How To Play Whist
Whist is the primary predecessor to the game of Contract Bridge. While Bridge has surpassed the Whist games in popularity, these games still command a large following. Many of the features of Contract Bridge can also be found in this game and much of the strategy for Bridge applies equally well here.
The basic game of Whist is played with the regular 52 card deck. The cards rank as follows (in order from highest to lowest): Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. As in bridge, the game is played by four players, of whom two play in partnership against the other two. Unlike Bridge, however, the suits of the cards in Whist have no specific order of ranking.
If the partnerships are not pre-arranged in advance the following method may be used to determine the partnerships and the first dealer:
The deck is shuffled and cut by any player and the entire deck is then fanned out face down on the table. Each player then draws one card from the spread out pack. The two highest drawn cards play as partnerships against the two lowest cards drawn. The player who draws the highest card becomes the first dealer. Although the Ace is considered high in the play of the game, for purposes of determining partnerships and the deal, it is considered low. Unlike in Bridge, where suits have a specific ranking, they do not have such a ranking in this game. However, for purposes of this draw (but not in any other aspect of Whist), the suits rank as follows, in descending order:
Spades (♠) highest, then Hearts (♥), Diamonds (♦) and Clubs (♣).
As in Contract Bridge, each player sits at the table directly opposite their designated partner such that the play of cards to each trick will alternate between members of a partnership.
The individual who is to be the first dealer then begins the hand by dealing the cards, face down and one at time, clockwise around the table, starting at the player to his immediate left.
However, the very last card, which would be the last card dealt to the dealer himself, is instead placed face up in the center of the table. This card indicates the trump suit, with this and all other cards of this same suit designated as "trump" for this hand. Once it is the dealer's turn to play to the first trick, he picks up this card and adds it to his hand.
After each hand, the right to deal rotates clockwise around the table to each player in turn.
There is no bidding in the standard game of Whist, thus each partnership has one goal and this goal is to attempt to win as many tricks as possible during each hand. Scoring is based on the number of odd tricks (tricks won in excess of 6) taken by a partnership. Each of these odd tricks is worth one point. Thus, if a partnership combined to win 10 tricks in a particular hand, they would earn 4 points in the hand.
Play of the Hand
If no trumps are played to the trick, it is won by the highest card of the suit led.
To begin the play of the hand, the player to the dealers left plays the first card (leads) to the first trick. Each trick consists of four cards, one played by each player in a clockwise direction. Thus, each subsequent player must then play a card of the same suit as that of the lead card. If he does not have a card of the same suit as the lead card, he may play any card in his hand (including a card of the trump suit). The trick is won by the highest ranked card of the suit led unless anyone played a trump card to the trick. In that case, the trick is won by the player who played the highest trump.
The highest trump card played to the trick wins the trick. Thus, if hearts were trump, the eight of hearts would win this trick even though it was not the suit led.
The winner of the trick should gather in the four cards of the trick and place it face down in front of himself.
In this same way, all 13 tricks should be played, with one card played to the trick by each player. The winner of a trick leads the first card for the next trick (which can be any card of his choice remaining in that players hand). Once all the tricks are played, each partnership should total their tricks won for determination of scoring.
The first partnership to score 7 total points (during the play of one hand or accumulated across multiple hands) wins a game. A rubber consists of three games, and thus the rubber is won by the first partnership to win two such games. The entire match is then won by the partnership who has the highest total points over the rubber. The final match score will be the difference between the number of points the non-winning partnership did win and seven. If this score of seven is reached while a hand is still in progress, the hand is continued to its conclusion and the scores are added to the partnerships final scores.
Whist Variations and Optional Rules
Some of the more common variations of Whist that are played are as follows:
Five Point Whist: This variation, popular in England, is similar to the standard game of Whist described above except for with regards to the scoring. In this version five accumulated points wins the game. In addition to the score of 1 point per odd trick won in each hand as above, scores are also gained for the following:
- All Honour cards: If one partnership holds all the honour cards (Ace, King, Queen and Jack of trumps) the partnership earns 4 points.
