Card Games That Don’t Suck

BOURRé

Introduction

This gambling game is popular in Louisiana, USA. Although it is a trick-taking game unrelated to Poker, it has become known to Poker players in North America as an alternative choice in home Poker games. The game is of French origin. It is a descendant of Bourre, a three-card game which was popular in southwest France in the early 20th century, which was probably descended in turn from the Spanish game Burro ("donkey"). In the French game a player who plays and takes no tricks is said to be "bourré", and it is this term that gives its name to the Louisiana game Bourré, which is sometimes spelled with just one 'r': (bouré). Sometimes this is altered to "bourre" or "boure" by American writers unfamiliar with French accents, and often it is written "booray" or "boo-ray" which in American spelling approximates the French pronunciation of bourré.

The information on this page relies heavily on the book Bouré by Roy J Nickens (Baton Rouge, 1972) as well as correspondence from John May, Brad Duhon, Victoria Diemer and others.

Players and Cards

The game is best for seven players. In theory any number from two to eight can play, but with fewer than about five players the game becomes less interesting.

A standard international 52-card pack without jokers is used. The cards of each suit rank from high to low: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2.

Ante and Deal

Before the first deal each player must contribute an ante of one chip to the pot. Before subsequent deals, certain players may not have to pay an ante, depending on the result of the previous hand – see below.

Any player who wishes to may shuffle and the dealer has the right to shuffle last. The cards must then be cut by the player to dealer's right.

The dealer deals out the cards one at a time, starting with the player to dealer's left and continuing clockwise until each player has five cards. Cards are dealt face down, except for the dealer's fifth and last card, which is dealt face up. The suit of this card indicates the trump suit.

The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

Draw or Pass

Players pick up their cards and look at them, but may not show their cards to anyone else.

Beginning with the player to dealer's left, each player in clockwise order must declare whether he or she will pass or play, and if playing, how many cards he or she wishes to discard.

If you pass, you stack your cards face down in front of you.and take no further part in the play of the hand. You can no longer win the pot on that deal, nor can you lose any additional chips.

If you play, you may discard some of your cards face down, announcing how many you are discarding. The dealer then deals you an equal number of replacement cards from the undealt part of the deck. You may discard your whole hand of five cards if you wish to, or if you are happy with your original cards you may stand pat and play with the hand you were dealt, discarding nothing.

It may happen, especially in an eight-player game, that the dealer runs out of cards to deal before all the players who wish to play have been served with replacements for their discards. In that case the dealer gathers up all the discarded cards and passed hands from the players who have already acted (but not the discards of the player who is currently being served). These cards are shuffled and cut and used to continue dealing cards to replace any remaining discards.

If the turned up trump card is an ace, the dealer must play. There is no risk in doing so since the ace of trumps always wins a trick.

If only one player elects to play, all the others passing, the lone player is deemed to have won all five tricks by default, and this player therefore collects the whole pot without playing out any cards. If all players other than the dealer pass, the dealer should of course play and collect the pot.

You should be careful not to make any premature announcement or gesture indicating whether you intend to play or pass or how many cards you might discard, before it is your turn to act. The penalty is to forfeit your next turn to deal.

The Play

The player to dealer's left, or if this player has passed, the next player in clockwise rotation who is playing, leads to the first trick. Thereafter the winner of each trick leads to the next.

A card is led by placing it face up in the centre of the table. Each of the other active players (those who have not passed) in clockwise order must also play a card face up in the centre. When all have played a card, the trick is complete. It is won by whoever played the highest card of the trump suit, or if no trump was played, by whoever played the highest card of the suit that was led.

The play of the cards is governed by strict rules.

  1. Players must always "follow suit" if able to – that is, all but the first to play to a trick must play a card of the same suit as the card that was led.

  2. Any player who is unable to follow suit, having no card of the suit that was led, must play a trump if able to.

  3. Subject to the requirement to follow suit, each player must play a card that beats the highest card so far played to the trick if possible.

A player who is unable to beat the highest card played to the trick, is still forced to follow suit if possible, and otherwise to trump. If the trick has already been trumped, and you are unable to follow suit, you must overtrump if possible, but if your trumps are not high enough to overtrump, you must still play a trump.

However, if you are unable to beat the highest card in the trick, you are under no obligation to play a high card, provided that you obey the rules of following suit or trumping. Example: spades are trumps and the queen of diamonds is led. The second player trumps with the four of spades. Playing third, you hold the ace and six of diamonds and some spades. You have diamonds so you are not allowed to trump, and therefore cannot win the trick. You can and should play your six of diamonds, not the ace. If the second player had played a diamond, you would have been obliged to play the ace of diamonds, to beat the queen.

A player who has no card of the suit led and has no trumps either can play any card, but of course cannot win the trick.

If the dealer is playing, the dealer's card that was dealt face up to determine the trump suit counts as belonging to the dealer's hand (except in the very unusual case that the dealer chose to discard it) and is played in accordance with the rules of play above.

A player who has three sure tricks irrespective of how the cards are played, and is therefore certain to win the pot, is said to have a cinch. In this case there are additional restrictions.

  • If you have a cinch and it is your turn to lead, you must lead your highest trump.

  • If you have a cinch and are playing on a trick to which another player led, and you are able to play a trump to the trick, you must play your highest trump.

  • If you have a cinch and are playing last to a trick, there are no special restrictions – you must simply win the trick if you can, subject to the usual restrictions of following suit and trumping.

Note that your hand can be a cinch at the start of the play if you have a trump holding such as A-K-Q or K-Q-10-9-8. It can become a cinch later, for example if after winning a trick you have two sure trump tricks. Also, if you win the first three tricks, the cinch rules apply since you are sure to take the pot, and you must lead a trump to the fourth trick if you have one.

When you are required to play your "highest" trump because your hand is a cinch, the play of an adjacent trump – such as the King from Ace-King or the Jack from King-Jack when the Queen has already been played – is acceptable.

Payments

The player who wins most tricks takes the whole pot. To win the pot it is necessary to win more tricks than any other single player. Three tricks are always sufficient. The pot can be won with two tricks if three other players take one trick each.

If there is a tie for most tricks (when the tricks divide 2-2-1, and in the rare case of five players taking one trick each) no one takes the pot. This is known as a "split pot" but the pot is not shared out – it remains for the next deal and the new antes and any penalties are added to it.

Anyone who plays and takes no trick is said to have gone "bourré". These players must pay an amount equal to the whole contents of the pot. This payment forms part of the pot for the next deal.

A player who goes bourré does not have to place the normal one chip ante for the next deal. Also, if the pot is split, the players who tied for most tricks do not post an ante for the next deal. All remaining players pay one chip ante as usual.

In the following example the seven players are A, B, C, D, E, F and G.

Deal 1: All seven players ante so there are 7 chips in the pot. B, C, E and G play; the others pass. E wins 3 tricks, B and G win one each and C is bourré. E takes the 7 chips from the pot. C must pay 7 chips to the next pot. All players must ante for the next deal except for C. Therefore the pot now contains 13 chips.

Deal 2: With 13 chips in the pot, A, B, E and F play. The others pass. A and F take 2 tricks each, B takes one and E none. This is a spilt pot between A and F, so no one wins it. E has to add 13 chips to the pot, and B, C, D and G each ante one chip for the next deal, so the pot now contains 30 chips.

Deal 3: Only C, D and E play, and D wins all five tricks. D takes the 30 chips from the pot and C and E must each pay 30 chips to the next pot. In addition everyone except C and E must pay an ante for the next deal, and the pot now contains 65 chips.

It should be clear from this example that the pot can sometimes build rather quickly, especially if more than one player is bourré or there is a split pot. For this reason the game is sometimes played with a limit. For example if the limit is 20 chips, then when the pot contains more than 20 chips, a player who wins takes only 20 chips from the pot, and a player who is bourré pays only 20 chips.

Any play that is not in accordance with the rules of play – such as failure to follow suit, failure to trump or failure to beat the highest card in the trick when able, is known as a renege. If the renege is not corrected before the next player plays a card, the penalty is to pay an amount equal to the size of the pot, exactly as though the player had gone bourré.

However, if having reneged you realise your error before the next player plays, you are allowed to recall your card and substitute a correct card. In this case you forfeit the right to win the pot, even if you take most tricks, and you forfeit your next turn to deal, but you do not have to match the pot (unless you win no tricks).

Variations

Double Ante

In this variation, all players pay an ante of one chip before the deal, and in addition, any player who decides to play must pay an additional chip to the pot. Those who pass do not pay this second ante – they just lose their first ante and forgo their chance to win the pot in this deal.

