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Trick Taking Card Games
Card games have been a prevailing source of entertainment for people of all ages, nations and personal interests, ever since the invention of playing cards sometime during the 9th century in Ancient China.
Everybody knows at least one card game – be it Poker, War or Solitaire. It’s just a universal way to relax and have fun with friends or family or even on your own – card games are a default feature on any computer or mobile phone.
Many thousands of card games have been developed, lost and redeveloped throughout the ages. The ones that stick out for the longest time and usually become the most popular are trick-taking card games.
The oldest one we can go back to in Europe’s history is Karnöffel (pronounce it yourself) , which is referenced as early as the 15th century in German texts.
What is a trick-taking game ?
Trick taking means that the game is played in rounds (tricks) where players compete to win as many rounds (tricks) as possible in order to win the game.
During the trick (round), each player has a turn to play a card from their hand. When every player gets their turn, the trick is evaluated and given to the winner who usually initiates the next trick. The player with the most tricks wins the game.
Depending on the specific game, the objective may actually be reversed. For example, in Hearts, you need to win as few points as possible in order to win the game.
Trick taking is a game mechanic that is not exclusive to card games. Texas 42 is a very popular trick-taking game (especially in Texas, USA) that is played with domino blocks. There are also trick-taking card games that use special, sometimes purposely designed, card decks.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll only discuss games that use the standard 52 card deck – 13 ranks of four suits – from 2 to Ace of clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades.
Not all games use all of the 52 cards in the deck. Other popular variants use 32 cards and 24 cards. Some games determine the number of cards based on the number of players.
Basic rules of trick-taking games
There are more than 100 different trick-taking card games listed on Wikipedia and perhaps each of them has numerous variations, but they all follow one basic structure, which we’ll break down in the following sections.
If you’re already familiar and want to skip to see which are the most popular trick-taking card games, just click here.
Players and partners
Different games allow for different amounts of players. The bare minimum for card games is always two players. Most games allow up to 6 players, but it’s common (and arguably the best experience) to play with 4 people.
Some games have each player compete for themselves (Hearts). Most four-player games are played with teams of two (Spades). Usually, the partners sit against each other.
Rotation and dealing
Each trick-taking game follows a specific rotation in dealing and taking turns. The rotation is very important and must not be interrupted unless specifically required by the rules of the game.
In western Europe, North America and Russia the rotation usually goes clockwise. In, south-east Europe, South America and south-east Asia, the game typically rotates anti-clockwise. Of course, nowadays, you will find all kinds of variations.
The game begins with the dealer dealing a fixed amount of cards to each player, following the rotation. When each player gets all their cards, this is known as their hand and is known only to them.
The player who is next in the rotation usually leads the first trick by playing a card with the face up. All players put a card of their own following the rotation. The one with the “highest” card wins the trick and collects the cards in their pile. They also lead the next trick.
When all the tricks are played out and there are no more cards in each player’s hand, all tricks are evaluated to select the winner of the game. After the game ends the dealer cuts the deck and hands it to the next dealer, again following the rotation.
Trump cards and following suit
In most trick-taking games, players are usually required to follow suit. When a player leads a trick and puts a card of a certain suit (e.g. diamonds), all other players are required to put a card of the same suit, if they have any. When the trick is evaluated, the highest card matching the leading suit wins.
Another common feature of trick taking card games is the trump suit. The trump suit will defeat all other cards in the game. Any card of the trump suit is stronger than any other card of any other suit.
If any trump cards were played during a trick, the winner is the player who put the highest trump card, not necessarily the highest card of the leading suit.
The trump suit can be chosen via bidding or be static for every game. In Spades, the trump suit is always…Spades. In Euchre, a card from the deck is revealed and players bid whether or not for it to become the trump suit.
When and how you can use the trump suit is subject to different rules. Most often, you can only use trump cards if you can’t match the leading suit. Sometimes the rules are lenient and you can freely use your trump cards, but doing so unwisely will put you at a disadvantage.
The bidding mechanic rose to popularity in the 20th century to give another dimension to the game and break the monotony. Bidding means the players place predictions and bets for the game before the first trick, sometimes even before all of the cards are dealt.
The bidding is also specific to each game, but in all cases, it changes the specific conditions players need to meet in order to win the game. Some games (Euchre) allow players to bid on the trump suit. In Spades, you have to predict the number of tricks you will win and in order win the game you have to match the prediction.
In Belote, bids are placed in between dealing of the cards which determine 1 of 6 variants of the game. Each sub-game has different rules regarding the order of the cards, the trump suit, the points awarded for each card and right to declare card combinations for bonus points.
A particular hand could be amazing in one variant and be completely useless in another, which means that placing the right bid can win or lose you the game.
