Pitch

Pitch is also known as Setback or High-Low-Jack. There is also a set of very similar games known as Smear, which are described on a separate page.

Introduction

Pitch is a North American game, derived from the old English game of All Fours (which was also known in America as Seven Up or Old Sledge). Pitch is All Fours with bidding added. Some of the newer versions of Pitch include other features such as extra points and an opportunity to improve one's hand by taking extra cards and discarding.

There are two main types of Pitch game: Partnership Pitch (played with partners, obviously) and Cutthroat Pitch (in which everyone plays for themselves). Whereas card game books tend to concentrate on Cutthroat Pitch, most of the e-mail I get is about Partnership Pitch, and this preference is reflected in the balance of information on this page. I have the impression that Cutthroat Pitch is more often played on the coasts, and usually for money. The various types of Partnership Pitch are most popular in the mid-west and are family or social games played to a score. There are many variations of pitch, mostly involving increasing the number of points from four to five, ten or more by introducing extra scoring trumps.

Partnership Pitch

This description is based on a contribution from Brian Gordon.

Players and Cards

The deck is a standard American deck of fifty-two cards, ace high. The game is usually for four players in two teams, partners sitting across from each other. The game is played clockwise.

Deal

Each player receives six cards, dealt three at a time. The turn to deal rotates clockwise after each hand.

Bidding

There is one round of bidding. The possible bids are two, three, four and smudge (smudge is really a bid of five). Each player in turn either passes or bids higher than the previous bid if any, except for the dealer, who, having last bid, may "steal the bid" by bidding the same as the highest bid. The final bidder becomes the pitcher, and has the right to name trump and lead to the first trick.

If the first three players pass, the dealer must bid at least the minimum bid of two. This is called a "force bid".

The bids represent how many of the following four items will be won when the tricks of the game are played out:

High
awarded to the team which holds the highest card in the trump suit in play, i.e. the ace if it has been dealt;
Low
awarded to the team which wins the trick containing the lowest trump card in play, i.e. the two if it has been dealt. If the two is not dealt in play, the three may be low. If the three was not dealt either, the four, and so on;
Jack
awarded to the team which wins the trick containing the jack of trumps. If the jack of trumps was not dealt no one gets this point;
Game
awarded to the team which has the higher total value of cards in its tricks. Card values are as follows:
each ace 4
each king 3
each queen 2
each jack 1
each ten 10
The total value of all the cards in the deck is 80, and whichever side has the higher total in its tricks gets the point for game. In case of a tie, no one gets this point.

The bid of smudge requires all six tricks to be won by the declaring side, in addition to the four items listed above. (Sometimes a team can win all the tricks, but if the jack of trumps was not dealt, that is not sufficient to win a smudge bid.)

The play

The pitcher leads a card to the first trick, and the suit of this card becomes the trump suit. The winner of each trick leads the next, and may lead any card. A player who has a card of the suit led must either follow suit or trump. Players may play trump on any trick, even if they can follow suit. A player who has no cards of the suit led can play anything - either a trump or a card of another suit. Each trick is won by the highest trump card played, or if there are no trumps in it then by the highest card in the suit led.

Scoring

Each of the items High, Low, Jack and Game is worth one point. If you bid and make your bid, you get the number of points you make (in other words, if you bid two and make four, your team scores four points). However, to score five points (smudge), you need to actually bid smudge - if you bid four, and actually win all the tricks, including the jack of trump, you still only score four. The opposing team makes whatever number of points they earn. For example if the declarer's team bid two, but the opponents capture the 2 of trump, the opponents score one for Low.

If a team fails to make its bid is said to be set. It loses (or is set back) the value of the bid, while the other team again scores whatever points it makes.

Note that if a side that bids smudge loses a trick, the bid has failed and they will be set back 5 points no matter what happens after that. However, the play must be continued to the end to give the other side a chance to score points.

A cumulative score is kept for each team. A team's score can be negative.

Winning the Game

In order to win, a team needs at least 21 points, but they can only win at the end of a hand in which they made their bid. A team which reaches 21 or more on a hand where they are against the declarer - nor do they win if they bid and lose a contract, but still have 21 or more points.

It is therefore possible for the winning team to have fewer points than the losing team. For example, suppose that we have 18 points and they have 24, but they have not yet won because they acquired their last 4 points playing against our bids. If we now bid 3 and make it, and they take 1 point, we win, even though we have just 21 points while they have 25.

Partnership Variations

Draw

After trump is declared, players discard any cards they don't want face down, and the dealer replenishes their hands to six cards from the undealt portion of the deck. It is illegal to discard trump, and normally, players will discard all their non-trump cards in the hope of replacing them with trump. This makes it more likely that the ace, two, and jack will end up in play.

