The rules of spoof

Basic rules

Spoof is a game of chance often played in a pub to establish who buys the next round. It has the quirky character that it is a game without a winner, just a loser. Basically it is a guessing game involving coins. Each player draws some number of coins between zero and three from their pocket and holds them concealed within a clenched hand. If more than three are held this is deemed to count as three. The denomination of the coin is irrelevant, its just the number that counts. The idea is then to take turns to guess the combined total number contained in all the players' hands. Its that easy ! One player starts by making a guess ('call' or 'shout') and then the guesses proceed clockwise until all have guessed a number that hasn't previously been taken. This is a single round of the game. All players then reveal their coins, a total is calculated (and checked!) and someone may be 'out' if they chose the exact number (there are no prizes for nearly). If this happens the not-loser will then sit out the remaining rounds of this particular game and the others will play more rounds in the same way until only two players are left. The player who loses this last round buys the drinks. If nobody guessed the correct number in any given round then the round is played again. Every time a round is played the first person to call rotates clockwise to the next available player.

Who starts ?

There seems to be no clear convention on this matter. There are several variations of methods that use coins. One of the most popular (at least in Wiltshire, certain parts of New York, California, France, and now Warwickshire ;-) ) is 'odd one out'. This requires all players to draw a single coin at random and place it on the bar, concealing it under the palm of their hand until all are ready, at which point the coins are revealed. Each coin is either a head or a tail. If anyone has the only head or the only tail then they are the odd one out will call first in the first round of the game. Otherwise the 'heads go again', i.e. only those people with a heads repeat the process. They would first toss the coin or, more usually, bring one at random from their pocket. The same procedure is applied, repeatedly if required, until there is a unique odd one out or only two players remain. If only two players remain then they again draw a coin and the first of the two to place his hand on the bar may announce "match that". If the second player successfully matches the face of the first then he will call first otherwise the first player will have the honour. The person to call first then rotates as each new round is played, as discussed above.

An alternative method, that is also much faster, is to require the person who first suggested a game of spoof to call first (but see folklore item #9 below).

There are also at least two conventions that I know of to determine who will call first in subsequent games. My personal favourite is simply that the person who was first out (made the first correct call) in the previous game calls first in the next. This is known as 'first out first shout'. The main alternative is 'loser shouts or nominates' in which the loser of the previous game can nominate any player to call first in the next.


There are a few points of etiquette associated with this game.

If any player wishes to guess zero, believing that everyone's hand is empty, it is conventional to shout 'spoof', this signifying a guess of zero.

Many schools of spoof operate a 'no bum shouts' rule. This means that each call that is made must be hypothetically possible given only your knowledge of what you hold in your hand and the number of other players in that round of the game. Consider, as an example, two players competing in a round, one of whom holds two coins. Given that the other player could conceivably have as many as three coins, or as few as zero, this player can make any call between two and five inclusive. A shout of either six, one or spoof would be a 'bum shout'. The penalty for making a bum shout can either be to endure being called an idiot, and to have to play the round again, (friendly rules) or an immediate forfeit of that game, with the player buying the round of drinks in question (old-fashioned rules). Some schools will permit bum shouts and it is important thing to establish if this is the case, and the penalty for making such a call, when playing in a school for the first time. My personal preference, in common with most experienced spoofers that I know, is to not permit bum shouts. However this remains a passionately debated topic in the spoof community and has lead to a schism not unlike those that arose in the early church.

It is common to suggest playing a game (or games...) of spoof later in the 'session'. It can be particularly convenient (and most fair) to propose a game of spoof at the stage of the evening when everyone has bought the same number of rounds.

The loser does not usually gain any particular dispensation in subsequent games. It is quite possible for the same person to lose several games in a row, however statistically improbable that this may seem.

After each round of guessing, when everyone has called, it is conventional to reveal the number of coins that each player is holding in turn, in the order in which the calls were made.

It is not uncommon to agree to spoof for half pints. Some idiot may also occasionally suggest that the 'loser choses' the drinks to be bought. As you can probably tell I don't enjoy this variant as it can get a bit silly and, anyway, I like to choose what I drink myself. In any case this should certainly have unanimous agreement in advance at which point it would also be wise to set some rough guidelines for what is at stake (e.g. shorts, doubles, pints, cocktails (!) etc).

One superstition associated with the game is that beginners are at an advantage. There is some reason to this as such players are usually rather unpredictable. A further supertsition is that the person who first suggests playing spoof will lose the first game of the evening. Again there may be some scientific basis for this given that enthusiasm can be correlated with alcohol consumption which can, in turn, be inversely correlated with proficiency.

From personal experience I might also offer a word of warning to any scientists or mathematicians who may be reading this and think that their superior knowledge of probability might give them an automatic advantage. Beware, there is quite a lot to this game !