How to win the game
We’ve talked a lot about the rules already, but how do you actually win a trick-taking game? Winning generally falls into two categories.
In plain-trick games a victory depends on the number of tricks that the player or team has won. Some games require players to predict the number of tricks they will win before the game and then match their prediction in order to win the game.
In point-trick games, each card has a value. When all the tricks are collected, each player or team counts the value of all the cards in their tricks. The winner is the one who has more points and not necessarily more tricks.
A common feature of point trick games are declarations. During the game, players who own a specific combination of cards can declare them to claim additional points. The most common is the marriage which is the combination of a Queen and a King of the same suit.
Usually, to win, you need to score more points or tricks than your opponent.
The skill in trick-taking games is to “count cards” which means to remember which cards have cycled into play and who played them. Whether somebody follows suit is very telling of the cards they possess, especially when they don’t. Additionally, players must note any bids and declarations made throughout the game.
By “counting”, you can reasonably guess what cards each of the other players are holding in their hand and thus change your strategy as you go.
Depending on the game, not all of the cards in the deck go into play. In some games, the dealer leaves a portion of the deck aside, which will not play in the current game.
There are also “trick-and-draw” games, like 66 and games of the Marriage group, where players replenish their hands with cards from the stock after each trick.
In these games, counting the cards offers diminishing returns as the order of the cards is more or less randomised.
Top 5 most popular trick-taking card games
Now that you know what to expect out of trick-taking games, let’s discuss some of the most popular ones. We’ve picked our top five, based on popularity and historical significance, but feel free to explore this list and find the one you like the most.
This game is thought to be created sometime in the 1930s in midwest USA, but its popularity grew during the Second World War. Soldiers could easily carry a deck of cards and the game only takes four people and twenty minutes to finish. This made just the right recipe for entertainment in the army.
When the soldiers returned home, the popularity of Spades ballooned and it became one of the most favourite card games in the world.
How do you play:
Spades is a trick-taking game for 4 players – teams of two, facing each other. The dealer deals 1 card to each player following the rotation until the entire deck (52) is dealt and everybody has 13 cards.
Aces are high and twos are low. Spades are always the trump suit.
Each player must bid on how many tricks they think they can win with the cards they have. A team’s contract is the sum of both players’ bids. It doesn’t matter how much tricks each individual player wins, as long as the team fulfils the contract.
If you bid on 3 tricks and your partner on 7, your team must win a total of 10 tricks regardless of which player actually wins them.
Each trick won stands for 10 points. Any tricks won above the contract are worth only 1 point. This is called a sandbag. However, if you fail to reach your contract, you are deducted the total points it is worth.
If your team makes 10 tricks, you win 100 points. If you win 12 tricks, you win 100 points for the contract plus 2 points for two sandbags. However, if you only get 8 tricks you will be deducted the full contract – 100 points.
Usually, 500 points wins the game, but you can negotiate a different rule before you start.
For the full rules of Spades, please visit this link – click here
Hearts is derived from a game called Reversis, which was popular during the mid-18th century in Spain. Just as the name suggests, the object of the game is reversed and players must avoid winning tricks as much as possible in order to win.
Hearts itself developed some hundred years later – around 1850s and ported to the USA around the 1880s.
The game’s popularity ballooned exponentially when it was included as a default game in Windows operating systems circa 1990.
How do you play:
Hearts could be played with 2 – 6 players, but it’s usually best with four. Each player plays for themselves.
Aces are high and twos are low. There is no trump suit.
All the cards are dealt equally to the players following the rotation. The first trick is started by the player with the lowest club, who plays it face up. All players must follow suit if they can. The highest card of the leading suit wins the trick. The winner of the trick leads the next trick and so on.
After each trick is played out, players must pass cards between themselves as follows:
- After the 1st trick, each player selects 3 cards to pass to the opponent on their left.
- After the 2nd trick, each player selects 3 cards to pass to the opponent on their right.
- After the 3rd trick, each player selects 3 cards to pass to the opponent opposite to them.
- After the 4th trick, no cards are passed.
This cycle repeats until the end of the game. Players must always select the cards they want to pass first, before seeing the cards they receive.
Each card of hearts is worth 1 point and the Queen of spades is worth 13 points. The objective of the player is to not get any points. This means players must “dump” their hearts and the Queen of spades into tricks won by other players.
The points are accumulated as the game progresses. When one player reaches 100 points, the player with the lowest current points wins the game.
For the full rules of Hearts, please visit this link – click here
There are more than one plausible theories about how Euchre came to be and who brought it to the United States. However, more recent studies indicate its origin to be one of the oldest card games in Europe – Triomphe – dating as early as the 15th century in France.
It’s interesting to note that Euchre is considered responsible for introducing the Joker into modern card decks as the highest trump. However, today, variations of Euchre that include the Joker are mostly limited to the UK.
