Écarté

Écarté (pronounced \e.kaʁ.te\ or roughly ay-car-tay) is a French trick-taking game for two players. A novel feature of the game is that rather than the traditional bidding round prior to trick-play, the players shape their hands into their final form by discarding and drawing cards. The winner might well be decided before the first card is played!

Écarté was at its height in the 19th century. It was mentioned in several works of fiction of the day, such as The Count of Monte Cristo (where it was noted as being preferred over Whist by the French) and the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles. The game gradually lost its popularity, however, and is now relatively obscure.

Object of Écarté

The object of Écarté is to form a hand capable of taking the majority of the five tricks, and then doing so.

Setup

Écarté uses the same deck as Piquet. If you don’t happen to keep a Piquet deck laying around, just grab your trusty deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and take out all of the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck having aces through 7s in each of the four suits, for 32 cards in all. You’ll also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works, as well as the Card Caddy Connector, or chips or other tokens (you’ll only need nine of them).

Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up and set it aside. The suit of this card, the upcard, determines the trump suit. If the upcard is a king, the dealer scores one point.

Card ranking

The cards rank a little out of their usual order in Écarté. The ace ranks between the face cards and the number cards. This makes the full rank of cards (high) K, Q, J, A, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

The exchange

The non-dealer decides whether or not they wish to play with their hand, as dealt. They can either play with what they’ve got by saying “I play”, or propose an exchange by saying “I propose.” If the non-dealer proposes, the dealer has veto power—if they decline, then the play proceeds without an exchange.

If the exchange is accepted, the non-dealer discards any number of cards they wish, then draws back up to five cards. The dealer then has the opportunity to do the same thing. The non-dealer may then propose again or start the actual play of the hand, and the dealer may refuse the proposal, as before.

Should there be less than ten cards left in the stock and exchanging still going on, the non-dealer always has the first priority in taking the number of cards they want, even if that doesn’t leave enough for the dealer to make their desired exchange. When the stock is depleted, there’s no further exchanging—the hand immediately begins. (Neither player can ever draw the upcard, no matter how bad they might want to.)

After the exchange, if either player ended up with the king of trumps, they can show it to their opponent. Doing so scores one point.

Vulnerability

If either player prevents an exchange at all, whichever one turned it down (the non-dealer if they call “I play”, or the non-dealer if they reject the proposal) is said to be vulnerable. A vulnerable player’s opponent can score extra points if they win the hand, so it’s important not to be too overconfident with your hand.

Note that it is possible to avoid vulnerability by starting an exchange and then discarding no cards. This allows your opponent a chance to improve their hand, however.

After the first exchange has taken place, neither player becomes vulnerable by turning down the opportunity for an exchange.

Play of the hand

The non-dealer leads to the first trick. The dealer then plays a card in response, following suit and heading the trick if possible. That means that if they have a card of the suit led, they must play it, playing a higher card if possible. Otherwise, they must trump, if they can. Only if they cannot do either of those are they free to play any other card.

Whoever played the higher trump, or the higher card of the suit led if neither player played a trump, wins the trick. They take the cards and put them in a won-tricks pile on the table in front of them. (It may be helpful to put each pair of cards crosswise, so the number of tricks taken is easily counted.) That player then leads to the next trick.

Scoring

After all five tricks have been played, the hand is scored. Whichever player takes the majority of the tricks (i.e. three or more) scores one point. If they took all five tricks, they score an additional point. One more point is scored if the opponent was vulnerable on that hand.

Further hands are played until someone reaches a score of five points. That player is the winner. (If the winning point is scored prior to the actual play of the hand due to the king of trumps, the hand is not played out.)

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Fünfzehnern (Fifteens)

Fünfzehnern, also known in English as Fifteens, is a trick-taking game for three or four players. Unlike most other trick-taking games, Fünfzehnern doesn’t allow you to lead just any old card. Instead, you have to keep leading cards of the suit you first won the lead with, as long as you have them!

Fünfzehnern is an old German game. Descriptions of it date back to at least the late 1800s.

Object of Fünfzehnern

The object of Fünfzehnern is to take in tricks as many cards ranked 10 and above as possible. The ultimate goal of this is to achieve a hand score of fifteen points or better.

Setup

Fünfzehnern is played with the same pack used to play Piquet. To make such a pack from a set of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck of cards with aces through 7s in each of the four suits, for 32 cards in all. If playing with three players, remove one of the four suits entirely, giving you a 24-card deck. You also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works fine, but Fünfzehnern is traditionally managed with a “hard-score” method (chips or counters are paid into and taken from a central pool).

Shuffle and deal eight cards to each player, using the entire deck.

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. All other players must play a card of the same suit, if possible. Otherwise, they may play any card. Once everyone’s played, the person who played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. That person takes the cards that made up the trick and stacks them into a face-down won-tricks pile. That player then leads to the second trick.

When a player takes the right to lead from another player, they must continue to lead with cards of the suit they won the lead in. Only when they run out of cards of that suit can they change to a different suit. The only exception is if they have a card of a different suit which they know is unbeatable (i.e. because it is an ace, or because all the cards of that suit that would outrank it have been played).

