Two-up is amongst the greatest of Aussie traditions. Much like muck-up day, goon of fortune, and the Bunnings sausage sizzle, two-up is one of those bizarre Antipodean quirks that make up the rich tapestry of Australian culture.
Played with two coins, a paddle, and a crowd of beer-drinking revellers, two-up is effortlessly simple and endlessly fun. On one sacred day each year, the paddle is dusted off and the crowds descend on their local watering hole, ready and willing to chance it all on the flip of the coins.
If you’ve never played, this year is the year to get around it. COVID robbed us of so much but the sting of losing out on two-up last year was keenly felt up and down the country. It is in fact your duty to get out there this year with a solid crew and put yourself at the mercy of the coins. Come in, spinner!
What is two-up?
Two-up is a traditional coin-flipping game with money wagered by observers on the outcome of the flip. It draws big crows on ANZAC Day and usually goes on from midday until sunset.
First and foremost, two-up is gambling. It’s a fun, cheeky way to spend an afternoon and has connotations of remembrance and respect for fallen soldiers, but it is gambling which is something Australia has a bit of an issue with.
That being said, the game comes under the category of “illegal gambling” in most state and federal laws as it is an unstructured form of gambling played without official regulation. That mean’s it’s banned throughout most of the year.
However, most states have rewritten their gambling laws to allow the playing of two-up on ANZAC Day only. It’s the one day of the year in which you can gamble on the game and not get into trouble.
Why do we play two-up?
Two-up is a game that goes back to Australia’s gold mining days. In the mid-1800s you would have seen people in mining towns flipping coins and taking bets as a means of gambling and having fun.
It probably got its start from Irish and English immigrants coming to the country to seek their fortune but was also noted as being popular amongst convicts as early as 1798.
When the soldiers went off to Europe to fight in WWI, two-up went with them. It’s an easily accessible game requiring very little equipment to play. They might not always have had a deck of cards, but finding two bits of metal to flip and a paddle or “kip” to throw with wouldn’t have been hard.
As it was played by the soldiers, the game got wrapped up in memorial traditions of honouring those fallen in conflict. As ANZAC Day is the biggest such day, held originally to mark the first landing at Gallipoli in modern Turkey in 1915, playing two-up became synonymous with remembrance.
How to play two-up
The game itself is a little complex and can be intimidating for first-timers. Essentially, you are betting with other people around you on how two coins will land. Anyone can join at any time and you don’t have to continue playing afterwards (though you’ll probably want to).
A designated “spinner” – the person flipping the coins – stands in the middle of the ring surrounded by players. They hold a paddle or “kip” with two coins on it and throw the coins above their head which must then land in the ring. Special coins are often used which are tailor-made for the game.
There is a ringkeeper or “ringie” who acts as an MC during the event, announcing the flip of the coins and generally bantering with the crowd. The spinner rotates, with anyone from the crowd allowed to flip the coins.
Before they flip, players make bets with each other on how the coins will land and when all bets are in, the spinner throws the coins – often to a roar of “come in, spinner!”
You can bet one of two ways; heads or tails. If you want to make a bet, you hold up cash and shout your bet into the crowd, holding your money either on your head for a heads bet, or by your bum for a tails bet. Someone with an opposing bet will match you and once all bets are matched, the coins are flipped.
For example, you want to bet $10 on heads. Hold $10 cash by your head and shout “heads!”. Someone who thinks the coins will land on tails will say “tails” and typically they will hold both your money and their money until the coins are flipped. If you win, they’ll give you the whole $20, if you lose, they keep the money. It’s remarkably trusting but the system works.
Coins can either land both on heads, both on tails, or “odds” meaning heads and tails. If the coins land odds, they are flipped again and again until a match is shown. If the coins land on odds five times, this is called “odding out” and the bets are reset, though often the game will just continue until a match is shown.
Once you get the hang of it, you can volunteer to be the spinner. The spinner must bet and generally bets heads. The spinner stays on until they lose a bet, at which point the kip is handed to the next spinner.
Any amount of money can be bet, though normally bets are in the $5-$50 range. Sometimes you’ll see big bets of $100 plus and it’s not unheard of for people to wager $500 to $1000 on a single flip.
This year’s ANZAC Day celebrations might look a little different to previous years. Two-up is still going ahead, though there were initially fears that it might not pass COVID restrictions.
All venues hosting two-up will need to adhere to their states COVID rules. This might mean spacing requirements and a limited number of patrons within venues. Two-up is typically played outside which is good for COVID safety, but it does involve large, often intoxicated crowds, which could be tricky to manage.
The game also involves the passing of cash between players. Cash has largely been phased out during COVID due to possible transmission issues so this will be another point of consideration for venues.
If you want to play two-up in the most COVID-safe way possible, try and attend venues that are likely to attract smaller crowds. Masks might be a good idea. Hand sanitiser is probably a good option, and money should be cleaned as it is passed around to limit contamination risk.
Ultimately, there are very few active cases of COVID in Australia currently and there are almost all within hotel quarantine. In saying that, with large crowds gathering, it’s always best to play it safe.
Many states won’t be getting a public holiday for ANZAC Day as it falls on a Sunday this year. Bare that in mind if you’re in a state that has work the next day, because it may be best to consider your drinks. Or don’t and see how Monday goes.
If you are going to play two-up, don’t wager more than you can afford to lose. Take breaks so as not to get too wrapped up in the heat of the moment and try to avoid “chasing losses.” Sometimes the coins are just not in your favour and no amount of cash can bring them back.
Stay safe, have fun, and good luck.