California Speed is a fast-paced game for two players. Much like regular Speed, in California Speed each player controls half of the deck, quickly playing cards from their hand to a tableau shared between the two players. To win a game of California Speed, a player has to be able to quickly read the board in front of them and react before their opponent does.
Object of California Speed
The object of California Speed is to be the first to play all of their cards to the tableau.
To play a game of California Speed, you’ll need a standard 52-card pack of playing cards. Because this is a game that involves a lot of quick movements, with cards flying everywhere, you need a deck of cards that can stand up to the abuse. You don’t want cards that will chip or bend. You’ll want a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.
Shuffle and deal 26 cards, face down, to each player. Players may not look at their cards. Instead, they should keep them in a squared-up pack, face down in their hand.
On a count of three, each player deals four cards face-up in a row in front of them, aligning them so that they form a box. This box forms the tableau.
As soon as the tableau is dealt, each player begins looking for cards of the same rank. If players find a match, be it a pair, three- or four-of-a-kind, they immediately deal more cards from their hand to cover up the matched cards. There are no turns; players act simultaneously. Should both players notice a match and begin covering cards at the same time, it is perfectly fine to leave the match partially covered by one player and the rest by the other.
If no further plays are available because the tableau displays eight cards of different ranks, each player picks up the four stacks of cards on their side of the table, turns them face down, and puts them under the stack of cards in their hand. Each player then deals four cards from their hand to form a new tableau, as at the beginning of the game.
Game play continues until one player plays all of the cards from their hand to the tableau. That player is the winner.
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.
Poke is a unique two-player game combining the mechanics of a trick-taking game with those 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. Because you deserve a deck of cards that won’t fail you in the middle of a game, always play with 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 strong hand, both as a 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.
East–West is a poker game for two players. Much like Pai Gow Poker or Chinese Poker, the challenge in the game is placing cards you receive into one of three hands. East–West has two major differences with those games, though. First, there is one community card that you share with your opponent. Second, there is no gambling in this game at all!
East–West was created by German author Reiner Knizia. It was first published in German, in his 1995 Wild West-themed compendium of family-oriented poker games, Kartenspiele im Wilden Westen. The book was translated to English and published in 2007 as Blazing Aces! A Fistful of Family Card Games.
Object of East–West
The object of East–West is to strategically place cards drawn from the stock into one of three poker hands. The ultimate goal is to win two out of the three hands.
East–West was created to be played with a German deck of cards. To make an equivalent pack from an English-style 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck containing aces through 7s in each of the four suits, for 32 cards in all.
Both players should sit on the same side of the table. One player will play the left or “West” side of the board, while the other will play the right or “East” side.
The nondealer goes first. They draw a card from the stock and place it next to any one of the three board cards, on their designated side. The dealer goes next, doing the same thing, placing their card on the opposite side. Players continue alternating in this way, drawing cards and placing them.
Each player thus builds three poker hands. Each hand consists of one of the board cards and the other cards on that row on their side. A player may only place cards on their side, not on their opponent’s. Once a player has placed four cards on a row, the hand is complete (making a five-card hand, including the board card) and no more cards may be added to it.
James Bond is a card game from the Commerce group of games. It can be played by either two or three players. It plays very similarly to a smaller, non-partnership version of Cash (Kemps), with each player holding multiple hands. In James Bond, players manage several four-card piles of cards, swapping cards with those on the table to make four-of-a-kinds.
Object of James Bond
The object of James Bond is to be the first player to collect four of a kind in each of their four-card piles.
James Bond is played using one standard 52-card pack of playing cards. Believe us, if you use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, you’ll definitely be as cool as James Bond.
Shuffle and deal the entire deck out into piles of four. With two players, give each player six of the piles; with three, give each player four piles. Players should keep the piles in front of them, clearly separated, and not look at them until the game begins. You’ll be left with one extra pile; turn it face up and spread it in the center of the play area, easily accessible to all players.
Players do not take turns in James Bond. Instead, every player acts simultaneously, playing as quickly as they can. Claiming cards is very much a first-come, first-served sort of ordeal!
Upon a signal from the dealer, all players begin play at once. They may pick up any one of their piles and look at it. If they wish to look at a different pile, they must place the first one face down on the table before picking up another one. A player cannot hold one or more piles in their hand at the same time. Piles cannot be combined, and cards may not be switched directly between piles.
When a player is holding one of their piles in their hand, they may switch any one card from that pile with one of the cards on the table. A player cannot switch more than one card at a time. If a player wishes to take multiple cards from the table, they must switch one card, then the other. Players may move cards between piles by swapping them with cards on the table, then switching piles and swapping again. Of course, this runs the risk of an opponent claiming the cards during the time that they’re on the table.
