Learn to play Dreidel
Dreidel is a traditional game usually played during Chanukah, which is explained in our overview of Jewish festivals. However, there’s really no reason why you couldn’t play it at any time of the year. It’s essentially a game of chance, where players use a four-sided spinning top to decide their fate, depending upon which face the spinning top lands. It’s also a gambling contest of sorts where all players are given a pot of riches for the purposes of the game. The object of the game is to try and outplay your opponents and win all of their riches for yourself!
What you’ll need
- At least two players—although "the more the merrier" holds true in this case. Better still, players can be any age, and it’s a great way to bring together friends and family from all generations and cultures.
- At least one dreidel—however, players can bring their own dreidels to give the game a faster pace. There are many different types of dreidels available to buy—ranging from affordable and practical plastic options to hand-crafted and beautiful treasures (that can make great gifts).
- “Riches” for gambling—these tokens can be absolutely anything, from chocolate coins, to nuts, marbles or even real money. (If you choose to play with actual money, it’s generally suggested that the final winner donates at least half of the prize to charity so those who are less fortunate are also given a chance to enjoy some Chanukah gifts.)
- A hard-surfaced floor or wide table—this will make it easier to spin the dreidel during the game.
The four sides of the dreidel
All classic dreidels will have four sides, each side with a different letter from the Hebrew alphabet. These letters and their meanings are explained below.
Nun - נ
Nun stands for the Yiddish word “nul”, which means “zero” or nothing. If you spin the dreidel and it lands on this letter, play simply passes to the next competitor.
Gimmel - ג
The most fortunate side of the dreidel—you have won the whole pot of “riches”!
Gimmel stands for “gantz”, which means “whole”.
After the winnings have been taken, the pot must be built up again, so all players must now put a token into the pot for the game to continue.
Hey - ה
You get to take half of what’s in the pot.
Hey stands for “halb”, meaning “half”.
If the pot has an odd number of tokens, it’s usually considered courteous to leave the extra piece in the pot…you don’t want to appear too greedy!
Play then continues with half a pot of “riches”, which will build for the next winning spin.
Shin - ש
The most unfortunate fate! You must put another token into the pot.
Shin is for “shenk” which means “give”.
Play then passes to the next person, and you’ll have to hope you do better on your next turn!
Rules of the game
To start the game, first divide the “riches” equally amongst all players (usually about 10 to 15 pieces per person is a good amount).
Then decide who’ll start the game. This process allows all players take a turn at spinning the dreidel, and the player who scores the highest—nun is highest, followed by gimmel, hey and shin—gets to go first. In the event of a tie between those who score the highest (which is likely when there are several participants!), those players spin again until there is an overall high scorer.
Before play begins, everyone puts one unit of their “riches” into the pot.
The first player spins the dreidel, then follows the rule of play based on the face that the dreidel has landed on. Play then moves clockwise so everyone gets a turn. Players can only spin the dreidel once per turn.
When you have no more “riches” left you are out of the game.
The winner is the last player left in the game who has won all the “riches” from the other participants.