Some poker players find the pace of a typical cash game to be too slow-paced for their liking. Hand after hand is played, money changes hands back and forth. A group of players equally matched in skill may end a night of play more or less where they started out.
Players that want a more exciting night of poker may prefer to stage a poker tournament instead of a typical cash game. In a poker tournament, either you win big—usually only the top three or four players win anything—or you go home with nothing.
However, not all poker tournaments are the same. There are a couple different ways to structure a poker tournament, meaning it’s important to choose the type that fits your game best. As a tournament director, it’s also important to run a tournament you feel comfortable hosting. In this post, we explore the most common poker tournament structures, as well as some optional additions that players may enjoy.
Which game to play?
The first decision to be made when setting up a poker tournament is, of course, what kind of poker you’ll be playing. The simple answer to this question is to spread whatever your players want to play. The vast majority of poker tournaments, however, are Texas hold’em games, with Omaha making up most of the rest. Mixed games are also popular, where a different game is played each hand, cycling through a list.
Tournament poker is almost universally no-limit (see “Betting in poker“). Limit poker is simply too drawn-out for a tournament setting. No-limit poker allows a player to go all in, risking all of their tournament chips on one pot. That allows them to build up a big chip stack in a hurry, at the risk of busting out of the tournament entirely. A limit tournament would go on and on as the weaker players’ chip stacks are slowly whittled down.
A freeze-out tournament is the type most people think of when they hear the words “poker tournament”, because it’s the type most frequently used in professional settings like casino poker rooms and the WSOP. It’s also the simplest type of tournament.
How it works is that each player is issued a set of chips when they buy in to the tournament. These are all of the chips they’ll ever have. Once a player runs out of chips, that’s it—they’re out of the tournament for good. If the tournament is big enough to have multiple tables of players, as players drop out, tables are combined from time to time. This ensures that each game has a sufficient number of players.
Simple, but not always the best for home games
Freeze-out tournaments are simple to run, making them a good fit for an inexperienced tournament director, but they can be problematic in social situations. What do the eliminated players do? It’s a bit gauche to ask them to leave, but they can’t participate in the tournament anymore. They can watch the rest of the tournament from the sidelines, but not everyone finds this fun, and some players may get nervous with spectators watching them.
One way to handle this is to hold several short tournaments (perhaps one to two hours each) in quick succession. This means that eliminated players won’t have long to wait before they’re back in the game. It also allows players to “get revenge” on the players that busted them out in an earlier tournament.
Another option is to set up a cash game, or another non-poker game, alongside the tournament. Those who busted out can play in this game while they wait for the tournament to end. If you choose to do this, though, be sure to use chips and cards of a different design than those being used for the tournament. Otherwise, players may be tempted to smuggle tournament chips to the cash game and redeem them for real money.
A shootout tournament is a tournament structure for large numbers of players. In a shootout tournament, each table is played down to a single remaining player. After a winner has been determined for each table, they all play against each other in a final table.
While this structure is useful for managing a large tournament because the tournament director does not have to worry about rebalancing the tables, it does have some drawbacks for the players. All of the problems of a freeze-out tournament are there, of course. A table winner may also find themselves with a large chunk of time to kill while they’re waiting for the other tables to be resolved.
Rebuys and add-ons
One way to make a tournament more fun for the players is to allow rebuys. When a player runs out of chips, they can pay into the tournament pool to receive another stack of chips. They then continue playing with their replenished funds. Rebuys benefit all of the players in the tournament. The less-skilled players get to keep playing even when they’ve busted out. Meanwhile, the better players get to enjoy a larger prize pool every time a player rebuys.
Some tournaments offer add-ons, which is similar to a rebuy, except that the player has not busted out. In some tournaments, an add-on can be purchased with the initial buy-in. This gives the player a bigger starting stack. Players can also purchase an add-on between hands, when they feel low on chips.
Allowing rebuys and add-ons does require a bit more thought and attention from the tournament director. The director has to determine what the amounts of the rebuys and/or add-ons will be. A cutoff on rebuys and also needs to be established, so as to ensure that the tournament doesn’t go on forever. The director will, of course, also have to collect the money from the players and add it to the prize pool. This could potentially divert their attention from other aspects of managing the tournament.