In the double ante game, it is normal to require an initial ante from all players, including those who paid for a bourré or were involved in a split pot on the previous deal.

Some play that the decisions whether or not to play and how many cards to draw are separated into two separate rounds. First each player in turn declares either "play" (paying a second ante of one chip) or "pass". After everyone has declared, there is a second round in which those who decided to play discard cards if they wish and are dealt replacements.

Separate Trump Card

Some play that five cards are dealt face down to each player, and then an extra card is dealt face up to determine the trump suit. There are two forms of this variation.

  1. The turned up trump belongs to no one. It indicates the trump suit but cannot be taken or played by any player.

  2. The turned up trump can be taken by the dealer if he or she decides to play. The dealer effectively has six cards; if for example the dealer discards four cards and elects to use the turned up trump, three replacement cards will be dealt to make up the dealer's five-card hand.

Simultaneous Declaration

Some play that instead of declaring in rotation, all players decide independently whether they will play or pass. Those who want to play hold a chip in their closed fist; those who pass hold an empty fist. All reveal their decisions simultaneously and then those who decided to play discard in rotation as usual.

I suspect that this variation is not traditional in Louisiana, but was adopted by poker players, who use a similar method for declaring high or low in some hi-lo games.

Four card Bourré

Victoria Diemer reports that in Indiana, Bourré is played with just four cards dealt to each player, with a separate card that belongs to no one indicating the trump suit. Players must have at least one trump or at least one club (a "dirty club") to play, which costs one chip. After players have decided whether to stay, up to 3 cards can be discarded, but not all four. After the draw, players have another chance to pass; those who want to play must pay an additional chip. As usual the player who takes most chips wins the pot, and if there is a tie the pot is carried over to the next deal. Anyone who takes no tricks must match the pot for the next deal. The penalty for a renege is twice the pot.

EGYPTIAN RATSCREW

Beggar My Neighbour

This popular children's game is also sometimes known as Strip Jack NakedBeat Your Neighbour Out Of Doors or Taxes. In Trinidad, Barbados and maybe other Caribbean islands it is known as Suck the Well, and in French it is sometimes called Bataille Corse (Corsican battle). Other names for it are Egyptian War or Egyptian Rat Killer and so on, but these names are more commonly used for a more elaborate version version of the game where the pile can also be won by slapping pairs of equal cards – see the Egyptian Ratscrew page for details.

Divide a standard pack of 52 cards roughly in half. Each of the two players holds their half face down. The players take turns to turn over their top card and play it face up in the centre of the table, thus forming a pile. There are two kinds of card – the ace, king, queen and jack are pay cards and the 2-10 are ordinary cards.

Play continues alternately until a pay card appears. The opponent of the person who played the pay card must pay for it by playing several times in succession. The payment rates are:

  • 4 ordinary cards for an ace

  • 3 ordinary cards for a king

  • 2 ordinary cards for a queen

  • 1 ordinary card for a jack

When the payment is complete (e.g. A has played a queen and B has played two ordinary cards on it), the person who played the pay card (A in this case) takes the whole face up pile and puts it face down underneath their own cards, and then continues the game by playing their top card.

It often happens that while paying for a card, you turn over a pay card yourself. When this happens the previous pay card is cancelled and your opponent now has to pay for your new pay card.
Example: A plays a queen; B plays a six and then a jack; A plays an ace; B plays 3,7,king; A plays 10,4,6. The king has been paid for so B takes the centre pile.

The player who first runs out of cards loses.

There is no skill in this game (you just turn your top card when it is your turn) and the game can go on for a long time – possibly indefinitely. Richard P Mann has published a page listing the longest known games.

It is possible for more than two people to play. The cards are dealt as equally as possible (with three players one player will have an extra card) and players take turns to play. When a pay card is played, the following player plays the required number of cards, stopping if another pay card is played, which the next person must pay for. The direction of play in the Caribbean version "Suck the Well" is counter-clockwise, while in Britain and North America the game is played clockwise.

Egyptian Ratscrew

Egyptian Ratscrew is an unusual, extremely fast-paced game vaguely reminiscent of slapjack, spit, speed, stress, nurse, etc. for two or more players. It can get pretty hot. Anyone can play, but to be good requires quick thinking, fast reflexes, and tough hands.


Equipment

You will need:

* A standard deck of 52 cards

* A sturdy playing surface

* Lighter fluid or other fire starter.

* Matches


Basic Play

The deal: First shuffle the deck seven times. This is because there is some mathematical folklore to the effect that this is a good way to ensure a totally randomized deck (I thought it was six but a couple alert players told me otherwise). Then divide the deck into approximately equal stacks, one for each player. When this is done, each player may grab a stack, with the dealer taking the remaining stack. Each player should hold their stack face down in one hand without looking at its contents.

The goal: The goal is to get all the cards. Then you win.

The play: Assuming players have situated themselves in some orderly fashion, the player to the left of the dealer plays her top card face up on the playing surface where everyone can reach it. Note that cards must be played such that the player cannot see it before the other players and have an unfair advantage. The wise players also takes care to take their hand off of a played card as quickly as possible to avoid injury and let play continue quickly and smoothly.

If the card played is a number card (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, or 10), the next player clockwise plays a card on top of the previously played cards and play continues around the table until a letter card (ace, king, queen, or jack) is played. Depending on the letter card played, the next player has a fixed number of chances to play another letter card. For an ace, there are four chances, three for a king, two for a queen, and one for a jack. If the player fails to play a face card, the previous player (the one who played the face card) picks up the pile and places it on the bottom of her stack and play begins again with her. Otherwise, play continues with the next player. Here are some example sequences:

Now the next player must play up to two cards:

Now the player who played the queen takes the deck and continues play.

The next player has three chances…

…and he plays a face card after two. The following player now has four chances…

…and she manages to play a jack. The next player has but one chance:

…and fails. The player of the jack picks up the pile and continues play.


Slapping

(the fun part)

Occassionally in play, people (not limited to current players!) can try to "slap" the pile. This can be an actual slap, a subtle tap, a quick sweep, or even a full-force hammer-fist(keep in mind that payback is fair). For instance, if the two top-most cards form a pair –

– then anyone may attempt to be the first to slap the pile. Whoever slaps the pile first picks it up and restarts play. If they were not previously in the game, they now enter the game and determine their position in the order of play. Sometimes it may be difficult to determine who slapped the pile first, as there may be tangled fingers, a broken table, or sometimes blood(players may consider instituting a "no rings" policy). If an impartial judge is not available, play should continue as though the pair did not occur.

Other "slappable" combinations include triples (only occurring when people fail to slap pairs) –

– which will result in you instantly winning the game. But beware of slapping triple sixes –

  

– which results in everyone losing, and mandates that the deck be completely burned by midnight and that no one else can play Ratscrew until the next day. This isn't superstition, this is pyromania.

For added confusion, you may also slap four-in-a-row such as

or even sequences that go around the corner such as

for which you may pick up the pile and continue play as for pairs.

Note: if a player slaps incorrectly (whether accidentally or intentionally), the player who most recently played a card picks up the pile and continues play, unless a player slaps his own card, in which case the player before him picks up the pile and plays. For instance, if a pair occurs, and a player plays a card on top of it before another player manages to slap the pair, and instead slaps something that is not a pair –

– then the player who played the 3 in this case would get to pick up the pile. Also note that if someone who is not in the game slaps something that is not a pair, triple, or a run, they are ignored and play continues as usual.


Miscellaneous Rules And Notes

* If a player picks up cards they didn't win and this is noticed before he puts them on the bottom of his deck, he has to return them. Shame on him for trying to cheat.

* If this is noticed after he puts them in his deck but before play goes around the table once, he must split his deck in half and let the cheated player take his choice. Shame on him for cheating.

* If this goes unnoticed before play goes around once, the cards are rightfully his. Good going!

* If a player incorrectly slaps more than five consecutive cards, they are out of the game. This is to prevent excessive stalling when a player only has a few cards left.

* Players should make all reasonable effort to keep cards in the order played when picking up piles.

* If a player reveals their next card before it is their turn to play, they must set it aside face up where other players can slap it. When it is time to play the card, any player can then place it on the pile. If the card is then "slappable," then it can be considered already played and players can attempt to slap it without moving it to the pile. This rule is extended to multiple cards.

* If a player plays a card accidently, it is ignored and set aside as above even in the case where it would otherwise be slappable.