- Three Honour cards: If a partnership holds three of the four honour cards (Three of any of the following cards of the trump suit: Ace, King, Queen, Jack) they gain 2 points.
- Winning 10 or 11 tricks in a hand: If the winning partnership in a hand wins 10 or 11 of the tricks they earn an additional 1 point.
- Winning 12 tricks in a hand: If the partnership winning the hand wins 12 of the tricks in that hand, they receive an additional 2 points.
- Winning all tricks in a hand: If the winning partnership of a hand wins all 13 of the tricks in a hand, they score an additional 3 points. This is sometimes called a Slam.
Cycling Trumps: This version is identical to the standard version described above except as regards to the designation of the trump suit. Rather than exposing the last card of the deal as trump, the designation of trump for the hand follows a specific cycle.
Thus, the trump suit for each hand follows the following sequence:
- When playing this version, of course, the last card goes into the dealers hand and is not first exposed to the center of the table as in the standard game.
- When playing a hand at No Trump, each trick is won by the highest card played of the original suit led, cards of any other suit cannot win that trick.
- After the 5th hand, the rotation begins again starting with Hearts, then Diamonds and continuing through the rotation as many times as necessary to complete the match.
This version of the game of Whist is played with a standard 52 card deck plus two jokers. The jokers should be distinct from each other in some way such that one is designated as the "Big Joker" and the other as the "Little Joker".
After determination of the partnerships and deal, the dealer deals 12 cards to each player, face down and one at a time. The remaining 6 cards of the deck are set, face down in the center of the table to form the kitty. Although determination of partnerships can be done as in standard Whist above, the first dealer is determined by the player who draws the first diamond from the face down fanned out deck. The specific ranking of the cards in Bid Whist will be somewhat
dependent on the specific bid. See below, for the ranking of cards based on the winning bid.
After the deal, bidding begins:
Bidding - Each player, starting with the first player to the dealers left, is allowed one bid. The bidding continues around the table in a clockwise rotation. On his one turn at bidding the player may either bid or pass. When bidding, a player names a number of odd tricks (tricks over 6) that they are bidding to win. These odd tricks are also called "books". If the first three players all "pass", the dealer must make a bid. When bidding a player must also declare either "Uptown", "Downtown" or "No Trump" along with his bid. Each of these additional declarations has a distinct meaning in regards to card ranking and trump suit (if any) that may be named for the hand.
The declaration of uptown means that the bidder will, if he has the highest bid, declare the trump suit after the bidding is completed. In addition, when the winning bid contains "Uptown", the cards rank in the standard order, from high to low(Ace,King,Queen,Jack,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2).
A declaration of downtown, on the other hand, means that the bidder, if he wins the bidding, will also declare a trump suit. The ranking for "downtown" however, ranks the cards in the order from high to low (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,Jack,Queen,King,Ace).
The no trump declaration indicates that no trump suit will be named, thus the hand will be played with no designated trump suit. In addition, a player who's winning bid is declared with this "no trump" can decide which of the two (high or low) card rankings will be used for the hand.
As in other such bidding games, a bid of a higher number takes precedence over a bid of a lower number. Bids of uptown and downtown have equal rank when added to bids of the same number of odd tricks. However, a bid of no trump, outranks a bid of the same number using uptown or downtown.
Once each player has had their one opportunity to bid, the player making the highest bid wins the bidding and then names the trump suit (unless their bid also consisted of no trump).
If a no trump bid is the highest, after winning the bid, the player doing so would then name either uptown or downtown to indicate the relative ranking of the cards (high to low or low to high).
The winning bidder then picks up the 6 face down card kitty in the center of the table. He then peruses his hand and discards any 6 cards from his hand, face down in front of him. These 6 cards count as an actual won trick for the high bidders partnership and count towards the total needed to fulfill their bid.
The winning bidder then leads the first card to the first trick. The rules for playing and winning tricks is identical to that in the standard version of Whist, described above.
