Why do Swedes count "1, X, 2"?

Occasionally, when an article in Swedish needs to count off three items, they are not labelled "1, 2, 3" but rather "1, X, 2". Why is that?

I asked Jesper Holmberg, and he was kind enough to explain. (The entire exchange naturally was conducted in Swedish. Here's my translation.)

As with most of the good things in life, it has to do with football [soccer].

In Sweden, it is not only legal to bet on horse races, football, and other stuff, but the Swedish government even has its own betting agency. "One, cross, or two" comes from the betting ticket, the slip of paper you fill in when you bet on football or hockey. The ticket consists of thirteen matches, and for each match you choose whether you think the home team will win (1), whether the visiting team will win (2), or whether you think it will be a draw (X). You can see an example of the ticket by going to http://www.svenskaspel.se/ and clicking on "Stryktipset" in the upper left corner.

If you want, you can, in one or more matches, choose two options, if you, for example, think that the home team is going to either win or draw. This is called "half-covering" (halvgardera). You can even mark all three, which is then "full-covering" (helgardera). The odds of winning goes up, but also the cost of playing. (My grandfather and I would bet on football on the weekends when I was little; it took us hours to fill in the ticket, analyze statistics, discuss odds, the payouts... I don't think we ever won a dime.)

So this is how I interpret why that blogger you linked to chose 1X2 instead of 123: The point he's trying to make is that the answer is somewhat random, possibly even unknown. With 1X2, there's more of a sense of betting on circumstances one doesn't control, while 123 is more of a quiz where it's up to you to win or lose. I dunno, maybe I'm overanalyzing. Maybe he's just got a gambling addiction!

I thanked Jesper for his explanation, noting that I had been wondering about this for many years. "Now it makes sense. No, I'm lying. It doesn't make sense, but at least it's less confusing. It was more like a joke targetting people who bet on football or hockey! On the other hand, it's probably impossible to find a Swede who doesn't bet on football or hockey..."

Comments (25)
  1. Luciano says:

    We have the same betting system here in italy, but i never seen it as a counting method…

  2. John says:

    Have you ever met a Swede who wasn’t…eccentric?  I surely haven’t.

  3. 640k says:

    The Swedish government’s betting agency also owns casinos, and has ofcourse outlawed other casinos.

  4. JJ says:

    Not really used for counting any three items. More used to enumerate the choices of answers to a quiz or quiz-like question, in the case that there are three choices.

  5. I don’t bet on sports.

    Well …

    that is to say I haven’t since my early teens. I bought a few Stryktipset growing up…

  6. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    I wonder if the US method of enumerating multiple choices as "A, B, C, D…" is as confusing to other people as this method is to us.

  7. Steve says:

    we have similiar concept in UK, Football pools…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_pools

    But like Luciano i have never seen it as a counting system.

  8. Brian Hjøllund says:

    The exact same method is used here in Denmark – With the government owned betting agency, and being the only legit one at that. :)

  9. Claudio A. Heckler says:

    Same thing in Brazil, down to the number of plays in the card :)


    With one particular, the X being also called "Zebra", which is the mascot of this sports lottery (not technically a lottery, but that’s what it’s called)

  10. Olivier says:

    "On the other hand, it’s probably impossible to find a Swede who doesn’t bet on football or hockey…"

    Maybe my Swedish friends are weird, but they don’t bet on anything. Sure, some of them are fans of hockey but that’s all.

  11. K Arthur says:

    It reminds me of the way some kids here in NZ play their hide and seek games. The traditional ‘count to 100’ has a kiwi twist: ‘one, two, miss-a-few, ninety-nine, a hundred’.

  12. Aaron says:

    Maybe this is the Swede version of the English phrase ‘Win, Lose or Draw…’?

  13. Jonathan says:

    Israel too – it’s called "Toto" (טוטו). I’ve never actually gambled, but I do remember it from middle school math lessons where I calculated the odds. It was 14 matches then, and now it’s up to 16.

  14. porter says:

    It encompasses fuzzy logic!

  15. Adam says:

    I fear I must be missing something crucial – the options are "the home team will win (1), the visiting team will win (2), or it will be a draw (X)" and "You can even mark all three, which is then ‘full-covering’".

    This basically sounds like you’re betting on whether or not the match will be canceled?  Because one would normally expect that either one team will win or the other will or they’ll tie…

  16. GregM says:

    "The traditional ‘count to 100’ has a kiwi twist: ‘one, two, miss-a-few, ninety-nine, a hundred’."

    Where I grew up, they used "skip-a-few".

  17. wolf550e says:

    @Adam: I don’t gamble, but to my understanding, if you have a guess about twelve of the thirteen matches, you could buy three tickets, fill in the twelve matches identically in all of them, and then mark the match you’re uncertain about differently in each one. You pay for three tickets to play in "guess 12 out of 13 mode" instead of the regular "13/13". Marking the three different possibilities on a single ticket is more user friendly, but then to file it you have to pay for three tickets (which makes it fair).

  18. Fredrik says:

    Thanks for a great blog, we’ve been following it for a long time here at Svenska Spel!

    You know there wasn’t always "1, X, 2".

    The "stryk" in "stryktipset" means strike (out), and that’s how it worked in the beginning, the player would strike out the name of the team he thought wouldn’t win.

    Don’t know when they changed it, but it was a long time ago (the game has been running since 1934(!))

  19. "it’s probably impossible to find a Swede who doesn’t bet on football or hockey…"

    I’ve lived in Sweden my whole life, and I don’t think I know a single person who does this on a regular basis. The way I see it it’s mostly the realm of slightly overweight, working-class dudes way past their 40’s. Not that this doesn’t represent a significant part of the Swedish population, but I wouldn’t want to think of them as being representatives of swedes in general ;)

  20. Fire Snake says:

    Yeah, Donovan McNabb also did not know there were ties in the NFL …

  21. charlie says:

    I’m very, very confused.

  22. djeidot says:

    I don’t think the blogger of the linked post is counting to 3 rather than enumerating 3 items. This means that 1,X,2 is not very different from A,B,C (would you say he is counting if he used A,B,C instead?)

    Normally I would see 1,X,2 as two opposing ideas (1,2) and the middle, "grey" area between them (X). But I don’t think this is the case.

    BTW, we also have the football (soccer) "1,X,2" lottery in Portugal, called "Totobola"

  23. Same thing happens with football bets here in Portugal, but it also not used as a counting system.

    Example here: https://www.jogossantacasa.pt/web/SCCartazResult/bolaNormal

  24. JF says:

    (Geek humor warning)

    Actually, swedes count like this: 1 2 , 3 ,

  25. victorz says:

    We have this kind of betting system here in Brazil. Not so popular these days.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content