For example, Riley leads hearts, and Marty wins the trick. Marty may now only play hearts as long as he has them. He holds the A♠, though, so he can also lead this, as he knows it is unbeatable. As soon as he runs out of hearts, he can lead to whatever suit he pleases. At this point, if Riley manages to beat Marty on a trick that he led diamonds to, Riley must continue to lead diamonds until he runs out of them.

Forcing (zwang)

Holding both a king and queen of the same suit is called a force, or zwang. If the ace of that suit has yet to be played, the player may lead the queen and declare “zwang“. The player holding the ace of that suit is then compelled to play it on that trick. This, of course, wins the trick, but the forcing player now knows the king they hold is the highest unplayed card of that suit.

Scoring

When all eight tricks have been played, each player totals up the values of the cards in their won-tricks pile:

  • Aces: five points each.
  • Kings: four points each.
  • Queens: three points each.
  • Jacks: two points each.
  • Tens: one point each.

9s, 8s, and 7s have no point value.

After each player arrives at a point value, they subtract fifteen from it. The resulting number is their score for the hand. (If using the hard-score method, take one chip from the pot for each point taken above fifteen, and pay into the pot one chip for each point taken below fifteen.)

Game play continues until a predetermined time or number of hands.

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Tute

Tute is a trick-taking game most often played with four players in partnerships. Originating in Italy as Tutti (meaning all), it spread to Spain, where it became one of the country’s most popular games. In Tute, only aces, 3s, and face cards matter—none of the lower cards carry any sort of point value!

Object of Tute

The object of Tute is to score the highest number of points in cards taken in tricks. Players may also score points by holding K-Q combinations and by taking the last trick.

Setup

Tute is played with the Spanish 40-card deck. To form such a deck from a standard 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, simply remove the 8s, 9s, and 10s. You’ll be left with a 40-card deck with aces, face cards, and 7s through 2s in each of the four suits. (In the Spanish deck, the face cards are King, Knight and Knave; these are functionally equivalent to the English deck’s king, queen, and jack.) It may also be helpful for having something to compute scores—a calculator or pencil-and-paper will do.

Determine partnerships by whatever method is preferred—either some way of determining it randomly, or through plain mutual agreement. Players should sit across from their partner, so that as the turn of play proceeds around the table, players alternate in taking turns.

Shuffle and deal ten cards to each player, which distributes the entire deck. Reveal the last card dealt (which belongs to the dealer). The suit of this card becomes the trump suit for the hand. (The dealer adds this card to their hand as usual after everyone is aware of the trump suit.)

Card ranking

In Tute, the cards rank in their usual order, with aces high, with one exception. The 3 is elevated to rank just below the ace. That means that the full rank of cards is (high) A, 3, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2 (low).

All of the face cards, aces, and 3s also carry a point value. Aces are worth eleven points, 3s are worth ten points, kings four, queens three, and jacks two. The number cards other than 3s are worth nothing in terms of points.

Game play

Tute is played counter-clockwise, so the player to the dealer’s right leads to the first trick. Continuing around to the right, each player in turn plays a card to the trick. Players must always follow suit, if possible. Additionally, they must head the trick if they can. That means that if the player can follow suit, they must; if they can’t follow suit and they can trump, they must do so (and overtrump if possible). Only if a player has no cards of the suit led or the trump suit can they play a card from one of the other two suits.

After all four players have contributed a card, the player who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick. That player collects all four cards and places them into a won-tricks pile in front of them called a baza. (Each player shares a baza with their partner.) The individual player that won the first trick then leads to the second one.

Declarations

After a player wins a trick, but before leading to the next one, they may make a declaration for any marriages they hold. The two possible declarations are las cuarenta (the 40) for holding the king and queen of trumps, and las veinte (the 20) for holding the king and queen of any other suit. When making a declaration, the player must reveal the two cards. If a player has multiple such combinations, they may only declare them one at a time (they must declare any additional marriages after winning a later trick).

If a player holds las cuarenta, it must be the first declaration made; once las veinte has been declared, las cuarenta may no longer be declared. Of course, upon declaring las veinte, if the player holds any additional veintes they can still be declared on later tricks.

Holding all four kings is a special combination called a tute. If a player holds a tute, they may declare it as usual after winning a trick. Making such a declaration instantly wins the hand for the player holding the kings.

Scoring

After all ten tricks have been played, each team looks through their baza and totals up the point value of the cards they have collected in tricks. To this they add:

  • 40 points for las cuarenta
  • 20 points for each veinte
  • 10 points for taking the last trick

Whichever partnership has the higher total score wins the hand.

If a longer game is desired, play a pre-determined number of hands. Whichever team wins the majority of the hands wins the overall game.

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Canadian Salad

A saladCanadian Salad (also known as Wisconsin Scramble or any number of other things depending on where it’s being played) is a trick-taking game for three to six players. On each hand, players have a different objective, hoping to avoid certain cards that count against them. On the final hand of the game, all of the cards to avoid from previous hands all count against them at once—meaning the players have quite a lot to dodge!

