Twenty-Nine is a game that is played in South Asia, predominately in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. A trick taking game for four players in partnerships, Twenty-Nine is unique in that the trump suit remains concealed from the time it’s decided to the first time it becomes relevant.
The game is one of a family of trick-taking games played throughout the Indian subcontinent where the jack and 9 are the two highest cards in each suit. Most likely, these are descendants of the European Jass family of games (which Klaberjass is a part of), which use the same card ranking. One of the Jass games was probably exported to the region by the Dutch, which in turn spawned the South Asian family of jack-9 games.
Object of Twenty-Nine
The object of Twenty-Nine is to be the first partnership to score six victory points. Teams score victory points by successfully fulfilling contracts, which is done by taking at least the number of card points bid.
Twenty-Nine is played with a 32-card deck. Starting with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 2s through 6s, leaving 7 through ace in each of the four suits.
The cards removed from the deck are traditionally used for scorekeeping and declaring trumps. Each side receives one black 6 and one red 6, which are used to indicate positive and negative points respectively. To indicate positive points, the red 6 is turned face-down and overlaps the black 6 in such a way that the number of pips visible equal the number of victory points the team has scored. Each player also receives one card of each suit for declaring which suit will be the trump suit.
The players divide into two partnerships, either by mutual agreement or through some random method. Partners should sit across from one another, such that each player’s opponents are sitting to their left and right.
Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. Place the deck stub in the center of the table; it will be used after the bidding round.
As mentioned above, the two highest cards in each suit are the jack and 9. The 10 also ranks out of the typical order, raking above the king. The full rank of cards in Twenty-Nine is (high) J, 9, A, 10, K, Q, 8, 7 (low).
For the purposes of determining the value of tricks taken, the cards score as follows: jacks score three points, 9s score two, aces and 10s score one. The other cards do not have any value at all.
The astute reader will notice that there are seven card points in each suit, or 28 altogether. The name of the game Twenty-Nine, derives from the 28 card points plus one extra point that was formerly awarded for taking the last trick. Even though scoring this twenty-ninth point has fallen out of favor, the name Twenty-Nine has stuck.
Choosing the trump suit
Before actual game play begins, there is a bidding round where the players vie for the right to name the trump suit. The player to the dealer’s left bids first, naming any number of points between 15 and 28. This bid is a commitment for that player’s partnership to take at least that many points if they win the bidding. If a player doesn’t wish to bid, they may pass. The next player to the left may then either bid (higher than the first bid, if any) or pass. This continues on around the table until all players have passed but one. That player wins the bidding. If the first three players pass, the dealer is compelled to make a bid of fifteen, and bidding immediately ceases.
The high bidder selects one of the four suits to be the trump suit. To indicate this, they place one of the out-of-play cards of the corresponding suit face-down in the middle of the table. The high bidder and their partner become the declarers, while their opponents become the defenders. The winning bid becomes the declarers’ contract. The dealer then deals the remainder of the deck out, giving an additional four cards to each player.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick, with each player to the left playing in turn. Players must follow suit if able. Whoever plays the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. That player collects the cards played and puts them in a face-down won-tricks pile that they share with their partner.
The first time that a player is unable to follow suit, the high bidder must turn the card they used to declare trump face up for the other players to see. From this point forward, if one or more cards of the trump suit are played to a trick, the highest trump will take the trick. A player does not have to play a trump if they don’t want to.
The king and queen of trump is a special combination called the royals. If a player holds both of these cards, and the trump suit has been revealed, they may reveal the two cards immediately after their partnership wins a trick. If the declarers hold the royals, it reduces the value of their contract by four points. If they are shown by the defenders, it increases the declarers’ contract by four points. Note that both the king and queen must be in the player’s hand at the same time. If one or both of the cards have been played to a trick (most likely because trump hadn’t been revealed yet), they cannot be scored as the royals. The royals cannot reduce the contract below 15 points or increase it above 28.
The hand ends after the eighth trick has been played. The declarers count the number of points taken in tricks. If they successfully fulfilled their contract, they score one victory point. If they did not, they lose one victory point.
Game play continues until one team has scored six victory points. That team is the winner. On the other hand, it is possible for a team to reach −6 points; a team that does so loses.