* It is perfectly legal to drop a card in order to slap the pile. If it is revealed in the process, it is treated as above.

* If a player "hovers over the pile" in preparation to slap, it is fair to slap their hand down on the pile. This is then treated as though they slapped the pile accidentally.

* If you play with someone else's cards it is considered courteous to warn them that there is an outside chance you may be required to burn them.

* If the game is played with jokers (intentionally or accidentally), jokers can always be slapped.

* If you are statistically-minded, some effective strategies might present themselves. A good memory will always beat a fast hand.

* If the game is completely out of control and no one seems to be playing any cards below a nine, you may be using a pinochle deck.

* There's probably stuff I've forgotten to put here, but that doesn't mean it's not a rule. I'm not just making this up, really. Check the notes page below for variations.

ELEUSIS

New Eleusis is a simulation of scientific research. The general idea is that the dealer (in the role of “God'' or “Nature'') thinks up a rule that governs the correct play of the cards. The other players (“Scientists'') take turns playing cards (“performing experiments'') and race one another to see who can come up with a good theory about the rule. The first player with a theory can declare himself/herself to be a “prophet'' who can predict the results of the other player's experiments. Other players then try to bring about the overthrow of the prophet by trying to find experiments whose results cannot be predicted (thus gaining a chance to become prophet themselves).


General:

  • You need lots of room and at least two decks of cards. It helps if you can find miniature cards.

  • The game doesn't work well for four or fewer people. More than eight can play, but the game gets too long and individual players don't get enough chances to experiment.

Hints for the dealer:

  • Really write down the rule. It helps settle arguments.

  • Unless you specify otherwise, a numeric rule uses Ace=1, Jack=11, Queen=12, King=13; but you might specify, for example, that all face cards are worth 10.

  • If you give a hint, make sure it isn't misleading. For example, don't say “suits don't matter'' if your rule depends on the color of the card.

  • For the best score, find a rule that is hard for some players and easy for others.

  • Remember that rules are always much harder than you expect them to be.

  • If a rule makes almost all plays correct, or almost all plays incorrect, it's too hard.

  • A good rule should make it easy for you to determine if a card is correct. When God makes a mistake, there is no graceful way to recover.

Hints for players:

  • Generally, of course, you want to play “correct'' cards. But if you have a theory, often you can best test it by playing cards that you think are incorrect.

  • If you have a theory, but there is already a Prophet, look for special cases that you aren't quite sure about. If the Prophet has the same theory, you may be able to overthrow him/her.

  • Your best “think time'' is when it is someone else's turn, so you don't feel hurried.

  • Don't spend too much time thinking when only a few cards have been played.

Rule Modifications:

  • You may announce at the end of someone else's turn that you wish to become prophet. Then, beginning with the player who just played and proceeding clockwise, each player in turn has the opportunity to become Prophet. If no one else elects to do so, you become Prophet immediately.

  • If you have just gone out and you think you know the rule, you may forego the bonus for going out and become Prophet instead. Play proceeds. If you are overthrown, you will be dealt 8 penalty cards and will again have a hand. If you are not, add your prophet bonus to high count for your score.

THE DEAL

  1. Make up and write down a rule that tells which cards may be played when. The rule must depend only on the cards already correctly played.

  2. Shuffle two decks and deal 14 cards to every player except yourself.

  3. If you like, give a hint about the rule.

  4. Turn up one card for a starter.

  5. Choose player to start (count clockwise the number of the starter card). Dealer may, if required by the rule, choose another card to start the sequence.

THE PLAY

Player (Scientist):

  1. Play a card from your hand. (Usually it's best to play a card you think is right.) If you feel confident, you may play a sequence of 2, 3, or 4 cards. If you think you have no “right'' card, you may declare “no play'' and show your hand to everyone.

  2. Just after you play (any play, regardless of consequences), if you think you know the rule, you may declare yourself Prophet, provided: (1) there isn't already a prophet, (2) you haven't already been prophet this round, and (3) there are still two or more players besides yourself and the dealer.

Dealer (God):

  1. If there is no prophet, call each play “right'' or “wrong,'' and give two penalty cards for each “wrong'' card. A sequence of 2 to 4 cards is right only if each card played sequentially would be right. Give two penalty cards for each card in a wrong sequence. Don't tell which card or cards made the sequence wrong.

  2. If there is a prophet, s/he makes the calls, and you “approve'' or “disapprove'' each call. If you disapprove a call, overthrow the prophet and give him/her 5 penalty cards; the player (scientist) who just played gets no penalty for a wrong play.

  3. Put a white marker on each 10th card played, and call a “sudden death'' period after 40 cards played. During sudden death, any player who makes a wrong play is expelled. (When there is a prophet, sudden death is based only on the black markers.)

Prophet:

  1. When you first become Prophet, put a black marker on the last card you just played. Put the rest of your cards aside (you may need them again).

  2. Take over the job of calling plays “right'' or “wrong''–carefully!

  3. Put a black marker on every 10th card played after you became prophet, and call a “sudden death'' period after 30 cards played.

  4. If overthrown, pick up your cards and resume your role as a player.

Special Rule: A player who correctly claims “no play'' puts his cards on the table and is dealt a new hand with 4 fewer cards (this may put the player out and end the round). If the player is wrong, Prophet or Dealer plays a correct card from the hand and deals the player a 5 card penalty. [But if prophet calls incorrectly, the card is returned to the player's hand without penalty, and Prophet is overthrown.]

ENDING

A round ends when either (1) some player runs out of cards, or (2) all players have been expelled for wrong plays during “sudden death'' period. The game ends when everyone has been dealer once (but you can end earlier).

SCORING

  1. Find the high count: the largest number of cards held by any player (including the prophet). Everyone except the dealer gets points equal to the high count minus the number of cards in his/her hand.

  2. Anyone (except the dealer) with no cards at all gets a 4 point bonus.

  3. A True Prophet also gets 1 point for each right card and 2 points for each wrong card played after s/he became prophet.

  4. Dealer's score is the smaller of (a) the highest player's score, or (b) twice the number of cards played before the True Prophet started.

  5. If you end the game early, anyone who has never been dealer gets 10 extra points.

  6. The person with the largest number of points wins.

CRIBBAGE

Introduction

Cribbage is traditionally supposed to have been invented in the early 17th Century; it evolved from the earlier game Noddy. It is basically a game for two players, though adaptations for 4 players in fixed partnerships, and for 3 players also exist.

The more modern Six Card Cribbage has now almost entirely replaced the original Five Card Cribbage game described on this page. However the five card version does still survive in parts of Britain. For example, in South Wales it is played in pub leagues in combination with Nine Card Don (see the Don page for details). Matthew Probert reports that Five Card Cribbage is popular around Hampshire and Surrey, although the six card game is also played there.

Players and cards

Two players using a standard 52 card pack. Cards rank K(high) Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 A(low).

Object of the Game

To be the first to score 61 points accumulated over several deals. Points are scored mainly for combinations of cards either occuring during the play or occuring in a player's hand or in the cards discarded before the play, which form the "crib".

Board and Pegs

The points are recorded by means of a board and pegs. The holes in the board represent scores from 1 to 61.

Diagram of cribbage board
Diagram of cribbage board

The above diagram shows the players starting at opposite ends of the board and pegging in opposite directions, which is the way I was taught and is consistent with for example Popular Card Games by Lawrence H Dawson – Wills, Bristol & London (1933). However it is clear that it is now more common for both players to start from the same end, like this:

Diagram of cribbage board
Diagram of cribbage board

In any case, each player has two pegs: the forward peg shows the player's score to date, and the rear peg shows the previous score. When a player scores points, the rear peg is moved in front to show the new score. That way the distance between the pegs shows the amount most recently scored, and the opponent can thereby check it has been scored correctly.

Deal

Cut cards to determine who deals first. The player cutting the lower card deals, and the other player immediately pegs 3 points for "last" as compensation. This is scored on the first deal only. Subsequently the turn to deal alternates.

The dealer shuffles, the non-dealer cuts the cards, and dealer deals 5 cards to each player one at a time. The undealt part of the pack is placed face down on the table.

Discard

Each player must choose two cards to discard face down to form the "crib". These four cards are set aside until the end of the hand. Any card combinations in the crib will count for the dealer, so non-dealer will try to throw cards that are unlikely to make valuable combinations.

Start Card

The non-dealer cuts the pack of undealt cards, lifting the upper part without showing its bottom card. The dealer takes out the top card of the lower part, turns it face up and, after non-dealer replaces the upper part, places it face up on top of the pack. This turned up card is called the "start" card.

