Play Chopsticks

Chopsticks is a game of Play Strategy Games as well as basic math. It has roots in Japan and can also called Finger Chess, Swords, Split, Magic Fingers, Chinese Fingers, Cherries, Sticks, and Twiddly Dinks. Though there are many variations of rules and different names, the overall theory and spirit of the game remains the same. This game is not the widely known beginner's piano song though it shares the same name.


Learning the Basic Rules

  1. Start with two players. You need a minimum of two people to play Chopsticks but there is opportunity later to add more opponents.
  2. Face your opponent as you both put your hands in front of you. Each time you start a round of the game you both hold your hands out with one finger extended. Make sure that both you and your partner keep both hands flat and straight out so that both of you can see how many fingers each person has extended throughout the rest of the game.
  3. Pick one person to go first. You will then take turns going back and forth. On each turn, one player will use one hand to tap one of their opponent's hand. Let's assume you are going first.
  4. Tap one of your opponent's hand with one of yours. If you tap with one finger then your opponent will add your one finger + their extended fingers and extend the sum of the two.
    • For example, you tap your opponent's hand. You have one finger and they have two. They then add the fingers and one their tapped hand, they put out three fingers.
    • On the next turn, your opponent uses their hand of three fingers to tap your hand of one. You now have to hold out four fingers because your one finger plus their three equals four fingers.
    • Only the tapping hand has the power to change your opponent's hand.[1]
  5. Take turns between players to tap each others' hands. The goal is to keep going and adding fingers to your opponent's hand by tapping. When someone's hand reaches five fingers that are extended, that hand is considered "dead" and is no longer in play.[2]
    • There are several variations of this rule, but the simple rules of Chopsticks dictate that once a hand has reached five fingers, that hand is useless. Which makes sense because one of background stories behind Chopsticks is that you can hold a chopstick with up to one finger, but an open hand means that you are going to drop your utensil and food as well.[3]
  6. Hide dead hands behind your back. Continue playing until one player has lost both of their hands. The goal is to be the last one standing with at least one hand left still alive.
  7. Master the basics and then add new rules. Like many math and strategy games such as chess, there are a limited amount of plays that are possible before the game becomes predictable. To prevent the same player winning every round and the other player losing, add the other rules to make the game play fair.

Adding New Rules

  1. Make the game more interesting by adding new rules. Once you master the basic rules and can add speed, create new challenges. There are several name variations for the rules, but they remain the same even though this game is played internationally.
  2. Introduce splits into the game. When it's your turn, you can tap your own two hands together to redistribute the number of fingers you have extended. For example, if you have one hand with three fingers and one hand with just one finger and you split them, you can put two fingers on each hand.
    • The goal of this strategy is to prevent one of your hands from reaching five fingers and becoming dead.
    • Splits don't have to be even, but it's preferable. Some odd number combinations merely means swapping fingers between hands with no strategic bonus. However, if you have a combination such as four fingers and one finger on each hand, you can split that into a hand of three and a hand of five.
    • A player can "revive" a dead hand by splitting. If you have one hand dead and one alive with four fingers, you can split and put two fingers on each hand to bring your dead hand back into the game.
    • A variation on the splits rule is the "house rule." This rule either means that splits are not allowed or that splits are allowed but can't bring a hand back from the dead.[4]
  3. Add the "game of five." A hand must be tapped to equal exactly five fingers. For example, if your opponent has 3 fingers, you can only tap them with a hand with 1 or 2 fingers. You would not be able to tap their hand if yours has 3 or 4 fingers because that would create a sum of more than 5 fingers on the tapped hand.[2]
    • This rule is also known as "exact play."
    • This rule allows for the possibility of stalemate if both players have two hands of four points

Making it Challenging

  1. Play with more than one person. You can have three players, or you could have a whole circle of players. Everyone should stand in a circle and face toward the middle so that everyone's hands are visible. Take turns going clockwise or counterclockwise, and keep in mind that you aren't limited to only tapping the people directly next to you.[1]
    • Adding people will make the game stretch on much longer.
    • This method requires much more focus to win. With so many people playing, there may be a person with a hand about to reach five fingers who splits their fingers and it goes unnoticed by the group.
    • Make sure that everyone is following the same set of rules before starting. There is no wrong way to play but make sure everyone is in agreement with rules before starting a round.
  2. Increase the mathematical difficulty by adding nubs. Rather than having fully extended fingers for the whole game, you can used curled fingers or "nubs." Nubs are created by splitting an odd number of fingers on one of your turns.[5]
    • Two nubs equal one finger so it takes longer to make a combination or nubs and full fingers equal enough for a dead hand.
    • Decide if nubs are allowed at the beginning of the game. A desperate player will often add the nubs variant when they are about to lose.
    • An example for splitting fingers into nubs can look like this: there are two fingers on your left hand and three on your right. If you split them, you can put 2.5 fingers or, two fingers and a nub, on either hand. Nubs are most beneficial for when you have a total uneven amount of fingers.
    • You must complete someone's nub in order to make it a full finger. To make a dead hand you must have five full fingers, not four full fingers and one nub.
  3. Use leftovers to make the game last longer. A hand does not die but instead stays in the game or comes "back to life" when a tapped hand exceeds five fingers in a turn. When using leftovers, you can add three and four fingers together to get 7 fingers, which equals a dead hand plus two more.
    • Sometimes this variation is called "zombies."
    • This rule could make the game could go on forever since you recycle fingers. The only option for a dead hand is that it equals exactly five fingers when tapped.[4]


  • Over time you will pick up patterns that this game can have and you will become more fast and proficient. This is a great way for younger children to learn addition since it is tangible and fun at the same time.
  • In some game variations, the game may loop when more complicated rules have been added. from both sides result in the game starting over.
  • When playing against a new opponent, make sure to establish the ground rules of the game that you want to play by right away. For instance, this will save confusion half way through the game when someone wants to play with nubs and the the other player is unfamiliar with that rule.


  • The variants of Chopsticks that do create loops usually takes a longer time to play.
  • This game requires a lot of attention on your part. Don't play Chopsticks if you need to focus on something, however this is a great game for killing time that doesn't require supplies and can be played anywhere.

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Sources and Citations