Therefore, it may be a good idea for an inexperienced tournament director to leave out rebuys and add-ons. Later, when they become more experienced and comfortable with their role, they can be added in.
Turnover Bridge is, despite its name, a variant of Whist for two players. Unusually among trick-taking games, each player only has two cards that they can keep secret from the other player. The rest of their cards can be seen by their opponent, helping both players form ideal strategies. Almost half of the cards in the deck are dealt face down at the beginning of the game, however. That means that as the game goes on and those face-down cards are turned over, what constitutes an “ideal strategy” might change quite a bit!
Object of Turnover Bridge
The object of Turnover Bridge is to capture fourteen or more tricks.
To play Turnover Bridge, grab a deck of bridge-size Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Shuffle and deal twelve cards, face down, in a line in front of each player. Then, deal twelve cards face up, one on top of each face-down card. Deal two more cards to each player, face down, exhausting the pack. The players may look at these last two cards, but not the face-down cards on the table covered by the face-up cards.
In Turnover Bridge, not all of the player’s hand is accessible to them at any given time. Initially, the only cards they may play are the twelve face-up cards from their hand, plus the two cards they hold hidden from their opponent. When a face-up card is played, the face-down card beneath it, if any, is then turned face up and becomes available for play.
The non-dealer leads any card they can access to the first trick. The dealer then responds by playing an accessible card, following suit if able. If a player can’t follow suit, they may play any card they wish. Whichever player contributed the highest spade (spades serving as a permanent trump suit) wins the trick. If nobody played a spade, the higher card of the suit led takes the trick. (Note that this means that when a player cannot follow suit, they cannot take the trick except by playing a spade.) Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high.
When a player wins a trick, they collect the cards and set them aside in a won-tricks pile. Each trick should be kept separate, such as by placing them at right angles to each other. The player who won the trick then leads to the next one.
Game play continues until one player captures fourteen tricks (a majority of the 26 tricks in the game). That player is the winner, and play normally ceases at that point. If all 26 tricks are played out, and it is found that the tricks have been split 13–13, then the game is a tie.
Omi (also known as Oombi) is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships played in the island nation of Sri Lanka. Like in Court Piece, the trump suit is decided in the middle of the deal—you have to choose a trump before having your entire hand! Other than that, though, Omi is a simple game that plays much like many other trick-taking games. To win, a partnership just has to take more tricks than their opponents.
Object of Omi
The object of Omi is to score the most points by collecting tricks.
Omi is played with 32 cards from a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and set aside all of the 6s through 2s. Your deck will then be left with aces through 7s in each of the four suits.
Determine who’s partners with who in whatever way you like. You can just decide however you want, get some random method like a high-card draw to decide for you. However you decide, partners should sit across from each other. This should be done so that the turns will alternate as you go around the table.
Traditionally, the discarded low cards (6s–2s) are used as scoring tokens. Separate them into two batches by color (red and black). Designate one player on each partnership to hold all of the out-of-play cards of one color. As a partnership scores points, the member of the opposing partnership that holds cards gives one score card for each point to the player on that partnership that did not start with any score cards. Thus, one partnership will be starting with black cards and receiving red cards from their opponents as they score points, and their opponents will start with the red cards and get black cards from their opponents.
Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. The player to the dealer’s left, the declarer, then decides on the trump suit, using only these four cards. They cannot consult their partner for advice! Once the trump suit has been named, deal each player four more cards. Players will each have an eight-card hand.
The declarer goes first. They lead any card they wish to the first trick. Each player in turn then plays a card from their hand to the trick until all four have played. Players have to follow suit if they are able. Otherwise, they can play any card, including a trump. Whoever played the highest trump wins the trick; if there are no trumps played, the highest card of the suit led wins. The winning player collects the four cards making up the trick and puts them in a won-tricks pile they share with their partner, being sure to keep tricks won later separate by placing them at right angles to the previous trick. Whichever player wins the trick leads to the next one.
Game play continues like this until all eight tricks have been played. At that point, each partnership counts the number of tricks they collected, and score as follows:
- All eight tricks: Three points.
- Five to seven tricks: Two points for the dealer’s team, or one for the declarer’s team.
- Tied at four tricks: No points are scored for the hand, but the winner of the next hand scores one extra point.