The ranking of the cards in any hand are dependent on specifics of the winning bidders declaration as follows:
|Declaration||Trump Suit||Card Ranking (From high to low)||Uptown||Spades, Hearts, Diamonds or Clubs||Big Joker, Little Joker, Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
|Downtown||Spades, Hearts, Diamonds or Clubs||Big Joker, Little Joker, Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, King, Queen
|Uptown||No Trump||Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2|
|Downtown||No Trump||Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King|
Note: If the winning bid is No Trump, the Big Joker and Little Joker have no value and can never win a trick. In these circumstances, if a joker is the first card led to a trick, the next player may play any card which, if not a joker, is considered the suit for which the trick is played in. A player may play a joker if they do not have a card of the original suit led to the trick.
Note: If the winning bid is in any trump suit, the Big Joker and Little Joker are considered the two highest cards of the trump suit and act as members of this trump suit in all circumstances.
Scoring: When a hand is completed, the partnership making the bid will win or lose a certain number of points. If the bid making partnership wins at least as many tricks over 6 (counting the kitty trick) as they bid, they win a number of points equal to the number of tricks over 6 (again, counting the kitty trick) they have won. However, if they do not win at least 6 plus the number of tricks they bid, a number of points equal to their bid (regardless of the number they actually did win) is subtracted from their current score. Negative scores are possible in this game. The opposing, defending team does not win or lose any points on a hand. If a side bids and wins a hand on a no trump declaration, they win double the normally earned points for the hand. If they lose, they still lose just the amount of their final bid on the hand.
The first partnership to score 7 or more points at the end of a hand is declared the winner of the game. Alternatively, if a partnership reaches a score of negative 7 or below at end of a hand, the opposing team is declared the winner of the game.
Norwegian Whist: Norwegian Whist, also known as Minnesota Whist is a variant of Whist where all players "bid" simultaneously and no trump suit is used.
|In Norwegian Whist players bid using the color of a card from their hand to indicate if they intend to bid Grand or Nullo.|
In Norwegian Whist, there are two bids allowable, Grand (sometimes called High), and Nullo (sometimes called Low). To specify their bids, each player selects a card from their hand and places it face down on the table in front of themselves. To indicate a bid of Grand, the player selects any black card and to indicate a bid of Nullo, they select any red card. In order to minimize the information revealed about a players hand, they usually select the lowest card of the color.
After each player has placed the card, the players, starting with the player to the dealers immediate right exposes the card they placed. If the card exposed is a red card, the bid continues to the next player in turn who then reveals their own card. If the card is black, the bidding stops immediately and the hand is played at Grand (no other players card need be exposed). If all four players show a black card, the hand is played Nullo. In the very rare instance a player has been dealt cards of only one color, they may, at their option, expose their entire hand which immediately ends the current hand with no play or score being completed for the hand and the same dealer redealing.
A bid of Grand indicates a bid for a partnership to win 7 or more tricks. A bid of Nullo indicates the partnerships intention to win 6 or fewer tricks. After being decided in the bidding if the Game for the hand is to be Grand or Nullo, the players add their exposed card back into their hand before play begins.
If the game is to be played at Grand, the player to the immediate right of the first person to have exposed a black card plays the first card to the first trick. In the case the game is to be played at Nullo, the player to the immediate left of the dealer leads the first card to the first trick.
Each player in turn, then plays one card to the trick. Each player must play a card of the suit first led to the trick if they have one. If they do not, they may play any card to the trick. The highest card of the same suit as originally led to the trick wins the trick. The winner of each trick leads the first card to the next trick.
After all tricks have been played and won, the scoring is determined. If the game was played at Grand, the partnership which won the most tricks scores one point for each odd trick (tricks over 6) won. If the game was played at Nullo instead, the partnership who won more tricks loses 1 point for each odd trick won during the hand. Negative scores are possible in Norwegian Whist.
Once one partnership reaches or exceeds 13 points at the end of a hand, that team is declared the winner of the game.
Solo Whist: Solo Whist is an exciting and fun filled game with elements of both Skat and Whist. Similar to standard Whist, this variation is designed to be played by 4, however in Solo Whist each plays independently (no partnerships except in special cases).
The rank of the cards and dealing procedures are the same as in the parent game, including dealing last card of the deal, which goes to the dealer himself, being dealt face up. The suit of this face-up card determines the trump suit for the hand. The dealer picks this card up and adds it to his hand once play of the actual hand begins.
