Yahtzee has held its popularity like few other games of its kind as the premier family dice game in the world. It’s simple enough that you can learn to play in a very short time, and that goes for kids as well. But the intricacies of the game means that you’ll always experience something new, and gameplay will never grow stale, whether you’re playing for fun or taking on opponents at top online gambling websites.
When you think about the board games that have been popular for a long time that are played by families, like Monopoly, Risk, and Life, they’re usually ornate creations with many rules. Yahtzee, on the other hand, really only requires five dice, a pencil and a piece of paper. The rules aren’t that hard to comprehend either. But it still provides a brand new experience every time you play because of the unpredictability of the dice rolls.
In the following article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know so that you can learn how to play Yahtzee. We’ll walk you through the rules and explain how the scoring works. We’ll also talk about some tips that you can utilize to become a better Yahtzee player, whether you’re taking on friends or family.
The History of Yahtzee
Those who like to gamble for real money will probably be familiar with some of the concepts in play for the game of Yahtzee. Craps is a game where you’re betting on dice rolls, while some of the combinations that score points in Yahtzee come from the world of poker. In actuality, it was created as a non-wagering game by a couple from Canada, who were looking for a distraction to use with friends at parties.
So, where did the name Yahtzee emanate?
Well, these parties were held on yachts, so this couple titled it the “Yacht Game.” When the couple sold the rights to a local toy maker in exchange for him producing sets they could give out to friends, the new rights-owner changed the name to the now-familiar name of Yahtzee.
When the game caught on locally, the rights were then eventually sold to toymaking giant Milton Bradley in 1973. With their marketing and distribution power behind the game, Yahtzee quickly became an international sensation. And it still holds that same power, with 50 million units sold on average each calendar year.
How Do You Play Yahtzee?
If you buy the Yahtzee game in stores, you’ll get dice, a rolling barrel, and official scoresheets. But you really don’t need anything more than at least five dice to get started without making the purchase. You can make up your own scoresheets using the custom Yahtzee card we’ll provide you later on in the page.
Yahtzee can be played with one to five players. You can play by yourself in an effort to get a higher score than you ever had before, and it’s also a great way of practicing. If you’re playing against others, the goal is to have the highest score after a round of 13 rolls.
You’ll score points by rolling the dice and filling in your scorecard based on what you roll. At the end of each roll, you’ll fill in one of the slots on the scorecard and continue to do that, filling in one open spot after each roll until they’re all filled in. This will take a total of 13 rolls. At the end of that sequence, scores will be tallied.
Each player will have a set of five dice to roll. If you have enough, you can give each player their own set of dice, or you can simply pass them back and forth for each turn. Play begins with each player rolling all five. The player who gets the highest total roll has the chance to roll first.
If there are more than two players, play should move from one player to the next in clockwise fashion depending on where you’re sitting. There really isn’t much of an advantage to throwing first, last or in between. That’s because you have to fill out your scoresheet according to what you’re doing and won’t have much chance to adjust your strategies to what other players are doing.
Rolling to Score
When you begin Yahtzee play, you’ll roll all five dice to start a round. Based on what you’ve rolled, you can “hold” some of the dice and choose to roll the rest; you can also choose to hold nothing if you don’t like your first roll at all, then roll all five dice again. This process can take place for three rolls.
For example, let’s say that you roll the following on your first roll:
After the first roll, you might decide that you want to look to build around the pair of twos. You decide to keep them, then roll the other three on your second roll. (We’ll explain why you might do that when we get to how the different rolls are scored, but for now, just try to get the hang of how the three rolls per turn work.)
On your second roll, you get the following result, with the pair of twos already in place
As we’ll explain when we get to scoring, a roll of four dice in consecutive order in Yahtzee is known as a Small Straight, which is a valuable roll to make. Thus, you might want to change your strategy and hold the Small Straight and throw back one of the twos. That would mean you’d be rolling only one die on your final roll.
You might end up with the following:
That roll is known as a large straight, which is five consecutive numbers on the dice and is also quite valuable. Keep in mind that you do not have to take all three rolls on a turn. If you get a roll that satisfies you on the first or second roll, you can end the turn there and mark in your score.
Also, notice in that example that a die that you keep after the first roll does not have to be kept after the second roll. It’s not like Five-Card Draw Poker where the cards that you keep are automatically part of your final hand. You can switch strategies on the fly.
Each player will go through this process for each round that they have. After three rolls, you must enter a score on the scorecard. Play will continue until all 13 rounds are complete and all scorecards are completely filled.