Pitching

A player may lead (or "pitch") a card insetad of bidding. Pitching in this way is equivalent to a bid of four with the led suit as trump. If someone pitches, none of the other players can bid, except for the dealer, who still has the option to take the bid by pitching or announcing a smudge. If the dealer does take the bid in this way, the original bidder must take back the card they pitched. Some play that if the dealer does this and is set, the loss is doubled.

Six players

The six player game is two against two against two, all sitting opposite their partners. Instead of six cards, each is dealt eight. There is no draw, but everyone discards two cards after trump is announced.

No trumps on first trick.

In this variation, the declarer is allowed to make a non-trump lead. In this case it is illegal for any player to a play a trump on the first trick. Usually the declarer will use this opportunity to lead the ace of another suit, so that partner may throw the ten (for game points) under it.

Smear

There is a group of Pitch variations which go by the name of Smear. These are described on the Smear page of this site.

Five Point Set Back

On his former Set Back page, Brad Wilson described a partnership version with five points: high, low, right, left, game. The "right bower" is the trump jack and the "left bower" is the off jack, ranking just below it. Note that these two cards rank between the queen and ten of trumps, not at the top of the suit as in Euchre.

This game is played with a 28 card pack: the cards from 3 to 8 of a 52 card pack are removed, leaving A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 2 in each suit. Six cards are dealt to each player, in threes, and the remaining cards are not used. You can bid any number from 1 to 5, and the bidding can go around the table several times if necessary, but you cannot bid any more after you have passed. When everyone has passed except the high bidder, or someone has bid five, the bidding ends. The high bidder nominates trumps and leads any card to the first trick. Players must follow suit, except that a non-trump lead may be trumped even if you have a card of the suit led.

As usual the bidding team score the points if they fulfill the bid, and are set back the amount of the bid if they don't. The bidder's opponents always score the points they make. The first team to reach 12 or more points wins.

Arizona 29-card Pitch

This is another game using a shortened deck: A-K-Q-J-10-9-6 in each suit plus a joker, ranking between the jack and ten of trumps. There are points for high, low, jack, joker and game. Here is an archive copy of the rules from blakeware.com.

Oklahoma Ten Point Pitch

This variation from Oklahoma was contributed by Al Connor. It is very closely related to Minnesota Smear.

1. Players and Cards.
The game is played by either four or six people in teams two, using a standard American 52 card deck with two distinguishable Jokers, designated high and low. The Jack of the same color as the Jack of trumps is known as the Off-Jack (for example, if clubs are trumps, the Jack of Spades is the Off-Jack). The Off-Jack and High and Low Jokers are part of the trump suit and the ranking of trumps from high to low is: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Off-Jack, High Joker, Low Joker, Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two.
2. Deal
If there are four players, each is dealt nine cards. If there are six players, each is dealt eight cards. The remaining undealt cards are placed face down to form a "widow" hand.
3. Points
There are extra points for the Off-Jack and Jokers, and optionally for the three of trumps. This makes a total of ten or seven points to bid for. The points are:
  • High: Scored by the team who hold the highest trump in play.
  • Low: Scored by the team who hold the lowest trump in play (not by the team that wins it in a trick).
  • Jack: Scored by the team (if any) who win the jack of trumps in a trick.
  • Off-Jack: Awarded to the team (if any) which wins a trick containing the Off-Jack.
  • High Joker: Awarded to the team which wins the trick containing the High Joker, if it is in play.
  • Low Joker: Awarded to the team which wins the trick containing the Low Joker, if it is in play.
  • Trey of Trumps: Three points are awarded to the team that wins the trick containing the Three of Trumps.
    Note: The 3 point score for the three of trumps is optional. If not used then there would be only seven points available for bidding.
  • Game: Either as in the basic game, or some players award the point to the team that wins the trick containing the Ten of Trumps.
4. Bidding
There is just one round of bidding. The minimum bid is two; the maximum is the total number of points available - either ten or seven, depending on whether you count the trey of trumps. The dealer is not allowed to "steal the bid".
5. The Discard
If playing six-handed, the bid winner picks up the six cards from the "widow" and declares the trump suit. All players then discard down to six playing cards. The bid winner then starts the play.

If playing four-handed, the bidder declares the trump suit and then all players are allowed to discard from 0 to 3 cards, and receive an equal number of replacement cards from the deck (if sufficient are available), bringing their hands back to nine cards. All players then discard down to six cards. Some play without the discard and draw feature - the players simply each discard three cards. The bid winner then starts the play.