How do you play:
Euchre is most commonly played by 4 people in teams of two, facing each other.
Usually, only 32 cards are used by removing all cards from 6 and under. The ace is high and the seven is low, except the trump suit. In the trump suit, the Jack is the highest card, followed by the other Jack of the same colour and then all the cards going from ace to seven.
For example, if hearts is the trump suit, the Jack of hearts is the strongest card. The Jack of diamonds is the second strongest (the other red suit) and then followed by the Ace of hearts, the King and so on.
The dealer gives each player 7 cards (for the 32 card variant) and then turns the top card of the remaining stock with the face up. Following the rotation, each player must “vote” whether or not for the upcard to become the trump.
After ascertaining the trump, each player may decide to play alone. If so, their partner’s hand is discarded and the game becomes 1 versus 2, where both the risk and reward are higher for the player choosing to go solo.
The game begins with the player to the left of the dealer in the rotation, who leads the first trick. Each player must follow suit if they can. Otherwise, they can choose to use a trump card or play any other.
The highest card that matches the leading suit, alternatively the highest trump if any are played, wins the trick.
Depending on the particular conditions of the game – in other words, who declared what and whether anyone chooses to play alone – different points are attributed to different criteria met.
The game continues until either team scores a predefined point limit and wins the game.
For the full rules of Euchre, please visit this link – click here
Oh Hell first appeared in the 1930s in New York and has since spread over a fairly large part of the world. Europe, Australia and India all have versions of this game in play.
A fun fact is that former US president Bill Clinton is an avid player of Oh Hell, which was taught to him by no other than Stephen Spielberg.
How do you play:
Oh Hell has a similar objective to Spades, where players must bid on the number of tricks they will win with the hand they are dealt. The big difference is that Oh Hell requires you to precisely predict the number of tricks you will win and then match to that number. A higher number of tricks is worth zero, just like a lower one.
The game is played with 3 – 7 players, but as usual, 4 is the best. Each player plays for themselves. All 52 cards are used with the Aces being high.
The dealer starts by dealing one card to each player, leaving the rest as stock. Each consecutive deal increases the number of cards for each player by one, until the final round when all the cards in the deck are dealt among the players.
*Some variations use this rule in reverse, starting with all cards in play and going down to 1 on the final deal.
After dealing, the dealer turns the top card of the stock to indicate the trump suit. On the final deal, there is no trump suit.
Upon receiving their hand, each player must bid on the number of tricks they will win. Bids follow the rotation of the dealing.
When bidding is over, the player after the dealer in the rotation initiates the first trick. Each player must follow suit if they can. The rest of the tricks play out standardly to trick-taking games.
After all the tricks of the particular deal are played out, they are evaluated to see who matched their bid. For successful bids, players get 1 point per trick + 10 bonus points. Players who didn’t match their bid get zero.
After the final deal, when all the cards of the deck are in play, the player with the highest points wins the game.
For the full rules of Oh Hell, please visit this link – click here
The game Pinochle is based closely on an older French game called Bezique. Pinochle was ported to America by German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century, who couldn’t accurately pronounce it’s French name “Binochle”, leading to the name today.
During World War I, anti-german sentiment caused the game to be outlawed in Syracuse, NY, due to its origin.
How do you play:
Pinochle is a four-player trick-taking game. More variations exist, including 3,5,6 and more players, but the usual setup is 4 into teams of two.
Pinochle is played with a special deck of 48 cards, containing 2 of each 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace of each suit. You can get a Pinochle deck by combining two 52 card decks and discarding everything from the 8s down.
Aces are high and nines are low. When two identical cards are played, the one played first is considered higher.
All cards are dealt first. Following the rotation, each player bids on the points they can win during the current deal. Each bid must be larger than the previous. A player can pass, but they can no longer bid afterwards. The highest bidder earns the right to choose trump suit. Teams combine their bids into a contract.
After the trump suit is chosen, all players proceed to the “melding” stage. Each player will now declare specific combinations of cards that earn them extra points. Combinations are separated into the following groups:
- 4 of a kind (different suits)
- 8 of a kind
- Marriage – Queen and King of the same suit
- Royal marriage – Queen and King of the trump suit
- Flushes a.k.a runs – 10, J, Q, K, A of the trump suit
- A couple of other “special melds”
The highest bidder must initiate the first trick. All players must follow suit and additionally play a winning card up to the current moment if they have one. Trump cards can be played only if the player cannot match the leading suit.
The winner of the trick leads the next one and so on.
Each card has its own point value. When all tricks are played out, the value in the piles is tallied and added with the points from the melds to get the final score of each team. The game is played until a certain score limit is reached.
For the full rules of Pinochle, please visit this link – click here