Poke is a unique two-player game that combines the mechanics of a trick-taking game with that of poker. In the first part of the hand, players draw cards to make the strongest poker hand they can. In the second, they play those hands out in the style of a classic trick-taking game.
Poke was created by the American game collector, inventor, and author Sid Sackson, perhaps best known for his classic board game Acquire. The rules of Poke were first published in Esquire magazine in 1946, and it was later included in Sackson’s 1969 book A Gamut of Games.
Object of Poke
The object of Poke is to score points by forming good poker hands and collecting tricks.
To play Poke, you’ll need a typical 52-card deck of playing cards. It should come as no surprise that we recommend Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need a Contract Bridge-style scoresheet. If you don’t have a pre-printed Bridge scorepad handy, you can easily make a scoresheet by hand. Divide the page into two columns (one for each player, traditionally labeled “WE” and “THEY”) and then divide the columns into upper and lower halves by a horizontal line. Unlike regular poker, there is no betting, so you won’t need chips or money or anything like that. (Unless you just have to bet on it.)
Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. The rest of the deck becomes the stock.
The non-dealer acts first. They examine their hand, hoping to have a hand that is strong both as poker hand and at trick-taking. With this in mind, they decide whether they wish to discard any cards. If they do, they may discard up to three cards, and are dealt replacements from the stock. However, drawing doubles the player; any tricks the dealer captures will count double at the end of the hand. If the player is still not satisfied with their hand, they may discard a second time, and doing so redoubles them, making their opponent’s tricks count quadruple. Should a player choose to simply stand pat, they incur no penalty and are not doubled or redoubled.
After the non-dealer finalizes their hand, the dealer has the chance to draw cards. Unlike the non-dealer, the dealer’s first draw is free; they are not penalized for choosing not to stand pat. The dealer also has the option to double and redouble themselves by drawing a second and third time.
Play of the hand
The non-dealer leads any card they wish to the first trick. The dealer responds by playing any card from their hand. Whoever played the higher card wins the trick. Unlike in most trick-taking games, suits are wholly irrelevant to trick play; there is not even a requirement to follow suit. In the event of a tie, the player who led to the trick wins it. After a trick has been played, leave it on the table, keeping it clear who played which card. When a player wins a trick, they lead to the next one.
If a player has a pair in their hand, they may lead both cards at once. This effectively leads to two tricks at the same time. Their opponent can only beat this type of lead by playing a higher pair; if they cannot, they may play any two cards and lose both tricks. Likewise, a player holding three or four of a kind may lead the whole set at once, and their opponent can only beat them if they have a higher-ranking set with the appropriate number of cards.
After all five tricks have been played, each player counts up the number of tricks they have won. If a player’s opponent was not doubled or redoubled, each trick the player captured scores one point. If the opponent was doubled, each trick is worth two points; with a redoubled opponent, each trick is worth four points. These points are recorded below the horizontal line on the scoresheet.
Once the trick scores have been tallied, the players determine who had the better hand according to the usual rank of poker hands. Whichever player had the stronger hand scores an honor score as follows:
- Royal flush: 1,000 points
- Straight flush: 750 points
- Four of a kind: 600 points
- Full house: 500 points
- Flush: 400 points
- Straight: 300 points
- Three of a kind: 200 points
- Two pair: 100 points
- One pair: 50 points
This honor score is recorded above the line. If a player takes in all five tricks on a hand, they score a 250-point bonus, also recorded above the line.
After the hand is scored, the non-dealer collects the cards, shuffles, and deals the next hand.
Game and rubber
Game play continues until one player reaches 20 or more points below the line, ending the first game. This player scores a 100-point bonus above the line for winning the first game. (If both players tie at 20 or more points below the line, it is ignored until further game play breaks the tie.) The scores below the line are then zeroed out, and another game is played.
When a player wins two games, a rubber is completed. The player ending the rubber scores the usual game bonus, plus a 500-point rubber bonus above the line if their opponent won a game, or a 750-point bonus if they didn’t. The scores above the line are then totaled, and whichever player has the higher score is the winner.
Tong-Its is a rummy game for three players. A Philippine offshoot of Tonk, Tong-Its is a lively game that introduces a bluffing aspect to rummy. Since players are not penalized for keeping their melds secret, a player may declare the end of the hand believing they have the lowest unmatched card total. But if one of their opponents thinks they’re wrong, they can challenge them, and potentially snatch the victory away from them!
