sixes, ten 4's, or whatever).

The game is over when one person has 5 bads, or when two people have 3 bads each (then they either do the dishes together or play another dice game in a playoff...that is a more complicated game called "crazy game", which I won't get started explaining...it's way too complicated for an e-mail).

I've also seen liar's dice played in bars in a slightly different variation. Usually 5 dice, with no wild die. Instead of getting goods and bads, when you are wrong you lose a die from your cup. The person who is left after every one else has lost their dice is the winner."

liarsdice.html was last updated 19 July 2013 and is Copyright (C) 2002-2015 by Scott Gasch (scott.gasch@gmail.com).