If the start card is a jack, the dealer immediately pegs 2 points – this is called "two for his heels".

Play of the cards

Starting with the non-dealer, the players take turns to play a single cards face up in front of themselves. In this stage of the game the total pip value of the cards played by both players must not exceed 31. The pip values of the cards are:

Ace = 1; 2 to 10 = face value; jack = 10; queen = 10; king = 10.

As each card is played, the player announces the running total, but this total must not exceed 31. A player who cannot play without exceeding 31 does not play a card but says "Go". If your opponent says "Go" then you may continues playing cards and scoring for any combinations you make (see below). When neither player can play without going over 31 (either because both players have played all their cards or because all cards left in the players' hands have pip values so high that they would take the total over 31 if played), the play ends.

If the play ends with a total lower than 31, whichever player was the last to play a card pegs 1 point for "last card". If the play ends at exactly 31, the player who played the last card pegs 2 points instead of 1 point.

Notes.

  • Players familiar with Six Card Cribbage will be used to carrying on playing until all the cards have been played, starting again at zero each time 31 is reached or both players say "Go". Five Card Cribbage is different: you only play up to 31 once and one or both players may have unplayed cards at the end of the play.

  • As in 6-card Cribbage, when neither can play the last person to play scores either 2 for 31 or 1 for last card. It is not possible to make both these scores at once.

Scoring during the play

A player who makes any of the following scores during the play pegs them immediately.

15:

If you play a card which brings the total to 15 you score two points ("Fifteen two")

31:

As mentioned above if you play a card which brings the total to exactly 31 you score 2 points.

Pair:

If you play a card of the same rank as the previous card (e.g. a king after a king) you score 2 points for a pair. Note that (for example) a 10 and a queen do NOT make a pair even though they are both worth 10 points.

Pair Royal:

If immediately after a pair a third card of the same rank is played, the player of the third card scores 6 for "pair royal".

Double Pair Royal:

Four cards of the same rank, played in immediate succession. The player of the fourth card scores 12.

Run:

A "run" or "sequence" is a set of 3 or more cards of consecutive ranks (irrespective of suit) – such as 9-10-jack or 2-3-4-5. Note that ace is low so for example ace-king-queen is not a run. The player of a card which completes a run scores for the run; the score is equal to the number of cards in the run. The cards to not have to be played in order, but no other cards must intervene.
Example: cards are played in the following order: 4-2-3-5-6. The player of the 3 scores 3 for a run, then the player of the 5 scores 4, and the player of the 6 scores 5.
Another example: 4-2-3-4-3. The player of the first 3 scores 3 for the run 4-2-3. Then the player of the second 4 score 3 for the run 2-3-4. The player of the second 3 scores nothing because the 3 does not complete a run.
Another example: 4-2-6-5-3. The final 3 scores 5 points for a 5-card run. Nothing is scored before then, because there is no run until the 3 is played.

Last Card:

If neither player manages to make the total exactly 31, whoever played the last card scores 1 point.

The Show

Players now score for combinations of cards held in hand. First the non-dealer's hand is exposed, and scored. The start card also counts as part of the hand when scoring combinations. All valid scores from the following list are counted.

15:

Any combination of cards adding up to 15 pips scores 2 points. For example king, jack, five, five would count 8 points (four fifteens as the king and the jack can each be paired with either five). You would say "Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, fifteen eight).

Pair:

A pair of cards of the same rank score 2 points. Three cards of the same rank contain 3 different pairs and thus score a total of 6 points for "pair Royal". Four of a kind contain 6 pairs and so score 12 points.

Run:

Three cards of consecutive rank (irrespective of suit), such as ace-2-3, score 3 points for a run. A hand such as 6-7-7-8 contains two runs of 3 (as well as two fifteens and a pair) and so would score 12 altogether. A run of four cards, such as 9-10-J-Q scores 4 points. This is slightly illogical – you might expect it to score 6 because it contains two runs of 3, but it doesn't. The runs of 3 within it don't count -you just get 4.

Flush:

If all three cards of the hand are the same suit, 3 points are scored for flush. If the start card is the same suit as well, the flush is worth 4 points. There is no score for having 2 hand cards and the starter all the same suit. Note also that there is no score for flush during the play – it only counts in the show.

One For His Nob:

If the hand contains the jack of the same suit as the start card, score 1 extra point.

Note that when scoring a hand, the same card may be counted and scored as part of several different combinations. For example if your hand is 7 8 8 and the start card is a 9 you score "fifteen 2, fifteen 4, and a pair is 6, and a run is 9 and a run is 12" – 12 points to peg, with each of your 8s forming part of a fifteen, a pair and a run.

After non-dealer's hand has been shown and the score pegged, dealer's hand is shown, scored and pegged in the same way. Finally the dealer exposes the four cards of the crib and scores them with the start card. The scoring is the same as for the players' hands except that:

  • a flush in the crib only scores if all four crib cards and the start card are of the same suit. If that happens the flush scores 5 points

  • it is now possible to have a run of five cards, which scores just 5 points.

Winning the game

As soon as someone reaches 61 points, that player wins the game. This can happen at any point – during the play or the show, or even by dealer scoring "two for his heels". Note that it is not necessary to reach 61 exactly – for example if you overshoot by scoring 2 more points when you had 60 you still win.

BRISCOLA CHIAMATA

Introduction

This popular five-player version of the Italian game Briscola differs from the parent game in that all 40 cards are dealt at the start, and that the partnerships vary from deal to deal and are initially unknown. There is an auction after which the highest bidder chooses a partner by calling a card (briscola chiamata = "called briscola"). The holder of this card is the bidder's partner and the other three players form the opposing team. There are many regional variants, the differences being mainly in the bidding process, and the game also goes by several other names including Briscola Bastarda, Briscolone, Briscola Assassina and Briscola Pazza.

A basic form of the game will be described first, followed by a number of variants.

Players and Cards

The game is basically for five players, but it is possible for six to take part, in which case the players take turns to sit out, dealing cards to the other five players and taking no further part until the next deal.

A standard Italian 40-card pack is used. This can have either Italian suits (swords, batons, cups and coins) or French suits (spades, clubs, hearts and diamonds). The Horse in the Italian suited pack corresponds to the Queen in the French suited pack. The cards have point values, and the rank of the cards in each suit from high to low and their values are as follows.

Ace

11 points

Three

10 points

King

4 points

Queen / Horse

3 points

Jack

2 points

Seven

0 points

Six

0 points

Five

0 points

Four

0 points

Two

0 points

The total number of points in the pack is 120.

In North America, Italian cards in various regional patterns can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair. Alternatively the game could be played with an international 52-card pack by removing all 10's, 9's and 8's.

Deal and play are counter-clockwise.

The Deal

The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's left cuts. The dealer then deals out the whole pack to the five players, in batches of four cards at a time, so that each receives a hand of eight cards. The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

Bidding and Calling

Players bid for the right to choose the trump suit (briscola) and to call a partner, who will be the player who holds the trump card called by the bidder. These two players form one team and undertake to win more than half of the card points – i.e. at least 61 – in their tricks. The other three players form the opposing team and try to prevent them doing this by taking at least 60 points.

In the bidding, players initially state only the rank of the card they wish to call. No suit is mentioned. The lower the rank, the higher the bid. The player to dealer's right speaks first and the bidding continues counter-clockwise. Each player in turn must either pass or bid a lower rank than the previous bidder. A player who has passed is out of the bidding, which continues for as many circuits as necessary until only one bidder remains, the other four having passed. So the bidding is won by whoever is prepared to call the lowest card.

The final bidder now names the suit of the briscola (trump) and the holder of the card of the bid rank in this suit is the bidder's partner, but must not say anything to reveal his or her identity. It will only become apparent during the play of the cards who is on which team.

If a player bids "two", the bidding can continue, and in this case subsequent bidders must also bid two but contract to win a greater number of points (i.e. a target of more than 61). The bid now states the number of points and each bid must be higher than the previous one.

A player is allowed to call a card that they hold themselves, and in this case the bidder will be playing alone against a team of four, though the other players will not initially realise that this is the case.

Alternatively, a player who bids "two" but holds the two of the desired trump suit is allowed to call the lowest trump that he or she does not hold. For example a player who won the bidding at "two" and named a trump suit holding the 2 and 4 but not the 5 could call the 2 (to play alone) or the 5 (to select a partner) but not any other card of the suit.

