Card Sharks

Playing Sabacc in the SW universe
Lando Calrissian playing cards

I remember the first time I heard of sabacc. I was reading the Jedi Academy Trilogy, Book 2, Dark Apprentice, which was my favorite book for a long time. Han and Lando repeatedly challenge one another to “one last” high-stakes game for the Falcon, each losing and winning until the Falcon goes to Han to stay. From that moment on, I realized that sabacc was a staple in the Star Wars universe, and I’ve been pretty curious about it.

As it turns out, the first appearance of the game was in the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Probably this came from the line in the second draft of the ESB script where “Han says his friend Lando Calrissian won the gas mine in a ‘sabacca game,’ or ‘so he claims'” (The Annotated Screenplays, p. 191). Neil Smith was the first one to name the cards in Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu (1983)–a book of questionable canonicty but significant at least for this reason. The game appears in countless books, articles, comics, graphic novels, and other sources, canonical and not. It is basically the galactic equivalent of our poker, though its rules seem to resemble something like baccarat meets blackjack played with a tarot deck. (Sabacc cards could also be used for fortune-telling.) There are many sets of rules, including one that randomizes the rules for you; frequently dealer droids are used to keep track of what the rules are as well as to deal the cards. Cards are electronic, and one element of sabacc includes the random changing of the cards at intervals.

The following, describing the game and how to play, is from my own unpublished book The Diary of a Misplaced Prince (2010, pp. 348, 358): “Using analog cards is a trick, and we’ve devised our own rules, based on Corellian Gambit. There’s 76 cards in the deck, eight face cards. The suits are coins, flasks, sabers, and staves. The goal is to get a hand equaling as close to 23 as possible. . . . The best hand to get in sabacc is the Idiot’s Array. A perfect score is a 23 or -23, Pure Sabacc. That’s any hand that adds up to either, like say an ace of coins, a 7 of coins, a commander of coins, and the Balance card. Over or under 23 is bombing out. But the Idiot’s Array trumps everything. The Idiot is a card worth 0. That and a 2 and a 3 of any suit equals the Idiot’s Array, because an idiot would read 23.”

If you’d like to try your hand at some online sabacc, Aaron Mavrinac has an incredible casino version you can play (here). I wish you luck ;) And May the Force Be With You!

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