Smear

Introduction

Smear is game of the All Fours group, similar to Pitch or Setback. It is played in several versions in Minnesota and Winsconsin, USA, and in Ontario, Canada. It is known in some places as Schmier. It seems likely that the name is related to the German word schmieren, which is used in point-trick games such as Skat for the technique of discarding a high-value card on a trick which your partner is winning. The name might perhaps also be connected to "smudge", which is the highest bid in some forms of Pitch.

In comparison to normal Pitch, these are the main differences - not all of which apply to all the versions of Smear:

  1. One or more jokers may be added to the deck; these rank as lowest trumps, and are worth a point to the side that takes them.
  2. The point for low is always for the holder of the lowest trump (apart from a joker), not the winner of the trick which contains it.
  3. The other jack of the same colour as the trump suit is sometimes counted an extra trump ranking immediately below the normal jack of trumps, and scoring a point to the side that takes it. This extra jack is called the jick or the left bower, as in Euchre.
  4. After the bidding, either the bidder or all the players may be allowed to discard cards to improve their hands. This ensures that most or all of the good cards are in play.

On this page four versions of the game are described: two from Minnesota (Schmier and Smear), Smear from Wisconsin and Smear from Fort Frances, Ontario.

Schmier - St Paul, Minnesota Version

This version was contributed by Ben Butzer, who calls the game Schmier. According to his family tradition, they brought it from Austria-Hungary many years ago, but this seems unlikely to be the case; games of the All Fours group are thought to be English in origin, and to have spread through the English speaking countries. If anyone knows of any evidence for games of the All Fours group ever having been played in Central Europe, please let me know.

Deck

The standard 52 card deck plus 1 joker is used.

Rankings

In the Trump suit: A, K, Q, J of Trump (called right bauer), J of same colour (called left bauer), 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Joker.

In the off (non-trump) suits: A, K, Q, (J), 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2

Object

Scoring is based on bringing cards home and is calculated somewhat like in Auction Pitch. There are a total of 6 points per hand:

  • Highest trump for bringing home the ace of trumps
  • Lowest trump for the player who plays the two of trumps (even though this is not in fact the lowest trump)
  • Right Bower for winning a trick containing the jack of the trump suit
  • Left Bower for winning a trick containing the other jack of the same colour as the trump suit
  • Joker for winning a trick containing the joker
  • Game calculated as in auction pitch. That is, each card has a value, and each team counts the total value of the cards in the tricks they have taken. The side with the greater total wins the game point (not awarded in case of a tie). There are 81 card points in total. the card values are:
    • Each Ace - 4 points
    • Each King - 3 points
    • Each Queen - 2 points
    • Each Jack - 1 point
    • Each Ten - 10 points (important for game)
    • Joker - 1 point

Seating

6 people, in two teams of three, in alternating positions

First Deal

6 cards to each person. 17 cards remain with the dealer until the second deal.

Bidding

Each bid is a number, representing the number of points that team will try to take. The minimum bid is 3; the highest bid is 6. The bidding begins on dealer's left goes around table 1 time. Each player can pass or bid a number of points higher than the previous bid if any. The person winning the bid names the trump suit.

If no one bids 3, the cards are thrown in and re-dealt by the same dealer.

Second Deal

Once the trump suit is named, each person other than the dealer may discard up to 3 cards from his hand. No trump cards may be discarded. The dealer deals enough cards to each other player to bring their total hands up to six cards each. The dealer now adds the remaining undealt cards to his hand (there will be at least two such cards), and then discards an equal number of cards (his discard may include cards he picked up). The dealer is not allowed to discard trumps except in the rare case when he has more than 6 trumps in his hand. In this case he must discard the minimum number of trumps (leaving himself with a hand of 6 trumps), and is not allowed to discard the trump ace, right bower, left bower, trump two or joker.

The Play

The winner of the bid leads. Each player must follow suit until he is void (note that you are not allowed to trump while you still have a card of the led suit - this is unlike Pitch). A player with no card of the suit led may play any card.

The object is to win tricks and bring home the Joker, and the two bauers (worth a point each), and the tens & face cards for the game point. In addition whoever played the ace of trumps gets a point for his team, and the player of the two of trumps gets a point for his team even if the other team takes the trick.

The Scoring

If the bidding side take at least as many points as they bid, they score all the points they made (which may be more than the bid). If the bidding side take fewer points than they bid, they lose the amount of their bid (which may make their score negative). In either case, the opponents of the bidding side score the points they made.

