Preference is the name applied to an entire family of games played from central and eastern Europe into Russia. There are dozens of regional variations of the game, so the one we’ve chosen to describe here is the version played in Austria. Other variants add new elements to play, such as bids to collect more than six tricks.
Preference is a game for three players. If a fourth person wishes to play, they can be included by simply sitting out on their turn to deal. While Preference can be played with pencil-and-paper scoring, traditionally it is played for cash (not even chips, as many betting games are).
Object of Preference
Preference uses a special 32-card pack. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 2s through 6s, leaving aces through 7s in each of the four suits.
Before playing, it should be established whether the game is being played for money or for points. If played for money, the players should mutually agree to the value of one stake. This will be the denomination that all bets will be transacted in. Players should also agree as to the amount that will be anted to seed the pot for the first hand. This ante must be divisible by ten times the stake.
Shuffle and deal the cards in the following manner:
- Deal a packet of three cards face down to each player.
- Deal two cards face down to the center of the table. This forms the talon.
- Deal a packet of four cards face down to each player.
- Deal a packet of three cards face down to each player.
Suits in Preference rank in the following order, from highest to lowest: hearts (4), diamonds (3), clubs (2), spades (1). Note that this suit ranking is relevant to the bidding only and not to the value of the suits in the actual game play.
Game play starts with the bidding, which is kicked off by the player to the dealer’s left. This player has the following options to bid:
- One. A bid that the player will take six tricks if they are allowed to name the trump suit and exchange the two cards from the talon with two from their hand.
- Game. A bid that the player will take six tricks if they are allowed to name the trump suit without using the talon.
- Hearts. A bid that the player will take six tricks if hearts are trump, without using the talon.
A player may also pass, which means they take no further part in bidding that round.
If “one” has been bid, it may be overcalled by “two”, then “three”, and so forth. A player may not skip numbers in bidding. If game has been bid, the only bids available are game and hearts. Once a player has made a numerical bid, they may not increase it to game or hearts; they may only bid higher numbers.
A bid of hearts cannot be overcalled; the auction immediately ends. Otherwise, the auction ends when all players but one have passed, or all of the players have either passed or bid game.
The winner of the bidding is called the declarer. The result of the bidding is as follows:
- Numerical bid: The declarer collects the two cards from the talon and discards two cards from their hand, face down. (They may of course discard the two cards from the talon, if desired.) The declarer then announces the trump suit for the hand. It must be at least as high as the winning bid (e.g. if the winning bid was Three, the only possible trump suits are hearts  and diamonds ).
- Game: If only one player bid game, that player becomes the declarer. If multiple players bid game, they each declare the suit they desire as trumps, and the highest-ranking suit wins. If multiple players desire the same trump suit, the first one to the dealer’s left wins. This player becomes the declarer and their preferred suit becomes trump. The talon is discarded.
- Hearts: The player who bid hearts is the declarer. The talon is discarded.
The two players who did not become the declarer become the defenders. With the trump suit having been declared, the defenders decide whether they wish to play the hand, and thus commit to winning at least two tricks, or drop out. The defender on the declarer’s left announces whether they are playing or not first. If both of the defenders drop out, the hand is not played, and is paid out as though the declarer took all ten tricks. If one defender plays but the other does not, they have the option to invite their fellow defender to play. “Invite” is kind of a misnomer—the invited player, called the guest, is compelled to play, at the inviting defender, or host‘s, insistence! However, the host takes on all risk of the defenders’ failure to take a total of four tricks.
If the declarer has no aces, they may (but are not required to) declare this before leading to the first trick. Note that they cannot discard aces into the talon in order to make this declaration. This declaration allows them to receive a bonus if they successfully take six tricks, but pay a penalty if they do not (see “Payouts and penalties” below).
Play of the hand
The declarer leads to the first trick. If able to follow suit, a player must do so. If they are unable to, they must play a trump, if able; otherwise, they may play any card. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump is present, in which case the highest trump wins the trick.
A player must always play a card that will take the trick, if they have one, while also abiding by the rules of following suit. If a player can play the highest card so far of the suit led, they must, unless a played trump renders it moot, in which case they can play a lower card of the suit led. If a player cannot follow suit but can trump, they must, and they must play the highest trump so far if able.
Also, a special rule comes into play if both defenders are playing and the declarer leads. If the first defender to play can beat the declarer’s lead, they must do so by playing the lowest card they can that will beat the lead (subject to the other rules above, of course).
Collected tricks are not added to the hand, but rather kept in a discard pile in front of the player. Since it is important to keep track of 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. The player that won the trick leads to the next one.
Payouts and penalties
After all ten tricks have been played, each player counts the number of tricks they captured throughout the game.
The declarer takes ten times the stake from the pot and distributes one stake to each of the defenders for each trick they took. (If one of the defenders was invited to play, then the host defender receives the payout for both of the defenders.) The declarer then takes the remainder, which constitutes one stake for each of the tricks the declarer took.
After the payout occurs, penalties are assessed. if the declarer failed to take six tricks, they pay twenty times the stake to the pot. If any of the defenders who chose to play failed to take two tricks, they pay ten times the stake to the pot. If one of the defenders was invited to play and the two defenders failed to take a total of four tricks between the two of them, the host defender is solely responsible for paying the ten units to the pot.
The following bonuses are then paid. Note that these bonuses affect all players, whether or not they played, dropped out, or were invited in.
- If the declarer bid hearts and took six tricks, each opponent pays ten times the stake to them. If they failed, they pay ten times the stake to each opponent.
- If the declarer held all four aces and took six tricks, each opponent pays ten times the stake to them.
- If the declarer declared “no aces” and took six tricks, each opponent pays ten times the stake to them. If they failed, they pay ten times the stake to each opponent.
Game play continues until the pot is depleted. At this point, the players mutually decide whether to end the game or ante anew to continue playing.