Play

The player to dealer's right leads to the first trick, and as in other forms of Briscola each player in turn is free to play any card they wish. There is absolutely no requirement to follow suit or to try to beat any of the other cards.

The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trumps, by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

Unlike some other forms of Briscola, in this game there are no signals and players are not allowed to inform each other what cards they hold or advise their partners what to play. This does not necessarily mean that the game is played in stony silence. In fact it is often quite a noisy game during which which players trade jokes, insults and speculation. However, none of this conversation should give away any genuine information about cards held, and especially should not reveal who is or is not the bidder's partner.

Scoring

At the end of the play the bidder and the holder of the called card combine their tricks and count the number of points in them. If they are successful, taking at least 61 points or at least the amount of the bid if more than 61 was bid, then the bidder scores +2 points, the called partner scores +1 point and the other three players score -1 point each. If the bidding team fails these scores are reversed: the bidder scores -2, the called partner -1 and their opponents +1 each.

If the bid was for 71 or more points the scores are higher:

  • 71-80: ±4 for the bidder and ±2 for the other players

  • 81-90: ±6 for the bidder and ±3 for the other players

  • 91-100: ±8 for the bidder and ±4 for the other players

  • 101+: ±10 for the bidder and ±5 for the other players

If the called card is in the bidder's hand the bidder counts only his or her own tricks and scores +4 points if successful while the team of four score -1 each. If unsuccessful the bidder score -4 and the others +1 each. For a bid of 71-80 playing alone the bidder scores ±8 and the others ±2, for 81-90 ±12 / ±3, for 91-100 ±16 / ±4 and for 101+ ±20 / ±5.

If one team wins all eight tricks, the scores are doubled.

At the start of the game, the players should agree how long they will play: the number of deals or the time to end. Since the scores of the players always add up to zero, the result can be converted to money, chocolates or whatever stakes are being played for. Alternatively the game could go on until some target score is reached by the highest scoring player, with agreed prizes for 1st, 2nd, 3rd place, etc. In this case the players would also need to agree how to deal with ties.

Variations

Briscola Chiamata Subito al Due

"Called Briscola, straight to the Two". This is the same as the above game except that the bidding is for the number of points to be taken (the lowest bid being 61) and the bidder must always call a two. If the bidder names a trump suit in which he or she holds the two, the bidder must play alone – there is no possibility to call a card other than a two.

In this game it may sometimes happen that all five players pass. In this case the dealer asks each player in turn whether there should be a new deal or whether they will reopen the bidding for 61 points calling a 2. If any player reopens, the bidding resumes, starting with this player and continuing anticlockwise, and everyone is allowed to take part. If no one wants to reopen the bidding but all agree to a redeal, the cards are thrown in, shuffled, cut and dealt again by the same dealer.

Prima Mano al Buio

"First Trick in the Dark". In this variant of Subito al Due the trump suit and the called card are announced by the bidder after the first trick has been played. The first trick is won as usual by the player of the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played.

In the first trick no one is allowed to play a two, with just one exception. If the bidder is the last person to play to the first trick, in that case the bidder is allowed to play a two to the trick. This rule prevents the bidder from selecting a partner on the basis of seeing who won the first trick.

Bidding for Points Only

Some play that the players bid the number of points that they will take with the help of a partner. The lowest bid is 61. The highest bidder names trumps and is allowed to call any card of the trumps suit – usually this will be the highest trump that the bidder does not hold, for example the Ace.

Briscola col Monte

In this Sicilian variant only seven cards each are dealt to each player and there are five cards (the monte) face down on the table. The rank of the card to be called is not mentioned in the bidding. Each bid is simply a number of points, 61 or more. The highest bidder then names the trump suit, takes the five cards of the monte without showing them and discards five cards face down. The bidder then states the rank of the trump card whose holder will be his or her partner. Normally this will be the highest trump that the bidder does not hold.

The five discarded cards count for the team of the player who wins the last of the seven tricks.

SKULL

Each player takes 4 cards: 3 numbered cards (numbers don’t matter) and a face card (king, jack or queen)

Skull & Roses Rules Reminder

1. Start of the hand

Each player chooses one card and places it face down on his mat.

2. Placement of cards: Place a card or challenge

Starting with the first player and going clockwise around the table, each player may either:

Place another card face down on their mat

Or they may challenge. A player with no cards in hand must challenge.

3. Challenge: Pass or raise the bid

The player who issued the challenge bids the number of cards he intends to flip.

Going clockwise, each player must then either:

Raise the stakes by increasing the previous bid

Or pass his turn and push in his game mat to the middle of the table

This continues until all players but one have passed. Remaining highest bidder called the “challenger.”

4. Revelation

The challenger must reveal the number of cards he bid.

The challenger starts by revealing all the cards on his own mat.

The challenger may then reveal any card from the top any other player’s stack.

This challenger continues to flip cards one at a time.

When a Skull is revealed, the challenger stops flipping cards. He has lost the bet.

All players take their cards back into their hands.

The challenger loses one card from the game.

Opponent that revealed skull selects one of challenger’s face down shuffled

cards to be discarded face down to centre of table. If challenger revealed own

skull, he looks at his cards and chooses one to discard face down.

If the challenger loses their last card, they are eliminated from the game.

If challenger flips number of Roses equal to his bid, the bet is won.

Player flips his game mat to the Roses side.

If a player has won his second bet, he wins the game!

Challenger plays first next round. If challenger was eliminated, first player is the owner of the

revealed skull. Eliminated challenger chooses first player if he revealed own skull.

Lingo

“Burn out”: A bet that would reveal all cards on the table.

“Under the gun”: The second player to speak after a challenge is issued.

“The cop”: The last player to speak before the highest bidder.

“Stoned”: A player with only one card remaining.

GIN RUMMY

The Deck

One standard deck of 52 cards is used. Cards in each suit rank, from low to high:

Ace 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Jack Queen King.

The cards have values as follows:

Face cards (K,Q,J)

10 points

Ace

1 point

Number cards are worth their spot (index) value.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen randomly by drawing cards from the shuffled pack – the player who draws the lower card deals. Subsequently, the dealer is the loser of the previous hand (but see variations). In a serious game, both players should shuffle, the non-dealer shuffling last, and the non-dealer must then cut.

Each player is dealt ten cards, one at a time. The twenty-first card is turned face up to start the discard pile and the remainder of the deck is placed face down beside it to form the stock. The players look at and sort their cards.

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to collect a hand where most or all of the cards can be combined into sets and runs and the point value of the remaining unmatched cards is low.

  • run or sequence consists of three or more cards of the same suit in consecutive order, such as club4, club5, club6 or heart7, heart8, heart9, heart10, heartJ.

  • set or group is three or four cards of the same rank, such as diamond7, heart7, spade7.

A card can belong to only one combination at a time – you cannot use the same card as part of both a set of equal cards and a sequence of consecutive cards at the same time. For example if you have diamond7, spade7, heart7, heart8, heartyou can use the heart7 either to make a set of three sevens or a heart sequence, but not both at once. To form a set and a sequence you would need a sixth card – either a clubor a heart10.

Note that in Gin Rummy the Ace is always lowA-2-3 is a valid sequence but A-K-Q is not.

Play

A normal turn consists of two parts:

  1. The Draw. You must begin by taking one card from either the top of the stock pile or the top card on the discard pile, and adding it to your hand. The discard pile is face up, so you can see in advance what you are getting. The stock is face down, so if you choose to draw from the stock you do not see the card until after you have committed yourself to take it. If you draw from the stock, you add the card to your hand without showing it to the other players.

  2. The Discard To complete your turn, one card must be discarded from your hand and placed on top of the discard pile face up. If you took the top card from the discard pile, you must discard a different card – taking the top discard and putting the same card back in the same turn is not permitted. It is however legal to discard a card that you took from the discard pile in an earlier turn.

For the first turn of the hand, the draw is done in a special way. First, the person who did not deal chooses whether to take the turned up-card. If the non-dealer declines it, the dealer may take the card. If both players refuse the turned-up card, the non-dealer draws the top card from the stock pile. Whichever player took a card completes their turn by discarding and then it is the other player's turn to play.

Knocking

You can end the play at your turn if, after drawing a card, you can form sufficient of your cards into valid combinations: sets and runs. This is done by discarding one card face down on the discard pile and exposing your whole hand, arranging it as far as possible into sets (groups of equal cards) and runs (sequences). Any remaining cards from your hand which are not part of a valid combination are called unmatched cards or deadwood. and the total value of your deadwood must be 10 points or less. Ending the play in this way is known as knocking, presumably because it used to be signalled by the player knocking on the table, though nowadays it is usual just to discard face down. Knocking with no unmatched cards at all is called going gin, and earns a special bonus. (Note. Although most hands that go gin have three combinations of 4, 3 and 3 cards, it is possible and perfectly legal to go gin with two 5-card sequences.)

