Back Alley, also sometimes known as Back Alley Bridge, Back Street Bridge, or Blooper, is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships.
Back Alley originated as a non-partnership game played by members of the U.S. military during World War II. The version of the game described here developed later, most likely during the Vietnam War.
Object of Back Alley
The object of Back Alley is to take as many tricks as possible, as well as accurately bidding how many tricks you expect to take.
Back Alley is played with a 54-card deck, formed by augmenting a standard 52-card deck with two jokers. The two jokers must be different from one another, as one must serve as the big blooper and the other as the little blooper. Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards fit the bill perfectly, since one of the jokers has a dragon (the big blooper) and the other a jester (the little blooper). It should be clearly stated to the players before the game begins which joker will represent which blooper.
You also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper is what most people use for this, but you can use whatever’s convenient, such as a smartphone application developed for the purpose.
Determine partnerships through whatever means are convenient, such as high-card draw or mutual agreement. Each player should be seated opposite their partner, such that the turn of play alternates partnerships as it goes clockwise around the table.
Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. (This number will vary on subsequent hands, see below.) Turn the next card face up; this card, the upcard, fixes the trump suit. If the upcard is a joker, the hand is played with no trump, and the player who holds the other joker must discard it and take the last card of the deck to replace it. Otherwise, the last card in the deck remains face down and takes no part in game play.
Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high. The big blooper is the highest trump, with the lower blooper ranking just below it. Both bloopers outrank the ace of trumps.
Each player in turn, going clockwise around the table, gets one chance to bid. The player to the dealer’s left bids first, and bidding ends after the dealer’s bid. Players may make a bid that they will take any amount of tricks from one to twelve. They may also pass, which is essentially a bid of zero. If all four players pass, then the cards are shuffled and the same dealer deals new hands. Otherwise, each side adds their two bids together, and this number becomes the contract for the following hand.
In addition to these bids, one player may also make a bid of board. This is a bid to take all of the tricks. If a player wishes to bid board whenever someone has already bid it, they may bid double board. Subsequent players may likewise bid triple board or quadruple board, as appropriate. Such bids multiply the risk and reward of bidding board.
Play of the hand
The player who bid highest leads to the first trick. If multiple players are tied for high bid, the first one in the bidding order goes first. If multiple players bid board, the player who made the highest board bid goes first.
Each player, proceeding clockwise from the leader, plays one card to the trick. Players must follow suit if they can. Otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump. Whoever played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick. They collect the cards and place them face-down in a won-trick pile that they share with their partner. (Since the number of tricks collected matters, it’s a good idea to place each trick at right angles to the previous one in order to make it easier to count them later.)
There are some special rules about leading trumps. Trumps cannot be led until trumps have been broken, that is, a trump has been played to a trick without being led to it. If the big blooper is led, every player must play the highest trump they hold in their hand. When the little blooper is led, each player is required to play the lowest trump that they hold. (The only way the little blooper can be defeated when led is if another player holds the big blooper as their only trump.)
After the players have exhausted their hands, the hand is scored. Each partnership counts the number of tricks that they won. If a team captured at least as many tricks as they bid, they have made their contract. They score five points for each trick bid, plus one trick for each additional trick collected. If a team fails to make their contract, they lose five points for each trick bid.
If a team bids board, they win or lose ten points per trick, depending on whether or not they collected all of the tricks or not. Teams bidding double, triple, or quadruple board score ±20, 30, or 40 points, respectively.
The second through 26th hands
The deal passes to the left. On the second hand, only twelve cards are dealt. The third hand is played with eleven cards, and so on, until the thirteenth hand, which consists of only one card. The fourteenth hand is also a one-card hand, after which the number of cards begin increasing again. The hand size again reaches thirteen cards on the 26th hand. The game ends after the 26th hand has been played. Whichever partnership has the higher score at that point wins the game.
In Back Alley if the trump suit is lead and a player has no trump suit cards, must he play a joker if he has one, to follow “suit”, or may he play any card?
Yes; jokers are considered Trump
In the 70’s while o Okinawa, we played back alley similar to this, with one difference.
If either blooper is turned as trump, the hand is played as no trump, it is virtually a cutthroat hand. Who ever plays the highest card gets the trick. If you lead with a ace spades, that suit is played, if no spades you usually play a low card in your most numerous suit. All other rules rules seem the same.
Shelly Ann, HM2c(FMF)/USN
We play a different version of Back Alley. Brought back from Vietnam by some of the older guys. 54 cards, bids, Big Joker/Little Joker, but, all players are on their own. You can play from 2 players up to 8 players. Score sheet had # cards per hand: re: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and then a Big Hand, max cards possible. The number players dictated the number of hands(rounds). We also played Boarding, where you take all the tricks (double points), and BOSTON, where you pulled the first 6 tricks (100 points). Your bid = tricks you pulled; per 5 points, and 1 point for additional tricks, but, if you did not make your Bid, you went down the full bid, re: Bid 2 = 10 points. Only pull one trick, you go down 10 points. We still have a group of guys still playing this today, almost 50 years, when we have “old neighborhood” annual gatherings (from the Olney section of Philadelphia).
Your version is more like the version I recall playing, but we had at least two differences. One that I recall was if you had one of each suit dealt you in the Fourth hand it was called a Rainbow and if you won the hand as well with that rainbow you were given an extra Fifty points. I wish I could recall the other but it’s beenawhile. It definitely made the game interesting.