All Fours

Introduction

All Fours originated in England, probably in the 17th century. It was taken to the USA, where it became very popular in the 19th century and gave rise to numerous other games. Meanwhile All Fours itself has become the national game of Trinidad, where it is sometimes known as All Foes, and it continues to be played in England, in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

All Fours in Trinidad

With thanks to Glen Benjamin for explaining the modern Trinidad game to me.

Players, cards and objective

Normally there are four players, in two fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other. It is also possible, but less usual, for two people to play.

A standard 52 card pack is used. In each suit, the cards rank from high to low: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.

The object of the game is to score points by winning tricks with valuable cards in them. The player or team that takes more valuable cards in tricks will score one point for "game". In addition, there are points for taking the jack of trumps in a trick, and for the holders of the highest and lowest trumps dealt. It is also possible for the dealer's team to score points for the card turned up for trumps during the deal.

Deal

Players cut for the deal, and whoever cuts the highest card becomes the first dealer. Deal and play are anticlockwise, and the turn to deal passes to the right after each hand. Each player is dealt six cards. The dealer can choose whether to deal the cards one at a time or in batches of three, but having chosen must stick to the same method for the whole game.

When everyone has six cards, the dealer turns the next card face up to indicate the trump suit. If this turned up card is an ace, six or jack, the dealer's team immediately scores for it as follows:

    Ace turned up . . . 1 point
    Six turned up . . . 2 points
    Jack turned up . . . 3 points
If the player on the dealer's right is happy with the trump suit that is shown by the turn up, he says "Stand" and play begins. If the player on the dealer's right would prefer a different trump suit, he says, "I beg". The dealer then has the option to change trumps or to keep the suit of the turned up card as trumps.

If the dealer decides to keep the trumps as turned up, he says, "Take one"; the opponents of the dealer receive one point and play begins.

If the dealer agrees to change the trump suit, he sets aside the turned up card, deals three more cards to each player, and then turns up the next card to determine the trump suit, scoring for it as above if it is an ace, jack or six.

  • If this new turn up is of a different suit than the first turn up, play begins with this new suit as trumps.
  • If the new turn up is the same suit as before, the dealer gives another three cards to each player and turns up another card, scoring again if it is an ace, jack or six. This procedure is repeated until the turn up produces a new trump suit.
  • If the deck is exhausted before a new trump suit is found, the entire deck is reshuffled and redealt. The dealer's team nevertheless keeps any points they have scored for turned up cards.

Play

The player on the dealer's right has the first lead, and the winner of the trick leads to the next trick. Any card can be led, but the other players are subject to the following rules:

  • If a trump is led, the other players must play a trump if they can; anyone who has no trumps left can play any card.
  • If a card of a non-trump suit is led, then any player who has a card of that suit must either follow suit, by playing a card of the suit led, or play a trump. A player who has no card of the suit led can play any card (there is no obligation to play a trump in this case).
The trick is won by the highest trump card played to it; if no trumps are played it is won by the highest card of the suit led.

Note that the effect of these rules is that is is always legal to play a trump. The only play that is prohibited is to throw a non-trump card of a different suit from the lead when you could have followed suit. That would be a revoke or renege, and is penalised as explained below.

Play continues until all players have played all their cards. If the original trump suit was accepted there will be six tricks, but if a change of trump suit was begged for and allowed, the players will have larger hands and there will be 9 or 12 tricks, or possibly even more in a two-player game.

Scoring

At the end of the play, points are scored for the cards that were dealt or taken in tricks. The points are as follows:

High1 pointThis point is won by the team of the player who had the highest trump.
Low1 pointThis point is won by the team of the player who held the lowest trump that was dealt. It does not matter who wins the trick containing this trump - the point is for the original holders.
Jack1 or 3 pointsIf the jack of trumps wins a trick, or is won in a trick by the partner of the holder, the team with the jacks scores 1 point. If the jack is captured in a trick won by the opponents of the holder, the team capturing the jack scores 3 points for hang jack. If the jack of trumps was not dealt, then of course neither team scores for it.
Game1 pointThis point goes to the team that wins the more valuable cards in tricks. For this purpose only, the top five cards in each suit have the following values: ace = 4, king = 3, queen = 2, jack = 1, ten = 10; other cards (2-9) have no value. Each team adds up the total value of the cards in their tricks, and whichever team has more scores the game point. If both teams have the same value of cards, no one gets the game point.

