I first learned the card game Bebek while on the Orangutan Foundation Volunteer Program. Jon and Elke taught all the volunteers how to play the game which is a favourite of the Indonesian dayak staff.
I don't know how widely Bebek is played in Indonesia or if it originated there. It probably did originate there because bebek is the Indonesian word for duck. The shape of a duck resembles the number 2 and 2 is the most powerful card in the game (the trump card).
Number of players
Three to eight players (4-6 is perfect). If more players want to play, a second deck of cards can be added.
The rules of Bebek are quite simple. Take a full deck of 52 cards plus two jokers (so 54 cards in total). The highest card is 2, then the Ace, King, Queen and so on. The two jokers can be played as any number card (but not a picture card or an Ace or a 2).
The cards are evenly dealt out to every player. All of the cards in the deck are given out.
The person to the left of the dealer starts. (For future games, the person who won the last game always starts.)
The person starting the round can play a combination of cards:
- One of a kind
- Two of a kind
- Three of a kind
- Four of a kind
- Three in a row straight (same suit)
- Four in a row straight (same suit)
If the first person lays a single 3, the second player (in a clockwise direction) may lay higher than the 3, for example a single 4 or single 5. If the player cannot play or chooses not to play, they say 'laywat', which means 'pass' in Indonesian. Play moves ot the next person. It continues around the table until everyone laywats, or if someone plays a bebek. A player that laywats is still in the round when the play comes back round to them (they can choose to play or laywat again).
A typical round might be:
- Player 1 lays a pair of threes.
- Player 2 lays a pair of fours.
- Player 3 lays a pair of sevens.
- Player 4 lays a pair of tens.
- Player 1 laywats.
- Player 2 lays a pair of Queens.
- Player 3 laywats.
- Player 4 lays a pair of Aces.
- Player 1 laywats.
- Player 2 laywats.
- Player 3 laywats, so player 4 won the round and will start the next round.
When someone lays the trump card(s), they say 'bebek'.
The winner is the first person to discard all their cards. Play continues until someone has lost (everyone else has fully discarded). The loser can be made to pay a forfeit in the next game, for example, to hang a bottle of sambal from your ear.
When someone goes out and wins the hand, the next person after them gets to start a fresh hand.
It is normally best to discard your low cards (3, 4, 5) early. If you have the opportunity to start a round, try throwing out a single three or pair of threes. The only time you will ever get to play your three(s) is when you start the round.
You don't have to play if you don't want to. Sometimes it can be beneficial to keep your best cards back.
If you are fortunate enough to have more than one 2, you may decide to use them as single cards rather than pairs or threes. This way, you can win more rounds and get to start the next round (and discard your low cards).
Towards the end of the game, there can be a lot of guessing as to what the other players are holding. However, there is not a lot of strategy in the game – if you have a poor hand with many low single cards, you are likely to lose!
Sam wrote to me and said that he used to play Bebek at school with some guys from Hong Kong. They called the game 'Two of Spades', as the suits were ranked and spades were the highest.
Thanks to Jon for reminding me of the rules and to Rachel for forgetting them and prompting this page!