A player who can meet the requirement of not more than 10 deadwood can knock on any turn, including the first. A player is never forced to knock if able to, but may choose instead to carry on playing, to try to get a better score.

The opponent of the player who knocked must spread their cards face-up, arranging them into sets and runs where possible. Provided that the knocker did not go gin, the opponent is also allowed to lay off any unmatched cards by using them to extend the sets and runs laid down by the knocker – by adding a fourth card of the same rank to a group of three, or further consecutive cards of the same suit to either end of a sequence. (Note. Cards cannot be laid off on deadwood. For example if the knocker has a pair of twos as deadwood and the opponent has a third two, this cannot be laid off on the twos to make a set.)

If a player goes gin, the opponent is not allowed to lay off any cards.

Note that the knocker is never allowed to lay off cards on the opponent's sets or runs.

The play also ends if the stock pile is reduced to two cards, and the player who took the third last card discards without knocking. In this case the hand is cancelled, there is no score, and the same dealer deals again. Some play that after the player who took the third last stock card discards, the other player can take this discard for the purpose of going gin or knocking after discarding a different card, but if the other player does neither of these the hand is cancelled.

Scoring

Each player counts the total value of their unmatched cards. If the knocker's count is lower, the knocker scores the difference between the two counts.

If the knocker did not go gin, and the counts are equal, or the knocker's count is greater than that of the opponent, the knocker has been undercut. In this case the knocker's opponent scores the difference between the counts plus a 10 point bonus.

A player who goes gin scores a bonus 20 points, plus the opponent's count in unmatched cards, if any. A player who goes gin can never be undercut. Even if the other player has no unmatched cards at all, the person going gin gets the 20 point bonus the other player scores nothing.

The game continues with further deals until one player's cumulative score reaches 100 points or more. This player then receives an additional bonus of 100 points. If the loser failed to score anything at all during the game, then the winner's bonus is 200 points rather than 100.

In addition, each player adds a further 20 points for each hand they won. This is called the line bonus or box bonus. These additional points cannot be counted as part of the 100 needed to win the game.

After the bonuses have been added, the player with the lower score pays the player with the higher score an amount proportional to the difference between their scores.

Variations

Many books give the rule that the winner of each hand deals the next. Some play that the turn to deal alternates.

Some players begin the game differently: the non-dealer receives 11 cards and the dealer 10, and no card is turned up. The non-dealer's first turn is simply to discard a card, after which the dealer takes a normal turn, drawing the discard or from the stock, and play alternates as usual.

Although the traditional rules prohibit a player from taking the previous player's discard and discarding the same card, it is hard to think of a situation where it would be advantageous to do this if it were allowed. The Gin Rummy Association Rules do explicitly allow this play, but the player who originally discarded the card is then not allowed to retake it unless knocking on that turn. The Game Colony Rules allow it in one specific situation – "action on the 50th card". When a player takes the third last card of the stock and discards without knocking, leaving two cards in the stock, the other player has one final chance to take the discard and knock. In this position, this same card can be discarded – if it does not improve his hand, the player simply turns it over on the pile to knock.

Some people play that the bonus for going gin is 25 (rather than 20) and the bonus for an undercut is 20 (rather than 10). Some play that the bonus for an undercut, the bonus for going gin, and the box bonus for each game won are all 25 points.

Some play that if the loser failed to score during the whole game, the winner's entire score is doubled (rather than just doubling the 100 game bonus to 200).

A collection of variations submitted by readers can be found on the Gin Rummy Variations page.

Oklahoma Gin

In this popular variation the value of the original face up card determines the maximum count of unmatched cards with which it is possible to knock. Pictures denote 10 as usual. So if a seven is turned up, in order to knock you must reduce your count to 7 or fewer.

If the original face up card is a spade, the final score for that deal (including any undercut or gin bonus) is doubled.

The target score for winning Oklahoma Gin is generally set at 150 rather than 100.

Some play that if an ace is turned up you may only knock if you can go gin.

Some play that a player who undercuts the knocker scores an extra box in addition to the undercut bonus. Also a player who goes gin scores two extra boxes. These extra boxes are recorded on the scorepad; they do not count towards winning the game, but at the end of the game they translate into 20 or 25 points each, along with the normal boxes for hands won. If the up-card was a spade, you get two extra boxes for an undercut and four extra boxes for going gin.

Playing with 3 or 4 Players.

When three people play gin rummy, the dealer deals to the other two players but does not take part in the play. The loser of each hand deals the next, which is therefore played between the winner and the dealer of the previous hand.

Four people can play as two partnerships. In this case, each player in a team plays a separate game with one of the opposing pair. Players alternate opponents, but stay in the same teams. At the end of each hand, if both players on a team won, the team scores the total of their points. If one player from each team won, the team with the higher score scores the difference. The first team whose cumulative score reaches 125 points or more wins.

OH HELL

Introduction

This game, in which players try to predict the exact number of tricks they will win, first appeared in London and New York in the 1930's and has since become popular in many parts of the world. Its original name Oh Hell! evidently offended some people and has been bowdlerised in many books to Oh Pshaw! or Oh Well!, while others have preferred more robust alternatives such as Oh Shit! Some call it Blob or Blackout, perhaps because of the practice of recording a player's bid on the scoresheet and then obliterating it with a black blob if the player failed to take the predicted number of tricks. Traditionally the size of the players' hands increases or decreases by one in each deal, and this has given rise to the names Elevator (l'Ascenseur in France), Up and Down the River (in Australia and New Zealand) and 10 op en neer in the Netherlands. In Britain it is often known as Contract Whist or as Nomination Whist, a name which also sometimes refers to different games. Other names include Bust (in Australia and New Zealand), Boerenbridge (in the Netherlands) and German Bridge (in Hong Kong). In India the game is called (in Gujurati) Kachuful, which is a mnemonic for the order of cycling through the trump suits: Kari (spades), Chukat (diamonds), Falli (clubs), Lal (hearts) and in Pakistan it is 765.

Players and Cards

From 3 to 7 people can play. The game is best when played with 4 to 6.

A standard 52 card deck is used. The cards in each suit rank (from high to low) A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2.

Sequence of Hands

The game consists of a series of hands. The first hand is played with 7 to 10 cards dealt to each player, depending on the number of players:

  • 3 to 5 players, 10 cards each;

  • 6 players, 8 cards each;

  • 7 players, 7 cards each

(because of the limit of 52 cards available). Each successive hand is played with one card fewer, down to a hand of just one card each, then one card more per hand back up to the starting level.

Example: With 7 players, the hands are: 7 cards, then 6,5,4,3,2,1, then 2,3,4,5,6,7, for a total of 13 hands to the game. A game should take approximately 45 minutes.

Object of the Game

The object is for each player to bid the number of tricks he thinks he can take from each hand, then to take exactly that many; no more and no fewer. Points are awarded only for making the bid exactly, and are deducted for missing the bid, either over or under (see scoring below).

The hook is that at least one player will fail on each hand, because the total number of tricks bid by the players may not equal the number of tricks available on that hand.

Deal

To determine the first dealer, draw cards. The player with the highest card deals first. The turn to deal rotates clockwise with each hand.

The cards are shuffled and cut and the dealer deals the cards singly until everyone has the appropriate number of cards for the hand being played. The next card is turned face up and the suit of this card is the trump suit for the hand. The trump suit beats any of the other three suits played in that hand. The remaining undealt cards are placed in a face down stack with the turned trump on top of it.

Bidding

The bidding in each hand begins with the player to the left of the dealer, then continues clockwise, back around to the dealer, who bids last. Each bid is a number representing the number of tricks that player will try to take. Everyone must bid – it is not possible to pass, but you can bid zero, in which case your object is to take no tricks at all. A bid may be changed only if the next player to the left has not yet bid. Remember the hook: the dealer may not bid the number that would cause the total number of tricks bid to equal the number of tricks available; a hand will always be "over-bid" or "under-bid". Keep in mind when bidding that not all cards in the deck are in play in any hand.

Play

The play begins with the player to the dealer's left, who leads the first card. The lead may be any suit (including trump). Play follows clockwise. Each player must follow the suit led, if he can. If not, he may play any other card in his hand, including trump. The player who has played the highest trump card, or if no trump was played, the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick. That player then leads to the next trick. Continue until all tricks have been played and won.

