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Cards And Dominoes

--- Board Games --- also see our Ringo and Camelot pages

John Scarne was a magician and world-class gambling expert who invented many games, including the card games Scarney and Scarney Gin, dice games, and even an abstract strategy game called Teeko. This is one of only a handful of pages on the web devoted to Teeko.

Mr. Scarne worked on Teeko intermittently from the late 1930’s to the early 1960’s. Though he published best-selling game books, and entertained everyone from mobsters to Presidents with his card tricks, he felt Teeko would be his lasting legacy to the world. This was not to be, and the game faded from public view. Nevertheless, Teeko remains an intriguing strategy game for two players that offers innumerable variations and provides lots of enjoyment even today.

The Teeko Board --

teeko board

Make your own Teeko board!

How to Play Teeko --

The basic rules of “Standard Teeko” are simple.  Each player has four pieces or markers of his own color.  In Phase I, players alternately place one of their pieces on any board position.  In Phase II, they move any one of their own pieces to an adjacent position.  The object of the game is for either player to win by having his markers situated in a straight line (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal) or a square of four adjacent spaces.

Alternate Rules --

Scarne’s definitive book on Teeko lists numerous variations on standard Teeko, including Alternate Teeko and Advanced TeekoThis original rules booklet and this one give the standard rules and major variations. (These rules reproductions are courtesy of the BoardGameGeek, an excellent website on board games.)  If you get serious about Teeko, you can usually find copies of the definitive 265-page book Scarne on Teeko at online outlets or used bookstores.  A photo of the book cover appears at the bottom of this web page.

Mr. Scarne frequently revised Teeko rules and invented innumerable variations. You might find different rules for the game depending on the source you use -- the rules even varied among different releases of the game from Scarne’s company.  The Teeko book is considered the “ultimate authority.”

What Ever Happened to Teeko?

Mr. Scarne was a self-made man who rose to fame and fortune through dint of hard work, serious study, and industrious self-promotion.  But his efforts didn’t pan out with Teeko.  Though he stated that he sold over one hundred thousand Teeko sets in the period 1952 to 1955, the game had faded from view by the mid-1960’s.  Teeko was manufacturered by John Scarne Games Inc. of Fairview, New Jersey, and you might still find a used game online today.  Or click here to make your own Teeko board and game set.

The Famous “Teeko Challenge” --

As part of his promotional effort for Teeko, Mr. Scarne held Teeko tournaments in New York and New Jersey  during the 1950’s. The most famous match was at New York’s well-known 21 Club in March 1955, when he played ten simultaneous games and offered $1,000 to any opponent who beat him. Players included celebrities of the day such as Steve Allen, Frances Langford, Judy Holliday, Jinx Falkenberg, and Walter Slezak.  Some of the tougher opponents were chess champion Larry Evans, checkers champion Tommy Wiswell, and bridge and backgammon expert John Crawford.  Fortunately for Scarne, he didn’t lose a game!


The $10,000 Teeko Challenge, 21 Club, 1955.  John Scarne (standing) playing against (left to right) Steve Allen, Larry Evans, Frances Langford, John Crawford, Jinx Falkenberg, Walter Slezak, and Judy Holliday.

Photograph courtesy of “The Odds Against Me” by J. Scarne (1966)

Teeko Was “Solved” by Computer--

Computer scientist Guy Steele “solved” Teeko by computer in 1998. That is, his computer program proved that in the standard game neither player can force a win if both players play optimally and without error. Of the 16 Advanced Teeko games, 14 would be won by Black and two would be draws, again assuming both players play optimally.

Teeko -- The Opera --

Composer Mark Owen created a short opera based on Teeko which he named “Teeko.” The work included such songs as “Why Do You Recommend Teeko for the Sick?” and “Teeko Is Rapidly Sweeping the World.” The only recorded performance of the score was at Trinity College, Cambridge, in January 1991. It lasted about thirty minutes.

You can download the score
here, along with its cover art.

Scarney --

Mr. Scarne developed and marketed several other games through his Fairview, New Jersey games company.  Scarney was a similar strategy game to Teeko, and like Teeko, Mr. Scarne sold different versions of the game over the years. This publicity photo from 1961 shows Scarne playing his newly-introduced version of Scarney. Note the similarity of board and playing pieces to Teeko --


Photograph courtesy of “The Odds Against Me” by J. Scarne (1966)

Teeko on your Computer --

Mihailo Despotovic wrote a Teeko game as part of an advanced computer science research project to demonstrate how computers can learn strategies and then pass on that knowledge to humans via e-learning. What this means to us is that we have a fun, free Teeko game that runs on virtually any computer. 

As shown below, the game has several special features. It can suggest moves for either, both, or none of the players. The program uses an heuristic algorithm and a “moves database” to decide upon which move to recommend. The program log tracks all plays and provides a game history.  Here’s an example game in progress --


TeekoTeacher game in progress (courtesy of Mihailo Despotovic)

You can run by the game by clicking on the TeekoTeacher link on this web page. The game is written in Java, which means it will run on virtually any computer -- as long as Java is installed. Click the link and try running the game.  If it doesn’t work, download and install the Java runtime environment for Windows from here, or for any operating system from Oracle Corp. here

Another Teeko game comes from
Zillions of Games. They offer a free download of Teeko to play on your Windows computer -- but you must purchase their games engine to run it on.

BoardGameGeek has a feature where you can play Teeko and other board games online in real time.

More on Scarne and Teeko --

Read our own biography of the fascinating Mr. Orlando Carmelo Scarnnechia (aka John Scarne) hereThis article originally published in the Washington Post tells more about Mr. Scarne and the history of Teeko.

Photos of original Teeko rules are
here and here, with the Advanced game rules here. These are courtesy of the BoardGameGeek web site, an excellent resource on all board games (including even obscure ones like Teeko). 

If you like board games, see our page on the obscure but fun game Ringo


Book cover jacket from the first edition 1955 by Crown Publishers

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