Each team keeps a cumulative total of points they have won, and the first team to reach a total of 14 or more points over however many hands it takes wins the overall game. When nearing the end of a game, the points are counted strictly in the order high, low, jack, game to determine who has reached 14 first, so a tie is impossible. For example, suppose that at the start of a hand both teams have 13 points, that no points are scored for the turned up trump, and the trump suit is accepted. If team A has the highest trump, but team B win low, jack and game, then team A will win, because their point for high takes them to 14 before the other team can score.

Irregularities

Misdeal
If the dealer gives the wrong number of cards to the players, the opponents score one point for a misdeal, and the cards must be thrown in and shuffled and dealt again.
Revoking - also called Reneging
This is playing a card of a non-trump card of a different suit from the card that was led when you could have followed suit. There is no penalty provided that the error is corrected by the player of the incorrect card before the end of the trick. An opposing player who notices the error may call the revoke at any time up to the end of the hand, and in that case the penalty is as follows.
  • If the player failed to follow a trump lead with trumps when they held one or more of the top five trumps, that player's team loses the whole of the game (14 points) currently in progress and a new game is started.
  • In other cases - a revoke on a non-trump lead or a failure to play a small trump on a trump lead - the opponents of the revoking player are awarded one point as a penalty, and the revoking team cannot win the point for game.

Calling
If a player exposes a card other than in normal play, it must be left face up on the table. The opponents can then "call" for this card to be played on any subsequent trick, provided that playing it will not cause a revoke.

Variations

In Tobago, it is the two rather than the six which scores two points when turned up.

Some play that a player who has no trumps is forced to beg.

Some play that "undertrumping" is not allowed. That is: if a non-trump suit is led and trumped, a later player is not allowed to play a lower trump unless he has no option.

Other Trinidad All Fours web pages

As you might expect, Trinidad All Fours is also played in other places where there are people with a Trinidadian cultural background. For example, here is the web site of the Manitoba All Fours Association, in Canada.

Trinidad All Fours software and on line games

You can obtain a Trinidad All Fours program at All Fours Online, which can be used to play against the computer or against an opponent on line. An online mobile phone version is also available.

You can play four-player Trinidad All Fours on line against live opponents at www.ttafo.com.

West Yorkshire All Fours

All Fours remains popular in parts of northern England. It is played in West Yorkshire pubs informally and on a league basis. Also Arthur Taylor, in his book of Pub Games reports a slightly different version played around Blackburn, Lancashire. I will describe the West Yorkshire version first, based on games played in 2003 in the Black Labrador pub, Batley, which belongs to the Heckmondwike league. I would like to thank the landlord John Dunning and his wife Anita for their help and hospitality.

There are four players in two fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. A standard 52 card pack is used, with the ace high and two low as usual. To begin the game, any player shuffles the cards, offers them to be cut by the player to the right, and deals the cards one at a time face up clockwise beginning with the player to their left until a jack appears. The player who received the jack will pitch first, and the player to the right of the pitcher will deal the first hand.

Deal and play are clockwise, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. The dealer shuffles all the cards, and must offer them to the opponent to the right to cut. The opponent may cut the cards or leave them as they are. The dealer deals six cards to each player, clockwise, in three rounds. The number of cards dealt to each player in each round is at the choice of the dealer, for example all the cards may be dealt two at a time, or the dealer could deal one round three cards at a time, then one round two cards at a time and finish with a round of single cards.