Bidding: Differentiating this game from standard Whist, there is a round of bidding in Solo Whist, starting with the player to the dealers immediate left who makes the first bid. A player may either pass, accept another players proposal (see below), or make one of the following bids. These bids are listed in order from highest to lowest:
|Bid Rank||Bid Name||Description||Point Value|
|1||Propose||When stating a proposal, the bidder is indicating a contract to win eight tricks, with the stipulation that another player will play as his partner for the hand. When a bidder declares this bid, the next player in turn may either pass, make a higher bid which overrides this bid (called overcall) or Accept the proposal. If he accepts the proposal, he becomes the bidders temporary partner for the hand, attempting to win 8 tricks between himself and the bidder. The suit of the exposed last card of the deal is set as the trump card for the deal.||1|
|2||Solo||A bid of Solo indicates an intention of the bidder to win at least five tricks during the hand. The player plays solo against the other 3 players and the suit of last exposed card from the deal is used as trump during the hand.||2|
|3||Misere||This is a bid by the player to not win any tricks. No trump suit is used for the hand.||3|
|4||Abundance||A player bidding Abundance is indicating an attempt to win at least 9 tricks. He plays alone against the other three players using a trump suit which he designates. The player does not declare this trump suit until before the first lead of the play.||4|
|5||Abundance in Trump||This bid is similar to standard Abundance in that the player indicates he will play alone against the other players and intends to win 9 or more tricks. However, the trump suit used will be the one indicated by the last exposed card of the deal.||4|
|6||Spread Misere||This bid indicates the player intends to play alone and win no tricks with no trump suit being used during the hand. Before the first lead to the first trick by the player to the dealers left, the bidder must expose his entire hand face up on the table.||6|
|7||Slam||This is the highest possible bid. A Slam bid indicates an intention to win every trick using a trump suit of the bidders selection. He will play alone against the other three opponents.||8|
A player who passes must continue to pass at each turn, although he may accept a proposal from a previous bidder. Once an intervening player overcalls a proposal, it can not be accepted by another player. In order to be a valid bid, a player must declare a bid with a higher bid rank than any previous bid. If all four players pass without a bid, the cards are shuffled together and the next dealer in turn deals the next hand. If the high bid is a proposal, and no other player accepted, the player who declared the proposal must either increase their bid or the cards are also thrown in and shuffled for the next deal.
Play of the Hand and Scoring: The basic play of the hand is the same as in standard Whist. The opening lead is always made by the player to the dealers left, except when the high bid is a Slam. In that case, the high bidder declaring the slam bid leads to the first trick.
Scoring in Solo Whist is normally done using chips or tokens. At the start of the game, each player is distributed an equal number of two distinct colors of these chips (usually red and white). Each white chip is worth 1 point and each red is equivalent to 5 points. If the high bidder is able to fulfill his contract, he collects the indicated value in chips from each opponent. However, if he is unable to fulfill the requirements of the contract he must pay each opponent the indicated value. In the case of a Proposal, the bidder and his partner would both collect or pay the two opponents depending on the results of the hand. For each trick over those required for the hand that the player wins he earns one additional white chip per opponent. Similarly, for each trick under that required by his contract, he must pay one chip to each opponent. In a proposal, the partner would also collect or pay the overtrick and undertrick chips to the two opponents.
After a set number of hands, the winner of the game is the one who holds the most total value in chips.
Israeli Whist: Israeli Whist is another fun variant of standard Whist. Although this game is designed for four players, in Israeli Whist each player plays for himself (no partnerships). Israeli Whist uses the standard 52 card deck and the same card ranking as in standard Whist. As the name implies this game is commonly played in Israel.
Seating positions and the first dealer can be determined in a variety of ways, with drawing for high cards a common method. Once this is determined the dealer shuffles and offers the deck to the player to his immediate right for the cut. After the cut, the dealer then deals out the entire deck starting with the player to his left such that each player receives a 13 card hand.
Israeli Whist features two rounds of bidding. In the first round, the players vie for the privilege of naming the trump suit. In the second round the players will then attempt to call the exact number of tricks they intend to win during the hand.