Object of Canadian Salad

The object of Canadian Salad is to score the fewest points by avoiding the point-scoring cards or tricks in each hand..

Setup

Canadian Salad uses a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. It’s always a good idea to play with Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards if you’ve got ’em (and if you don’t, why not?). Some cards are removed depending on the number of players, to make the deal come out evenly. When playing with three players, remove the 2♣. With five, take out the 2♣ and 2♦. Playing with six, remove 2-3♣-2-3♦. For a four-player game, use the full 52-card deck. In addition to cards, you’ll need something to keep score with, like pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal the cards out evenly to each player, using the whole deck.

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. If able to follow suit, a player must do so. If they are unable to, they may play any card. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high. Upon winning a trick, the player collects the cards and adds them to a won-trick pile. If knowing the number of tricks won is necessary at the end of the hand (i.e. on the first and sixth hands), each trick may be placed at right angles to the previous one to keep them separated. The player that wins each trick then leads to the next one.

Each hand has a different condition for awarding points. Since everyone’s trying to avoid points, these are the things you want to keep from taking. What gets you points on each hand:

  1. On the first hand, each trick captured scores ten points.
  2. Each heart captured on the second hand scores ten points.
  3. Each queen captured on the third hand scores 25 points.
  4. Capturing the K♠ on the fourth hand scores 100 points.
  5. Whoever takes the fifth hand’s last trick scores 100 points.
  6. On the sixth and final hand, all of the scoring conditions on hands one through five apply.

Each hand is scored after the final trick has been played. After the sixth hand, whoever has the lowest score is the winner.

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Twenty-Five

Twenty-Five is the national card game of Ireland. Games of Twenty-Five can found be throughout the country, in pubs and homes alike. It is best for three to nine players. Since a game only lasts until a player takes five tricks, games of Twenty-Five are fairly quick, often lasting only two or three hands.

Object of Twenty-Five

The object of Twenty-Five is to be the first player or partnership to reach a score of 25 or more. This is done by winning five tricks.

Setup

Twenty-Five is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. If you have any choice in the matter, insist on using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.You will also need something to keep score with, such as the time-honored pencil and paper, or something more modern, like a smartphone application.

Players divide into teams, depending on the number of people playing and their preferences. With an even number of players, the players may pair up in partnerships. With nine, players may wish to form three teams of three. No matter how many are playing, however, it is always a viable option for each player to play by themselves. If playing with partnerships, partners should sit across from one another, such that as the turn proceeds around the table, no players on the same team take their turns consecutively.

Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. Turn the next card (referred to here as the upcard) face up. This sets the trump suit for the hand. Set the deck stub aside; it will not take any further part in game play.

Card ranking

Twenty-Five uses an extremely unusual card ranking, which changes depending on which suit is elevated to trumps. Ordinarily, the ace is treated as though it is a one. In the red suits, the cards rank in their usual order. In the black suits, however, the order of the number cards is reversed, with the lowest number cards (the ace, 2, et al.) ranking highest! The adage players use to remember this is highest in red, lowest in black.

The order of cards is changed somewhat when a suit becomes trump. The 5 is always the highest trump, followed by the jack. The third highest trump is always the A♥, no matter what the trump suit is. This is followed by the ace of the trump suit (if the trump suit is not hearts), then the rest of the cards in their typical Twenty-Five order.

Got all that? In summary:

  • In trump suits
    • Hearts: (high) 5, J, A, K, Q, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 3, 2 (low).
    • Diamonds: (high) 5, J, A♥, A, K, Q, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 3, 2 (low).
    • Clubs, Spades: (high) 5, J, A♥, A, K, Q, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (low).
  • In non-trump suits
    • Hearts: (high) K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (low).
    • Diamonds: (high) K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low).
    • Clubs, Spades: (high) K, Q, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (low).

Game play

Robbing the trump

Before actual game play begins, the player holding the ace of trumps (i.e. not the A♥, unless hearts are trump) may rob the upcard that set the trump suit. To do this, they take the upcard and then discard any card from their hand, face down.

Of course, by robbing the trump, they are disclosing to the other players that they hold the ace of trumps. As a result, players may sometimes consider it advantageous to waive their right to rob the trump. Once a player has led to the first trick, nobody may rob the trump.

Play of the hand

Game play begins with the player to the dealer’s left leading to the first trick. Each player in turn, proceeding clockwise, plays one card to the trick. Players must either follow suit or ruff (play a trump). If a player is unable to follow suit, they may play any card. When a trump is led, the other players must play a trump, if possible, unless the only trump they hold is the 5 of trump, jack of trumps, or A♥ (i.e. the three highest trumps). If these are the only trumps a player holds, they may play any card; they are never forced to play one of the top three trumps.

The player that contributed the highest trump to the trick, or the highest card of the suit led, if no trumps were played, wins the trick. That player (or their partnership) immediately scores five points. The player that wins each trick then leads to the next one.

If nobody has scored 25 points by the end of the hand, the player to the left of the dealer shuffles and deals another hand. Game play continues until one player or team has scored 25 points. Game play stops immediately (the hand is not played out), with the player or team reaching a score of 25 being the winner.

