Not every card game makes you go it alone. Many of the world’s great games are designed around partnership or team play. Working together with a partner toward a shared victory can be extremely satisfying. Succeeding in such a game often involves not only attention to the game itself and its strategy, but learning how to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your partner’s hand, and adjusting your play to accommodate them.
However, there are a few important considerations that you need to be aware of before you can start playing any partnership game. These aren’t difficult to resolve, but a little bit of thought put into them will ensure that your game goes smoothly and everyone has fun.
The first thing that needs to be established when playing a partnership game is who will be partners with who. There are two ways of handling this: by leaving it up to chance, or intentionally pairing players with one another. Which works better will depend on your players and the type of game you’re wanting to play.
One method of establishing teams is to do so by a random draw. If you’re doing a normal two-teams-of-two arrangement, take two red cards and two black cards out of the deck. Shuffle those four cards and let everyone pick one. The two players drawing red cards will play against the two who drew black cards.
For other numbers and sizes of teams, adapt accordingly. For example, for three teams of two, use three different suits with two cards each.
The benefit of the random-draw method is that it is unlikely to cause hurt feelings regarding who is playing with who. If you don’t like your partner, well, it’s the deck’s fault, not yours.
However, choosing randomly may result in unbalanced teams if there is a big disparity in skill or experience between players. If the draw pairs two highly-skilled players against two that have never played the game before, nobody’s going to have fun. Another downside is that it may pit close friends or significant others against each other, which may not sit well with some people.
Another option for choosing teams is to simply work out through discussion who will be with who. Sometimes, this is easy to decide. If two pairs of spouses get together to play a friendly game, it’s natural for the couples to play against each other. A group may choose to pair an inexperienced player with a strong player to help them learn the game. In Contract Bridge, some partners work together so well that they never play the game unless it’s with their established partner.
However, there are some pitfalls to this approach. Remember the kid in gym class that was last to get picked for a team? Nobody wants anyone at their game night to feel that way. Also, losses or disagreements over play can spark tensions between partners. Such escalations can lead to hard feelings, or even worse, as happened in the famous Kansas City Bridge Murder in 1929.
Once the teams have been decided, you need to determine where everyone will be sitting. For most games, players should sit so that there is an opponent to the left and to the right of them. As the turn of play goes around the table, players of opposing partnerships will alternate in taking their turns. For four-player games, this also means that players will be sitting across from their partner.
For six-player games using two teams of three, players should sit A-B-A-B-A-B. When playing with three teams of two, they should sit A-B-C-A-B-C.
A practice especially common in Contract Bridge that has spread to other partnership games is to have one scorekeeper on each partnership. This promotes fairness by not allowing one team to have total control over the score. It also permits the two scorekeepers to check their scores against each other, preventing errors.