Object of Tong-Its
The object of Tong-Its is to reduce the number of unmatched cards in your hand by forming combinations of cards called melds.
To play Tong-Its, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of cards. You can choose any kind you like, but we really think you’d enjoy using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Scoring in Tong-Its is usually done with the hard score method, so you’ll need a bunch of something like poker chips, beans, or other markers to keep score.
All player ante two chips to a pot in the center of the table. Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player, starting with yourself. After all players have received twelve cards, deal a thirteenth card to yourself. The remaining fifteen cards are placed in a pile in the center of the table, forming the stock.
The dealer goes first. Their first order of business is to identify any melds they may hold. If they so desire, they may open their hand by placing some or all of their melds (see below) face-up on the table. They then end their turn by discarding a card, starting a discard pile, and the turn passes to the left.
Starting on the second player’s first turn, and for the rest of the game, a player starts their turn by drawing a card. They may draw the top card of the discard pile only if they can complete a new meld from their hand with it, and this meld must then be placed face-up on the table. Otherwise, they must draw from the stock. After a player has drawn, they may lay down any melds they may have in their hand. Then, they may lay off cards on any existing melds they or their opponents have laid down. Finally, the player ends their turn with a discard.
There are two types of melds in Tong-Its, both of which should be familiar to a connoisseur of rummy games. These are three or four cards of the same rank, and the sequence, which is three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. Of note is that aces are low in Tong-Its, so A-K-Q is not a valid sequence; any sequence involving an ace must also contain the 2 and the 3 of that suit. A card must be counted toward only one meld; it cannot be shared between multiple melds.
Notably, unlike other rummy games, a meld still counts for the player if it is kept concealed in the hand. In fact, there is a special bonus for holding a concealed four-of-a-kind in the hand. Keeping melds concealed can be a good idea, as it prevents your opponents from laying cards off to them. However, if you do not open your hand by exposing at least one meld, you risk taking penalties should the hand end before you do so! Remember that whenever a meld is formed with a card from the discard pile, that meld must always be exposed.
There is one special situation involving the four-of-a-kind. A player may place a concealed four-of-a-kind face down on the table. A player who does so is considered to have opened their hand, yet they are still eligible to receive the concealed four-of-a-kind bonus at the end of the hand.
Ending the hand
There are three ways the hand can end: by a tongit, by a draw, and by the stock running out.
When a player runs out their entire hand, they can call tongit and end the hand immediately. A player calling tongit may play out all of their cards by melding them, or they may end their turn as usual by discarding their final card.
A player who thinks they have the lowest deadwood (unmatched card) total can end the hand by calling “draw”. A player can only call “draw” if all of the following are true:
- They have opened their hand.
- They did not lay off to their existing melds on the previous turn.
- No other player laid off to their existing melds since their last turn.
When a player calls “draw”, their opponents may choose, in turn, to either fold or challenge the draw. Only a player who has opened may challenge. If both opponents fold, the hand ends, with the player calling “draw” winning the hand outright.
However, if one or both opponents challenge, the player calling “draw” and all challengers must expose their hands. Each player calculates their deadwood score: aces count one, face cards count ten, and all other cards their pip value. Whoever has the lowest deadwood score wins. If there is a tie, the challenger wins, and if there is a tie for lowest between multiple challengers, the one to the left of the player calling “draw” wins.
When a player challenges a draw, the value of the hand to the winner increases from one unit to three. If you’re not confident that you have a lower deadwood score than the player who is ending the hand, it may be better to simply fold rather than risk having to pay out three chips!
Exhausting the stock
When the stock runs out, the hand ends when whoever draws the last card ends their turn. All players who have opened compare their deadwood totals. Whoever has the lowest wins. If there is a tie, the player who drew the last card from the stock wins. If there was a tie between the other two players, the player to the left of the one who drew the last card wins.
