Bid Whist

The rules on this page are mainly based on contributions from Dennis J Barmore and Howard Ship.

Introduction; Players; Cards

Bid Whist is a partnership trick-taking game that is very popular among African Americans. It is played with a standard 52 card deck plus 2 jokers, for a total of 54 cards. The two jokers must be distinct: one is called the big joker and the other is the little joker. There are 4 players consisting of two teams of two; each player sits opposite their partner. The game starts with each team at zero, and the object of the game is to reach a score 7 or more points, or force the other team to go negative 7 or more points. Points are scored by bidding for and winning tricks, which in this game are called books.

The Deal

When the game first starts, the deck is shuffled and dealt around, and the person that draws the first diamond becomes the first dealer. Cards are dealt one at a time in a clockwise order. Each player is to receive 12 cards for a total of 48 cards. During the deal, six cards are to be placed face down in the centre of the table to form a kitty. The first four cards and the last four cards cannot be put in the kitty; apart from this the dealer can deal the kitty cards at any stage during the deal, either singly or several at one time.

After each hand, the turn to deal passes to the left.

The Bidding

The turn to bid goes around the table only once starting with the player to the left of the dealer. Each bid consists of a number from 3 to 7, and a suffix "uptown", "downtown", or "no trump".

  • The number indicates the number of books above 6 that the bidder's team will contract to win - for example a bid of 5 is a promise to win at least 11 books (6 + 5). As there are 13 books in all, 7 is the highest possible bid.
  • Uptown (or "high") means you intend to name a trump suit, and that high cards will win.
  • Downtown (or "low") means that you intend to name a trump suit, and that low cards will win.
  • No Trump means that there will be no trump, and that if you win the bidding you will then determine whether high or low cards will have preference.

Each player in turn must either pass or name a bid which is higher than the previous bid. A bid of a higher number outranks a bid of a lower number, and a bid in no trumps outranks a bid of the same number uptown or downtown. Bids of the same number uptown and downtown are equal to each other - neither can be bid over the other. Therefore, the possible bids, from lowest to highest, are as follows:

  • 3 Uptown or 3 Downtown
  • 3 No Trump
  • 4 Uptown or 4 Downtown
  • 4 No Trump
  • 5 Uptown 5 Downtown
  • 5 No Trump
  • 6 Uptown or 6 Downtown
  • 6 No Trump
  • 7 Uptown or 7 Downtown
  • 7 No Trump

Note that when you bid intending to name a trump suit, you indicate the direction you are bidding (uptown or downtown), but you do not name which suit you intend to name as trumps until you win the bidding. On the other hand when bidding a no trump, you do not indicate which direction (uptown or downtown), until you win the bid.

If the first three players pass, the dealer is forced to bid. Since there is no advantage in bidding more than the minimum 3, the dealer in this case will normally bid 3 uptown, 3 downtown or 3 no trump.

The Play

The highest bidder names the trump suit, or in the case of a no trump bid specifies whether it will be played uptown or downtown. The bidder then picks up the 6 card kitty and throws away six cards. The cards thrown away can come from the bidder's dealt hand, the original kitty, or any combination of these. The six cards which are thrown away are placed face down in front of the bidder and count as the first book won by the bidder's side.

The bidder then leads the first card. Any card may be led, and the other players must follow the suit led, if they have it in their hand. A player who does not have the led suit in their hand has the option to play a trump or play a different suit. A trump always beats any non-trump cards played in the book. If there is more than one trump played, then the highest ranking trump based on the type of bid taken will win the book. If no one plays a trump, then the highest ranking card to the suit led wins the book. The winner of each book leads to the next.

The ranking of the cards within the suits depends on the bid. The rankings from high to low are as follows:

  • Uptown trumps: Big joker, little joker, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
  • Uptown non-trump suits: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
  • Downtown trumps: Big joker, little joker, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K.
  • Downtown non-trump suits: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K.

If the bid is no trumps, all the suits are non-trump suits. In this case the jokers are of no value, and cannot win a book. They can be played if you have no card of the suit led. In the unusual case where a player leads a joker, the next player may play any card, and the first card played which is not a joker determines the suit that must be followed in that book. The highest card played of this suit wins the book.

Renege: If a person fails to follow suit when they have a card of that suit in their hand, this is called a renege. When this occurs, 3 books won by the reneging team in that hand are given to the non-reneging team. If the reneging team won fewer than three books, the hand is scored as though the non-reneging team won all 13 books.