Game play continues until one player has collected four of a kind in every one of their piles. They call out “James Bond!” and turn their cards face up to allow the opponents to verify that they do, in fact, have four of a kind in each pile. If so, the player wins the game.
A decent amount of skill in this game is simply being fast. A player swapping cards quickly is more likely to establish a four-of-a-kind before their opponent. Part of this is inherent reflexes, and part is just practice.
Other than that, the best strategy in this game is to simply be aware of what’s going on. It’s easy to get lost in the frenzy of card swapping and get tunnel vision for what you need to complete your piles. Try to pay attention to what your opponent is doing, though. If you can remember what your opponent has been taking, you can retain cards of that rank in your piles until you are ready to complete a four-of-a-kind. If you have multiple cards of that rank split across piles, you can seriously delay them in completing their piles.
Nuts, also known as Nerts, Pounce, and Racing Demon, among other names, is a competitive solitaire game. It can be played by two to four players, although more may be accommodated by dividing into partnerships. Functionally, Nuts resembles multiple frenzied games of Canfield being played simultaneously.
Object of Nuts
To play Nuts, you’ll need one deck of cards for each player. Each deck of cards in play must have a distinct back design. The frenzied pace of Nuts means cards can get bent up and damaged pretty easily. With a sturdy deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, you’re far less likely to have to stop the game and hunt for a replacement deck. Plus, they come in a two-deck set, which is perfect for a two-player game of Nuts.
You’ll also need something to keep score with, such as the venerable pencil and paper.
Players should seat themselves such that they are all facing a central area, where the foundations will be played. This central area should be accessible by all players, with plenty of room between players to allow for easy movement. If playing with an even number of players greater than four, players should pair up by any convenient means. Partners should sit next to one another. In a partnership game, the partners cooperate, however they see fit, to play more quickly. (We will describe the game as though it were being played by solo players below; any time a “player” is mentioned it should be understood that this applies to a partnership, where appropriate.)
Each player shuffles and deals thirteen cards from their own deck, face down, into a pile. They then square up the pile, and turn it face up, so only the top card can be seen. This forms the reserve. To the right of the reserve, deal a line of four cards, face up, forming the tableau. The remainder of the deck becomes the stock.
There are no turns in Nuts. Instead, everyone plays simultaneously. When conflicts arise, the first card to be played (usually the one that ended up below the other) takes precedence. Cards rank in their usual order, with aces low.
Play of the hand
The tableau is built down by alternating colors (red cards are played on black cards and vice versa), in descending rank order. When a card is moved, all cards on top of it are moved as well. In other words, the tableau works pretty much exactly like that of Canfield or Klondike. A player may play to their own tableau only; their opponents’ are off-limits.
The top card of the reserve is available to be moved to any legal location at any time. Cards beneath the top card are not accessible and should not be known to the player.
Cards may be drawn, three at a time, from the stock and placed in a discard pile, from which they may be moved to any location. Only the third card is available for play, freeing up the second card when the third is played, etc. After the stock is fully depleted, the discard pile is flipped over to replenish it.
When an empty spot appears in the tableau, any accessible card (the top card of the reserve, a card from the discard pile, or cards from elsewhere in the tableau) may be moved to fill the vacancy.
When a player encounters an ace, it may be moved to the central area to form a new foundation pile. The foundation piles are built up by suit, in ascending rank order. Any player may add to a foundation pile, not just the player that started it. Players may create a new foundation whenever they have an ace, even if another incomplete foundation pile exists. No new cards may be added to a foundation whenever a king has been played to it. Once played to a foundation, a card cannot be removed from it.
After the hand has gone on for a while, players will be unable to make any additional moves, due to a lack of necessary cards (trapped either in the reserve or in inaccessible parts of the stock). When all players reach this state, or otherwise agree to do so, they may flip their discard piles to reform their stock, then, move its top card to the bottom. This is usually enough to adjust the deck so new cards are now accessible.
Ending the hand
The hand ends whenever a player depletes their reserve. They call out “Nuts!” and game play immediately ceases. (Players in the process of moving cards may complete their moves, but no new cards may be picked up.)
It occasionally happens that none of the cards in a player’s stock are playable. If every player finds themselves in this situation, the hand ends.
The foundation piles are collected, then separated based on their backs. This allows a count to be made of the number of cards each player contributed to the foundations. Each player scores one point for each card played to the foundations. Two points are then subtracted for each card left in their reserve.
Players collect their cards back into full decks, then shuffle and deal new hands. Game play continues until at least one player exceeds a score of 100 points. The player with the highest score at that point is the winner.
