What is the Best Strategy for Skull King Opening Round (Statistically)

In this article, we delve into the opening round of Skull King, a critical phase that can set the tone for the entire game.

Unlike later rounds where players juggle multiple cards and complex strategies, the opening round presents a unique challenge with each player holding just one card, allowing us to mathematically calculate the probability of each card winning or losing.

For those new to Skull King, fear not, as we’ve got you covered. You can find the PDF rule book here, and you can read our ‘Skull King: Frequently Asked Questions article.

Let’s dive into explanation of the opening round, and how this impacts our calculations.

The Dynamics of the Opening Round in Skull King

In this pivotal first round, each player is dealt only one card.

Your single card, coupled with the knowledge of the deck’s composition and the rules of trick-taking, becomes a powerful tool in gauging your bid and influencing the round’s outcome.

Whether you’re leading the round or responding to another player’s lead, your strategy revolves around the card you hold and its potential against the deck.

Leading the round allows you to set the suit, influencing the flow of play.

However, if you’re not leading, your approach shifts to reactively playing your card, considering the lead suit and the possible cards in other players’ hands.

This dynamic makes the opening round a blend of skill, strategy, and a bit of luck. Your decision to bid for winning or losing the trick depends on your card, the lead suit (if you’re not leading), and a keen understanding of probabilities based on the deck’s makeup.

Detailed Probability Tables and Strategic Analysis

In this section, we introduce two comprehensive probability tables that will guide your strategic decisions in Skull King’s opening round, depending on whether you’re leading the round or not.

Both tables come with clear recommendations on whether to aim for winning the trick (1) or losing it (0) based on the card you hold and your position in the round.

For the calculations, we are assuming you are using the Escapes, Pirates, Mermaids, Tigress, and the Skull King, for a deck size of 71 cards.

IMPORTANT: The following tables are based on the probability of beating one other card, AKA head to head play. Further below we can show you how to apply this to larger groups.

Probability Table for Leading the Round

This table will break down the probabilities of winning the trick based on the card you lead with, against the other cards that exist in the game.

In this example, we know the trump card, so we can predict this much easier. We are also assuming you would play the Tigress as a Pirate.

Your CardProbability of WinningBid (Win: 1 / Lose: 0)
Parrot (Green) 146%0
Parrot (Green) 248%0
Parrot (Green) 349%0
Parrot (Green) 451%1
Parrot (Green) 552%1
Parrot (Green) 654%1
Parrot (Green) 755%1
Parrot (Green) 856%1
Parrot (Green) 958%1
Parrot (Green) 1059%1
Parrot (Green) 1161%1
Parrot (Green) 1262%1
Parrot (Green) 1363%1
Parrot (Green) 1465%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 146%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 248%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 349%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 451%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 552%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 654%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 755%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 856%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 958%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 1059%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 1161%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 1262%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 1363%1
Pirate Map (Purple) 1465%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 146%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 248%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 349%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 451%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 552%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 654%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 755%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 856%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 958%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 1059%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 1161%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 1262%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 1363%1
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 1465%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 166%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 268%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 369%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 470%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 572%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 673%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 775%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 876%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 977%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1079%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1180%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1282%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1383%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1485%1
Pirate (x5)93%1
Tigress (x1)93%1
Skull King (x1)94%1
Mermaid (x2)89%1
Escape (x5)6%0

Probability Table for Not Leading the Round

If you’re not leading, you’re not able to determine the suit if you have one of the Parrot (Green), Pirate Map (Purple) or Treasure Chest (Yellow) cards.

Whilst the mathematics gets much more complex here, we are going to hugely simplify this by assuming that for each suit card calculation, the opening player has determined a different suit to what you hold in your hand.

Assumptions made:

  1. Whoever plays the Tigress will use it as an Pirate
  2. If you play a Pirate or Mermaid, the player before you hasn’t already played that card (when a same card is played, the first to play it wins)
Your CardProbability of WinningBid (Win: 1 / Lose: 0)
Parrot (Green) 18%0
Parrot (Green) 28%0
Parrot (Green) 38%0
Parrot (Green) 48%0
Parrot (Green) 58%0
Parrot (Green) 68%0
Parrot (Green) 78%0
Parrot (Green) 88%0
Parrot (Green) 98%0
Parrot (Green) 108%0
Parrot (Green) 118%0
Parrot (Green) 128%0
Parrot (Green) 138%0
Parrot (Green) 148%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 18%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 28%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 38%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 48%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 58%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 68%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 78%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 88%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 98%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 108%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 118%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 128%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 138%0
Pirate Map (Purple) 148%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 18%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 28%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 38%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 48%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 58%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 68%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 78%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 88%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 98%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 108%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 118%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 128%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 138%0
Treasure Chest (Yellow) 148%0
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 168%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 269%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 370%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 472%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 573%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 675%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 776%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 877%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 979%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1080%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1182%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1283%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1385%1
Jolly Roger (Black Trump) 1486%1
Pirate (x5)93%1
Tigress (x1)93%1
Skull King (x1)94%1
Mermaid (x2)89%1
Escape (x5)6%0

How does this work for games of 3 or more players?

To provide a true mathematical calculation for this, the logic would become excessively complex and the data would become overwhelming to read and apply. You would have to consider many more factors, such as where the player is in order of play against other players.

To simplify this however, you can make an assumption that the % is multiplied for each player.

For example, in the opening round table, we can see that a Pirate has a 93% chance of winning head to head. If there were 4 players in the game, you would have to consider your probability against 3 players, and therefore we could calculate this (approximately) as follows:

Probability % = 0.93 * 0.93 * 0.93 = 80% chance of winning.

Whilst this isn’t perfect, the ease of this should provide you with an approximate percentage ratio to make an informed decision on.


For a broader understanding of Skull King, don’t forget to read the Skull King PDF rule book here, or read our Skull King: Frequently Asked Questions’ article.

We encourage you to use these strategies in your next game and share your experiences in the comments. How did the probability tables influence your game? Let us know!

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