The winners are the first team to reach 21 or more points, or if both reach 21 on the same deal, the side with more points. If both sides reach 21 or more points on the same deal and the scores are then equal, the bidding side wins.

Variant: Five Handed Schmier

Remove the twos and threes from the deck. The first deal and the bidding are as in the six player game, and the high bidder names trump. After the second deal, the winner of the bid is allowed to call a partner by naming a desired card. The holder of the called card is the partner of the bidder but does not announce who he is - the teams are not known until the called card is played.

If the called card turns out to have been discarded, the bidder plays and scores alone, and the other four play as a team and score equally. The bidder may also choose to play alone voluntarily, and in this case does not call a partner. It is illegal for the bidder to call a card which is in his own hand.

Each player keeps an individual score because the teams shift on each hand. The winner is the first individual player to reach 21 points. As the twos and threes are out of play, the point for lowest is awarded to whoever holds the four of trumps.

There is also an older version of the 5 player game played with a full deck of cards, in which players may discard up to 6 cards (rather than 3) before the second deal. As always, it is illegal to discard trumps.

Minnesota Smear

This version was contributed by Marisa Johnson.

The original Smear game is played with 4 players in fixed partnerships, sitting crosswise. A 54 card pack is used, the cards in each suit ranking as usual A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. The two jokers are extra trumps ranking between the jack and ten. If both jokers are played to the same trick, the first played beats the second.

Nine cards are dealt to each player, and there is one round of bidding, beginning with the player to dealer's left. Each player can pass or name a number of points, from 2 to 4, which must be higher than the previous bids if any.

The winner of the bidding names trump, and then each player discards three cards face down, and plays with the remaining six. No trump of any kind may be discarded except by a player who has more than six trumps. The high bidder leads to the first trick.

In the play, suit must be followed. A player with no card of the suit led may anything. A player is also allowed to trump while still holding cards of the suit led.

There are four points:

  • high, won by the player who plays the ace of trump;
  • low, won by the player who plays the deuce of trump;
  • jack, won by the winner of the trick containing the jack of trumps;
  • game, won by the side which takes more cards points (ace = 4, king = 3, queen = 2, jack = 1, ten = 10). If the card points are tied there is no point for game.

If the bidding side make as many points as they bid they score all the points they made; if not they lose the amount they bid. The non-bidding side score the points they made in any case.

Ten Point Smear

This is the best variant of Smear. As you might expect, it is quite similar to ten point pitch. The game can be played by 4, 5 or 6 people with partnering. 4 or 6 people play as fixed partnerships. 6 people play 3 against 3, each player sitting between two opponents. When there are five players, the bidder chooses a temporary partner by calling a card as described below.

A 54 card pack is used. The other jack which is the same colour as the trump jack is called the Jick and counts as a trump ranking immediately below the trump jack; the two jokers are trumps ranking between the jick and the ten.

In addition to the points for High, Low, Jack and Game, there are additional points for

    the Jick one point
    the two jokers one point each
    the 3 of trumps worth 3 points

These extra points go to the team which takes the relevant card in their tricks.

The bidding is as in the original game described above, except that bids of any number up to 10 are now possible (since there are 10 points in the game), and the minimum bid is 4. The high bidder names the trump suit.

Four player game
10 cards are dealt to each player. After trump is called, the high bidder picks up the 14 undealt cards and adds them to his or her hand. The bidder then discards 18 cards and everyone else discards four cards, so that each player plays with a six card hand. No trump may be discarded except by a player holding more than six trumps.
Five player game
10 cards are dealt to each player. After trump is called, each player discards four cards and plays with the remaining six. No trump may be discarded except by a player holding more than six trumps. The four undealt cards remain out of play and are not known by any player until after the play. (This makes it risky to bid 10, as points cannot be scored for cards that are out of play).

The bidder then calls a trump card by rank. You are not allowed to call the three of trumps, nor can you call a trump that you have in your hand; apart from this, any trump may be called. The player who has the called card shows it to everyone. That player is the bidder's partner for that hand, and must play the called trump on the first trick. If the called card is in fact in the kitty of undealt cards, the bidder must play alone against the other four players.

Six player game
8 cards are dealt to each player. After trump is called, the high bidder picks up the 6 undealt cards and adds them to his or her hand. The bidder then discards eight cards and everyone else discards two cards, so that each player retains a six card hand to play with. No trump may be discarded except by a player holding more than six trumps.

