2-6 players (3 best) - 1 pack (53)
52 plus Joker. Normal ranking from high to low is AKQ(J)T987.
In the trump suit, established by bidding, the cards rank as follows:
- Best Bower – the Joker
- Right Bower – Jack of trumps
- Left Bower – other Jack of the same colour as trumps
- Ace of trumps, followed by KQT987
Hence there are ten cards in the trump suit, seven in the other suit of the same colour, and eight each in suits of the opposite colour. Note that the Left Bower belongs to the trump suit, not to the suit marked on its face.
In a “no trump” game there is no trump suit and all the Jacks rank in their normal position between Queen and Ten. The Joker, however, retains its position as Best Bower and is the only trump in the pack.
Each player receives ten cards dealt as follows: a batch of three to each player, then three face down to the table, then four each, and finally three each. The face-down cards form the “widow” (or “kitty” in the UK).
The ultimate objective is to score 500 points before anyone else, whence the name of the game. This generally takes several deals. In each deal the highest bidder names the trump, exchanges through the widow, and aims to take at least as many tricks as he bid. The opponents play cooperatively in an attempt to beat him, but each one also scores for any tricks taken by himself.
Starting with eldest hand, each in turn may pass or make a higher bid than any that has gone before, announcing either the number of tricks he proposes to win and the intended trump suit, or the value of the contract in accordance with the contract valuation table. Once a player has passed he may not re-enter, and once two players have passed the third has no opportunity to increase his bid.
Misère is a bid to lose every single trick; open misère to do so with one’s hand of cards exposed on the table. Both are played at no trumps, except for the Best Bower.
If all pass, the game plays as follows. The widow remains untouched; eldest hand leads; and tricks are played at No Trump. Each player scores 10 points per trick won by himself.
When two players have passed, the third becomes the solo player and must take at least as many tricks as he bid in order to win. He is not permitted to increase his bid and gets no credit for taking more tricks than necessary. He first takes up the widow and adds it to his hand, then discards any three cards face down to the table, where they remain out of play. Having already announced trumps or no trumps (“no-ies”) he leads to the first trick. If he is playing an open misère he waits until the first trick has been captured and then immediately lays the rest of his hand face up on the table.
Normal rules of trick-taking apply. Players must follow suit if possible; if not, they may trump or renounce ad lib. The trick is captured by the highest card of the suit led, or the highest trump if any are played, and the winner of one trick leads to the next. Remember that the Left Bower is the third highest card of the trump suit, not the fourth highest card of the suit marked on it, and the Best Bower (Joker) is the highest trump. In a no-trump game the Best Bower may only be used to ruff a trick if its holder is void in the suit led. If the holder leads it to a trick he must specify a suit to be played to it, which the others must follow if possible; but he may not specify a suit in which he has already shown himself to be void (by discarding to it when led).
If the soloist makes his contract he scores the value of that contract. He gets no credit for taking more tricks than contracted, but if he succeeds in taking all ten in a contract worth less than 250, he scores 250 instead of the lower contract value. If he fails to make his contract his current score is reduced by the value of the failed contract, which makes it possible for players to be “in the hole” with negative scores during the course of the game. Whether or not he makes his contract each opponent scores 10 points per trick captured by himself, except in a won misère. In a lost misère the soloist is set back by 250 (520) and each opponent scores 10 per trick taken by the soloist.
Game is either 500 up or 500 down, i.e., the winner is the first player to reach or exceed a score of 500, or the player with the greatest score if and when one player is reduced to minus 500 or more. If two or more stand to reach 500 in the same deal the soloist scores first and wins if he thereby reaches the target; or, if both opponents reach 500 but not the soloist, then the winner is the one who took the trick that gave him 500 first.
A revoke may be corrected before the trick is turned down but the card wrongly played remains face up on the table and must be played at the earliest legal opportunity. (If made by the second player the third may retract the card he played and play another.) If an opponent’s uncorrected revoke is discovered the soloist scores as if he had won the contract, whether in fact he did or not, and the revoking player may score nothing for tricks. If a soloist’s uncorrected revoke is discovered he loses the contract value whether he made it or not.
FOR TWO PLAYERS
Method 1: use 33 cards and deal as if for three players but leave one hand face down and out of play. Method 2: use 24 cards (nothing lower than Nine) and no Joker. Deal 10 each and a widow of four; bid and play as in the three-player game.
FOR FOUR PLAYERS
Use 42 cards plus Joker, rejecting from a full pack all Twos, Threes and black Fours. Play in partnerships. Follow the rules of the three-hand game.
FOR FIVE PLAYERS
Use a full pack of 52 cards plus Joker. Each plays for himself but the highest bidder may either play alone or call for a partner by nominating a specific card. The holder of that card becomes his partner and immediately identifies himself. The card called may not be a trump but may be the Joker if the bid is at no trump. The called partner wins or loses half the appropriate score and each opponent scores 10 per trick in the usual way.
FOR SIX PLAYERS
Use the special 62-card pack with Elevens, Twelves and red Thirteens, plus Joker; deal ten each and leave a widow of three in the usual way. Method 1: play in three partnerships of two players each, each pair of partners sitting opposite each other with two opponents intervening on either side, and play as in the three-hand game. Method 2: play in two partnerships of three players each, such that each player sits between two opponents, and play as in the four-hand game.