Figuring out three rolls per round is the easy part. The tricky part of learning how to play Yahtzee is learning the scoring. Once you learn the scoring, you’ll start to learn the strategy as well.
As we said, there are 13 open spaces on the scorecard. Take a look at what a Yahtzee scorecard looks like, then we’ll walk you through it:
You’ll see that the columns include one for each dice roll and one that quickly explains the scoring. And you’ll see that these rows are divided into an upper section and a lower section. It’s important to know how these two sections are distinguished, in part because there is a valuable bonus in place with the upper section.
Let’s walk through each of the 13 rolls in the game, then we’ll explain how the process of filling the scorecard works.
In the upper section, you have six spaces, one for each number on the dice. When you fill in the spaces, you’ll only get points based on how many of that number you have at the end of the round. For example, if you get three 2s at the end of a round and want to use that roll to fill in the 2 space, you would get 3 times 2 or 6 points, which is what you would write into that space.
If you choose to fill in one of the upper section spaces but don’t have any of that number in your final roll, that would be a zero. That won’t happen often with the upper section spaces. But you may choose to take a zero for strategic reasons, which we’ll get to when we talk about deeper Yahtzee strategy.
Keep in mind that only the number involved will be added for the upper section scores. For example, imagine if you rolled the following:
If you are going to enter into the one row, you would get 2 points (2 times 1). On the other hand, if you chose to fill in the space for four, you’d earn eight points (2 times 4). Since this is the upper section, none of the other dice values would be relevant to the score.
Upper Section Bonus
You’ll see a space right near the bottom of the Yahtzee upper section that saysm “Bonus if total score is 63 or over.” By that, it means the total score of the six spaces above it. If that total is 63 or higher, you get a 35-point bonus.
In other words, if the total from the top six number spaces is below 62, you don’t get a bonus. But if it’s 63 or higher, you add 35 points to your upper section total. For example, if you end up with 68 in the upper section, you would then enter 35 into the “Bonus if total score is 63 or over,” and the total you would enter in the “Total of upper section” row would be 103 (68 plus 35).
This bonus was put into the game by its creators to help make the upper section of Yahtzee as important as the lower section. By adding this bonus, the game makes you keep track of how well you’re doing on those single rolls. If you neglect it too much, your opponent could get a big advantage by earning that 35 points.
In the lower section, you’ll be concentrating on combination rolls, where several dice are put together. These rolls are somewhat based on poker combinations. They also include a “Yahtzee” roll, which is the most valuable in the game.
Some of these rolls are scored by adding up the value of all five dice. Others will have a predetermined amount assigned to them. In any case, the lower section is often harder to fill up because those combinations can be tough to make, even with three rolls to do it.
Here are the different rolls you can find in the lower section:
Three of a Kind
You’ll need to have three dice of the same value. When you write in the score for three of a kind in Yahtzee, you include the value of all five dice. For example:
This roll could fulfill the three of a kind requirement if you wish. The value you would enter would be 2+2+2+3+5, which comes to 14.
Four of a Kind
This one works exactly the same as three of a kind, except you need four dice of the same value at the end of your round. As is the case with three of a kind, you’ll add up the value of all five dice to write into the scorecard in Yahtzee. For example, if you had four 3s and a 6, your total would be 18 (3+3+3+3+6).
If you’ve played poker, you know that a full house is three of one rank and two of another. The concept is the same in Yahtzee, only you’d need the same from the value of the dice. For example, a full house roll would be the following:
With a full house, you always will get 25 points when you enter it into your scorecard on that space. It doesn’t matter what the value of the dice are.
We mentioned this in our example, but a small straight is achieved when four of the dice at the end of your round go in consecutive order, such as 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-5, or 3-4-5-6. The value for a small straight is 30 points, no matter what the added value of the dice involved might be.
A Large Straight does one better than a small straight and occurs when all five dice can be arranged in consecutive order. The two possible large straights are 1-2-3-4-5 and 2-3-4-5-6. When you fill in the Large Straight, you’ll get 40 points, regardless of the value of the dice involved.
This is the ultimate roll in the game, and it occurs when you have five of a kind dice at the end of a round. The value of a Yahtzee is 50 points. It is the hardest of the combination rolls to achieve in all of the game.
You’ll also see at the bottom of the lower section a row with smaller spaces called the Yahtzee Bonus. Yahtzee is the only roll where you can get it more than once in the course of a game and receive credit for it. Each time that you roll a Yahtzee on top of the first one in a single game you get 100 points.
