Thumb Wrestling Rules

Thumb Wrestling

“One, two, three, four… I declare a thumb-o-war!” is a phrase you can hear in playgrounds and parks and wherever children play around the world. But as well as being a popular children's games, Thumb Wrestling (also known as Thumb War) is an actual sport with official rules and even a world championship.

These championships are an annual event and are held at the mecca of Thumb Wrestling, Beccles in Somerset, UK. Attracting competitors from the UK, USA, Holland, South Africa, Poland, France, Thailand and a host of other countries, the Thumb Wrestling World Championships go from strength-to-strength each and every year.

Nobody knows the origin of Thumb Wrestling, but as it is such a simple game, it’s one that has been played for hundreds if not thousands of years. Several people through the years have claimed to have known who invented the sport, including the author Paul Davidson who said that his Grandfather invented the sport in the 1940s. This has been discounted however as Thumb Wrestling and other variants of the sport have been played much earlier than this.

Object of Thumb Wrestling

The object of the sport of Thumb Wrestling is simple, to defeat your opponent by pinning your opponent’s thumb whilst saying “one, two, three, four, I win thumb-o-war!” within each 60 second round limit as stipulated by the rules of the World Thumb Wrestling Championship.

Although one of the simplest games known to man, Thumb Wars can be surprisingly tactical affairs, with top competitors using a variety of techniques and feints to overcome their opponent which can make games of Thumb Wrestling particularly intense and highly competitive affairs.

Players & Equipment

Anyone can play Thumb Wrestling as it doesn’t particularly rely on power, strength or explosive speed like sprinting, weightlifting or combat sports. However, because the size of the thumb can play a factor in a Thumb War, men tend to compete against men and women against women. Juniors too should only really play other juniors too if they want a fair match.

Having a larger thumb is much like having a longer reach at boxing and whilst it doesn’t offer a huge benefit to a player, it can present a significant advantage in some circumstances. There is no particular equipment required to compete in a Thumb Wrestling bout.


Because Thumb Wrestling is a simple win/lose game, there is no scoring as such. Each match is fought over one single round with one single point. However, outside of the World Thumb Wrestling Championships in more informal games amongst friends, games are often contested in a best of three or best of five format, the player winning two or three rounds respectively winning the match.

Winning the Match

In the the World Thumb Wrestling Championships as mentioned earlier, matches are fought over one single round, so to win the match, one competitor has to pin their opponents thumb with theirs, long enough to utter the words “one, two, three, four, I win thumb-o-war!”

If their opponents thumb is still pinned at the end of this phrase then they are declared the winner. There can be no tied matches in Thumb Wrestling and matches will continue with further rounds until a winner is found.

Rules of Thumb Wrestling

  • Each player stands facing each other and both players should reach out with the same hand (right or left) and hook the four fingers of their hand together so that both are clasped tightly together.
  • Once the hands are clasped, both contestants should then chant the following rhyme, “One, two, three, four… I declare a thumb-o-war!”
  • As soon as the chant is over, the contest begins and lasts for a total of 60 seconds as each player attempts to pin their opponent's thumb.
  • The contest is won when one player manages to pin their opponents thumb for the length of time it takes to say “One, two, three, four… I declare a thumb-o-war!”.
  • If the referee is in agreement that this has been successfully done, then the player is declared the winner.
  • If at the end of the 60 seconds there is no winner 2 further rounds are played.
  • If no winner is found in these rounds, then the game is settled by a sudden death game of rock, paper, scissors.