6. The Play
Some play that the bidder's first lead must be a trump; others play that anything can be led.

There are three options for following suit, depending on house rules:

  1. Players who can follow suit must either do so or trump; players who cannot follow suit may play anything.
  2. Players who can follow suit must always do so; players who cannot follow suit may play anything.
  3. Players must either follow suit or trump unless unable to do either, in which case they can play anything.
7. Scoring
The scoring and conditions for winning the game are the same as in the basic game, except that there is no 'smudge'.

Dave Coleman-Reese reports a variation of this game without the Off-Jack and with no score for the Trump Three, so that there are 6 points to bid for.

On his web page, Larry Charbonneau describes another version of ten-point Pitch. Each of the four players is dealt nine cards, the minimum bid is four, and the dealer must take the bid for four if everyone else passes. After the bidder has named trumps the players discard all their non-trump cards and refill their hands to six cards. Any cards remaining in the stock are given to the bidder, who can take them or give them to partner without first looking at them. A player with more than six trumps must discard any excess trumps out of the game.

In the play, only trump plays are legal. A player who has no trumps left drops out of the play. If they won a trick with their last trump, the lead passes to the left. The game point goes to the side that wins the ten of trumps in a trick. The bidding side win the points they bid if successful, and lose the same amount otherwise. The first team to 52 points or more wins the game. A player can bid to "shoot the moon", for which their team has to rake all ten points; if they succeed they win the whole game if their previous score was zero or above, or advance to zero if their score was below zero; if they fail they lose the whole game.

Variations are given for Pitch with other numbers of points by omitting some of the ten, or by adding other off-trumps (Off-Ace, Off-Ten, Off-Three, Off-Two) ranking just below their real counterparts. There is also "Dirty Pitch" in which the point for Low goes to the side that wins the Two rather than holding it, and "Reverse Pitch" in which the rank of the trumps is reversed (two high and ace low).

Here is an archive copy of Maggie Stauffer's former Ten-Point Pitch page, which describes a similar game, in which only trumps can be played. There are versions for four and for five players.

Pawnee Ten Point Call Your Partner Pitch

This version was contributed by James Adams, whose brothers learned it while working for Boeing aircraft in Wichita Kansas in the 1950's. An archive copy of the rules can be found on his Pawnee Ten Point Call Your Partner Pitch web page. The game is normally played by five players using a 54 card pack including two jokers; points are one each for high, jack, off-jack, high joker, low joker, ten, low and three points for the three. The low point is acored by the team of the player that was dealt the lowest trump; the other points by the players who win the cards in play. Ten cards each are dealt, leaving four in the kitty. The minimum bid is five and the dealer must bid five if everyone else passes. The highest bid, for ten points, is called "shoot the moon" and is worth 42 points if successful.

The high bidder calls for a trump, and the holder of this trump is the bidder's partner. The high bidder takes the kitty and everyone discards down to six cards. Point scoring trumps (jacks, jokers and three) and the called trump cannot be discarded. Only trumps can be played; players who run out of trumps drop out of the play. The high bidder leads to the first trick, on which the called trump must be played. The bidding team each win the number of points they made if these are enough to fulfill the bid; otherwise they lose the amount of the bid. Each member of the opposing team acores the points made by that team. If the called trump is held by the high bidder (for example if it was in the kitty), the bidder plays alone against a team of four opponents. Game is 42 points. If more than one player reaches or exceeds 42 in the same hand, and the bidder is one of these, the bidder wins; if none of them is the bidder, further hands are played until a player has 42 ort more points after a successful bid.

Nine Card Pitch

Like normal pitch this is for four players, two against two, with partners facing each other, but as the name suggests, nine cards are dealt to each player.

In additional to high, low, jack and game, there are two further points available:

  • Five - scored by a team which wins the five of trumps in a trick;
  • High spade - the highest spade in play, scored by the team which wins it in a trick.
The possible bids are three, four, five and six. After the pitcher has declared trumps, each player may discard up to four cards, to be replaced by cards from the undealt part of the deck. The play is as in normal Pitch, except that the pitcher is not required to lead a trump to the first trick.

Each team begins with a score of 21, and their score for a hand is subtracted from this if they are successful. If they fail in their bid, they are said to "go up", and their bid is added to their score. The winners are the first team whose score reaches zero or less, but it is only possible to win on a hand where you succeed in a bid, or the opponents fail in their bid. If a team's points won in play would cause them to reach or pass zero while they were playing against a successful bid, that team's score becomes one.

Fish Pitch

This variation was contributed by Judd A. Schorr

Each of the four players is dealt 12 cards from a 52 card pack: 6 for their hand and 6 which are kept face down in front of them. The bidding is as in normal Pitch. In the first trick everyone must play from their hand, but from then on, players can either play from their hand or 'fish' a card from the unknown 6 in front of them. There are 12 tricks played in all, and all but 4 cards are out, so the two and jack of trumps are usually in play.