The game is played to a target score of 52 points. When a team or player reaches or exceeds the target points at the end of a hand they win the game. If more than one team or player reaches the target together, whoever has the highest score wins; in case of a tie the bidding side wins.

Smear in northeastern Wisconsin

This description is based on a contribution from Rick Gilbertson.

The most popular version is for four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other, using a 32 card deck consisting of A K Q J 10 9 8 7 in each suit. There is also a less common version for six players, forming two teams of three, each player sitting between two opponents. When there are six players, the 6 and 5 of each suit are included, making a 40 card deck. There is also a three player version without partners - players just play for themselves.

The four player game exists in two main versions: the four point game and the six point game.

Four Point Smear

The four points are high, low, jack and game, the point for low going to whoever plays the lowest trump. Before the game the players must decide on the number of 'blinds' - that is the number of cards which the winner of the bidding takes from the undealt cards. This may be anywhere from zero to three cards. The players should also agree on the target score (typically 15) and the exact conditions for winning.

Each player is dealt six cards. The possible bids are numbers from 2 to 4. The highest bidder takes the agreed number of blinds and discards an equal number of cards. The card points in the discarded cards count towards the bidder's side's total towards the 'game' point. The remaining undealt cards, called 'Sleepers', are placed to the side and not used - any card points in them count for neither side.

The player who won the bidding leads to the first trick and the suit led is trump. When trumps are led, everyone has to play a trump if they have one. When a non-trump suit, here called a fail (from the German Fehlfarbe) is led, players have the choice of following suit or trumping. Thus you can play a trump at any time, but when playing fail you must follow the suit led if you can.

If the bidding side make as many points as they bid they score all they make; if not they lose the amount of their bid. In either case the other team score whatever they make.

The game is won by the first team to reach or go over the target score. Some play that you can only win with a succesful bid. Some play that a team's score cannot go above the target - points scored in excess of the target by the non-bidding side do not count.

Six Point Smear

In the six point variation two Jokers are added to the deck, making 34 cards in all. The jokers are the lowest trumps; some play that they rank equally and the first played beats the second, some play that the second beats the first, and some play that they rank in a specific order; in practice this rarely makes a difference. Each joker is worth one point to the side that takes it in a trick, so there are six points in all. When playing with jokers, the point for low goes to whoever plays the lowest trump other than a joker - usually the 7 but could be the 8 if the 7 is sleeping, and so on.

In the six point game the target score is usually 21 points.

Smear in Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada

This version was contributed by Ben Callaghan

The game is for four players in fixed partnerships, with variations for three and two. A standard 52 card pack is used with the cards in each suit ranking as usual A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2.

Six cards are dealt to each player. Beginning at dealer's left, each player gets one chance to bid, and can pass or bid any number from 2 to 4. Each bid must be higher than any previous bid. If all pass, the cards are thrown in and there is a new deal by the same dealer.

The bidder leads to the first trick and the card led determines the trump suit. In the play, if you can follow suit you must either do so or play a trump. If you have no card of the suit led you may play anything. A trick is won by the highest card played of the suit led unless trumped, in which case the highest trump wins.

There are just four possible points:

  • high - playing the highest trump
  • low - for playing the lowest trump
  • jack - for taking a trick containing the jack of trumps
  • game - for having more card points in tricks than the other team (A=4, K=3, Q=2, J=1, 10=10)

The four-person game is played to 15 ("15 sneak-out"). The team which gets to 15 first wins. If both reach or exceed 15 in the same hand, the bidding team wins, regardless of who has the most points.

"Cutthroat", the version for two or three players, is referred to as "11 bid-out". Players can only record points to a maximum of 11. Then they must make a bid to win the game. If a player who has at least one point bids four and makes it, that player immediately wins the whole game.

Money Game

Stakes are agreed per game and set - for example "10 and 5" means ten cents a game and five cents a set, or you could play $1.00 per game, 50 cents per set. The bidding team are set if they do not make enough points for their bid.

If you lose a game you pay to the winners the game stake, plus a set stake for each time you were set. It does not matter how many times the winning side were set, if at all - having won the game they do not have to pay for this.

The set stake tends to discourage reckless bidding, especially in the "Cutthroat" version where otherwise players sometimes bid just to hinder someone else from winning the game.

Smear Software

Scott Olson has written a Shmear program with which you can play against computer opponents or live over a LAN or over the Internet. Eventually, several variations will be added.