Ninety-Nine

An original card game for 3 players (with variants for 2, 4, 5), invented by David Parlett.

Contents

Ninety-Nine for Three Players

Ninety-Nine was developed in 1968 in response to the need for a skilled but easily learnt plain-trick game for three players. It was first published in 1975 and has since appeared in card-game books in various countries including Germany, Hungary, Japan and Argentina.

David Parlett has contributed the following description of his game, the rules of which he revised in 1990. He says he now wishes he had originally called the game 'Sphinx'.

Note: There is another card game called Ninety-Nine, an adding game, sometimes played as a drinking game in which the object is to play cards without taking the total value of the pile above 99. This has no connection with the game described here.

Deal

Three players each receive 12 cards from a 36-pack ranking A K Q J T 9 8 7 6 in each suit. The turn to deal and play passes always to the left.

Objective

The players each lay aside three bid-cards and play the remaining nine cards to tricks. Each player aims to win exactly as many tricks as indicated secretly and in code by their bid-cards. For this purpose, the suits of the bid-cards represent numbers of tricks bid as follows:

  [club] = 3 tricks       [heart] = 2 tricks       [spade] = 1 trick       [diamond] = 0 tricks  

Example: Bid nine tricks by laying aside [club] [club] [club] (3 + 3 + 3 = 9), none by laying aside [diamond] [diamond] [diamond] (0 + 0 + 0 = 0). Three may be bid [club] [diamond] [diamond] (3 + 0 + 0), [heart] [spade] [diamond] (2 + 1 + 0) or [spade] [spade] [spade] (1 + 1 + 1). And so on.

Premium Bids

Normally, bid-cards are left face down and remain unseen until exposed at the end of play to claim a win. For a premium, however, a player may offer to 'declare' by turning his or her bid-cards face up at the start of play, thus declaring their target and revealing more information about the lie of cards. For a higher premium, a player may offer to 'reveal' by not only turning their bid-cards up at start of play but also then playing with their hand of cards exposed on the table before the opening lead. Only one player may declare or reveal. If more than one wish to declare, priority goes to the player nearest the dealer's left, dealer having least priority. An offer to reveal overcalls an offer to declare regardless of position - but if two or more wish to reveal, the same priority applies.

Note: For those who prefer a formal process for these announcements, David Parlett has provided the following rule, which appeared in his book Original Card Games (1977): "Only one player may declare or reveal in any one round. Player left of dealer has first option to declare or reveal; if he declines, the player on his left has the option; and if he also declines, the option passes to dealer. If an earlier player offers to declare, a later player may overcall his bid by offering to reveal, in which case the latter is accepted unless the former then raises who his declaration to a revelation, as he is entitled to do." In informal games, however, since there is rarely a competiton to make these announcements, anyone wishing to declare or reveal simply says so, without waiting their turn.

Trumps

The first deal is played at no trump. Each subsequent deal is played with a trump suit determined by the number of players who fulfilled their previous contract. The trump suit is clubs if all three succeeded, hearts if two, spades if one or diamonds if no-one fulfilled their contract.

Play

The player at the dealer's left leads first. Normal rules of trick-taking apply (Any suit may be led. Players must follow suit if possible, otherwise may play any card. A trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led or by the highest trump if any are played. The winner of each trick leads to the next.)

Claims

Whoever claims to have fulfilled their contract must face their bid-cards to prove it, but no-one who fails need show them. The true bid is always the number represented by the bid-cards.

Score

Each player's score for the deal consists of two or three components, namely

Trick score
1 point per trick taken, regardless of bid.
Contract score
For fulfilling one's contract, 10 points if all three succeeded, 20 if only two players succeeded, 30 if only one player succeeds.
Premium score
A successful premium bidder scores an additional 30 for a declaration or 60 for a revelation. In the event of failure each opponent scores the relevant premium, independently of their own success or failure.

Game

Game is 100 points - one more than the highest score achievable in a single deal. A premium of 100 is added to the score of any player who reaches 100 or more in play, as the winner is bound to do. A rubber consists of three games, each in turn dealing first to a new game.