When a winner has been decided, each loser must pay to the winner:
- For winning:
- Three chips if they won by calling tongit
- Three chips if they won by a challenged call of “draw” (whether or not they were the caller or the challenger)
- One chip for any other kind of win
- Three chips for each concealed four-of-a-kind in the winner’s hand
- One chip if the loser did not open their hand
- One chip for each ace the winner held, either in their hand or in melds (note that aces laid off on the winners hand, or aces that the winner laid off on their opponents’ melds, do not count)
Court Piece (one of many names it is known by in India) or Rang (as it is known in Pakistan), is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Court Piece features an unusually tough requirement for scoring points, called courts. A partnership has to collect more tricks than their opponents for seven hands in a row to score! This is not quite as difficult as it seems, though—when a team wins a hand, they have the advantage of choosing the trump suit on the next hand. This makes it more likely that a partnership will be able to rack up a streak of wins.
Object of Court Piece
The object of Court Piece is to score more courts than your opponents. Courts are primarily scored in two ways:
- By taking seven or more tricks on seven consecutive hands.
- By taking the first seven tricks on one hand.
Court Piece uses a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. As per usual, we suggest, using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards for your game. You’ll also want something like a piece of scratch paper for recording the score and the number of hands each team has won.
Partnerships can be determined by some random method, or simply deciding who wants to be partners with who. Players should sit between their opponents, with their partner across from them. Thus, as the turn proceeds around the table, it will alternate between players. The first dealer should also be determined, randomly.
Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. The player to the dealer’s left examines their cards and, without consulting with their partner, chooses a suit to be trump. Then, deal the rest of the deck out, so that all players have thirteen cards.
Game play begins with the player to the dealer’s left leading to the first trick. Each player in turn plays one card to the trick. If a player has a card of the suit led, they must play it; otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump. When all four players have contributed a card to the trick, whoever played the highest trump wins the trick. If nobody played a trump, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick.
Captured tricks are removed from the table and neatly stacked in front of one of the partners of the side that took the trick. (Both partners share a won-trick pile.) Tricks should be kept separate, such as by placing them at right angles, so the number of tricks taken can clearly be discerned. When a player wins a trick, they then lead to the next one.
Court Piece has special procedures for handling a revoke (i.e. when a player fails to follow suit). If a player revokes, but realizes their mistake before the trick has been played out, they may call attention to it and play an appropriate card instead. Everyone that played after the revoking player may then change the card they played. The trick is awarded, and play continues as usual.
If it is discovered over the course of the hand that a player revoked on a previous trick, the revoking partnership forfeits the hand, which ends immediately. The opponents score a court. If the dealer’s side revoked, the previous dealer’s partner deals the next hand; if the dealer’s opponents revoked, the deal passes to the left.
Aside from a revoke, the first opportunity to score a court occurs after the seventh trick has been played. If one side has captured all of the first seven tricks, they score a court. Customarily, the hand is abandoned at this point, and the next hand is dealt. If the winners choose to, however, they may play on with the hope of collecting all thirteen tricks. This feat is very rarely achieved, but if it is, it scores 52 courts for the side that did it! There is no penalty for trying and failing to capture all of the tricks.
If the two teams split the first seven tricks between them, the hand is played out, ending after all thirteen tricks have been played. Each partnership counts up the number of tricks they took and compares them. Whichever side took more tricks wins the hand.
A running tally of how many consecutive hands the presently-dominant side has won is kept on the score sheet. If the same team that won the first hand also wins the second, the count increases from one to two, and if they win again it increases to three, and so on. If their opponents manage to break the streak by winning a hand themselves, however, the counter resets, with that side starting over with a tally of one.
Should a team reach a streak of seven consecutive hands won, they score a court. The counter is then reset to zero.
Passing the deal
After a hand ends, one player on the losing team deals the next hand. This grants the winning partnership the advantage of getting to declare trumps on the upcoming hand. If the outgoing dealer’s team won the hand, the deal simply passes to the left. If the dealer’s team lost the hand but the opponents did not score a court, the same player deals again. When a court is scored, the deal passes to the outgoing dealer’s partner.
Pluck is a three-player trick-taking game. In Pluck, each player has a trick quota on every hand that they must meet. If they fail to make the quota, they pay the price on the next hand—the players that took enough tricks get to steal from them!
Object of Pluck
The object of Pluck is to capture tricks in excess of a quota set by the player’s position relative to the dealer. Doing so both scores a player points and allows them to exchange for better cards on subsequent hands.