Briscola (pronounced with all long vowels, like breeze-cola) is a simple Italian trick-taking game for two to four players. When four play the game, they play as two-player partnerships; in two- and three player games, each player plays for themselves.
Object of Briscola
The object of Briscola is to take tricks containing the most point-scoring cards as possible.
The composition of the deck in Briscola depends on the number of people playing. The two- or four-player game uses the same 40-card Italian pack used in Scopa. To prepare such a deck, take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s through 8s, leaving ace through jack and 7 through 2 in each of the four suits. The three-player game uses a 39-card deck, prepared the same way, but removing one of the 2s (which one doesn’t matter, but it should be communicated to all of the players).
You’ll also need something to keep score with. Scoring is not too complicated in this game (at the most you’ll be playing three hands), so while pencil and paper will work, you can also use a smartphone application, a small dry-erase board, or even memory if you trust everyone not to fudge the numbers.
In the four-player game, the players should either mutually agree to partnerships, or else draw cards from a shuffled deck to determine who is on which partnership (the two players drawing higher cards play against the two drawing lower cards). Partners should sit opposite one another, such that when proceeding around the table, each player is from alternating partnerships.
Shuffle and deal three cards to each player. Turn up the next card of the deck. This card, the upcard, fixes the trump suit for the hand. Place the deck stub in the center of the table; it will form the stock.
Briscola uses an idiosyncratic card ranking, elevating the 3 to the second-highest card, just below the ace. All other cards rank in their usual order. Therefore, the full card ranking is (high) A, 3, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2 (low).
The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding around the table to the left, then plays one of their cards to the trick. There is no obligation to follow suit; a player may play any card they please. The player who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led, if there is no trump, wins the trick. That player adds it to a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them (in the four-player game, partnerships share a common won-tricks pile). There is no need to keep the tricks separated in the pile.
After each trick, the players each draw a card, starting with the player who won the trick, then proceeding clockwise. The player that won the trick then leads to the next one.
After the stock has been depleted, the next and final player to draw takes the upcard. In the four-player game, the players now briefly exchange hands with their partner, look at their partner’s last three cards, then switch back. Then, the last three tricks are played as usual.
When all of the tricks have been played, the hand is scored. Players turn up their won-trick piles and total up the number of points found in it according to the following list:
- Aces: eleven points.
- 3s: ten points.
- Kings: four points.
- Queens: three points.
- Jacks: two points.
- 7s–2s: zero points.
In the two- and four-player games, one more hand is played, with the deal passing to the left (to the first hand’s non-dealer in the two-player game). In the three-player game, each player deals one hand, for a total of three hands. Whichever player or partnership scored the most points across all of the hands is the winner (in the event of a tie, the winner of a tie-breaker hand wins the game).
Mate is an obscure two-player game that was originally created in Germany. Like Gops, it is a game with a heavy emphasis on strategy. Unlike Gops, however, which eliminates luck by removing all but a small element of randomness from the game play, Mate mitigates the naturally-occurring randomness from the deal of the hands by requiring players to play each deal twice, swapping hands with their opponent after the first playthrough.
Mate appears to have first been published in a German-language pamphlet called “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (in English, “Two New War Games!”) published in Hanover in 1915 by one G. Capellen, apparently the inventor of the game. It remained relatively unknown until Sid Sackson, an avid game collector and author best known for creating the board game Acquire, purchased a copy of “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!”, despite knowing little German at the time. Sackson was quite taken by the game, and later spread it to a wider audience by including it in his 1969 book A Gamut of Games. Sackson theorized that “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (and therefore, Mate) never took off because of the concept of war games simply didn’t appeal to the populace of a country engaged in World War I when the booklet was published.
Object of Mate
The object of Mate is to force an opponent to be unable to play a card matching the card led in suit or rank, but allowing as many turns to pass as possible before then.
Mate is played with a stripped pack of only 20 cards. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the jacks, 9s, 8s, and 6s through 2s, leaving a deck composed of A, K, Q, 10, 7 in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to score with, such as pencil and paper.
Shuffle and deal the whole pack to both players, five at a time. Each player will have a hand of ten cards.
Mate more or less follows the standard card ranking, except for 10s, which rank between aces and kings. Aces are high. Therefore, the full rank of cards is (high) A, 10, K, Q, 7 (low). The suits also rank relative to one another: (high) clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (low).
Unlike most two-player games, the dealer gets the first move. They begin by deciding whether not they wish to foreplace (i.e. discard) a card. If so, they place it face-down in front of them. The non-dealer then has the option to foreplace a card. Foreplacing a card increases the score if the player wins the hand (see below).