Ninety-Nine for four

Deal 13 cards each from a 52-card pack. Use three bid-cards to bid up to 10 tricks. A bid of three diamonds represents either 0 or 10 tricks, and either number of tricks taken fulfills the contract. The contract score is 30 if one player succeeds, 20 if two, 10 each if three, zero if all four either succeed or fail their contract. If all four succeeds, the following deal is played at No Trump, otherwise the trump suit is determined as the three-handed game. The premium score is 30 or 60 as before. A rubber consists of four games.

Ninety-Nine for five

Five players receive 12 each from the Australian 'Five Hundred' pack including Elevens and Twelves (but ignoring the Thirteens) and lay aside three cards to bid up to nine. The contract score is 10 if all five succeeds, 20 if four, 30 if three, 40 if two, 50 if only one. No-one may reveal, but any number of players may declare for a premium of 50 points if successful or minus 50 if not. If four or five players succeed, the next deal if played at No Trump. A rubber consists of five games. For a shorter game, play up to an agreed target score, such as 500 or 250 points.

Ninety-Nine for two

This is played exactly like three-handed Ninety-Nine but with a dummy third player.

Deal three hands of 12 cards each face down. Separate the top three cards of the dummy hands as its 'bid'. These remains face down and unseen till end of play. Each player bids in usual way. Either or both players may declare, but neither may reveal.

After the bids and any declaration have been made the dummy is turned face up and sorted into suits. The first deal is played with clubs trump; thereafter, the trump suit is determined as in the three-handed game.

Non-dealer leads to the first trick, waits for the second to play, then plays any legal card from dummy. If a live player wins the trick, he leads first from hand and third from dummy. If the dummy wins a trick, the person who played from it then leads first from dummy and third from hand.

At end of play, the dummy's bid-cards are turned up and all three players score as in the three-handed games. If one player declares and fails the other two score the premium of 30. If both declare and fail, neither gains a premium but the dummy scores 60 extra.

If the dummy wins, the game is a tie as between the live players. If it beats or ties with one live player, the winner carries an extra 100 points forward, or, if playing for hard score, wins double.

Other Variations

Original 99

The older version of three player 99, originally published in 1975 and probably still played by many people, differs only slightly from the revised version described above:

  • To the 36 card pack a joker is added. 12 cards each are dealt and the last card is turned up to designate the trump suit. If it is the joker or a nine, the hand is played at no trumps. If the joker is dealt to one of the players, then it represents a duplicate of the turned up card for the purposes of bidding and play.
  • A rubber consists of exactly nine hands, the players' cumulative scores determining who has then won, and by how much.

Declarer chooses trumps

David Parlett recommends the following variation.

In the first deal, there is no predetermined trump. Instead, each in turn, beginning with eldest, may offer to declare in return for nominating the trump suit. If someone offers to declare, a later player may overcall by offering to reveal, in which case the first may raise his call to a revelation. A revelation overcalls a declaration and, given the same level, an earlier player has priority. As soon as a premium bidder is established, he announces the trump suit, everyone discards, and eldest leads to the first trick after the declarer turned his bid-cards up (and exposed his hand if playing open). If no one bids in the first deal it is played at no trump. In subsequent deals, if no one bids the trump suit remains unchanged form the previous deal.

Nines as trump

Nicholas Tallyn reports a variation in which a player who declares or reveals is also allowed to choose the trump suit. This player can choose one of the four suits, or can call nines as trumps. When nines are trumps, the four nines are a suit of their own containing just the four nines, ranking from high to low: [club]9, [heart]9, [spade]9, [diamond]9.

Unbidden Ninety-Nine

This variation for three players has been proposed by Charles Magri.

Instead of putting aside their bid cards at the start of play, the players simply play with hands of twelve cards. After nine tricks the play ends, and the three remaining cards held by each player determine their bids.

The premium bids in this variant could be somewhat different from those of the standard game. Some possibilities are:

  • a player states a number of tricks and must arrange to bid and make that number;
  • a player exposes all twelve cards and must arrange for the number of tricks won to correspond to the bid;
  • a player exposes all twelve cards and states a number of tricks.

This idea is further developed in Charles Magri's game Clumond.

Other Ninety-Nine Pages and Software

The 99 Pro computer program is available from Recreasoft.

David Parlett's Original Card Game Pages include a description of 99 and some more variations.

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