You can try to take a trick that you really, really want by fishing a card on it, and sometimes you can make it. However, sometimes, you give the opposite team low or an extra ten towards game. In this variant, even if you are dealt a poor visible hand, you are still in the action, as nobody knows what you will throw next. It also makes it difficult (and fun) to 'count cards' for two reasons - all the cards are out, and you can seemingly violate following suit by fishing a card. (You can't tell for certain if a person is out of trump altogether, only that they are out of trump in their hand!) This variant is really a lot of fun, and should be tried.

Pitch with Fives, Pedro, Cinch, Catch Five

The version of Pitch in which the five is an additional scoring trump worth 5 points (making 9 points in all) is now described on the Pedro page, along with Double Pedro or Cinch, in which the other five of the same colour is also a trump scoring 5 (for a total of 14 points).

Cutthroat Pitch

Pitch can also be played by two or more players, each playing for themselves. The rules of bidding and play are the same as for the partnership game. In the game with more than two players, the opponents will tend gang up against the bidder to try to prevent the bid being made.

Money game

Ben Butzer reports that at UCLA, instead of playing up to 21 points for game, they would play for 10 cents per point. The game is played without partners. The scoring is as in the partnership game, except that each player individually scores the points they make. If you are the high bidder you are set back if the points you make are less than your bid.

Players can join or leave the game after any hand. When the personnel change, the game is settled up: each player's score is compared to the average - winners receive 10 cents for each point they are above the average and losers lose 10 cents for each point below.

The smudge bid in this version is called shooting the moon or mooning. Mooning has no effect on your points score. If you shoot the moon successfully you win $1 from each other player (recorded on the scoresheet with a star). If you shoot and miss you pay out $1 each.

Moon can only be bid over 4

Tom Price reports a version in which Moon can only be bid over a bid of 4 by another player. The only person who can bid over Moon is the dealer, who can still "steal" the bid. If you bid Moon and make it you gain 4 points, just as though you had bid 4; if you lose your score goes to 4 in the hole (i.e. minus 4), irrespective of what score you were on before.

In this game the players other than the eventual winner have to pay the winner an additional stake for each time they were set (as in the money version of Smear). A player who bids Moon and fails is charged for two sets.

Racehorse

Patrick Mathews describes a version of the money game above, called Racehorse. This is usually played by 5 or more people, each playing for themselves. If the pitcher's bid succeeds, the pitcher receives $1.00 for each point bid from each of the other players. A pitcher whose bid fails pays $1.00 per point bid to each opponent. In either case, the other players do not receive anything for the points they make. The play of the hand ends as soon as it is clear whether the bid has succeeded, since further points won by either side do not affect payment.

A pitcher whose bid fails is said to be "upped". Presumably this term derives from the practice of scoring in reverse in some Pitch variations - see for example Nine Card Pitch above.

A pitcher who wins deals the next hand. If the pitcher is upped, the player to the pitcher's right deals the next hand, so that the upped pitcher has the first bid.

14 point Tunkhannock Pitch

This game from Pennsylvania is somewhat related to the first version of partnership 10-point Pitch described above. It is normally played "cutthroat" by four people, but can also be played as a partnership game. A 54 card pack including two jokers is used -the off-jack, high joker and low joker rank in that order as trumps just below the jack. There is a six card deal and after the bidding three cards are discarded and the hands replenished. The minimum bid is 3, maximum is smudge (equivalent to 15), which is a bid to take all 14 points and six tricks. Dealer can steal the bid with an equal bid, and must bid three if the others all pass.

The points are high, low, jack, off-jack, high joker, low joker, game, last trick, high spade (worth one point each) and five (5 points). Points go to the player winning the card in a trick. The game point is scored by the player who takes most card points. Trumps need not be led at the start. You may trump even when you have the suit led, but you may only discard from a different non-trump suit when you cannot follow suit.

Detailed rules can be found on this archive copy of Bill and Joe's 14 point Tunkhannock Pitch page.

Other Setback / Pitch Web Sites

Umesh Shankar's Setback Page has rules, variations and basic advice on strategy.

Here is an archive copy of Brad Wilson's former Set Back page, which described a five point version.

Larry Charbonneau's 10 Point Pitch and Bill and Joe's 14 point Tunkhannock Pitch page describe further variations.

Pitch Software

The collection HOYLE Card Games for Windows or Mac OS X includes a Pitch program, along with many other popular card games.

You can download Matt Reklaitis' Nine Card Pitch program.

Sancho's Video Casino includes a webTV compatible Setback game to play on-line against the computer

Robert Dietrick's PitchPlayer iPhone app allows you to play Pitch over the Internet against live opponents.

Scott Olson has written a Pitch program with which you can play several variations of Pitch against computer opponents or live over a LAN or over the Internet.