Chopsticks (also called Magic Fingers) is a commonly played two player traditional Japanese children’s hand game. However, it has spread to many other countries such as the United States.


The goal of Chopsticks is to knock out the other opponent’s “hands” by giving both hands five or more points thus “knocking out” the hands.

Each finger is equivalent to one point. Each player starts out with two points (one finger on each hand). A player must tap a hand in order to give it points. When a player taps an opponent’s hand, the player adds what the opponent originally had on his or her hand and what is on the player’s hand to get the sum of the fingers that your opponent has on his or her hand. A player’s hands do not change when the opponent’s hand is tapped. The option of being able to transfer points from one hand to another is available. For example, if a player had three points on his or her right hand and one on his or her left, the player could rearrange them to have two on each hand. The points must be distributed differently after they tap their hands together; a player may not simply swap which fingers are on which hands.

The players take turns giving each other points. Both hands of an opponent must be knocked out (both hands receive five or more points) in order for a victory. This is called a dead hand. If a single hand receives five or more points, the hand is eliminated (an eliminated hand is equivalent to zero points) and the hand is useless unless it is revived by transferring points from a hand that is alive. An opponent cannot revive or tap an eliminated hand.

Alternate explanation

A player’s hand goes out when it has 5 or more fingers out (the idea being that each finger represents a separately held chopstick, and it is only possible to hold 4 chopsticks separately at the same time). The game of chopsticks is a turn-based game; each player has the opportunity to and must make one move in each turn. A player can do one of two things in a turn: tap one of the other player’s hands that already has one or more fingers out, or tap their own hands together. Should they choose to tap the other player’s hand, the other player must put out as many extra fingers as the hand they were tapped with had (e.g.: Player 1 has 3 fingers on his left hand, and Player 2 has 1 finger on his left hand. Player 1 taps Player 2 with his left hand. Player 1 will still have 3 fingers, but Player 2 will now have 4 fingers.). If tapping another player would cause their hand to have 5 or more fingers, the hand will instead go out. Should they choose to tap their own hands together, they must then add up the total number of fingers they have on both hands, and then distribute them as they please. The fingers must be distributed differently after they tap their hands together; a player may not simply swap which fingers are on which hands. They are free to remove all fingers from a hand or bring a hand which was previously brought out of play (either by moving fingers or by have 5 or more fingers) back into play.

Chopsticks is a solved game in which the second player can always force a win when playing with the original rules.

Variations of play


Chopsticks can also be played the way mentioned above except if one hand gets more than five points the leftover points are left on the hand. This means you subtract five from the number of points one hand gets and the only way a hand can get knocked out is if it accumulates exactly five points. This way of playing is generally for more advanced players and requires more strategy.


Players are allowed to evenly divide an even number of points in one hand to an empty hand, an action known as “split”. (e.g., a player with a 4:0 point distribution can use their turn to “split” the points 2:2, 2:0 would become 1:1, and 3:0 would become 2:1 or 1:2) In addition to splitting, players are allowed to hit their own hands to add points as they would for an opponent’s. This variation of the game, however, would go on forever with perfect play from both sides.


The knubs variation is played the same as regular Chopsticks except that there can now be half-fingers or “knubs”. A knub is created by extending the finger upwards and curling it down. Since a knub represents a half of a finger, two knubs will equal one regular finger, which means that everything can be split, so 1:0 would become 0.5:0.5 and 3:0 would become 1.5:1.5 and 4.5:0 becomes 2.5:2, etc. Because of all of the possible splits the game can last a while. A good strategy to use while playing knubs is to reduce the opponent’s hands to 0:0.5 and transfer until you have 4.5:4.5.


This variation is played the same way as Knubs except that each knub can further be divided into half-knubs which represents a quarter of a finger. This variation is very confusing and will last a long time.

Game of Five

In this variation, a player does not lose when he gets 5 fingers on one hand, instead losing when they have more than 5 fingers on a hand. When this variation is played in conjunction with the Splits variation, the game is a win for the second player to go.