Scoring

The scorekeeper is designated prior to each game according to house rules. The scorekeeper, needless to say, has a distinct advantage, and should be monitored closely for "inadvertent" errors. The designated scorekeeper notes each bid and resulting scores on a score sheet. There are many different ways to score Oh Hell!

In the simplest version, a player who wins the exact number of tricks bid scores 10 plus the number of tricks bid (10 points for zero tricks, 11 for 1 trick, 12 for two tricks, etc.) Players who take more or fewer tricks than they bid score nothing. This method has the advantage that the scorekeeper, having written down the bids at the start of the play, can simply write a figure "1" in front of those that were successful and delete those that are not. The game with this scoring method is often known as Blackout or Blob, because the scorer obliterates or blacks out unsuccessful bids, so that they become black blobs on the score sheet.

Perhaps the most widespread scoring method is to award 1 point for each trick won plus a bonus of 10 points for players who win exactly the number of tricks they bid. So for example a player who bid 2 would score 12 points for winning exactly 2 tricks, but only 1 for 1 trick and 3 for 3 tricks. This gives a player whose bid fails a slight incentive to win as many tricks as possible.

Some other scoring methods are given in the variations section below. Whatever method is used, the score keeper keeps a cumulative total of each player's score. The final cumulative scores determine the result. If the game is played for money, players pay or receive amounts corresponding to the difference of their scores from the average.

Several people have produced preprinted Oh Hell score sheets and applications, reflecting various scoring methods.

Variations

Sequence of Hands

There are a lot of variations of this. Some people start from 1 card each, go up to the maximum number of cards and then back down to 1. Some just go from the maximum down to 1 and then stop, or vice versa. Some people go from the maximum down to 1, then from 1 up to the maximum, so playing two 1-card hands in the middle, or from 1 to the maximum to 1 with two maximum hands in the middle. If there are four people the maximum number of cards dealt may be 13 rather than 10, with three people you can go up to 17. Some people go up to some other maximum, such as 7 cards, irrespective of the number of players.

Dan Strohm describes a version, called Devil's Bridge, in which the hand size increases and then decreases. On the final 1 card hand, the players must each hold their card on their forehead, so each player can see all the other player's cards but not their own.

Bryce Francis reports that in Australia, when playing Bust with 5 players, they add 13 low cards from a second pack to make a 65 card pack, so as to deal 13 cards each on the first hand as with 4 players. When there are six players they add a further 13 low cards, so that the bottom half of the pack is duplicated. If duplicate cards are played to a trick, the second played beats the first. A 3-player game is also possible, removing 13 low cards from a single pack.

Determining Trumps

Some sequences include hands in which all cards are dealt (for example 13 cards each to 4 players). There is of course then no card left to determine the trump suit. These hands are played without trumps. Some play the largest deals without trumps even if not all the cards are used.

Instead of turning up a card, some people go through the possible trump suits in a fixed sequence. This sequence may or may not include "no trumps".

In the Indian (Gujurati) game Kachuful, the sequence of trump suits is spades, diamonds, clubs, hearts and the name of the game, which literally means 'raw flower', is also a mnemonic for this sequence: Ka = Kari = Spades, Chu = Chukat = Diamonds, Fu = Falli = Clubs, L = Lal = Hearts

Brad Wilson describes a version called "Oh Shit!" in which Spades are always trumps.

Jean-Pierre Coulon reports a variation in which after the appropriate number of cards have been dealt to the players, the next card is turned face up. If the rank of the turned up card is from 2 to 6, there are no trumps for the deal; if it is 7 or higher, the suit of the turned up card is trumps.

Bidding

Some people play without the hook rule, so the dealer is allowed to bid in such a way that everyone can win. There was a lively discussion in rec.games.playing-cards as to which version is more skilful, with strong advocates of each. Some think that hands where the bids add up are too easy; but others say that forcing the bids not to add up removes a tactical option from the dealer.

Some play with simultaneous bidding. When the players are ready to bid, they put a fist on the table. When everyone's fist is out, the group says "One, Two, Three" while bouncing their fists on the table. On Three, everyone must stick out some number of fingers (possibly zero) to indicate how many tricks they will try to take. Of course, with this method, there's no restriction against the total number of bid tricks being equal to the number of cards dealt. Since players cannot adjust their bids based on the other players' bids, the total tricks bid can be wildly different from the tricks available – for example it is not uncommon for three or four players to bid "one" when only one card was dealt. Several correspondents report that in Australia, most groups use simultaneous bidding rather than bidding in turn.

Play

Some play that the dealer, rather than the player to dealer's left, leads to the first trick.

David Wuori (of Maine, USA) reports a variation in which a player who has no card of the suit led must trump. Only if you have no cards of the suit led and no trumps can you discard from a different non-trump suit. Although this is rule is uncommon in English speaking countries, it is actually the usual way of playing La Podrida (the Spanish equivalent to Oh Hell played in Latin America and in Spain) as well as the equivalent Romanian game of Whist.

Mark Brader suggests a variation in which two jokers are included, to make a 54-card deck. These jokers are a suit of their own containing just two equal cards. If a joker is led it wins the trick unless trumped. If a joker is turned up the other joker is the only trump.

Dick Atkinson reports a version of Blackout for 5 or 6 players, played in Northeast England in the 1970s. Two jokers are added to the pack, and if there are 5 players the four deuces are removed leaving 50 cards. With 5 players the deal is always 10 cards each and with 6 players 9 cards each. The trump suit rotates from deal to deal in the order hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades. The dealer could not make the bid total equal the number of cards dealt. Jokers could not be led (unless the player had no other cards) and could not be played in the first trick. Apart from that, a joker could be played to any trick (even if the player could have followed suit). The first player of a joker could nominate it as either "high", automatically winning the trick or "low", automatically losing. The player of the second joker had no choice: it would be low if the first joker was high and high if the first was low. If a player was forced to lead a joker, the first suited card played determined the suit of the trick.

Scoring

There are many alternative systems.

  • Some players give the usual 10-point bonus for a successful positive bid but award only 5 points for a successful bid of zero. Others award 5 plus the number of cards dealt to each player for a successful zero bid, recognising the fact that zero is more difficult when more cards are dealt.

  • Some score 10 points for each trick bid and won for a successful bid. A successful "zero" bid wins 10 points. A player whose bid is unsuccessful (over or under) loses 10 points times the difference between the number of tricks won and the number of tricks bid.

  • Another system is that you win 5 points if you are right plus 10 for each trick taken, and you lose 5 points if you are wrong plus an extra 5 for each trick difference from your bid.

  • Yet another system: if you make your bid exactly you score 10 points plus the square of the number of tricks you bid (i.e. 10 points for none, 11 for one, 14 for two, 19 for three, 26 for four, etc.); if you fail you lose the square of the difference between the number of tricks you bid and the number of tricks you took.

  • Some play for a single winner, who is the player with the highest score when the whole series of hands has been played. In case of a tie after the last hand, some deal further hand(s) with the maximum number of cards until a clear winner is determined. The winner may not be any of those involved in the original tie – any player can win until the end.

More variations

The Oh Hell Variations page in the Invented Games section of this site has a collection of Oh Hell variations contributed by readers.

Boerenbridge

A version of Oh Hell! under the Dutch name Boerenbridge was formerly available to play against three computer opponents at Kaartspellen online (www.useme.nl/kaartspellen). In the variation offered there:

  • The whole pack is dealt every time – 13 cards each to four players.

  • Bidding is simultaneous.

  • Score 1 point for each trick won, plus a bonus of 10 is you make your bid exactly.

  • If you bid and make zero you score 20 points.

  • If your score is 80 or more you do not take part in the bidding, but just score 1 for each trick you win.

  • The objective is to score exactly 100; if you go over 100 you bounce back – your excess over 100 is subtracted from 100.

7-Truf

Andi Beben describes the four-player variant 7-truf played in Indonesia with a 32-card pack ranking from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7 in each suit. There are 22 deals as follows:

  • 7 deals increasing from 1 card each to 7 cards each. A card is turned from the undealt part of the pack to determine the trump suit.

  • 4 deals with all acrds dealt: 8 cards each with no trumps.

  • 7 deals decreasing from 7 cards each to 1 card each, and one of the remaining cards turned for trumps.

  • 4 more deals with 8 cards each and no trumps.

Players bid in turn. The dealer's bid cannot make the total bids equal to the total number of tricks.

