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How to Play the Chinese Stick Game

The Chinese stick game dates back centuries.
Mikado pick a stick image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com

The Chinese stick game is more commonly known as pick-up sticks, and less commonly known as jackstraws, spillikins or spellicans. The game is believed to have originated in China. Historical sets of the game featured sticks carved from ivory. Modern versions usually are composed of wood or plastic. Most sets have sticks painted in different colors, which sometimes affect point values. Additionally, some versions use an instrument, such as a hooked stick, to aid in picking up the sticks. Be sure to agree on the rules or follow the game set's instructions before beginning play.

Gather the sticks into a bundle in your hand, holding them vertically. Rest one end of the bundle on your playing surface, such as a table or the floor.

Let go of the bundle, allowing the sticks to fall freely. Do not disturb or rearrange the sticks.

Attempt to remove a single stick from the pile. Avoid moving any other sticks -- doing so ends your turn. Start with the sticks that broke completely free of the bundle as an easy way to rack up points early in the game.

Use an agreed-upon instrument to aid your removal of the sticks. This may be a black pick-up stick that you must first remove from the pile to use. Other sets have a predetermined instrument, such as a hook. Use your fingers only if no instrument is included with your set.

Continue removing sticks from the pile until you disturb another stick. Pass the turn onto the next player and continue to cycle through the players until every stick is picked up.

Tally your points using the agreed-upon method. This may include the total number of sticks, or points values assigned to each color of stick.


The game is best played with up to four people because of the limited amount of sticks in the set.

Create a Chinese stick game tournament by deciding in advance on a set number of points the winning player must reach. Play rounds of the stick game until one player reaches the points level.

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