The dealer then leads the first card. The non-dealer must then respond by playing a card of the same suit, if possible. If they cannot, they must play a card of the same rank as the card led. These two cards constitute one move. The higher-ranked card wins the move; if both cards were of the same rank, the card of the higher suit wins. Whoever played the higher card then leads to the second move.
Game play continues in this fashion, with each player placing their cards to separate face-up piles in front of them, being careful not to mix the cards between the hands. If a player is at any time unable to follow the lead in suit or rank, the leader of that move is said to have given mate to their opponent. The player giving mate scores the value of the card they played to give mate, multiplied by one for each move played (e.g. a mate on the fifth move would score the value of the mating card times five). If a player foreplaced a card, this foreplacement is counted as move one for that player, so the number of moves is effectively increased by one.
The values of the cards for scoring is:
- Ace: eleven.
- Ten: ten.
- King: four.
- Queen: three.
- Seven: seven.
So for example, if a player gave mate with a queen in the fifth move, they would score 3 × 5 = 15 points. If they foreplaced a card, this would be counted as the sixth move, so they would score 3 × 6 = 18 points.
In the case where one player foreplaced and the other did not, the player who foreplaced is considered to play the same card to both the ninth and tenth moves. If this card gives mate to the opponent, it is called an overmate and scores double. An overmate with an ace is the highest possible score for one game: 11 (for the ace) × 11 (for the tenth move, plus one through foreplacement) × 2 (for the overmate) = 242.
If both players manage to play out the entirety of their hands without either player being mated, it is considered a draw. Neither player scores in this situation.
After the game, the two piles of cards are swapped. The same hands are then played again, but with each player playing the hand that previously belonged to their opponent. The original non-dealer leads off. This pair of games played with the same hands is called a round.
After completing the first round, the original non-dealer collects the cards, shuffles, and deals fresh hands to each player. These hands are used to play a second round. Two rounds make up one match; the winner of the match is the player with the higher score after its conclusion.
Mille is a Rummy-type game that plays very similar to Canasta. Unlike Canasta, however, Mille is played by two solo players, not partnerships. Mille is likely of Canadian origin, beginning in Quebec and spreading east into Ontario by the 1990s. While it’s possible to play Mille just for fun, it is typically played for money.
Object of Mille
The object of Mille is to be the first player to score 1,200 points by melding cards of the same rank.
Mille uses a 104-card deck formed by shuffling together two standard 52-card decks with the same back design. (Unlike Canasta, Mille does not use jokers.) We, of course, would be overjoyed to know you’re using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards for your game. You will also need something to keep score with; pencil and paper is probably your best bet.
The players should mutually agree as to whether to play for money, and if so, how much the stakes will be. Stakes are typically expressed as two dollar amounts, the second three times as much as the first, e.g. $1-$3, $2-6, $50-$150, etc. (The purpose of these amounts will be described in “Ending the game” below.)
Shuffle and deal fifteen cards to each player. Place the remainder of the pack face down in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn one card face up from the stock. This card, the upcard, is the first card of the discard pile.
Play of the hand
The non-dealer goes first. As in most rummy games, a turn consists of drawing, melding if able, and then discarding. If a player has two or more cards in their hand of the same rank as the upcard, they may immediately meld the upcard along with these cards, then take the entire discard pile into their hand. Otherwise, they draw one card from the stock.
After drawing, the player may lay down, face up, as many melds as they have in their hand. A meld consists of three or more cards of the same rank. Melding is optional; a player may choose to retain an entire meld or some cards of the same rank in their hand. All cards of the same rank that are laid down by a player are considered to form one meld. If a player melded, say, three kings, then on later turn melded three more, this would form one six-card meld.
2s are considered wild cards, and may be melded alongside any other combination of cards. Note, however, that players who do not meld any 2s are awarded a bonus. Three or more 2s can also be laid down as a meld of 2s, which does not prevent the player from claiming the bonus. A 2 cannot be used to take the discard pile; this can only be done with two or more natural cards of the same rank as the upcard.
After melding, the player discards one card, and the turn passes to the next player, with this discard as the new upcard for the next player’s turn. If the stock is depleted, the upcard is set aside and the remainder of the discard pile is shuffled and turned face down to form a new stock.
The hand ends when one player has melded or discarded all of their cards. A player may discard on the turn they go out, but if they are able to exhaust their hand by melding all of their cards, they may end the hand without discarding.