The first round of bidding starts with the player to the dealer's immediate left. On his turn to bid a player may either pass or make a specific bid. During this round of bidding, when bidding a player would state a specific number of tricks they contract to win as well as a specific trump suit. For bidding purposes, the suits also have a relative ranking, as follows (from high to low); No Trump, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs. Thus, each bid must be higher than any previous bid, either in number of tricks bid, or, if bidding the same number as a previous bid, must be in a higher ranked suit. The minimum allowable bid during this phase is 5 clubs. The bidding continues around the table, with each player either passing or naming a higher bid than any previous player. Once there are three consecutive passes in a row, the player who made the highest bid during the round wins this round of bidding. The trump suit declared in the high bid is set as the trump suit for the hand (or No Trump if that was declared instead).
After the high bidder for the first round of bidding is determined, the second round of bidding begins. In this round, each player, starting with the high bidder from the first round of bidding, states the exact number of tricks they will attempt to win during the hand. The high bidder from the previous round of bidding begins by stating a number of tricks equal to or higher than his winning high bid. Each player in turn, in a clockwise rotation from this player then states their own bid, representing the number of tricks the intend to make. They may bid as few as 0 and a maximum of 13 (all the tricks). The fourth and last bidder may not make a bid which causes the total of bid tricks to equate to 13, he must either bid such that the total is over 13 (called an over game) or under 13 (called an under game). Each player gets exactly one bid during this second round and may not pass.
Once each player has declared the number of tricks they will attempt to win, the hand begins. The high bidder in the first bidding round leads the first card to the first trick. Each other player in turn then plays one card to the trick. A player must play a card of the same suit first led to the trick if they have one. If they do not have a card of that suit, they may play any card remaining in their hand, including a card of the trump suit. Each trick is won by the highest card of the trump suit played to the trick. If no cards of the trump suit have been played to the trick, the trick is won by the highest card of the suit originally led to that trick. The winner of each trick leads the first card to the next trick.
Once every trick has been played and won during the hand, the players determine if they were able to win exactly the number as bid during the second round of bidding. The scoring is as follows:
In the event that, during the first round of bidding, all four players pass, a round is played using special rules (called a Frish or Gulash round). When this occurs, each player takes three cards from his hand and passes them face down to the player on his immediate left. He must pass his own three cards before picking up and adding to his hand the three cards passed to him from his right. After this pass, another round of bidding then occurs, again starting with the player to the dealer's immediate left. This time, however, the minimum required bid is 6. If all players again pass, another Frisch round is played, with another three card pass. After this pass, the minimum bid is 7. If all players again pass, one more Frisch round is played, including a pass and another round of bidding. The minimum bid has now increased to 8. In the event that all pass this last Frisch round, the cards are all thrown in the same dealer shuffles and deals again with no score for the round.
- If a player bid 0 and won no tricks, he scores 50 points if the game is played as an under game and 25 points if played in an over game.
- If a player bid 0 and won one or more tricks, he loses 50 points for the first trick won and then earns 10 points for each additional trick won.
- If a player manages to win exactly the number of tricks bid, he earns the amount of the square of his bid plus a bonus of 10 points.
- If a player makes a bid over 0 and does not win exactly as many tricks as bid, he loses 10 points for each trick he was over or under the tricks he bid.
German Whist: Despite the name, German Whist is actually not a German game but rather originated in Great Britain. It is a fun and challenging two player variant of Whist. German Whist uses the standard 52 card deck with the same card ranking used in regular Whist.
Determination of dealer is usually done by both players drawing a card, with the high draw becoming first dealer. The deal alternates between the two players after every completed hand. To begin, the dealer shuffles the deck and offers it to his opponent to cut. After the cut, the dealer distributes 13 cards face down to each player, one by one. He places the remainder of the deck in the center of the table as a stock pile. He then flips over the top card of the stock pile. The suit of this card designates the trump suit for the entire hand.