Although not strictly part of the etiquette of spoof per se the English system of buying rounds seems to provoke some confusion, especially with foreigners. Unfortunately a thorough discussion of this convention, and its numerous variations, is beyond the scope of this site. In brief it is polite to try to buy a drink for anyone who has bought you one. Similar simplifications are employed in cricket where one can say that the batsmen is out LBW if the ball hits his legs but would have gone on to hit the stumps.


Spoof is not a game which lends itself easily to competitions involving large numbers of people. This is partly because the game is designed to identify a loser, rather than a winner. It is also difficult to invent a system that retains the essential link between buying (and consuming) drinks and yet establishes a winner sufficiently rapidly so as not to become simply a test of who can consume the most beer. Nonetheless it is with the intention of establishing the world spoof championships at the Virgins & Castle pub, Kenilworth that we propose the rules below.

Competition rules

Either (i) eighteen or (ii) thirty six competitors shall be divided at random into schools of six apiece. A predetermined number of rounds of spoof will then be played in order to establish either (i) two or (ii) one person from each school to proceed to the final and the same number of losers to proceed to a "losers final". Each round will be played for a half-pint or equivalent, being paid for by the loser as usual. Points will be assigned in each game. The player who is out first will receive 10 points, second will receive 9 points, third 8 points (etc) with the loser receiving no points at all. Trophies will be awarded for the highest total at the end of the final and for the lowest total at the end of the losers final.

Anyone who would like to be added to the mailing list for this competition should drop me an email at the address given below.

Folklore and alternative rules (contributions welcome !)

1. "If someone is really bullshitting their pupils contract slightly when you stare at them full on - its inadvertent, and its my key to success (barring that disastrous 60 quid run last xmas)." [Alan 24/11/05]

2. The ancient superstition of calling "in the slot" can often work well. If you are calling late in a particular round of spoof and the numbers have already been chosen "bracket" one that is still available (e.g. 4,5,6,8,9 taken but 7 available) you should go "in the slot" by choosing that number pretty much irrespective of other considerations. [MST 24/11/05]

3. We have a slightly different twist on the game that creates a huge amount of tension. Everybody is free to buy drinks from a communal kitty and drink during the game. However, the loser actually has to drink a large glass of Absynth. The drink is placed in the middle of the spoof table as a totem to increase the level of fear. The more the loser drinks, the poorer their judgement becomes and the worse they play. [Stuart Browne 16/3/06]

4. [On spoofing in Kenya some years ago] Bum shouts were "legal" ... to make the game more challenging, not that it needed to be after a couple of pints! "I always thought that's why they called it "Spoof" - you were spoofing your neighbour as to
the real total." [Tony Karian & pal 13/4/06]

5. Spoofing is a game played by gentlemen, thus, when a fellow spoofer guesses the correct amount of coins he must refrain from showing any emotion and in a polite and gentlemanly manner ask to leave the game, something along the lines of "Thankyou gentlemen, it has been a pleasure spoofing with you, I would like to leave the game". If our fellow spoofer does not do this he will be asked to rejoin the group until he can leave the game with the right ettiquete. [Todd Eadie 13/10/06] (I find this variation popular with rugby players - MST)

6. The loser of any round would be afforded the status of dry leg for the next round.
If he lost that round too the result would be void, he would be excused the round of drinks and the round of Spoof would be replayed by everybody.
A dry leg was good for only one round immediately after the loss.  The player would be fully liable if careless enough to lose the replayed round. [Richard Hayward 6/2/07]

7. If, when playing for drinks, a spoof or full house call is successfully made an extra shot is introduced to be drunk by the loser. This seems fair as winning on either of these calls deserves a bonus for such a great call. It also adds a huge amount of extra interest or tension to the final. [Submitted by Martin on behalf of the Glanville appreciation society 04/04/2008]

8. [On competition rules...] Basically we have even groups of four and play seven rounds. First correct call is awarded 4 points, 2 for second, 1 for third. The winner is the one with the most points after seven rounds. Winners go straight to the semifinals losers play off in a repecharge. Once we have all semi finalists declared we have a Calcutta where you can bid money on who you believe will win the final. Semi finals depending on numbers should be two tables of four same scoring systems the winner from each table plays off in the final. Finalists can choose a seconded, normally the person who has money on them winning, the seconded acts as a caller. The final is a best of nine games. Normally during championship spoofing beer and bottles of wine are spoofed for to keep the vocal chords well lubed for the calls. [Contributed by Mick Wilshier on behalf of the Tasmanian spoofers.]

9. An inventive challenge to the convention that he who suggests a game of spoof should call first is due to Andy Pitts [2011] who named his new dog spoof, thus introducing some ambiguity into whether he is casually discussing his dog or surreptitiously suggesting a game of spoof.


.Contact address | Home