The cards in Mille have the following values:
- Q♠: 100 points
- J♦: 50 points
- Aces: 15 points each
- K-10: 10 points each
- 9-3: 5 points each
- 2s: 20 points each
If a player manages to meld all eight cards of one rank without using any wild cards, this is called a natural, and the value of this meld is doubled in their hand score. If the player did not meld any 2s at all (other than as part of a meld of 2s), this is also considered a natural, and the value of all of their melded cards is doubled. When a player scores a natural of either type, it is indicated on the score sheet with an asterisk next to their score for that hand. If a player scores both types of natural, two asterisks are recorded on the score sheet, the natural meld scores 4× the value of the cards, and all other cards score double.
At the end of the hand, each player scores the total value of the all the cards they have melded, then they deduct the value of any cards left in their hand. As a result, It is possible that the player who did not go out can have a net negative score for the hand; this is called a chapeau (French for “hat”) and the negative hand score is circled on the score sheet.
Ending the game
The game ends when one player has scored 1,200 or more. This player is the winner.
If the losing player failed to score at least 600 points, this is a skunk. If the losing player ended the hand with a negative score, it is a double skunk.
If playing for money, the loser pays the winner according to the stakes. As mentioned before, the stakes are expressed as two amounts, e.g. $1-$3. Using these values, the loser pays:
- The larger amount once for losing the game.
- The larger amount once for each natural scored by the winner.
- The larger amount once for each of the loser’s chapeaux.
- The smaller amount is paid once for each 100-point difference in score between the two players. To calculate this, round the scores to the nearest 100, subtract the smaller from the larger, and divide the difference by 100.
In the event of a skunk, the payment is doubled; in the event of a double skunk, the payment is tripled.
Pepper is a trick-taking game similar to Euchre, played in Ohio and Iowa. Though it’s quite a bit simpler and easier to learn than Euchre, it still provides ample opportunity for the use of cunning strategy. Pepper is best as a four-player partnership game, though variants for two and three players exist.
Object of Pepper
The object of Pepper is to accurately predict the number of tricks that you will capture in a hand if allowed to select the trump suit, or to stop your opponents from capturing the number of tricks they need.
Pepper is played with a stripped 24-card deck. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the 2s through 8s, leaving you with 9s through aces (six cards) in each of the four suits. You will also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works well.
Shuffle and deal six cards to each player.
Rank of cards
Pepper uses an unusual ranking of cards, although it will be familiar to those who have played Euchre or Five Hundred. In non-trump suits, cards rank in the conventional order, i.e., from highest to lowest: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9.
In the trump suit, however, the cards rank differently. The jack of the trump suit is called the right bower, and the jack of the same color of the trump suit is called the left bower. (For example, if the trump suit were diamonds, the J♦ would be the right bower and the J♥ would be the left bower.) Both are considered part of the trump suit, ranking above all other cards in that suit. The complete rank of cards in the trump suit, then, is right bower (J), left bower, K, Q, 10, 9.
Each hand begins with the bid, where the players compete for the right to choose the trump suit. The available bids are the numbers one through five, signifying an intent for their partnership to collect one to five tricks respectively, and bids of little pepper and big pepper, which are both bids to collect all six tricks. A bid of big pepper, which is higher than little pepper, essentially doubles the potential risk or reward to the partnership.
Bidding starts with the player to the left of the dealer, who may make any of the bids described above, or pass. Each bid must be higher than the bids preceding it. Bidding continues until there are three consecutive passes. The high bid becomes the contract for that player’s partnership. The high bidder’s partnership becomes the declarers, and the opposing side the defenders. The high bidder may name any of the four suits as trump, or declare there will be no trump for that hand.
Play of the hand
The high bidder leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if able; if not, they may play any card, including a trump. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump was played to that trick, in which case the highest trump takes the trick.
Captured tricks are not added to the hand. Instead, all of the tricks a partnership takes are kept in a combined pile in front of one of the partners. To speed scoring at the end of the hand, it’s a good idea to keep the tricks separate somehow, like by turning each trick at right angles to the previous one before putting it on the pile.
After all six tricks have been played, the hand is scored. If the declarers made their contract (i.e. they captured the number of tricks bid or more), they score one point for each trick taken by the partnership. If they failed to make the contract, they lose six points, regardless of the amount of the contract. If the high bid was big pepper, the partnership scores twelve points for taking all six tricks and loses twelve if they did not. The defenders score one point for each trick taken.
Game play continues until one partnership scores 30 points or more. Whichever partnership has the higher score at that point is the winner. If the score is tied, the game ends as a draw.
Variants for two and three players
Pepper can also be played with two or three players without partnerships. In both cases, three eight-card hands are dealt; in the two-handed variant, one of these is discarded unused. Bids in this version go up to seven, with the pepper bids representing an intent to take all eight tricks.