Bamboozlers: Four of Hearts

Two players take turns removing matches from a pile.

The Bet: 

Two players take turns removing (up to three) matches from a pile. The one who takes the last match wins!

This game was so-named by Charles Bouton in 1901. However, the game dates back to ancient times. The archaic word, “nim,” means to steal or take-away.

The Secret: 

If you play by the standard rules of taking up to three matches per turn, then the pile that you start with needs to be a multiple of four. The game could be played with any multiple of four but the number twenty allows for a quick game. This works out great because a standard matchbook contains twenty matches. Of course you could play the game with other items such as toothpicks, coins, nuts, etc.

Always allow your opponent to go first. If they take one match, then you take three. If they take two matches, you’ll take two. If they take three matches, then you’ll take one. Your combined take each time should total four. It is best not to let your opponent know that you are counting the matches. You don’t want them to think that there is a mathematical solution. It’s best to keep them thinking that you are simply skilled or lucky. Typically, this game is played for money. When you find someone gullible enough to play, usually you can beat them a few times before they become wise to the method.

If someone catches on, or you end up teaching them the method to win, then you can still beat them when going first. You’ll have to be a little sneaky and cheat but you can zing ’em again! After they’ve learned the secret, and you have gone first, continue playing the game. They’ll be concentrating on taking a multiple of four and will not see what happens next. About half way through the game, slyly put a match back into the pile as you take some away. This will throw off the math by one and allow you to win again!

My mother used to tell me to never play with matches. I don’t think she realized how many free drinks I’d win, how much money I’d make, or how much fun I’ve had ignoring her advice.

For more commercial magic and puzzles from Diamond Jim Tyler visit his online Magic Shop!