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Tyzicha

Tyzicha is a Russian card game for three players. In this trick-taking game, the trump suit changes every time a player reveals a king and queen of the same suit. That means which suit is trump can change several times over the course of a hand!

Object of Tyzicha

The object of Tyzicha is to be the first player to reach a score of 1,001 points. Points are scored by accurately bidding on the number of points that can be made on each hand and proceeding to collect those points.

Setup

Tyzicha is played with a 24-card deck. To obtain one, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Remove all of the 8s through 2s, leaving 9s through aces in each of the four suits. It’s a good idea to hold on to a full rank of the discarded cards (such as all the 2s) to serve as trump markers. You’ll also need pencil and paper for scoring.

Shuffle and deal seven cards to each player. Place the remaining three cards face down in the center of the table, forming the widow.

Card ranking

The cards rank slightly out of their usual order in Tyzicha. The 10 is ranked just below the ace, but above the face cards. That means the full order of card ranking is (high) A, 10, K, Q, J, 9 (low).

Game play

Bidding

Before the hand actually starts, the bid for the ensuing hand must be determined. The player to the dealer’s right bids first. They may either make an opening bid of 110 or pass. The next player to the left (the dealer) has the chance to bid or pass next. Once someone has bid 110, the next player may raise by ten points to 120, or else pass. A player may not raise by anything other than ten points. When a player passes, they drop out of the bidding and cannot bid again on that hand. When two players have passed, the remaining player becomes the declarer, and their bid becomes the contract for the hand.

Should the first two players pass on the first round of bidding, the third player (the player to the dealer’s left) is forced to play. A forced player may opt to accept a typical 110-point bid as usual. However, they also have the special option of making a contract of only 100 points. While this reduces their risk in the ensuing hand, it also limits their pre-hand options slightly, as described below.

The widow

After the bidding is concluded, the declarer turns the widow face-up. Once their opponents have seen it, they take it into their hand. They then choose one card from their hand (either one of the cards they had before, or a card from the widow) to give, face up, to each of their opponents, bringing each player to eight cards.

If, after exchanging cards, the declarer believes their hand has improved, they may choose to raise their bid. Raises must be a multiple of ten points. On the other hand, if they feel they are unlikely to make their contract, they may concede the hand. They deduct the value of the bid from their score, and each opponent scores 40 points. The hand is then over at that point.

If the declarer was forced and bid only 100 points, there are slightly different rules for dealing with the widow. Neither the widow, nor the cards passed to the opponents, are turned face up. Also, the declarer’s bid is locked in at 100; they cannot raise beyond this. A player with a bid of 100 may still choose to concede, however.

Play of the hand

The declarer leads to the first trick. Each player must follow suit, if possible. If not, they must play a trump; only if they have neither a trump nor a card of the suit led may they play a card of the other two suits. Players must also head the trick. That is, they must play a card able to win the trick if they have one they can legally play. The highest trump played to a trick wins it. If no trump was played, the highest card of the suit led takes the trick. Won tricks are not added to the hand; instead, they are placed in a won-tricks pile in front of each player. The player that won the trick leads to the next one.

Initially, there is no trump suit. If a player has a king and queen of the same suit when it is their turn to lead, they may reveal both of these cards as a marriage. They must then lead either of them to the trick. The trump suit then changes to that of the marriage. Which suit is trump may change multiple times per hand as players reveal further marriages. To remind the players of the current trump suit, keep an out-of-play card of the appropriate suit displayed, changing it as necessary.

Scoring

Once all eight tricks have been played, the hand is scored. The declarer totals the value of the cards they captured in tricks. Aces are worth eleven points, 10s are worth ten, kings four, queens three, and jacks two. 9s have no point value. To this total, the declarer adds the value of any marriages they revealed in the hand. A marriage in hearts is worth 100 points, in diamonds 80, in clubs 60, and in spades 40. If the combined total exceeds the contract value, the declarer has made their contract.

A declarer that fulfills their contract scores the value of the contract (not their hand total). If the declarer breaks contract, they subtract the value of the contract from their score instead. In this case, the declarer’s opponents also score the value of their hand (calculated the same way as is done for the declarer).

The deal passes to the left and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until a player reaches a score of 1,001 or more points. A player is capped at a score of exactly 1,000 points when not the declarer, meaning players must make a contract on their final hand in order to win the game.

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Truc

Truc is a trick-taking game played throughout Spain and southern France. It is played by four players in partnerships. Unlike most trick-taking games, Truc doesn’t require you to follow the suit of the card led. Hands of Truc can be very short, because they are only played out until a majority of the three tricks have been decided. A hand of Truc can also be abruptly stopped by one team rejecting a proposed raise by their opponents.

Truc is descended from Put, a game played in England as far back as 1674. Truc, in turn, was exported to South America, where it evolved into Truco.

Object of Truc

The object of Truc is to be the first partnership to score twelve points by taking at least two of the three tricks in each hand.

