Card Games/Trick-taking games

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In trick-taking games, activity is centered around tricks. A trick starts by one player leading a card (or rarely more than one card), i.e. putting it face up in the middle of the table. Other players put additional cards face up on top until the trick is over. One player wins the trick according to certain rules. The following general rules are common to the large majority of modern trick-taking games and need not be mentioned when describing a specific game.

General rules of trick-taking games[edit | edit source]

Players sit around a table or other space so as to form a circular order. The game is played either clockwise or counter-clockwise, according to whether the "next" player or "following" player is considered to be the one to the left or right of the "previous" player. The game is organized into deals, which have the following structure.

One player, called the dealer, shuffles the cards face down and presents the deck face down to the previous player for cutting. The previous player can either trust the dealer (often signalled by knocking on the deck), or cut it by taking off three or more cards, putting them on the table, and putting the remaining three or more cards on top.

The dealer then takes a prescribed number of cards from the top of the deck and places them face down in front of the next player, who is also known as eldest hand. (Eldest hand is also known as elder hand in two-player games and as forehand in games of German origin.) The dealer proceeds to give the same number of cards to the player following forehand, and so on, and finally takes the same number of cards for themselves. This procedure is repeated until all players have the required number of cards. E.g. the dealer might deal 8 cards in batches of 3–2–3, i.e. give 3 cards to each in the first round, 2 in the second, and 3 in the last. If the game rules do not specify batch size, or offer several possibilities, the dealer has free choice but must not change the method during the game. Any remaining cards form the stock. Once the dealer has finished dealing, all players take up their cards. (Taking them up earlier is illegal or merely bad etiquette, depending on the game.) The players hold their cards so that no other player can see them.

After dealing there is often a phase in which some details of the rules of trick-play are determined. Sometimes this is done by turning the next card from the stock face up to determine a trump suit. Sometimes there are many more possibilities, and the decision happens by means of formalized negotiations that are known as bidding or auction.

Regardless of what happened in the bidding phase, if any, forehand leads to the first trick. In subsequent tricks, the player who won the previous trick leads. The player who leads to the trick plays out one card, i.e. puts it face up on the surface between the players. The next player also plays one card, and so on, until everybody has contributed. The suit of the first card is the suit led. Each subsequent player must follow suit, i.e. play a card of the suit led, if they have such a card. Otherwise they must trump (play a card of the trump suit; in this context this only makes sense if the suit led wasn't the trump suit) or discard (play a card of a different suit that is not trump). At any stage the player who contributed the highest trump is said to head the trick. If there are no trumps in a trick, the player who played the highest card of the suit led heads the trick. The player who heads the trick after the last card has been played to it wins the trick, takes the cards and places them face down in front of themselves, on top of any other, previously won tricks.

Once everybody is without cards, the deal ends and players count their trick points. Methods for this vary strongly between games, but two major methods are counting tricks and counting point-values of cards. The trick points translate into points for the overall score according to rules that depend on the game and possibly on other parameters such as what happened in the bidding phase.

Eldest hand becomes the dealer for the next deal. The game is typically played for a number of deals (divisible by the number of players) or until one player has reached a certain target score.

Partnerships[edit | edit source]

Many games are for 4 players in fixed partnerships. In this case partners always sit crosswise. In some games there are partnerships that vary from deal to deal, often depending on the outcome of the bidding phase. In such games all players stay in their original position.

Partners will inevitably form conjectures on each other's cards based on observations of the cards that the partner plays or how high the partner bid if there is a bidding phase. However, with very few exceptions it is not allowed to consciously pass on information to the partner using any kind of codes, sign language etc.

2-phase trick-play[edit | edit source]

In a 2-phase trick-taking game, the first trick-play phase is as described above, but with two important differences:

  1. The player who has won a trick takes up a card from the stock, and the other players do the same in the usual order.
  2. Players are completely free in what card they can play out. In particular they need not follow suit.

It follows that players always have the same number of cards in their hands when playing to a trick. The second rule is a pragmatic consequence of the first: If a player does not follow suit in this phase, this is very hard, and often impossible, to detect.

The second trick-play phase starts when the stock has been reduced to strictly fewer cards than the number of players. (In many games it is empty at that stage.) It is played according to the ordinary, unchanged rules of trick-play.