The dealer's opponent leads the first card to each trick and the winner of each trick leads the first card to the next. A player may lead any card of his choice to a trick. When playing a card to a trick led by the opponent, a player must play a card of the suit led if he has one. If he does not have such a card, he may play any card from his hand, including a card of the trump suit. The highest card of the trump suit wins each trick if it contains a card of that suit. If the trick contains no cards of the trump suit, the highest card of the suit originally led to that trick wins it. The cards played to the trick are set aside face down, not to be used further in the hand. The winner of the trick draws the top card of the stock pile and the loser takes the next face down card from the stock without showing its face to his opponent. After each player has taken his card from the stock pile, the next card of the stock is then flipped over and set face up on the draw pile.
Play continues in this manner for the first 13 tricks in the hand until there are no more cards remaining in the stock pile. At this stage in the game, the pace of the game changes somewhat. Instead of setting the cards won in tricks aside, the winning player retains them in front of himself (keeping them face down). After the last 13 tricks are played, the player who wins the most tricks during this phase is declared the winner of the hand.
A common variant of German Whist is for both players to retain all tricks won in front of themselves. Whichever player wins the majority of all 26 tricks is declared the winner. If each player manages to win the same number of tricks the game is a draw.
Ruff and Honours: The direct ancestor of Whist (and thus Contract Bridge) was the English game Ruff and Honours. Although this game is rarely played, if at all in modern times, it was widely popular in the 1700's and beyond. The following describes the generally accepts rules for this classic game.
Ruff and Honours is designed to be played by four players in two partnerships. It uses the standard 52 card deck with the standard expected card ranking. Each partner should sit opposite from each other at the playing table.
Selection of partners, seating positions and first dealer can be done through a variety of methods, often using players drawing from a shuffled deck.
Once determined, the dealer deals the cards, one at a time in a clockwise rotation around the table until each player has 12 face down cards in front of them. The four remaining cards are then placed face down in the center of the table. The top of these four cards is turned over to designate the trump suit for the hand. Thus, this cards and all others of this suit are considered trump for the duration of the hand.
Whichever player holds the Ace of this turned up suit has the privilege of taking these four cards and adding them to his hand. He must then select any four cards from his hand and discard then face down to the side, out of play for the remainder of the hand (this is called the Ruff).
If none of the four players hold this Ace, it being either the turned up card or one of the other three not dealt out, the dealer is given the privilege of taking the four cards and discarding.
The player to the dealer's immediate left leads the first card to the first trick. As in the modern game of Whist described above, each player in turn plays one card to each trick. A player must follow suit to the suit led if able. If that player does not hold a card of the played suit, he may play any card including a card of the trump suit. The highest ranked card of the trump suit played to the trick wins the trick. However, if no card of the trump suit was played to the trick, the highest card of the suit originally led to the trick wins. The winner of a trick leads to the next trick.
A partnership scores one point per trick that partnership has won over six in the hand. The honor cards (or honors) during the hand are the Ace, King, Queen and Jack of the trump suit. If one partnership holds all four honors they score an additional 4 points. Having three such honor cards nets the partnership 2 points. These honors are scored at the end of the play of the hand. The first partnership to score 9 points wins the game.
Whisk: A game even older than Ruff and Honors and the direct ancestor of both that game and standard Whist is Whisk. Although rarely played currently, it was highly popular at one time and was played almost identically to standard Whist with a few minor variations. The major difference being in the deck used. For Whisk, a 48 card deck is used which is the standard deck with all deuces removed. Thus, the ranking of the cards in each suit is as follows (from high to low); Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. In the deal each player would receive a hand containing 12 cards. To determine the trump suit for the hand, the last card of the deal (which goes to the dealer) is turned face up on the table. This card and all others of the same suit are considered trump for the hand. After ensuring all players had an opportunity to note this trump, the dealer takes it into his hand. Player to the dealer's immediate left leads to the first trick and winner of each trick leads to the next. Each hand consists of each player playing to each of 12 tricks. In all other respects Whisk is played identically to standard Whist.
Contract Bridge: Whist is the predecessor to the modern game of Contract Bridge which is widely popular and played throughout the world. Click the How to Play Contract Bridge link for the rules page for Contract Bridge.
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