Setup

Truc is traditionally played with a Spanish 40-card deck. To make an equivalent deck out of a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove the 8s, 9s, and 10s, leaving a deck of aces, face cards, and 7s through 2s in each of the four suits. You also need some way of keeping score, such as pencil and paper.

Determine partnerships by any method that is agreed upon, such as a random method like high-card draw or simply mutual agreement. Players sit opposite one another. Prior to the first hand, each partnership may retreat to a location where the other team will not overhear them and devise a system of signals to use throughout the game. These signals can communicate anything that the players desire, including the overall strength of their hand, the cards they hold, what they want their partner to play, and so on. Partners can also communicate verbally throughout the hand. Nothing’s off limits!

The dealer shuffles and offers the deck to the player to their left to cut. They may do so, or simply tap the pack, declining to cut. If the deck is cut, deal three cards to each player. If the cut was refused, the dealer has the option to deal only one card to each player (making for a much shorter hand).

Card ranking

Truc uses a special card ranking unique to the game. 3s, 2s, and aces are the highest-ranking cards in the game, and the rest of the cards rank in their usual order. Therefore, the full rank of cards is (high) 3, 2, A, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).

Game play

Game play starts with the player on the right of the dealer, and thereafter continues to the right. This player leads to the first trick. Each player in turn plays a card to the trick. A player may play any card to a trick; there is no requirement to follow suit. The person playing the highest card wins the trick. If two players on opposite teams tie for high card, the trick is a draw. The individual player that won the trick leads to the next one. If nobody won the trick, the player who led to that trick leads to the next one.

A hand only continues until the majority of tricks in it have been determined. If the first two tricks are won by the same partnership, there is no need to play the third one.

The partnership that wins the majority of the tricks wins the hand. If there is a tie, due to one or more tricks not being won by either player, the dealer’s opponents win the hand. Whichever team wins the hand scores one point. The deal passes to the right, with any unplayed cards shuffled into the deck unexposed.

Raising the stakes

At any time during their turn, either before or after playing a card, a player may raise the stakes for the hand to two points by calling “truc”. The next player in turn may either accept the raise by playing a card (or making a verbal declaration of “accept”, “OK”, or the like) or reject it by placing their cards face down on the table (or saying “No” or similar).

Once a truc has been accepted, it may be re-raised by calling “retruc”, proposing a raise to three points. As before, the next player to their right then has the option to accept or reject the retruc. Only an opponent of the first raiser may re-raise. A retruc may be called either on the same trick as the original truc, or a later trick.

If a raise is accepted, the winners of the hand score the amount of points agreed to as a result of the raise. If a raise is rejected, play of the hand stops immediately. The partnership that proposed the most recent raise scores whatever the last agreed-upon amount for the hand was.

A score of eleven

Because a partnership with a score of eleven is only one point away from winning the game, special rules apply when either partnership has scored eleven points. A full three-card hand must be dealt; a player cannot give the dealer the option to deal only one card. If only one partnership has a score of eleven, that partnership looks at their cards and decides whether or not to play. If they do, the hand is played for three points. In the event that both partnerships are tied at eleven, the hand is played as usual, with the winner of the hand winning the entire game.

The first partnership to score twelve or more points is the winner.

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Bridge Solitaire

Bridge Solitaire is a one-player variant of Contract Bridge invented by Stephen Rogers. In Bridge Solitaire, a player follows the typical flow of a Bridge hand, from bidding through play of the hand. The undealt cards in the deck serve as the player’s “opponent”.

Rogers shared the game with us at our Card Game Night event here in Norman in December 2016. It borrows some play mechanics from Natty Bumppo’s Euchre Solitaire game, published on John McLeod’s Pagat.com. Rogers created the game as a response to the difficulties finding three other willing participants for a true Bridge game. He bestowed the game with an alternate title, You People Suck, in reference to those who would rather spend time on their phones than play a game of Bridge!

Object of Bridge Solitaire

The object of Bridge Solitaire is score as many points as possible playing a game of Contract Bridge against the deck stub. Points are scored by accurately predicting the number of tricks in excess of six that you will be able to win. The ultimate goal is to thus win two games, which constitute a rubber.

Setup

Bridge Solitaire uses the same standard 52-card pack that Contract Bridge uses, plus two jokers. We’re not certain if Bridge Solitaire was invented with a pack of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. We’re pretty sure they’re the cards the game is most frequently played with, though!

You also need a typical Bridge scoring sheet. Pre-printed ones exist; they’re ruled into four quadrants, the columns headed by ‘WE’ and ‘THEY’. If a pre-printed scoresheet isn’t handy, you can easily make one by simply dividing a sheet of paper with a vertical and a horizontal line. (‘WE’ and ‘THEY’ seem a little pretentious if you’re playing solitaire, though. ‘ME’ and ‘IT’ are probably more appropriate, or ‘PLAYER’ and ‘HOUSE’ if you feel like being more serious about it.)

Shuffle and deal seven cards face down without looking at them. Then, deal thirteen cards face up in front of you. The deck stub becomes the stock, which will serve as the player’s opponent for the rest of the hand. For the sake of clarity, we’ll refer to the theoretical player the deck is representing as the house.