Scoring

Each team begins with a score of zero. At the end of each hand, the bidding team either wins or loses some points. The game ends when a team wins by achieving a cumulative score of seven or more, or loses by reaching a cumulative score of minus seven or worse.

At the end of the play, the books are counted. There are 13 altogether, corresponding to the 12 cards played by each player plus the kitty, which counts as a book won by the bidder's team. Each book won above six counts as a point. In order to score, the bidding team must make at least as many points as they bid.

If the bidding team have at least as many points as their bid, they score all the points they made. If they fail to take enough books for their bid, they score nothing for their books, and instead the points that they bid are subtracted from their score. In either case, the opponents of the bidding team neither win nor lose any points.

Example: If my team won the bid with a "5 high", and we only made 4 points (the kitty and 9 other books) we would have failed our bid and we would go back 5 points. On the other hand if we make 6 books (the kitty plus 11 other books) on our 5 bid, we will score a total of 6 points for that hand.

If the winning bid was a no trump bid, the score for the hand is doubled. For example if you win the bid with 4 no trump and win 11 books you score 10 points (which will win the game unless you began the hand with a negative score); if you win only 8 books you lose 8 points.

Variations

Some play that, in a no trump bid, the jokers must be placed out of play in the kitty. If you win the bid in no trumps, then any jokers you find in the kitty must be left there, and you must discard any jokers that were in your original hand. After you have discarded (placing any jokers apart from your other discards), then before the play begins, any other players who hold jokers must discard them and draw new cards in their place from the face-down kitty.

Some play that in no trump bids, jokers can be played at any time, even if you have a card of the suit that was led, but the joker can never win the trick. If you play this variation, you can sometimes use a joker profitably to lengthen one of your suits.

Some play that the minimum bid is 4 - no 3-bids are allowed.

Many people play that a low bid with trumps has priority over a high bid of the same number with trumps. For example if one player bids 4 high, the next player can overcall with 4 low. On the other hand, some play that all bids for a given number of tricks are equal - so for example to overcall a 4 bid of any kind requires a 5 bid or higher.

Some play that if the bidding is won by a bid with trumps, the kitty must be sported before it is added to the bidder's hand. Sporting the kitty means that after a player wins the bid they expose the kitty, so that all can see what cards are in it.

Some players play with only one joker, and therefore only five cards in the kitty.

Some players play with only one joker, but use the deuce of spades as permanent second highest trump in the game. In this case there is only a five card kitty, and the spade suit is shorter than the others, the two counting as part of the trump suit. In no trump bids, the two of spades resumes its normal function as a spade.

Some players play with both jokers and with the deuce of spades as the third highest trump in the game. In this case there is a six card kitty.

Some play that if the bidder's opponents win more than six books, they score for each book above six that they make: 1 point for each book over 6 if there was a trump suit; 2 for each book over six if there were no trumps.

A bid of seven (uptown, downtown or no trumps) is also known as a Boston. Some award extra points for this - in theory quadruple points (28) are awarded. In practice this means that whole game is at stake: the bidders will win the game if they succeed in winning all trhe books, and the oppopnents will win the game if they win any books at all.

52 card Bid Whist

Howard Ship and Rob Simons describe a version of Bid Whist played in the North-East USA with only 52 cards and no jokers, so that the kitty consists of only four cards.

As usual, the bid is the number of 'books' above six that the team promises to take, but in this version the bids are numbers only, from 1 to 7. Note that bids of 1 and 2 are possible. As in the game with jokers, each player has just one chance to speak, and must either pass or bid a number. For the first three players, each bid must be higher than the previous bid if any. The dealer may take the bid from the highest bidder so far by matching the current high bid; the dealer may even take the bid from partner in this way. If the first three players pass, the dealer may either bid 1 or gather the cards, reshuffle and deal again.

Exceptionally, if any player, including the dealer, has no face cards (kings, queens or jacks - aces are not considered face cards) they may, at their turn to bid, call for a redeal instead of bidding. The cards are then shuffled and dealt again by the same dealer. A player who has already passed or bid can no longer demand a redeal.

