I'm planning to run a Cripple Mr Onion tournament (the gambling variant of the game, but not for money), but I have never run a tournament before.

How should I structure this tournament? What do I, as an organizer need to know to have this tournament go off successfully?

I'm willing to use and adapt a tournament format for similar card and/or board games but I need to know where to start.

The game requires at least two players, but not more than seven. So probably six or seven to a table. In my own (small) experience playing the game (and I've never played the gambling variant myself), it works better with a larger number.

I have no real idea how many players to expect. There'll be a couple of hundred at the Irish Discworld Convention, but no doubt the tournament will clash with other events. And some people there won't be interested. It might be two or three tables. Perhaps more. Perhaps just one.

Rules of the game (pdf): Cripple Mr Onion.

  • I retagged it; if I'm not mistaken it's a card game from the Discworld books that was made real.
    – lilserf
    Commented Oct 28, 2010 at 4:52

3 Answers 3


Totally missed when you gave the link to the rules. That helped out a bunch. As I understand it, Cripple Mr. Onion plays out much like Blackjack in that each player bets individually against the dealer.

There is a difference in that the dealer is a player too and the position of dealer is bid for each round. I don't think that makes a ton of difference to what I'm proposing.

If you end up with 7 or less people you should do one table and one round. At the end of the time, players are ranked by the number of chips that they have.

If you have more than 7 people you will need 2 rounds.

  • Divide the players up into X groups of Y people. X and Y should both be between 3 and 7 (inclusive).
  • Split your available time in half, reserve 10 minutes for a break during which the chips will be counted.
  • At the end of the first time period, the person with the highest chip count at each table will move on to the finals.
  • For the finals, collect all the chips and redistribute them evenly. (You don't want someone who had an extremely weak first table having too much of an advantage in the finals)
  • At the end of the finals, players are ranked by the number of chips that they have.

Example, you have 20 people. The first round will be 5 tables of 4 people. The finals will then be one table of 5 people.


As Pat Ludwig states, position is important in the game. So you always want each table to play a full round so everyone plays from all the good and poor positions. Pat Ludwig's suggestions are good advice under the assumption that you want a quick tournament and that all players arrive on time for the start. Fitting all the matches into an appropriate amount of time is a key success factor for a tournament director. Plan your rounds starting from final table backwards. I will assume this game takes ~10 minutes / player / round once everone knows the rules. Under the assumption that you have a little more time, I perfer a drop the low men approach.

I also like having your final table start with a full seven players. Drop from 1 to 4 players after each round depending on time available. For early to middle rounds in a really large tourneyment, I would suggest around four or five players to a table. More players makes the rounds slower, fewer players makes the outcome too dependent who you face in the round. Each assignment of players should play exactly once around then break for new assignments. Drop X players after the round then reassign seeding by chip count.

So my example 20 player 4+ hour tournament would be:
First round 5 tables of 4 (~ 45 minutes)
Second round 4 tables of 4 (~ 45 minutes)
Third round 4 tables of 3 (~ 30 minutes)
Fourth round 1 table of 7 (~75 minutes)
Fifth round 1 table of 5 (~50 minutes)
Sixth round 1 table of 3 (continue as time allows, place per chip count at end of scheduled time)

If you want to allow participation by late arrivers, here are some ideas: 1. Reserve a table for late arrivers. But don't wait too long to get this table started. 2. Have players pair up for an initial seeding round as they arrive. Only play two hands in this fashion use chip count to seed players for the initial full tables of the tourneyment. This allows some time for late arrivers and helps insure that folks know the rules, before the beginners slow down a larger group. 3. In addition, Charge some minor fine on initial buy in for late arrivals. Probably a little less than 1% per minute late.

Initial seeding is also a significant fairness factor. Each starting table should have an even mix of beginners and experienced plays to the greatest extent possible.


Wikipedia has the rules for Cripple Mr Onion, and there's also the (older, I believe) lspace rules for the game. The Terry Pratchett fan club "the Guild of Fans and Disciples" used to give new members a printed copy of the rules (the lspace version, I believe); I'm not sure if the organisation exists any more (their website is at Geocities, so...).

The rules are too long to reproduce here, but as a summary of the game (loosely paraphrased from the above sources):

Cripple Mr Onion uses two decks of cards (ideally one English and one French) and revolves around forming groups of cards which either sum exactly to twenty-one (an onion) or come close to this total without exceeding it. There is both a gambling and a non-gambling variant, and there are two forms of betting in the gambling game: "matching the Dealer's stake" and "raising the Dealer".

  • I know the rules: as I said, I've played it a few times. It's running a tournament I know nothing about.
    – TRiG
    Commented Oct 31, 2010 at 1:10
  • I don't know who gave you the downvote. You probably don't deserve it. You didn't answer my question, but my question was so badly phrased before Pat's rewrite that this is hardly your fault.
    – TRiG
    Commented Nov 5, 2010 at 11:39
  • 1
    The edit has completely changed this question. My answer is for the original question, not the new one.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Nov 11, 2010 at 23:40
  • Actually, the edit didn't change the question. That is what I was originally asking. I just phrased it very poorly. All praise to Pat for interpreting me.
    – TRiG
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 13:49

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