Game play

Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high. The jokers (★) do not have any rank and cannot win or lose a trick.

Determining the player’s hand

The player begins by choosing their hand. The seven face-down cards will be part of their hand no matter what, and they cannot change any of these cards. Before looking at them, though, they do get to choose the other six cards in their hand from the thirteen face-up cards available to them. If there are any jokers in these thirteen cards, the player is obliged to take them. Otherwise, the player is free to select cards however they see fit.

The unchosen cards are discarded in a face-up discard pile, and the face-down cards are turned up. The chosen cards are added to these previously-unknown cards, allowing the player to see their full thirteen-card hand. The discarded cards (save for the top card of the discard pile) cannot be inspected after this point; if a player wishes to use information from them, they must commit it to memory.

Bidding

After the hand has been determined, the play proceeds to bidding. Bids function the same as they do in Contract Bridge. Each bid consists of a number of odd tricks (tricks in excess of six) that the player is committing to take. This is combined with a suit that the player is proposing to make trump, or “no trump”. From lowest to highest, the suits rank clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, no trump. Therefore, the lowest bid is 1♣, which would be overcalled by a bid of 1♦, and so on up to 1♠, then 1NT, which would be overcalled by 2♣.

The house always bids first; its bid is determined by the contents of your hand. The house will bid the suit that the player has the least cards in. The numerical content of the bid is calculated by examining each suit and counting the number of “winning tricks” the player can make. For example, in diamonds, the player has A-Q-10-9. The A♦ would win a trick (being the highest diamond), the 9♦ would lose to the K♦ (which is held by the house), the Q♦ then wins a trick (being the highest unaccounted-for diamond), and the J♦ would take 10♦, so the player has two winning tricks in diamonds. The sum of the values from each of the four suits is subtracted from six. If the result is zero or negative, the house passes. Otherwise, the resulting value (combined with the player’s short suit) is the house’s bid.

No Trump bids may only be made when the player holds one of the following suit distributions: 4-3-3-3, 3-3-3-3-★, 3-3-3-2-★-★.

If the house passes, the player is required to make a bid. Otherwise, the player has the option to overcall the house and play as declarer. They may also pass, and play as defender.

If the player holds one joker, the contract is doubled. If holding two jokers, it is redoubled.

Play of the hand

The play of the hand is conducted according to the usual Bridge rules. Both the player and the house must follow suit if possible. If the player is unable to follow suit, they may play any card. The highest played card of the suit led wins the trick, unless a trump was played. In that case, the highest trump wins.

Whichever player is defending leads to the first trick. When the house leads, it does so by simply playing the top card of the stock. If the player leads, cards are turned over from the stock until a card that can be legally played is exposed. The trick is then placed in one of two discard piles (one for the player and one for the house), face down. Since it is important to keep track of the number of tricks captured, it may be helpful to place each trick onto the pile at right angles. This allows the tricks to be easily separated after the hand. The player that won the trick leads to the next one.

A special rule applies during No Trump contracts. When the player leads, the house may play a maximum of only four cards from the stock. If, by the fourth card, the house has not made a legal play, the player wins the trick by default. They then lead to the next one, as usual.

Jokers have a special role in the game. If the player cannot follow suit, they may respond with a joker instead of playing any other card. If the house leads a joker, the player may play any card they wish. The house wins any trick containing a joker, with one exception. Should the player respond to a joker led by the house with the other joker, the player wins the trick instead. (A player may presumably lead a trick with a joker as well. There seems to be little point in doing so, however.)

The hand ends when thirteen tricks have been played, meaning that the player has run through their entire hand. In the event that the stock is exhausted before the hand is completed, the last card of the stock is the house’s play for the last trick. Each remaining card in the player’s hand is considered a trick won by the player.

Scoring

Scoring is done according to typical Contract Bridge scoring rules.

Example hands

The following hands, and the accompanying commentary, were given to us by Rogers to help illustrate the game:

Example 1

After shuffling, a player deals out seven face-down cards face down into a pile, and then thirteen cards face-up, setting the rest of the deck aside to form the stock. The thirteen face-up cards look like this: J-10-7-2♠, 9♦, A-K-10-8♣, Q-8-5-4♥.

The player, not particularly thrilled with this draw, begins weighing their options of which cards to keep. The 9♦ is an obvious throwaway, while A-K♣ will automatically give them two winning tricks against the stock. Taking Q-8-5♥ would also guarantee a third trick in hearts, but taking half the potential draw for a single trick seems unwise, and going J-10-7-2♠ for a single trick in spades is right out. The player ultimately selects A-K-10-8♣, Q-8♥, throwing out the other face-up cards into a face-up discard pile with the J♠ on top, a reminder that they threw away one of the honors in that major suit. This gives them two tricks for sure and a potential third if the face down cards include at least one lower-ranked heart.

The player then picks up the seven face-down cards and, having looked them over, happily adds them to their hand—the final disposition of their hand is: A-K-Q-J-10-8♣, Q-8-7♥, 9-4♠, 3♦, ★.