To play Pluck, you’ll need a special 51-card pack. To make such a pack, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Remove all of the 2s except the 2♣, then add in the two jokers. You’ll be left with a deck with aces through 3s in each of the four suits, two jokers, and the 2♣. You’ll also probably want something to keep score with, like pencil and paper.
The two jokers used in Pluck must be different in some way, because one will be designated the “big joker” and the other as the “little joker”. As you might guess from the names, the big joker outranks the little joker. (If you’re using Denexa cards, the red joker, with the dragon, lends itself to being the big joker; the black joker, with the jester, then becomes the little joker.) Be sure that it’s communicated to all of the players which joker is which.
Shuffle and deal out the entire deck. Each player will receive seventeen cards.
The cards rank in their usual order, with aces high. The big joker is considered to be the highest trump, followed by the little joker as second-highest trump, then the ace of trump, and so on.
Each player has their own quota of tricks that they are required to capture on each hand.
- The dealer: seven tricks
- Player to left of dealer: six tricks
- Player to right of dealer: four tricks
Note that the three quotas add up to exactly seventeen tricks, the total number of tricks in the game. This means that if anyone exceeds their quota at all, by even one trick, another player will be short.
Play of the hand
Upon looking at their hand, the dealer declares the trump suit. Whoever holds the 2♣ leads it to the first trick. The next player to their left responds by playing a club, if they are able; otherwise, they may play any card they wish. The final player follows in turn. These three cards played to the table are called a trick. After all players have played a card, the player who played the highest trump, or the highest club if none were played, wins the trick. They collect the three cards and place them into a score pile, separate from their hand.
The player that won the first trick then leads any card, except for a trump (see below); again, all players must follow the suit led, if able. After all three cards have been played, whoever played the highest card of the suit led collects the cards and gets to start the next trick, and the process repeats. Players should keep the tricks separate in their score piles; one good way of doing this is to place each newly-captured trick at right angles to the preceding one.
The first time a player who is unable to follow suit plays a trump, trumps are said to have been broken. Trumps can then be led to subsequent tricks. When clubs are trump, trumps are broken even for the first trick, because, of course, the first trick always contains at least one club.
After all seventeen tricks have been played, the hand is scored. Each player counts the number of tricks that they have. A player scores one point for each trick that they collected in excess of their quota. If a player captured tricks less than or equal to their quota, they score nothing for that hand.
After the hand is scored, the player to the outgoing dealer’s left deals the next hand.
Beginning with the second hand, and on every hand thereafter, players are entitled to plucks based on their score in the previous hand. A player earns one pluck for each extra trick they collected on the preceding hand. Players can be plucked from once for each trick they were short of their quota on the previous hand.
Plucking takes place immediately after the cards have been dealt, before the dealer announces the trump suit. The plucking player passes one card, face down, to the player they are plucking from. That player then passes back, also face down, the highest card they hold of suit of the card they just received. Because the trump suit is not yet known, the jokers cannot be passed during plucking.
Ending the game
Hasenpfeffer is a trick-taking game, based on Euchre, for four players in partnerships. Hasenpfeffer adds a bidding system to determine who gets to choose the trump suit. It also adds a joker as the most powerful trump in the game. However, if you hold the joker, and nobody else bids, you have to, whether you want to or not!
Despite the German name, Hasenpfeffer isn’t from Germany, but instead most likely originates from the Pennsylvania Dutch, much like Euchre itself. While there is a rabbit stew called hasenpfeffer, the name more likely derives from the German idiom “Hase im Pfeffer“, which roughly translates to “in a pickle”. This is particularly appropriate, considering that the player dealt the joker may well find themselves in a pickle because of it!
Object of Hasenpfeffer
The object of Hasenpfeffer is to be the first partnership to score ten or more points. Points are scored by taking tricks and by fulfilling contracts made by bidding.
Hasenpfeffer uses a unique 25-card pack. Fortunately, such a deck is easy to construct from a pack of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Just add one joker and take out all the 2s through the 8s. You’ll be left with a deck with aces through 9s only in each of the four suits, plus the joker, of course.
The players need to be divided into two partnerships, with partners sitting across from one another. The turn of play will alternate between partnerships when going clockwise. You can decide the partnerships by whatever method you agree on—random card draw or just mutual agreement both work.
Shuffle and deal six cards to each player. Place the odd, 25th card face down in the center of the table, forming the widow.
