Two Up On ANZAC Day

Nicki Alchin
23rd Apr 2016

For many of us, playing the uniquely Australian game of chance 'two up' each year on the 25th of April comes in at #3 on our list of ways to pay respect to the ANZAC spirit. Attending dawn service and watching the March of remembrance come in at #1 and #2 respectively.

Given the importance of Two Up on ANZAC Day, we at Sydney Scoop wanted to look into some aspects of the game (especially its history and rules) and to most importantly list five pubs offering a fair dinkum two up experience.


The first things to note about 'two up' is that it is illegal (except on ANZAC Day and at Burswood Casino, Perth and Crowne Casino, Melbourne) and that it has been around long before Australia ever went to war.

Two Up can actually be traced right back to the days of transportation. The earliest official recording of the game are comments made by the first judge advocate of NSW on the game's popularity with the convicts, it's simplicity, and the huge losses associated with playing it.

The story goes that the convicts evolved the English single coin game of 'pitch and toss' into two up. By the end of the 19th century most towns and cities in Australia could offer a game. It had spread swiftly across the country in the gold and mineral rushes of the 1850s.

The idea of setting up organised games known as two up schools also occurred around this time. Organisers travelled from town to town, mainly setting up games for shearers, drovers, and miners.

By 1910, the famous Thommo's Two Up school was established in inner Sydney. The school ran until 1976 and even though two up was illegal, just about every male (women were not welcome) living in or visiting Sydney during that period. including celebreties and the wealthy, visited the games. Police protection was common, and some officers just turned a blind eye.

Thommo's Two Up School was Australia's first major illegal gambling operation. It was only in the 1990s that NSW and Victoria legalised two up on ANZAC Day. Queensland legalised it in 2015.

It has been thought the main reasons two up flourished across Australia was due to the lack of entertainment for the common man, its simplicity and fairness, and especially during the gold mining days, its portability.


Basically the premise of the game is for players to gamble on the outcome of the throwing up of two coins. Will it be two heads (obverse), both tails (reverse), or one head and one tail (odds)?

There is a designated 'spinner' who throws the coins up in air the simultaneously off a wooden paddle 'kip'. Pennies (especially pre 1939) are commonly used because their weight and size lend to them being stable on the kip. Pre 1939 pennies are the best because the king's head is on one side and writing covers the other side; this design makes the calling of the outcome very quick and easy.

The boxer manages the game and betting and has no participation in the betting at all as he receives a commission on the spinner's bet. The boxer calls 'Come in Spinner' when all bets have been placed and the coins are ready to be tossed.

The ringy (ringmaster) looks after the coins after each toss to avoid loss and/or cheating.

The spinner has to place a bet before he throws up the coins. This bet must be equalled (covered) by another player.

The spinner will continue to throw until they win (two heads) or lose (two tails) and then another person is chosen to be the spinner. If the coins land as an odd (one head, one tail), the spinner throws again. If the spinner wins they keep the bet and the cover bet, if they lose it goes to goes to the player who made the cover bet (note: the boxer gets a commission from the bet that every spinner makes before they throw the coins). The other players in the circle make bets between themselves (cover bets) on whether the spinner will win or lose and the result of the next throw.

Link to ANZAC Day

A photo held by the Australian War Memorial dated 23 December 1917 near the Ypres front, shows a circle of at least 30 diggers engrossed in the outcome of a spin. Many other records of Australian soldiers playing two up during the Great War exist.

As two up was already etched on the male Australian psyche by the time 1914 came along, it is not surprising that it became a popular past time for Australian soldiers in both the Great War and World War Two. The mix of tedium and unpredictability on a battlefield made two up a firm favourite for the diggers. Two up entertained our soldiers with some very needed relief from battlefield agonies.

By playing two up on ANZAC Day we commemorate and pay respect to the bravery, ingenuity, and shared experience of the ANZACS and all Australian soldiers across the ages.

Where To Play Two Up

Edinburgh Castle Hotel

294 Pitt Street, Sydney

Open from 6am - 10pm

BBQ all day from 6am

Two Up from midday

ANZAC Day football matches available to watch on the big screens.

Vic On The Park

2 Addison Road, Marrickville

Two Up with ringmaster SPOD midday - 6pm

Live bands (Joseph Kiddy and The Skeleton Horse, Andy Golledge) and Palms DJ sets

Spit Roast Rolls

$1 from every VB tinnie goes to Legacy

Kings Cross Hotel

244 - 248 William Street, Kings Cross

Bagpiper midday - 2pm

Two Up midday - 6pm

Live Bands 12.30pm - 4pm

$5 VB schooners all day

ANZAC Day Cocktail - 'Sloe Gin Sailor'

Australian Heritage Hotel

100 Cumberland Street, Sydney

Diggers breakfast from 6am

Two Up from midday (one of the largest CBD arenas)

Scot's Marching Band

Oxford Tavern

1 New Canterbury Road, Petersham

$5 tinnies will be available all day

Two Up from midday until sundown

Black Betties BBQ - available from midday

Opens midday - 10pm