Next, they need to evaluate their hand for the deck bid—here it’s an easy thing to determine. With five honors in clubs, they have five winning tricks in that suit. They were also given another heart, so the queen is good for a trick there. Diamonds and spades are duds, but it doesn’t matter—the player has six tricks in hand, so the deck will pass. The player decides to play conservatively since they have two suits without stoppers in them, and bids 1♣. Thanks to the joker in their hand, the final bid is 1♣ Doubled.

Since the player bid to play, a card is dealt off the top of the stock, in this case the 3♣, which the player counters with 8♣, winning the first trick. The player then leads the A♣ and draws the next card off the stock, which is the 7♦. Since this is neither a trump nor a card of the suit led, it is ignored and another card is dealt, the 5♦. This is also invalid—the A♥ is turned up (something of which the player takes note) before the deck finally yields up 9♣, a valid play. Player wins the second trick.

The player plays their next three trump honors in sequence, forcing the deck to cough up high cards in other suits while running it out of trumps. The player decides to wait to play the 10♣, which at that point is their last trump, opting instead to play the Q♥, since the A♥ has already fallen. The deck responds 10♦ before coughing up 4♣, winning the trick.

The deck leads the K♠ next, which player must respond with 4♠; next comes the 4♦ which player must answer with 3♦. The Q♦ is led out of the pack next. Since player is out of diamonds at that point, they decide to use the joker in their hand, losing the trick but keeping other options open. The deck’s next lead is 2♥; here the player answers with 7♥, winning a trick they didn’t expect.

Player next leads the 9♠, only for the deck to answer with a joker, costing the player that trick. The next card out of the deck is 6♦, which the player collects with their last trump. On the final trick, the player leads the 8♥, the last card in their hand, which the stock collects with the 5♣. In all, the player won seven tricks during the course of game play, sufficient to make the contract, earning them 40 points below the line, 150 above the line for five honors, and 50 above the line for insult.

Example 2

After dealing the cards, a player winds up with this face-up set of cards: A-10-3-2♥, 7-6-2♦, K-4-2♣, 10-5-4♠. There’s not much to work with here—the diamonds and spades don’t offer up tricks, while the K♣ is only good if the player takes one of the other clubs. Ultimately that’s what that player chooses to do, taking all four hearts in the hope of getting something with some length to it. The player picks up the face down cards, and winds up with this hand: A-Q-10-3-2♥, 3♦, K-4-3♣, A-9-3♠, ★, receiving precious little help there.

The K♣ is a winning trick, as is the A♠. In the hearts suit, the player has the A♥, would lose the 2♥ to the K♥, making the Q♥ good, and would lose the 3♥ to the J♥, making the 10♥ good, so three winning tricks there. The player has five tricks in their hand and their short suit is diamonds, so the deck bid for the hand is 1♦. The player isn’t entirely confident in their hand, but still elects to go ahead and bid 1♥. The final contract is at 1♥ Doubled.

The deck opens play with J♥, which the player counters with the Q♥. Going for broke, the player plays the A♥. The deck answers first with Q♦, an invalid play, but the next turn up is the other joker, which goes to the deck. Needless to say, this particular hand winds up going very badly for the player, who might’ve been better off had they decided to defend rather than bid…

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Back Alley

Back Alley, also sometimes known as Back Alley Bridge, Back Street Bridge, or Blooper, is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships.

Back Alley originated as a non-partnership game played by members of the U.S. military during World War II. The version of the game described here developed later, most likely during the Vietnam War.

Object of Back Alley

The object of Back Alley is to take as many tricks as possible, as well as accurately bidding how many tricks you expect to take.

Setup

Back Alley is played with a 54-card deck, formed by augmenting a standard 52-card deck with two jokers. The two jokers must be different from one another, as one must serve as the big blooper and the other as the little blooper. Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards fit the bill perfectly, since one of the jokers has a dragon (the big blooper) and the other a jester (the little blooper). It should be clearly stated to the players before the game begins which joker will represent which blooper.

You also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper is what most people use for this, but you can use whatever’s convenient, such as a smartphone application developed for the purpose.

Determine partnerships through whatever means are convenient, such as high-card draw or mutual agreement. Each player should be seated opposite their partner, such that the turn of play alternates partnerships as it goes clockwise around the table.

Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. (This number will vary on subsequent hands, see below.) Turn the next card face up; this card, the upcard, fixes the trump suit. If the upcard is a joker, the hand is played with no trump, and the player who holds the other joker must discard it and take the last card of the deck to replace it. Otherwise, the last card in the deck remains face down and takes no part in game play.

Game play

Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high. The big blooper is the highest trump, with the lower blooper ranking just below it. Both bloopers outrank the ace of trumps.

Bidding

Each player in turn, going clockwise around the table, gets one chance to bid. The player to the dealer’s left bids first, and bidding ends after the dealer’s bid. Players may make a bid that they will take any amount of tricks from one to twelve. They may also pass, which is essentially a bid of zero. If all four players pass, then the cards are shuffled and the same dealer deals new hands. Otherwise, each side adds their two bids together, and this number becomes the contract for the following hand.

