Solo Whist

This page is partly based on information from Frank O'Shaughnessy and David Morrison.

Introduction

Solo Whist is a plain-trick game with trumps and bidding, closely related to the more elaborate and now obsolete game of Boston. Solo Whist is mainly played in Britain, having been introduced from the low countries in the late nineteenth century; it is also played to some extent in Australia and New Zealand.

Players and cards

There are four players, each ultimately playing for themselves, though they form temporary alliances - one against three or two against two - for each hand.

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

The deal

The deal, bidding and play are clockwise. The cards are shuffled by the dealer and cut by the player to dealer's right. The dealer then deals out all the cards so that everyone has 13. The cards are dealt in packets of three until only four cards remain. These last four cards are dealt singly, turning the last card face up to indicate the prospective trump suit. This exposed card is part of the dealer's hand and can be picked up by the dealer at the end of the first trick if it was not played to that trick. The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

The bidding

Beginning with the player to dealer's left, each player may pass or bid a contract. The possible bids in ascending order are as follows:

ContractScoreDescription
Prop1 unit(Proposal) The bidder undertakes to win at least 8 tricks, playing in partnership with another player yet to be determined, using the suit of the turned up card as trump.
Cop(Acceptance) The bidder accepts a proposal (prop) bid made by another player - if it is not overcalled by a higher bid, these two will play together with the turned suit as trump and try to win at least 8 tricks.
Solo1 unitThe bidder undertakes to win at least 5 tricks, playing alone, using the suit of the turned up card as trump.
Misère2 unitsThe bidder undertakes to lose every trick, playing alone with no trumps.
Abundance3 unitsThe bidder undertakes to win at least 9 tricks playing alone. The trump suit is chosen by the bidder.
Abundance in Trumps3 unitsThe bidder undertakes to win at least 9 tricks playing alone, using the suit of the turned up card as trump.
Misère Ouverte4 unitsThe bidder undertakes to lose every trick, playing alone with no trumps. The bidder's hand is placed face up on the table after the first trick is complete.
Abundance Declared6 unitsThe bidder undertakes to win all 13 tricks, playing alone. There are no trumps, and the bidder leads to the first trick.

If all four players pass, then the cards are thrown in and next dealer deals. If someone bids, then subsequent players can either pass or bid higher. The bidding continues around the table as many times as necessary until the contract is settled - i.e. either there has been a prop and cop and no one has bid higher, or someone has bid one of the higher contracts and the other three players have passed.

A player who has passed cannot bid later in the auction, except in one case: if the player to dealer's left passes initially and the only other bid on the first round is a proposal (prop), the player to dealer's left is allowed to accept (cop). No other player has this privilege.

Of course it is not allowed for a player to bid cop unless another player has already bid prop. If a player bids prop and everyone else passes, the proposing player has the choice of converting the prop to a solo or any higher bid. If the proposer does not wish to do this the cards are thrown in and the next player deals.

When bidding abundance (or abundance declared), you do not announce the trump suit along with the bid, but wait until the other players have passed and then announce trumps immediately before the first lead. Any of the four suits can be chosen as trumps, including the suit of the exposed card. The bid of abundance in trumps is only used to overcall another player's bid of abundance.

The play

The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick (unless the bid is abundance declared, in which case the bidder leads).

Any card may be led to a trick. The other three players must play a card of the same suit if they can. A player with no card of the led suit may play any card.

If any trumps are played to a trick, it is won by the highest trump played. If there are no trumps in a trick, it is won by the highest card played in the suit that was led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

The scoring

Players generally settle up in money after each deal. The score for each bid is given in the table of bids above. In a prop and cop, the play is two against two; if the bidders make their 8 tricks or more, each receives 1 unit and each of their opponents pays 1 unit; if they fail the bidders each pay 1 and each opponent receives 1. In all the other bids, the bidder is paid by all three opponents if successful and pays all three if the bid fails. So for example, you win 3 units in total (1 from each opponent) if you make a Solo, and 9 in total if you make an abundance.

Variations

Some play with just a single round of bidding. Each player has only one opportunity to speak except in the following two cases:

  1. the player to dealer's left, having originally passed, can still accept a proposal;
  2. a player whose proposal is not accepted can raise the bid to solo.

"Prop and cop" is considered by some to be uninteresting to play, so some players do not allow these bids; the lowest bid allowed is Solo.

To increase the proportion of hands with uneven distributions with which higher bids are possible, some play that the cards are shuffled only at the start of a session and after a bid of abundance or higher. Otherwise, the cards are simply gathered together by the new dealer and the player to the dealer's right cuts. In this version the cards are often dealt in packets of 3 and 4 - for example 4-3-3-3, 3-4-3-3, 3-3-4-3, 3-3-3-4.

Instead of turning the dealer's last card for trump, some cut a card from a second pack. Others go through the trump suits in cyclic order: hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades, hearts, etc.

Some play that if a hand is passed out, the cards are gathered together without shuffling and the next hand is dealt as a "goulash" (packets of 5 + 3 + 5 instead of 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 1).

Some play that if everyone passes a special game is played with no trumps. This game is sometimes called "misery" and there are various forms of it, such as:

  • the object is to lose the last trick: the winner of the last trick pays the other three players as for a lost solo;
  • the object is to avoid tricks: the player who wins fewest tricks wins as for a solo;
  • the first player who takes five tricks pays as for a lost solo; if no one takes five, the loser is the first player who takes four tricks.

Some play abundance declared with a trump suit chosen by the bidder. Since the bidder has the first lead and can start by drawing trumps, the only effect of this is to make the bid somewhat risky in cases where the bidder has no long suit.

There are other scoring schedules. A common one is: prop & cop 2; solo; 2 misère 3; abundance 4; misère ouverte 6; abundance declared 8.

Many people play with a payment for overtricks in prop and cop, solo and abundance. In that case it is usual to set the basic score for a solo as 4, 5 or 6 units, increasing the other scores in proportion. Each overtrick or undertrick in a prop and cop or solo is worth an extra unit. In abundance, overtricks gain an extra two units each, but undertricks cost only one unit each. There is no score for over- or undertricks in Misère, Misère Ouverte or Abundance Declared.

In old British money, the stake would often have been 6d for a solo plus 1d per overtrick, or 1s for a solo plus 3d per overtrick (overtricks counting double in abundance). In new money 10p for a solo plus 2p per overtrick or 20p plus 5p would be typical.

Misère is very hard to make against good defenders. For that reason, some experienced players rank Misère above Abundance in trumps and Misère Ouverte as the highest bid of all, adjusting the scoring appropriately.

Other Solo Whist web pages software

Solo Whist rules can also be found on the Card Game Heaven site.

Malcolm Bain has written a shareware Solo Whist program for Windows.

Here is Anna Cubed, a freeware Solo Whist Program by Alex Pounds. It is written in Java and should work on Windows, Linux and Mac OSX computers. You can play against the computer or against live opponents over the Net.

The old shareware Solo Whist program for Windows by Androcles has not been supported for many years, but is available for download here in case anyone still needs it.