For a successful bid, the score is 10 times the bid, or 5 times the total number of tricks played for a successful zero bid. Unsuccessful players score 1 point per trick won.

10 op en neer page, described by Axel Brink, is a Dutch variant in which the number of cards dealt per hand are: 1, 2, …, 9, 10, 9, …, 1. There is no hook rule. A bid made exactly scores 10 points plus the bid: a missed bid (over or under) scores 0.

FIGHT THE LANDLORD

Needed

54 card deck (two jokers); three players, pen and paper for scorekeeping

Deal

The top card of the deck is flipped face up and placed into the middle of the deck. Each player is dealt 17 cards, one card at a time. The remaining three cards are placed into the middle. The player that was dealt the face up card is first to bid.

Objective 

The objective of the game is to be the first player to play all your cards into the middle. Cards can be played into the middle in combinations. Once a combination is laid down, only a similar combination with a higher ranking can be played.

Card Rank 

Red Joker, Black Joker, 2, Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3

(highest to lowest)

Suits do not matter during game play.

Combinations: example

Single Card: 4

Pair: 7-7

3-of-a-kind: 5-5-5

3-of-a-kind plus a card: 8-8-8-3

3-of-a-kind plus a pair: 10-10-10-4-4

Sequence (at least 5 cards): 3-4-5-6-7

Pair Sequence (at least 3 pairs): 4-4-5-5-6-6

3-of-a-kind Sequence (at least 2): 7-7-7-8-8-8

3-of-a-kind Sequence plus cards: 10-10-10-J-J-J-3-5

3-of-a-kind Sequence plus pairs: Q-Q-Q-K-K-K-3-3-9-9

4-of-a-kind plus two cards: 6-6-6-6-10-Q

4-of-a-kind plus two pairs: J-J-J-J-5-5-7-7

Bomb: 4-4-4-4 (beats any previous combination)

Rocket: Joker-Joker (beats any combination or bomb)

Bid

Players will bid on being the landlord. The landlord will play alone against the two other players. A bid can be one, two, or three, or a player can pass on bidding. The player that was dealt the face up card is first to bid. The bid winner gets the three additional cards in the middle.

Game Play

The bid winner is the first player to lay down a combination. The next player must play a similar style combination that has a higher ranking card(s). A player can always play a bomb, or a rocket, no matter what combination style is being played.

If a player cannot beat the previously played combination, the player will pass on playing. After two consecutive passes, the cards are cleared. The player of the last combination will start the new combination.

The player that gets rid of their cards first wins the round.

Score

If the landlord wins, the landlord scores the bid amount plus any multipliers from each opponent. If the landlord loses, the opponents each score the bid amount plus any multipliers. Both opponents score when the landlord loses. It doesn’t matter which opponent got rid of his/her cards first.

The bid is multiplied by two every time a bomb or rocket is played during the round. For example, if the bid was two, and one bomb plus a rocket was played during the round, the round is worth eight points. The original bid of two is doubled to four after the bomb is played, and doubled again to eight when the rocket is played.

Rules

The 2s and Jokers cannot be included in any sequence.

A player that passes on one turn can still play on a combination if play returns to him/her.

Only the same type of combinations can be played against each other. For example, a sequence of six cannot be played on against a sequence of five.

RICOCHET POKER

Welcome!

Introducing Ricochet Poker, a new card game that is basically poker without the bluffing. We figured this game was a perfect accessory for the J?germonsters poker deck!

Ricochet Poker gets its name from the speed of play, and the way that the turn jumps around to the lowest hand.

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity! Ricochet Poker is a deep and interesting game, a streamlined version of poker that’s all about knowing the odds.

Summary of Play

All players ante, and receive a portion of their poker hand. Going in order by the lowest hand, players may either buy more cards, or fold. At the end, the player with the best hand wins. Each hand takes about 5 minutes.

Casino Version: Ricochet Poker also has a casino variation, where the dealer plays by different rules, and enjoys a slight edge! You can learn about it at jamesernest.com/ricochet.

Setting Up

Ricochet Poker is a table game similar to any other variety of poker. Everyone starts with their own chips, and players try to win pots by getting the best poker hands. Ricochet just happens to be played entirely faceup.

Players: 2 to 8

Equipment: A poker deck and chips for betting

Just like poker, you can play one game or a hundred. If you’re not playing for money (or even if you are), the goal is to finish with more than you started with!

Playing the Game

The Deal: To begin, each player makes an ante of one chip. This forms the “pot.” Then the dealer deals one card to each player, faceup.

The lowest card will act first, with ties being broken by suit. (Suits are ranked in alphabetical order, with Clubs lowest, then Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades.)

After every turn, the action moves to the lowest hand.

On Your Turn: You may either fold or buy cards.

Folding: If you fold, you’re out. Throw away your cards and wait for the next hand.

Buying Cards: To buy cards, first declare how many cards you are asking for, and then put that many chips into the pot. Note that you won’t always get all the cards you paid for, and your hand can never be more than five cards.

The dealer will give you cards faceup, stopping when your hand is no longer the lowest hand. Even if you paid for more cards than you got, you don’t get any chips back.

If you get all the cards you paid for, and your hand is still beaten, then you’re out.

Breaking Ties: When deciding whose hand is best, a hand with a kicker beats the same hand without a kicker (so for example an Ace-8 is higher than Ace alone), and suit is used to break ties between identical hands until the end, at which point identical winning hands split the pot.

The action always passes to the lowest hand, until there is only one player left (or more than one if there is a tie for best hand). Note that the action might return to the same player several times, as shown in the example on page 2.

Variations: You can play with or without Jokers, or you can play with hand limits of six or seven cards.

In a seven-card game, it is best to start with a hand of two, to reduce the length of play and the size of the pots.

If you play with Jokers, use them as bugs, which can only be Aces, or to complete a straight or flush. If you use the Joker as a pure wild card, it becomes way too strong.

An Example of Play

There are four players. Their starting hands are K[, J], 8{, and 7}. The starting pot contains 4 ante chips.

Player1

2

3

4

Pot

HandK[

J]

8{

7}

4

Player 4 is lowest with the 7}, and he buys three cards. He pays three chips into the pot, and receives a 2{ and a 9], at which point the dealer stops, because Player 4’s hand is no longer the lowest. The action moves to Player 3.

Player1

2

3

4

Pot

HandK[

J]

8{

9]7}2{

7

Player 3 is now lowest with the 8{. She folds. This puts the action back on Player 4, who must now beat a J]. He buys two cards (the maximum, because he already has three). The first card is a 2[, which gives him a pair.

Player1

2

4

Pot

HandK[

J]

2{2[9]7}

9

The action moves to Player 2, whose J] is now the low hand. He may buy up to four cards, or fold. He buys two cards, receiving the 9{ and Q[. This is not enough to beat the next-lowest hand, the K[, so Player 2 is out.

Player 1 is up next, and buys four cards trying to beat the pair of 2s. She gets three cards, drawing 5{8[8}.

Player

1

4

Pot

Hand

8}8[K[5{

2{2[9]7}

15

It is Player 4’s turn once again, and he can now buy one more card, trying to catch either a 2, 9, or 7. But even if he does, the hand is not quite over….

The Order of Poker Hands

In case you need it, here is a list of the poker hands from best to worst. Note that all of these are five-card hands. Even in a game with six or seven cards, you will only play your best five cards.

Five of a Kind: Five cards of the same rank, such as 2-2-2-2-2. This hand is impossible without wild cards. If you are using the Jokers as bugs, you must decide whether a bug can count as a fifth Ace (poker experts disagree on this).

Royal Flush: This is an Ace-high straight flush. It has its own name because it is awesome.

Straight Flush: Five cards in sequence that are all the same suit, such as 3[-4[-5[-6[-7[.

Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank, such as J-J-J-J.

Full House: Three of a kind and two of another, such as Q-Q-Q-3-3 (“Queens full of threes”). The set of three cards determines the rank of the hand in comparison other full houses.

Flush: Five cards of the same suit. The highest card in the set determines the value of the hand when comparing with other flushes.

Straight: Five cards in sequence, such as 8-9-10-J-Q. Straights are compared by their highest card. Aces can be used as high or low in a straight. A-2-3-4-5 is a 5-high straight.

Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same rank, such as 8-8-8.

Two Pair: Two pairs, such as K-K-6-6. This hand is often called “X’s up,” e.g., “Kings Up.”

One Pair: Two cards of the same rank, like Q-Q.

High Card: If you have nothing else on this list, you have “high card.” Ranked by its highest card.

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