No card is turned up for trumps. Instead, the pitcher (the player to dealer's left) leads (or "pitches") any card and the suit of that card is trumps for the hand. The pitcher's partner must not look at his or her cards until after the pitcher has led. This is to avoid any suspicion that the pitcher's partner might signal to the pitcher what suit to lead. (The penalty if the pitcher's partner breaks this rule is 4 points to the other team.)

The rules of play are the same as in Trinidad. A player who has a card of the suit led must either follow suit or trump. A player with no card of the suit led can play any card. The trick is won by the highest trump, or if it contains none, by the highest card of the suit led, and the winner leads to the next trick.

The first trick is stacked face up in front of one member of the team that won it, with a trump on top, to indicate the trump suit. Subsequent tricks are stored face down in front of one member of the winning team, in the usual way.

If you have no trumps and no valuable cards left (nothing higher than a nine), and you are not winning the current trick, you are allowed to indicate to your partner that your remaining cards are useless by throwing in your hand. This is normally done by playing all your cards together, face up to the current trick. You then take no further part in the play, and your partner continues alone.

When the six tricks have been played, points are awarded in order as follows.

  • High: the team that has the highest trump pegs one point.
  • Low: the team that was dealt the lowest trump scores one point.
  • Jack: the team that wins the trick containing the jack of trumps scores one point. If the Jack was not dealt, this point is not awarded.
  • Game: the team whose tricks have the highest total value of cards, counting ace=4, king=3, queen=2, jack=1, ten=10 in all four suits as usual, score one point. In the unusual case where both teams have exactly the same total value of cards in their tricks, neither team scores the point for game.

The points are pegged on a special wooden peg board, and the first team to reach 11 points wins. In the event that both teams are close to winning, the points are always pegged in the order high, low, jack, game. So, for example, if the score is 10-10 the team holding the highest trump will win the match, even if the other team would have won the other three points.

When playing for money, it is usual to agree a stake for winning the match, and an additional stake for winning all four points in one hand. For example, if playing 2 pounds and 1 pound, if team A scores all four twice and wins the match, while team B scores all four once, each member of team A would receive 3 pounds (2+1+1-1) and each member of team B would pay 3 pounds.

When there is a payment for 'all four', the play of the last hand of a match must be continued as long as there is a chance of 'all four' being made, even if the result of the match is already settled. (For example, a team with 10 points pitches the ace of trumps, winning the match, but can continue playing to try to make all four on the hand, but if an opponent has the trump 2, play can end, since there is nothing more at stake.)

Tactics

The choice of pitch is of great importance. Since this first card fixes the trump suit, it determines who will win two of the four possible points: high and low. A short suit containing the ace is preferable to a longer suit of intermediate cards; a suit containing the ace and two, for two sure points, is ideal. The jack may yield a point if protected by other cards in the same suit, but it would be better to pitch a bare ace or even a two for a sure point than (say) the eight from J-8 for a possible point if your jack is not caught. However, a jack in a three-card suit can usually be saved, so for example J-9-2 would be a better suit to pitch from than A-6. Lacking aces, it may be worth choosing a suit headed by a king or even a queen. Since only 24 of the 52 cards are dealt out, your king or queen could score the high point if no one has the top card(s) of the suit.

In the play, do not be too concerned with winning tricks, unless they are of some value. Rather than win a cheap trick it is often better to leave an opponent 'in' (i.e. with the lead), so that your side will play last to the next trick.

The most important objective of the play is to catch or save the jack of trumps, if it has been dealt. If you have one of the top three trumps, and suspect the opponents may have the jack, it is worth saving your top card until you can catch the jack.

As far as the game point is concerned, the most important cards are the tens, which account for half the value of the pack, but are difficult to save since they are only the fifth highest cards of their suits. If your partner is winning a trick in a suit which you are 'off' (have no cards in), don't neglect to throw a ten of another suit into the trick if you have one. When playing second to a trick, it is sometimes worth playing a ten in the hope that partner can win the trick. Sometimes a player will 'push' with a ten - offer it in the hope that the opponents will use a high trump to capture it. A simple example would be to trump with the 10 holding J-10 in the hope that an opponent with a top trump would use it to catch the 10 and let you save your jack.