As in Euchre, the card ranking in the trump suit is a little different than usual. The trump suit contains two extra cards the other suits do not: the joker, and an extra jack from the suit of the same color as the trump suit. The rank of cards in the trump suit is as follows:
- The joker.
- Right bower. Jack of trumps.
- Left bower. The jack of the suit as the same color as trumps is considered a trump, and is ranked here. (For example, if clubs were trump, the J♣ would be the right bower, and the J♠ would be the left bower.)
- All of the remaining cards, in their usual order, with ace high. (A, K, Q, 10, 9.)
Cards rank in the usual order, ace high, in the non-trump suits (save for the jack serving as the left bower).
The bidding begins with the player to the dealer’s left. This player may either pass or bid any number of tricks, from one to six, that they think their partnership can take if they get the right to choose the trump suit. The next player to the left, if they wish to bid, must make a higher bid than the preceding player; they may also pass. This continues until all four players have had a chance to bid. The dealer gets the final bid; the bidding does not continue for a second round.
Should all four players pass, the player holding the joker reveals it to the other players. This player is obligated to make a bid of three tricks, which automatically becomes the high bid for the hand. If the joker is the widow card (meaning nobody holds it), the hand is void, and a new hand is dealt by the next dealer.
The side which won the bidding becomes the declarers, and their opponents become the defenders. The high bidder takes the widow card into their hand, declares the trump suit for the hand, then discards one card, face down. The high bid becomes the declarers’ contract for that hand.
Play of the hand
The high bidder leads to the first trick. Each player to the left, in turn, then plays a card. If a player is able to follow suit, they must. Otherwise, they are free to play any card they wish, including a trump. The highest card of the suit led wins the trick, unless a trump is present, in which case the highest trump wins the trick.
When a player wins a trick, they do not add it to the hand. Rather, captured tricks are kept in a shared discard pile in front of one of the partners. Since scoring depends on the number of tricks captured, each trick should be placed onto the pile at right angles, so that the tricks can be easily separated after the hand. Whichever player wins a trick leads to the next one.
After all six tricks have been played, the hand is scored. If the declarers managed to capture a number of tricks equal to or greater than stipulated by their contract, they score one point per trick collected. If they do not, they lose points equal to the contract. For example, a partnership has a contract of four. If they take five tricks, they score five points. If they take three, they score –4.
Regardless of whether the declarers make their contract or not, the defenders always score one point for each trick they take.
Game play continues until one partnership reaches a score of ten or better. That team is the winner. If both partnerships reach a score of ten on the same hand, the declarers for that hand win the game. This makes it impossible to win a game while defending, unless the declarers fail to make their contract.
Tresette is an Italian trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Much like in Pinochle, players also score points for melds that they find in their hands. Melds in Tresette are much more simple, however, because they can only include aces, 2s, and 3s. These cards, along with the face cards, are the only cards that count when collected in tricks.
Object of Tresette
The object of Tresette is to be the first partnership to score 31 or more points. Points are scored by taking certain cards in tricks and by forming melds consisting of aces, 2s, and 3s.
Tresette uses the 40-card Italian deck. (This is the same deck used to play Seven and a Half, Scopa and Briscola, among others.) To create the requisite deck, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s, 9s, and 8s. Now you’ll have a deck that has ten cards in each suit (ace through 7, and the three face cards). You’ll also want something to keep score with—pencil and paper works great.
Tresette is traditionally played in a counter-clockwise fashion (to the right). For the sake of simplicity, we’ve reversed the directions so that it proceeds to the left, like most normal card games. If your players want some added authenticity to their Tresette game, you can reverse it back. It really makes no difference.
Determine partnerships by any convenient method, such as by drawing cards or just mutual agreement. Players should sit next to each other, so that as the turn proceeds around the table, it alternates between partnerships.
Shuffle and deal the entire deck out, ten cards to each player.
Tresette uses an extremely odd card ranking. Aces are high, but 3s and 2s are ranked even higher than the aces. If that’s not enough, the jacks outrank the queens! What’s left is in the usual order. That gives a full card ranking of (high) 3, 2, A, K, J, Q, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).
