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How to Play Sabacc

Image Credit: Wikimedia /  CC 2.0Caption: In Solo, we finally saw Sabacc.

In Solo: A Star Wars Story, we finally got to see how two of the franchise’s biggest names collectively and recklessly gambled the ownership of a certain Corellian YT-1300F light freighter, otherwise known as the Millennium Falcon. At the beginning of the movie, the Falcon belongs to Lando Calrissian, but by the end, it has become the property of Han Solo. It is part of a legendary tale first referenced in The Empire Strikes Back when we learn Han won it playing a game known as Sabacc after Lando had himself won it playing the very same game. In the Star Wars universe, we know about Holochess, but what is Sabacc?

Sabacc or jhabacc is the Star Wars universe’s answer to poker, and a popular card game often played for high stakes. In truth, no one is ever shown playing Sabacc in the original trilogy. Instead, the game hails from the expanded universe novels, specifically Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu. Even here though, the game is without any real explanation of the rules of how to play. Thankfully, others have explained, as we do here, how Sabacc works and learn to understand it through its earthly cousin, poker.

Earth Poker Explained

Credit: Flickr / CC 2.0 Caption: Under the gun, Han Solo.

Let’s start by looking at the two most popular forms of poker: Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha Hi-Lo. In Texas Hold ‘em, players receive two cards face down, which are known as the hole cards. That precedes an initial betting round where players bet blind. After the blinds conclude, the dealer deals the first three community cards face up in the middle of the table for all the players to make use. That’s called the flop. Another round of betting then takes place where players now have a better, more informed idea of how their hand, and other people’s, will shape up. What follows is the turn in which the dealer reveals the fourth community card before another round of betting and the fifth and final community card hits the middle of the table in what is known as the river. One final betting round takes place before everyone reveals what they have. In Texas Hold’em, a player can elect to use both, one or none of their hole cards when constructing the best five-card hand.

Derived from Texas Hold ‘em, Omaha Hi-Lo plays almost identically but with a few minor tweaks. The main difference being that players receive four cards instead of two. Also, in Omaha Hi-Lo, you must use only two hole cards and three board cards regardless. After the first round of betting comes the flop where the dealer reveals the first three community cards before play continues in the same pattern as Texas Hold’em all the way to the river. In Omaha Hi-Lo, the pot splits between the highest and lowest hands, but a player can win both halves of the pot. While high hands follow more traditional poker hand rankings, low hands follow the A-5 lowball rankings in which aces are low, and straights and flushes do not count against the hand. To qualify as a low hand, the hand must be an 8-low or better.

Another Game in A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Image Credit: Flickr / CC 2.0 Do you want to play for this?

In the standalone story Solo, we finally get to see the infamous high-stakes card game in which Han acquires the Millennium Falcon from his then-good-buddy Lando Calrissian. The game is Sabacc and is made up of a mixture of poker rules and blackjack. In a previous version of the Star Wars story, Solo won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a Corellian Spike variation of Sabacc, which scraps the cards and instead, relies on a pair of spike dice, explaining why Han had the dice cast in gold and, briefly, displayed in the Millennium Falcon in Episode IV.

For the card version, a single game can have between 2-8 players and said rules are thus. The Sabacc deck has 76 cards divided into four suits: Sabers, Flasks, Coins and Staves. Each of these suits has 11 numbered cards and four ranked cards. These are:

  • The Commander, which has a value of 12.
  • The Mistress, which has a value of 13.
  • The Master, which has a value of 14.
  • The Ace, which can value at either 15 or one.

As well as those 60 cards, there are another 16 face cards. These consist of eight pairs, all of which have negative values. These cards are:

  • The Star, which has a value of -17.
  • The Evil One, which has a value of -15.
  • The Moderation card, which has a value of -14.
  • The Demise, which has a value of -13.
  • The Balance, which has a value of -11.
  • The Endurance, which has a value of -8.
  • The Queen of Air and The Darkness, which both have a value of -2.
  • The Idiot, which has a value of 0.

There are cards of negative value in the deck because there are two regular ways to win. Just like in Omaha Hi-Lo where the difference splits between the highest and lowest hand, in Sabacc, winners can form either a pure Sabacc hand equaling 23 or -23. There is also an irregular, third way to win, which is the Idiot’s Array where a player holds a 2 or 3 — the figures of 23 — of any suit which is known as an Idiot.

Sabacc also plays with two pots, the main pot and the Sabacc pot, and each hand starts with each player placing an ante into both, after which all subsequent bets go into the main pot. With play moving to the left and starting with the player left to the dealer, players either bet or fold. So far, it’s familiar. After a round of betting, players receive two cards before taking turns to draw cards or stand. Play then enters the pot-building phase, which lasts for four rounds while the pot swells. According to Star Wars folklore, this is the round in which during the legendary game, the keys to the Falcon got thrown in. By round five, someone will usually have called an opponent out on their cards. After this, one final round of betting occurs, which starts with the calling player then everyone else at the table revealing their cards. Players holding a hand that totals more than 23, less than 23 or exactly 0 at the point of calling have either bombed out or bust as we know it. The winning player then wins the main pot. But here’s the thing: If the winning player won with either a pure Sabacc or an Idiot’s Array, they also collect the Sabacc pot.

Disclaimer: Lucasfilm never trademarked the name Sabacc, which is something that Lucasfilm’s new owners, Disney, would like to correct. In the meantime, the London-based company Ren Ventures Ltd. did indeed go ahead and trademark the game, and its name. Because of this, Disney has gone to court to reclaim the name so that they can put out a licensed version of the game, but despite their financial might have been unsuccessful in wrestling back what they see as their intellectual property. As a result, the most famous version of the game available to buy on the market, apps notwithstanding, is Star Wars Han Solo Card Game and is made by Hasbro but doesn’t resemble either game as described in the novels or Solo the movie. Either way, it’s great fun, and the next time you find yourself gambling for, say, a ship that makes the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, you now know what to do.

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