As in any game it is important to pay attention to the fall of the cards. You cannot accurately count the suits, since over half the cards are undealt, but there are many inferences from the cards that are played or not played. To begin with, anyone who does not play a trump to the first trick is off trumps, so their right-hand opponent can win tricks efficiently with small trumps or top cards of other suits. Ideally you should be aware when players are off other suits, and also when any of your cards becomes a 'bobby' - the highest outstanding card of its suit.

Tactics are affected to some extent by the score in the match. If you are a long way behind it is worth taking risks to catch up; if you are ahead you should play safe.

Variations

When partnerships are not arranged in advance, at the start of the game cards are dealt around face up until all four jacks have appeared (a player who has received a jack is dealt no more cards). The people with the two red jacks are partners against those with the black jacks. The same procedure can be used when there are more than four people wishing to play. The four who received the jacks play and the others wait for a future opportunity to join in.

Some cut to decide first pitch - highest card pitches first.

In some places 'trumping in' is not allowed. In these places you are only allowed to play a trump if a trump is led, or if you are unable to follow suit to a non-trump lead. One correspondent told me that the (original) version of the rules, in which a trump can be played at any time, is known as 'Batley Carr Rules' or 'Scarborough Rules'. Another tells me that trumping in is allowed in Holmfirth, but 3 miles away in Honley it is not.

It is possible for six people to play, in three teams of two, or two people to play against each other. The rules of play and scoring are exactly the same is for four players; the two-player game is played to 9 points and the six-player game to 11 points.

In the Heckmondwike league, when two pubs compete, each pub fields eight players, and they play four simultaneous matches to 15 points. The winners of each score two match points and another two match points are scored by the pub with the higher total game point score over the four tables. There is no bonus for "all four" in the league version.

Lancashire All Fours

According to Arthur Taylor's book of Pub Games (St Albans, 1976; Guinness, 1992), All Fours is played in Blackburn in casual games and in several leagues. Rules are similar to the Yorkshire version described above, with a few differences.

  1. To begin the game the cards are cut for first pitch. A player of one team cuts and a player of the other team must guess whether the cut card is red or black: if the guesser is right, the guesser's team selects a player to pitch first; if not, a player of the cutting team pitches first.
  2. The point for Low goes to the team that wins the trick containing the lowest trump dealt, not the original holder of the card, as in other versions.
  3. Arthur Taylor does not mention that the first trick is stored face up, nor that a player without trumps or counting cards can throw their hand in. The natural assumption would therefore be that all tricks are stored face down, and that all players keep playing to the last trick, even if they have no useful cards left.

17th Century English All-Fours

The earliest description of All Fours that I know of was published in Charles Cotton's "Compleat Gamester" (1674). According to this account, the game was much played in Kent, and originated in that county. It was a game for two players, using the 52 card pack.

The first dealer is chosen by cutting cards - whoever cuts the highest "Put-card" deals. [This apparently means that when cutting for deal, the cards rank from high to low 3-2-A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4 as in the contemporary game of Put. For all other purposes, however, the cards rank A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 as usual. It is not mentioned, but presumably the dealer shuffles and the dealer's opponent cuts before the deal. Presumably the turn to deal alternates between the players.]

The dealer deals six cards to each player in batches of three and turns up the next card, the 13th, to show the proposed trump suit, scoring one point if it is a jack. The dealer's opponent can either accept the trump suit or beg one. If the non-dealer begs, the dealer must either allow the non-dealer to score one point and throw in the cards, or deal another three cards each and turn another card for trumps, repeating this until a different suit is turned. [It is unclear how the point for a turned up jack is treated if the trump suit is changed. It could either be like the modern Trinidad game, in which all turned jacks are scored, or like the 19th century American game, in which only the jack of the final trump suit can be scored.]