In addition to these bids, one player may also make a bid of board. This is a bid to take all of the tricks. If a player wishes to bid board whenever someone has already bid it, they may bid double board. Subsequent players may likewise bid triple board or quadruple board, as appropriate. Such bids multiply the risk and reward of bidding board.

Play of the hand

The player who bid highest leads to the first trick. If multiple players are tied for high bid, the first one in the bidding order goes first. If multiple players bid board, the player who made the highest board bid goes first.

Each player, proceeding clockwise from the leader, plays one card to the trick. Players must follow suit if they can. Otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump. Whoever played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick. They collect the cards and place them face-down in a won-trick pile that they share with their partner. (Since the number of tricks collected matters, it’s a good idea to place each trick at right angles to the previous one in order to make it easier to count them later.)

There are some special rules about leading trumps. Trumps cannot be led until trumps have been broken, that is, a trump has been played to a trick without being led to it. If the big blooper is led, every player must play the highest trump they hold in their hand. When the little blooper is led, each player is required to play the lowest trump that they hold. (The only way the little blooper can be defeated when led is if another player holds the big blooper as their only trump.)

Scoring

After the players have exhausted their hands, the hand is scored. Each partnership counts the number of tricks that they won. If a team captured at least as many tricks as they bid, they have made their contract. They score five points for each trick bid, plus one trick for each additional trick collected. If a team fails to make their contract, they lose five points for each trick bid.

If a team bids board, they win or lose ten points per trick, depending on whether or not they collected all of the tricks or not. Teams bidding double, triple, or quadruple board score ±20, 30, or 40 points, respectively.

The second through 26th hands

The deal passes to the left. On the second hand, only twelve cards are dealt. The third hand is played with eleven cards, and so on, until the thirteenth hand, which consists of only one card. The fourteenth hand is also a one-card hand, after which the number of cards begin increasing again. The hand size again reaches thirteen cards on the 26th hand. The game ends after the 26th hand has been played. Whichever partnership has the higher score at that point wins the game.

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Kaiser

Kaiser, also known as Joffre, Three-Spot, or Troika, is a trick-taking game played throughout Canada, especially in the Ukrainian and First Nations communities of Saskatchewan. It is played with four players in partnerships.

Object of Kaiser

The object of Kaiser is to take the most tricks. Special attention is given to taking the trick containing the 5♥, and avoiding the trick containing the 3♠.

Setup

Kaiser is played with a unique setup of cards. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 6s through 2s. Then, remove the 7♥ and 7♠. Finally, return the 5♥ and 3♠ to the deck, bringing it to a total of 32 cards. You’ll also need something to keep score with, like the tried and tested pencil and paper.

Choose partners by whatever method is convenient, be it a random method like high-card draw, or just mutual agreement. Partners must sit across from each other, such that the turn of play alternates between partnerships as it goes around the table.

Shuffle and deal out the entire deck. Each player will get eight cards. If a player receives a hand with no aces, face cards, 5♥, or 3♠, they may declare a misdeal. All four players throw in their cards, and the same dealer deals new hands.

Game play

Bidding

After the players have had a chance to take a look at their hands, players bid to fix the trump suit. The player to the dealer’s left has the first opportunity to bid, and each player proceeding clockwise must either bid higher. Any player may also pass. The final bid goes to the dealer, who has the privilege of being able to simply equal the previous bid rather than overcalling it. There is only one round of bidding; each player only has one chance to bid.

The minimum bid is six points. Players may also make no trump bids (stated with “no” after the number, e.g. “seven no”), which outrank a normal bid of the same amount. No trump bids increase the risk and reward of the contract. The highest possible bid is twelve no.

After the bidding has concluded, the player with the winning bid names the trump suit. They and their partner become the declarers. The other partnership becomes the defenders. The declarers’ high bid becomes their contract, their goal score for the hand.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn then plays to the trick. Players must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump.

After all four players have played to the trick, the person who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played, wins it. Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high.

The player winning the trick takes the cards and places them in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of one of the partners. (Since the number of tricks won matters, it’s a good idea to place each trick at right angles to the previous one to keep the tricks identifiable.) The winner of the trick then leads to the next one.

The hand continues until eight tricks have been played and the players have exhausted their hands.

Scoring

After the hand has been completed, the partnerships each tally up the value of their won tricks:

  • One point for each trick
  • Five points for capturing the 5♥
  • ‒3 points for capturing the 3♠

If the declarers made their contract, they add the value of their tricks to their score. However, if they broke the contract, they subtract the value of the tricks. If the contract was played at no trump, then the trick score is doubled before being added to or subtracted from the score.

If the defenders have a score of 45 or less, they add the values of their collected tricks to their score, regardless of whether or not the declarers made their contract. Note that it’s possible for the defenders to have a negative hand score, if they captured the 3♠ but less than three tricks. (In this case, their game score actually goes down.) If the defenders have a score greater than 45, their score is only affected if they have a negative hand score.

New hands are dealt and game play continues until one team reaches a score of 52 or more. The partnership with the higher score wins the game.

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