Rules of the card game 21


Cucumber is a kind of trick-taking game, in which the object is not to win the last trick. To make this more difficult, there is a rule that in each trick players must either overtake or sacrifice their lowest card. To be safe from losing, you therefore need not only a low card for the last trick, but also high cards for overtaking, so that your low card(s) do not have to be given up prematurely.

Cucumber appears to be a fairly recent game. It is played in several North European countries and was popular with students in the 1970's and 1980's. In the 1975 edition of the Swedish book Kortoxen by Einar Werner and Tore Sandgren, Gurka is described as "a comparatively new game". It does not appear in the 1949 edition, but was presumably introduced between these dates, since a translation is included as Kurkku in the 1970 Finnish book Pelataan korttia by Tore Sandgren. A very similar game is played in Sweden with Kille cards. This game was already described in the 1949 edition of Werner and Sandgren's Kortoxen, and it seems likely that Cucumber originated as an adaptation of Krypkille to be played with the standard 52-card pack.

There are many somewhat different versions of Cucumber: the rules vary from country to country, and also within each country. This page describes forms played in Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Finland ( or ), Norway and Iceland. There are probably other versions, and variations described as played in any of these places may perhaps also be found in the others. The Danish game will be described in full, followed by the differences found in the other versions.

Agurk (Danish)

Agurk is the Danish word for cucumber; the game is also sometimes known as 21, since a player with more than 21 points loses. The game was played extensively at DIKU in the 1970s. The following description is based mainly on a contribution from Jens Brix Christiansen.


Agurk is played with an ordinary deck of 52 cards. From 2 to 7 players participate. The cards are ranked from high to low A, K, Q, J, 10, 9..., 2; the suits have no significance. Cards are shuffled by the dealer and then dealt 7 at a time, face down, clockwise, starting with forehand (i.e., the player to the left of the dealer). The cards that are not dealt are set aside and seen by no one.

Seven tricks are played. The cards played are simply placed on the table face-up in front of each player; the cards are neither collected nor turned over after each trick. Any player may inspect any of the cards played to previous tricks. Forehand leads to the first trick; the winner of each trick leads to the next trick. Once a card is led, the remaining players each play a card to the trick in clockwise rotation.

The lead can be chosen freely. The other players in turn have a choice between:

  1. playing any card whose rank is at least as high as the highest card so far played to the trick, or
  2. playing their lowest ranking card.

The highest ranking card wins the trick; if there are several of these, the last of them to be played wins the trick.

The turn to deal passes clockwise after each hand. If the player whose turn it should be to deal has been eliminated from the game (see below), then the dealer is the next player in rotation who is still in the game.

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