The non-dealer leads to the first trick and the usual All Fours rules of play apply: players may trump at any time but can only throw a non-trump of a different suit from the lead if unable to follow suit. The higher trump wins, or if no trump is played, the higher card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

When all the cards have been played, points are scored in order as follows:

  • Highest: one point for the holder of the highest trump dealt.
  • Lowest: one point for the original holder of the lowest trump dealt.
  • Jack: one point for a player who wins a trick containing the jack of trumps.
  • Game: one point for the player whose tricks contain the higher value in cards, counting ace=4, king=3, queen=2, jack=1, ten=10 as usual.
The winner is the first player to reach the agreed target score, which can be from 7 to 15, but is most commonly set at 11.

A variation called Running All-Fours is briefly described. This is played to a target score of 31 points, and the only other difference is that in the deal, the dealer scores 4 points if the turned up trump is an ace, 3 is it is a king, 2 if it is a queen or 1 if it is a jack.

North American All Fours, Old Sledge or Seven Up

To judge from the literature, All Fours became very popular in North America in the 19th century. In the 20th century it was largely superseded by bidding variations such as Pitch and Pedro.

In American card game books of the early 19th century, All Fours is a two-player game, very similar to the 17th century English game described above. When cutting for deal the cards now rank in their normal order with ace high, and the deal can be one or three cards at a time at the dealer's choice. Many play that if the non-dealer begs and the dealer decides to change the trump suit, then after the necessary extra cards have been dealt, the players discard unwanted cards to reduce their hands to six cards. The target score is 10 points.

The version of All Fours described by R.F.Foster in 1897 goes by the name of Old Sledge or Seven Up. It can be played by two or three players, each playing for themselves, or by four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. The deal and play are clockwise and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's right cuts. The dealer deals six cards to each player, three at a time, and then turns up a card to show the proposed trump suit.

The player to dealer's left may beg, and dealer has the usual options.

  1. Say "Take it", and play with the proposed trump suit, allowing the opponent(s) to score one point for gift. If there are three players, both opponents score, but if the opponent who did not beg needs only one point for game, he is not allowed to win in this way, so presumably the dealer is forced to run the cards in that case.
  2. Change the trump suit by running the cards. The dealer deals three more cards to each player and turns up another card; if it is the same suit as the first one, he repeats this until a new suit is turned up for trumps. If the deck is exhausted, the cards are bunched - the cards are thrown in, shuffled and redealt by the same dealer.
After the cards have been run, any player who does not like the second trump suit can propose to bunch the cards. If all players agree there is a redeal by the same dealer, but anyone can insist on playing with the new trumps and no points are given for this.

If a jack is turned up for trump, the dealer (or dealer's team) scores one point for it, but if the cards are run, no point is scored for a jack turned up in the original turned suit, and no point is scored if the cards are bunched. The point is only scored if the turned up card that finally determines trumps is a jack.

After the cards have been run and a new trump suit determined, all players discard face-down sufficient unwanted cards to reduce their hands to six cards. In some circles this was only done if the players had 12 or more cards, but if the cards were run only once, the players kept and played with their 9-card hands.

The player to dealer's left leads and the usual All Fours rules of play apply: players may trump at any time but can only throw a non-trump of a different suit from the lead if unable to follow suit. The highest trump wins, or if no trump is played, the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

There are the usual four points: High, Low, Jack and Game, scored in that order, with the Low point going to the original holder of the card, not the player who wins it in a trick. In the event of a tie for Game in the two- or four-player game, the point goes to the opponent(s) of the dealer. This is meant to compensate to some extent for the dealer's advantage in being able to score a point if a jack is turned for trumps. In a three-player game, if the two non-dealers tie for the Game point no one gets it, but if the dealer ties with another player, the other player gets it.

The game is usually played to seven points. Each player or team starts with seven chips, and places one in the pool for each point they win; the winner is the first player or team to have placed all their chips in the pool.

Foster describes a variation called Blind All Fours or Pitch in which no card is turned for trumps and there is no begging or running of the cards. In this game the first card pitched by the player to dealer's left fixes the trump suit (as in Lancashire All Fours). In this game, when the Game point is tied no one gets it.