There are two types of melds in Tresette, and they both involve only the aces, 2s, and 3s. The first is three or four of a kind. (Again, just aces, 2s, and 3s count—three of a kind in any other suit gets you nothing!) The second, called a nap, consists of 3-2-A of the same suit.
If a player holds a meld at the beginning of the hand, they declare it by stating “Good play”. They do not reveal the meld, and multiple players may declare melds. Upon winning their first trick, a player that declared a meld announces the type of the meld or melds they hold, such as “four 2s”, or “three aces and a nap”.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Play is the same as it is in most every trick-taking game, but we’ll give you the rundown anyway. Each player in turn plays a card. They must follow suit if able, and if not, they can play whatever they want. After all four have played, whoever played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick and leads to the next one. Each partnership maintains a won-tricks pile, shared between the two partners, in which they store the cards from tricks that they’ve won.
Unlike in most other card games, in Tresette, you can share information about your holdings and what you want your partner to do. However, anything you say is public knowledge; your opponents are in on it too! When you lead to a trick, you can ask your partner to “play their best” card of that suit. If you’re playing to a trick led by someone else, you can announce how many cards you hold of the suit led. You can also announce, at any time, if you hold two, one, or zero cards in a suit (but not which suit it is).
Play continues until all ten tricks have been played. The hand is then scored. Each partnership first scores one point for each card in their melds. That is, for each four-of-a-kind melded, they score four points, and they score three for every other meld. Each team then counts the number of 2s, 3s, and face cards that they captured in tricks. For every three of these cards captured, they score one point. Any remainder is disregarded. For each ace that the partnership collected, they score one point. Finally, the partnership that took the last trick also scores one point.
Spinado is a game in the Stops family for three to five players. Although the basics of the game are more or less identical to Newmarket (Michigan), it changes the winning conditions for the various pots in the middle of the table. In addition, it grants the A♦ the title of spinado, giving it a special role in the game.
Object of Spinado
The object of Spinado is to obtain the most chips over the course of the game. Chips are collected by playing particular cards associated with individual pots that the players contribute to.
Spinado is played with a stripped deck of only 47 cards. To make a Spinado deck, remove the 8♦ and all of the 2s from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll be left with a deck of four suits with kings down to 3s, as well as four aces (the diamonds, of course, will be missing the 8).
You also need something to bet with, such as poker chips or some other form of counter, like marbles or beans. If desired, you can have each chip represent some amount of real-world money. If so, each player will need to buy in. Otherwise, give an equal amount of chips to each player.
You will need some way of organizing the three pots in the center of the table. The pots in Spinado are Matrimony, Intrigue, and Game. Each player antes one chip to each pot at the beginning of the hand.
Shuffle and deal out the entire deck, dealing one hand to every player plus one. That is, if playing with four players, deal five hands of nine cards each. If there are any extra cards left over, place them in the extra hand. This hand is discarded and serves no part in game play.
The player to the dealer’s left starts the hand by playing any card they wish. Whoever has the next highest card of the same suit—cards rank in their usual order, with aces low—may play it next. And so on it goes, until play is stopped by the next-higher card in the sequence being in the dead hand (or removed, as when an ace or the 7♦ is played). When that happens, the last person to play can choose any card they wish, and play continues from the new starter.
The A♦ is called the spinado, and has a special power not granted to any other card. The player holding the spinado can play it alongside any other valid play, interrupting the sequence. Because the 2♦ is removed from the deck, the spinado also stops play, so the person playing it also gets to start a new sequence. That means the player holding the spinado can essentially play three cards in a row!
If a player holds K-Q♦ and gets the chance to play them both, they collect all of the chips in the Matrimony pot. Likewise, if a player can play Q-J♦, they take all of the chips in the Intrigue pot. A lucky player who can play K-Q-J♦ takes both pots!
Ending the hand
Game play continues until one player runs out of cards. That player wins the hand and collects the Game pot. Any uncollected amounts in the Matrimony and Intrigue pots are carried over to the next hand. In fact, the pots are more often left unclaimed than not, because of the difficulty in both getting the two necessary cards and getting the chance to play them!
If a player holds the spinado at the end of the hand, having failed to play it, they must pay the winner two chips for each card in their hand.
The deal passes to the left and each player except the winner of the previous hand antes again to each pot. The game continues until some predetermined time or number of hands. Whichever player has the most chips at that point wins the game.