Chance is one of the most important rolls in the game in terms of strategy. You can use a chance roll at any time during the game, but only once. And you don’t need any special combination like three of a kind or a small straight, although having those combinations in your final five dice does not preclude you from deciding on using that as a chance.
In a chance, you’ll simply be adding the value of all five dice. Many people fill in the chance when they don’t have a good score available for any of the other spaces. This is especially true when they have a lot of high numbers in their roll, which will mean a nice chance score.
Filling in Your Yahtzee Scorecard
You might be a bit confused about how all this works, especially since many of the rolls in the upper and lower Yahtzee sections seem to overlap. For example, take the following roll:
On first glance, you’ll probably recognize this roll as a full house. If you use it that way, it can be good for 25 points. But look at the other ways it can be used, along with the points that go with them:
Three 2s (in Upper Section): 6 points (3 x 2)
Two 4s (in Upper Section: 8 points (2 x 4)
Three of a Kind (in Lower Section): 14 points (2 + 2 + 2 + 4 + 4)
How do you know which one to use? Well, part of it will be strategy, which we’ll get to in a second. But part of it also might come down to what you haven’t used already. Remember that you can only fit the roll into an open space on the scorecard.
In other words, if you made this roll at the point in the game where you had already previously rolled a full house, you couldn’t put it in that space again. You’d then have to decide on which option available to you makes the most sense. That’s why it’s so important to make wise choices early in Yahtzee when there are many options available to you.
If you got to the point in the game where you made this roll and all of the options above were already filled, you’d have to pick one of the other spaces that are open and write in a zero. For example, if you all you had left was a 3 space in the upper section and a small straight in the lower section, this roll satisfies neither of those spaces, because there is no 3 and there is no small straight. You’d have to take your lumps at that point and put a zero into one of the spaces left.
Now that you know how to play, you’ll probably realize that Yahtzee is a skill-based gambling game where a lot of luck is involved. But strategy is a key part as well. If you don’t fill out the spaces to use your roll in the best possible way, you could be hurting yourself.
Many novice players make the mistake of automatically making the choice of how to use a roll based on the highest possible point total. Take a look at an example to see what we mean:
There are several ways you can play this roll. Take a look:
One 1 = 1 point
Four 5s = 20 points
Three of a Kind = 21 points
Four of a Kind = 21 points
Chance = 21 points
If you look at it as a basic comparison, it would seem like you’re better off putting this roll into the lower section. But you have to remember that the upper section includes the 35-point bonus when you get to the 63-point marker. And getting 20 points in the “5” space will give you a huge boost in that category.
But the strategy can also change depending on how far along in the game you are and where your score is. If you struggled getting points in the upper section to that point and don’t have much chance of getting to 63 even with the 20 points for the four 5s, you might consider filling in the three of a kind or four of a kind sections instead, if they’re not filled. In that way, you can assure yourself that you’re going to get something out of those sections, which can be hard to fill.
Which Dice to Hold
In addition to deciding which part of the scoresheet you should be filling, Yahtzee strategy also includes knowing which dice to hold and which to roll. First of all, you should know basic probability math to tell you what your chances are of getting the dice rolls you need if you’re trying to hit a particular space on the sheet. Don’t bite off more than you can chew when it comes to trying for high-scoring rolls, or else you might end up with open spaces on your scorecard at the end.
On top of that, you should be wary of what kind of spaces are harder to fill than others. For example, look at the following roll.
If this was your first roll of the round early in the game, how would you play it? You might be tempted to jump at the pair of threes. But you might be overlooking some better plays.
In this roll, you have chances at both a small straight and a large straight, which are much more valuable and difficult to fill than the 3s space. If you hold just the two, three, and four, you’ll give yourself a very good chance at a small straight in your next two rolls. And if you should hold the two, three, four and six, you could get a large straight if you can roll a five in one of the final two rolls, while still holding a shot at a small straight if you roll a 1.
Again, this strategy might change depending on where you are in the game. If you’ve filled in most of the upper section with just the 3s left and need three 3s to get to 63 for the bonus, you’d be better off holding the 3s. That way, you could take two shots at getting the third one you need.
Taking the “Chance”
It’s also crucial to know when to deploy the chance option on your scoresheet. Novice Yahtzee players tend to fill it in too soon without looking at the big picture. The chance option becomes more valuable the longer the game continues.
As you start to fill up spaces on the sheet, you’ll have to focus in on the unfilled spaces. And if you don’t get the rolls you need, you could end up taking a small score. But you can bail yourself out if the Chance space is still available.
