Four king playing cards

King is a trick-taking card game for four players. A game of King consists of ten hands. During the first six hands, players lose points if they capture certain tricks or tricks containing certain cards. These conditions change on each hand. During the last four hands, players score points by either capturing tricks or not capturing them, as determined by the dealer.

King is played throughout the world, especially in Europe, Russia, and South America. It’s unclear where it ultimately originated from, though; despite the English name “King”, it is not well known in any English-speaking countries.

Object of King

The object of King is to have the most points after ten hands. For the first six hands, players avoid capturing tricks to avoid negative scores. For the last four hands, players scored points by capturing tricks, or avoiding them, depending on the rules decided by the dealer.


To play King, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. To provide your players with the best game-night experience they’ve ever had, though, you’ll need a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You also need something to keep score with, like pencil and paper or a smartphone app.

Choose the first dealer randomly by shuffling the deck and dealing cards one at a time, face up, until a player receives the king of hearts. That player is the first dealer. Shuffle and deal thirteen cards (face down) to each player, dealing out the entire deck.

Game play

On each hand, game play follows much the same formula, though the goal and thus the players’ strategies are different on each hand. The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn plays a card to the trick of the same suit, if they have one; otherwise, they may play any card. After all four have played, whoever played the highest card of the trump suit, or the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played, takes the trick. Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high.

Whoever takes the trick takes the four cards in it and places them in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them. For some hands, it is necessary to know how many tricks each player has taken; on these hands the tricks should be placed at right angles to each other to keep them separated. The player that captured the last trick then leads to the next one.

After thirteen tricks, the hand is over. The score is then computed according to the rules of the hand.

The negative hands

The first six hands of the game are called the negative hands. The one thing all of these hands have in common is that there is no way to score positive points. Rather, on each hand, one or more players will lose points by taking tricks or tricks containing certain cards. The scoring for each hand, in order, is as follows:

  1. −20 for each trick captured
  2. −20 for each heart captured
  3. −50 for each queen captured
  4. −30 for each king or jack captured
  5. −160 for capturing the K♥
  6. −90 for capturing each of the last two tricks

There are no trumps during the negative hands. After the sixth hand, the four players’ scores should total −1,300.

The positive hands

After the six negative hands are the four positive hands. Players have the opportunity to score positive points on these hands. On some hands, players may score for capturing tricks, while on others, they may be rewarded for avoiding doing so.

The dealer decides whether they would like to designate one of the four suits as the trump suit, play with no trump, or auction the right to choose trumps to the other three players. If they choose to auction, the player to the dealer’s left starts the bidding with some number of tricks. Each player in turn then may either bid higher than the previous high bid, or pass. The dealer is skipped. Once there have been two consecutive passes, the high bidder gets the right to name the trump suit, or declare no trump.

After the trump suit has been determined, the dealer (not the winner of the bidding) chooses whether the game will be played playing up or playing down. If the game is played up, then capturing each trick scores a player 25 points. If the game is played down, each player starts with a hand score of 325 points, and 75 points are deducted for each trick captured. Note that a player can still have a negative hand score if they capture more than four tricks!

The hand is then played out. After the thirteen tricks have been played, each player counts the number of tricks they captured. If the dealer auctioned off the right to name trumps, then the high bid is deducted from the bidders’ trick count and added to that of the dealer. The scores are then calculated from these adjusted trick totals.

Ending the game

After the four positive hands, whoever has the most positive points wins the game.

The total hand score for the four positive hands is 325 points per hand, or 1,300 points altogether. This cancels out the −1,300 points scored across the six negative hands. Thus, the scores can be checked by adding all of the players’ scores together at the end of the game and ensuring that they balance (the sum is zero).