To play Whist, you need only basic equipment:
- Four players: Two players for two teams.
- One standard deck of 32 cards (no jokers): You may prefer to have a shuffled second deck on hand to speed up the dealing a bit. One player can shuffle one deck while another player deals the other deck.
- Pencil and paper for scoring: Or make one of your complaining friends all-time scorer!
The object of Whist is to score points by winning tricks. During the gameplay, each player at the table lays down a card. One player leads, or plays first, a card; the rest of the players are honor-bound to play a card of the same suit (or follow suit) if they can. The player who puts down the highest card in the suit wins the trick and collects all four cards.
Each team scores points for the tricks it wins. The first team to score 7 points wins.
Whist cards rank from the ace (highest) to the 2 (lowest). However, one type of card, a trump card, can beat any other card from any other suit.
The trump suit acts as the master suit. If you play a card in the trump suit on a card from another suit, the trump card wins the trick (unless another player plays a higher card in the trump suit). You determine the trump suit in one of three ways (agreed on in advance):
- Cut the second deck, if you have one, and make the suit of that card the trump suit.
- Cut your only deck before the deal starts and make the suit of that card the trump suit.
- Turn the dealer's last card face-up and make the suit of that card the trump suit.
You can't play a trump card whenever you feel like it - the rules of Whist require you to follow suit at all times if you can, meaning that you must play a card in the suit that another player leads if you have one.
If you have no cards in the appropriate suit, you have the option of playing a trump card or discarding (throwing away) any card that you want to get rid of. You don't want to play a trump card when your partner leads an ace or follows suit with an ace because you're playing as a partnership, and your partner has already made a pretty fair stab at taking the trick. Save your trump cards for a more valuable moment; however, you do want to take a trick if you can, and sometimes playing a trump card is the only way to win the trick.
Be careful about following suit; the penalty for revoking, or failing to follow suit, is three tricks. You lose the tricks, and the other side gains them. For example, if you revoke and end up winning all 13 tricks, your opponents score 3 tricks, and your side only scores 10 tricks.
Dealing and playing the cards.
You have the option to play in arranged partnerships or to cut the deck for partners. If you cut the deck, the players who turn up the two highest cards play against the players with the two lowest cards. After you determine partnerships, the partners sit opposite each other.
After all players get seated, you cut for the deal, and the lowest card (with aces low) deals the first hand. The deal passes clockwise around the table.
The dealer passes out all 52 cards - face-down, one by one, and clockwise - starting with the player on her left.
The player to the left of the dealer plays the first card of the trick. Play proceeds clockwise around the table, with each player contributing a card. Whoever wins the first trick (by playing the highest card in the suit led or by playing the highest trump card) leads the next card, and play continues until all the cards have been played.
You must play a card in the led suit if you have one. If you don't, you can play a trump card or simply discard a card in another suit.
One player in each partnership (it doesn't matter which) takes care of the tricks for his side; he stacks the four cards that make up the trick neatly in front of him so that at the end of the hand each side can see how many tricks each team has won. At the end of the hand, unless something goes horribly wrong, the two sides have 13 tricks between them.
After you score the hand , you move on to the next hand.
After the last trick hits the table, each team counts its tricks. The time of reckoning is upon you.
Scoring trick points.
The first six tricks you win count for nothing. After the sixth trick, each additional trick scores your team 1 point. For example, if your side wins 11 tricks, you score 5 points.
Your goal is to score 7 points before your opponents do. If you make that magic 7, you score a game. Scoring two out of three games wins you the contest, also known as a rubber.
Scoring honor cards in the trump suit.
If neither partnership scores a game (7 points) after counting the tricks won by each side, you have another chance to register points: You look at the trump-suit honor cards (ace, king, queen, jack) originally held in your hand. This variation is rarely used in modern Whist varieties, though.
The side with the most trump-suit honor cards gets 1 point apiece for however many of those cards they have than their opponents. For example, if your side has all four honor cards, you get 4 points; if your side has three honor cards, you score 2 points (because you have two more honor cards than the other team); and if each side has two honor cards, no points are scored.
If you can score your trump-suit honor cards, you first record the trick score, and then you add on the honor points and move on to the next hand.
You can't win the game with honor points if you need just 1 point to win. If you have 6 points at the start of the hand, you can only reach game by scoring trick points. Simply ignore the honor points in that case. You can win with honor points if you have 5 points at the start, however.
If trick points get one team to score a game, the other side doesn't get to count its honor-card points.
Scoring the rubber.
You carry forward your point total from the previous hands until one side reaches the winning figure of 7, in which case both sides start again from zero. Whichever side wins two games first wins the rubber, whereupon you have the final reckoning, or scoring, when you calculate the precise margins of victory and defeat.
The winners subtract the losers' score from their own at the end of the rubber, and the difference is the margin of victory. Note that you can win two rubbers, lose one, and still be outscored - if you lose big and win small.