The winner of the bidding names a trump suit or specifies "no trump", and chooses one of the three possibilities for the card ranking:

  • Uptown, in which every suit ranks from high to low: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
  • Downtown, aces good, in which every suit ranks from high to low: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K.
  • Downtown, aces bad, in which every suit ranks from high to low: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A.

After choosing trumps and ranking, the bidder takes the four cards from the kitty and discards four cards in their place. The discarded kitty belongs not to the bidder but to the winner of the first trick. Thus the first trick is worth two books.

There are no negative scores:

  • If the bidding team makes their bid, they score the number of books actually taken less six. Taking 11 books on a bid of four would score 5 points.
  • If the bidding team is stopped, the opposing team scores the amount bid. With a bid of 4, the opposing team only needs to take 4 books to stop the bidding team (the bidding team would then take the remaining 9 books, missing their goal of 10), and the opposing team would score 4 points.

No trump bids score the same as bids with a trump suit - there is no doubling in this version.

The first team to score 21 or more points wins.

The lowest bids, 1 and 2, are rather easy to win, and therefore the bidding almost always reaches 3 or more. Therefore it is normal for the first two players to use the low bids as signals:

  • 1 for a mixed hand (some high cards, some low cards)
  • 2 for a 'downtown' hand (mostly low cards)
  • 3 for an 'uptown' hand (mostly high cards)

Variations of 52-card Bid Whist

Daniel Parr of Oregon describes a variant from Boston. There is no kitty. Bids are numbers representing the number of tricks in excess of 6 that the team is contracted to win. Bidding begins at 1 and each bid must be higher than the last. The auction continues as many times as necessary around the table until three players have passed. A player who has passed cannot take any further part in the auction. If the first three players pass the dealer is forced to "eat" a bid of one. The player who wins the contract (including when the dealer eats it) determines trump by leading it. No trump may also be declared. There is no downtown option. If the partnership who won the auction made their contract, they win as many points as they won tricks above 6. (In this variant, as in classic whist, tricks are not called "books" but instead the first 6 tricks are known as the "book".) If the bidding partnership was set, they lose as many points as they contracted. If the partnership who did not win the contract makes any tricks, they win as many points as tricks. The first team that reaches 11 points wins; if both teams reach or pass 11 points the team that won the contract wins. This version is often played in rubbers, the rubber going to the first team that wins two games.

Tom W reports a version without a kitty played in Cincinnati, Ohio. Everyone is dealt 13 cards. Downtown bids are known as "special", and the bids specify whether the player wants to play a normal (uptown) game, a special (downtown) game or no trump. A special bid outranks a normal bid for the same number of tricks, and no trump is highest, so the bids in ascending order are: 1, 1 special, 1 no, 2, 2 special, 2 no, and so on.

Chevee Todd describes a version called Trumps played in Hawaii. There is a 4-card kitty but no downtown option. The bids are numbers, from 3 to 7, and the winner of the bidding announces the trump suit or no trump. The significance of the number bids is as usual, but they are explained differently: subtract the bid from 8 to get the number of tricks the bidder's opponents need to set the contract. Apparently the bidding team wins 1 point if they succeed and the opponents score 2 otherwise. A team wins if they are 7-0 up, or have a lead of 11 points, or have at least 21 points with the other team at least 2 points behind. This must make for a very long game - typically around 20-30 deals would need to be played. I would be interested to hear from anyone who knows more details of this version.

Books about Bid Whist

Butch Thomas' book on Bid Whist explores the history, culture and social context of the game, including some interesting anecdotes and examples of the colloquial language used by the players.

The Complete Win At Whist by Joe Andrews adopts a more analytical approach, studying the game from the point of view of a Bridge player and comparing it with other Whist variations.

Other Bid Whist WWW Pages and Software

The Bid Whist Homepage contains further information and software.

Card Sharks' Inc, formerly known as the Card Players Web Site, has Bid Whist rules, software, club information, and a T-shirt!

With Malcolm Bain's Bid Whist Program for Windows, you can play Bid Whist against computer opponents.

Chris Davidson has released a Whist Portal through which Bid Whist can be played online against live opponents.

With the Bid Whist for Windows program by RWM software, you can play with a computer partner against two computer opponents.

The Ultimate Bid Whist and Internet Bid Whist programs are available from Blackgames.net.

KRT apps has produced a Bid Whist app for Android.

Case's Ladder Online features online play versus computer or real opponents, automated online leagues and a tournament ranking system.