Ideally, you can put up big numbers in the chance spot. But it’s more important to not have zeros on the board, especially since your opponent will probably have a similar score in the chance spot anyway. Try to keep that space available as long as possible before finally using it.
Tips for Winning at Yahtzee
Don’t get too caught up in the name. If you’re lucky, you might walk into a Yahtzee roll once every four or five games, which means that your chances aren’t great. That means players who focus entirely on getting five of a kind will end up leaving a lot of other spaces wide open and relying way too heavily on what is actually a slim chance.
Learn when it’s a smart move to take your medicine on a roll. Early in the game, putting only a pair of 6s into the 6 space might not be as wise as simply taking a 1 in the 1 space and living to fight another day for three or even four 6s, which will help you get the upper section bonus. Use the 1, 2, and sometimes even the 3 spaces in the upper section as bailouts in case you try for another roll that doesn’t work out for you.
Take chances on the straights early in the round. Those can be pesky to achieve, especially if you wait too long to try for them. It can be comforting to have them in the bag, then you can just concentrate on matching as many dice as possible.
Keep an eye on your opponents. If you see that an opponent has taken a small score in a particular space, you can use that knowledge to adjust your strategy. It means that you might now have to try as hard to get a higher score in that space, which could free you up to try for rolls that are harder to achieve.
Learn how to deal with the bad break. You can play a round of Yahtzee perfectly and have it all go up in smoke when an opponent gets a Yahtzee roll in one of the last few tries. Part of the beauty of the game is that luck is involved, so learn to accept it for good and bad.
How Many Dice Are Used in Yahtzee?
You’ll need five dice to play a game. Each player rolls five to start off a turn. After that, they might roll five or maybe less on their subsequent rolls until the round is over.
It can be nice to have a lot of dice on hand if you’re playing with multiple players so they can use their own. But it’s really no problem to pass a single group of five from one player to the next. Having the minimum of five will work just fine.
How Many Rolls Do You Get in Yahtzee?
You get a maximum of three rolls per turn. At the end of the third roll, you must fill in your score based on what you have. On the second and third rolls, you can only roll a portion of the five dice, or you can roll all five if you want a fresh start.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to use all three rolls on every turn if you don’t want. If you get a roll with which you’re pleased on the first or second roll, you can end your turn right there. You can just fill in your score at that point.
What Is a Small Straight in Yahtzee?
A small straight requires you to have four dice in a roll that are in consecutive order. For example, you can get a 1-2-3-4, a 2-3-4-5, or a 3-4-5-6. Any one of those constitutes a small straight.
Keep in mind that when we say consecutive, it has nothing to do with how the dice land on the table. It just means that in your five-dice roll, four of them can be arranged in order. A small straight in Yahtzee earns you 30 points.
What Is a Large Straight in Yahtzee?
A large straight in Yahtzee involves achieving a run of five consecutive dice. The two possible large straights that you can achieve are 1-2-3-4-5 and 2-3-4-5-6. A large straight earns you 40 points.
Because a Yahtzee large straight can be tricky to achieve, you need to be aware of trying to make it early on in game play if possible. If you get to the end of the game and haven’t made one and your opponent has, that puts you at a 40-point disadvantage. That’s why you should consider trying to fill in that space as soon as possible.
What Are the Odds of Rolling a Yahtzee?
To roll a Yahtzee in one shot, you have to get extremely lucky, as your chances come in at just 0.08%. That’s one in every 1,200+ rolls. Luckily, the game of Yahtzee gives you three chances per turn to achieve it.
You have a 1.23% probability in two rolls and that goes up to 4.74% for three rolls. It comes out to roughly 1 Yahtzee every 21 rolls, although the number is actually lower than that in reality. That’s because you would only make that percentage if you were trying exclusively for Yahtzee on every turn, but, in reality, you’ll be focused on filling in all the spaces.
Can I Play Yahtzee Online for Real Money?
There are websites out there now that allow you to play Yahtzee against others for real money. These sites will aggregate the players and then you can set up a matchup for the stakes you desire. From there, the game will play out just as if you were playing against a friend in your living room, with the same basic rules intact.
We should stress that it’s important for you to find a website that is reliable. In other words, these websites should be ones that have been in existence for a long while and have been proven to be trustworthy. You don’t want to trust your real money to an unproven site.
We hope that you have a handle now on how to play Yahtzee. You can download the scorecard to play at home, and you can practice whenever you want to want to play for free. From there, it’s just a matter of getting those dice and rolling.
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