Whist is a classic trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. While it’s nowhere near as popular as it was in the past, it still offers players the opportunity for strategic—some would say scientific—play. It serves as an excellent introduction to trick-taking games in general, and Contract Bridge specifically.

Whist is an extremely old game, dating back to the 1600s. It derives from an even older game called Ruff and Honors. Whist received a boost in popularity from a 1742 publication called A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, written by a gentleman named Edmond Hoyle. Despite the high price of one guinea for what amounted to little more than a pamphlet, the work sold out. Hoyle followed up on A Short Treatise on Whist with another publication, An Artificial Memory for Whist. That work, along with other essays on games such as Piquet, Brag, Quadrille, Chess, and Backgammon, helped establish Hoyle as an authority on games, to the point that “according to Hoyle” became general English slang. A Short Treatise on Whist remained the canonical governing document of Whist until 1864.

As for Whist, it remained popular into the early twentieth century. It is the direct parent of Bridge Whist, which gave rise to Bridge and then Contract Bridge, the dominant social game of the twentieth century. Contract Bridge went on to influence countless other games, such as Spades.

Object of Whist

The object of Whist is to score points by taking the most tricks possible.

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You will also need some manner of score-keeping apparatus. This could range from the humble pencil and paper to something more extravagant, like bins filled with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds representing each trick won by a side. Actually, don’t use the latter as your score-keeping method. It’s super tacky, and might make your friends suspect that you are part of some kind of illegal smuggling operation, tempting them to call the FBI tip hotline after the game if you win.

The players divide into two partnerships. Any convenient method can be used to do this, such as high-card draw, or simply mutual agreement. Partners sit across from one another, so that the turn of play alternates between partnerships when going clockwise.

Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. The final card of the deck, the dealer’s thirteenth card, is exposed. This card’s suit becomes the trump suit for the hand. This final card remains face-up on the table until the dealer’s first play of the hand. At that point, the dealer picks it up and adds it to their hand.

Game play

The player to the left of the dealer leads first. Each player to the left then plays a card. If able to follow suit, a player must do so. Otherwise, they are free to play any card, including a trump. The person who played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick, unless a trump is present, in which case whoever played the highest trump wins.

Collected tricks are not added to the hand, but rather kept in a discard pile in front of one of the partners. Since it is important to keep track of the number of tricks captured, each trick should be placed onto the pile at right angles to the previous one, so that the tricks can be easily separated after the hand. The individual player that won the trick leads to the next one.

After all thirteen tricks have been played, the hand is scored by counting the number of tricks scored by each partnership. Each trick in excess of six counts for one point.

Game play continues until one partnership reaches a pre-defined number of points, such as 25. That team wins the game.


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