Israeli Whist

This page is based on information from Amir Mazuver, Yoni Elhanani and Ofer Ballin.

Introduction

This game is popular in Israel, where it is just called Whist. Unlike classic forms of Whist it has no partnerships and incorporates a bidding system whereby each player predicts how many tricks they will take. I have therefore classified it as an Exact Bidding Game.

Players, Cards and Deal

There are four players and a standard 52 card pack is used, each suit ranking in the usual way from ace (high) down to two (low). The game is played clockwise.

The first dealer is chosen at random and after each hand the turn to deal passes to the left. The cards are shuffled and cut, and are all dealt out, one at a time, so that everyone has 13 cards.

The Bidding

The bidding begins with the dealer and continues clockwise. There are two phases.

A bid in the first phase consists of a number of tricks from 5 to 13 and a suit or "no trumps", so that possible bids would be "six clubs", "eight hearts", "nine no trumps", etc. A bid of more tricks outranks any bid of fewer tricks. Also, when comparing bids for the same number of tricks, the five denominations rank in the same order as at Bridge: no trumps is highest, then spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs (lowest).

At your turn you can either pass or bid higher than the previous bidder - either by bidding more tricks, or by bidding the same number of tricks in a higher denomination. The first phase of bidding continues until all four players pass in succession (if the other three players pass over your bid, you can increase your own bid, and the other three players then have another chance to speak).

If all four players pass on their first turn to speak, the hand is thrown in and redealt, or you can play a Gulash (see variations).

When a bid is followed by four passes, the last (and highest) bidder becomes the declarer and the trump suit (if any) for the hand is determined by the declarer's final bid. There is now a second phase of bidding in which the other three players, starting at declarer's left and going around clockwise, state how many tricks they will each try to take. Each bid is a number from zero upwards. The player to declarer's right, who speaks last, is constrained not to bid a number that would cause the bids of all four players to add up to 13. If the total of the bids is greater then 13, the game is called "over"; if the total is less than 13 the game "under".

Here is an example of bidding:

South
(dealer)
WestNorthEast
First phase:pass5 hearts6 clubspass
pass6 hearts7 clubspass
passpasspass
Second phase:


2
03

West was not allowed to bid 4 at the end. This game is "under".

The Play

Each player's objective is to take the exact number of tricks that they bid, and if possible to hinder the other players from doing so.

The declarer leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if they can; a player who has no cards of the suit led can play any card. A trick is won by the highest trump in it, if any. If there are no trumps in the trick, the highest card of the suit led wins it. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

The Scoring

When all 13 tricks have been played, the scores of all four players are all calculated individually by comparing the number of tricks each player won with the number they bid.

Anyone who bid at least one trick scores as follows:

  • For taking the exact number of tricks bid, gain 10 points plus the square of the number of tricks. For example for bidding and making 3 tricks you score 19. For bidding and making 8 tricks you score 74.
  • For taking a number of tricks different from the player's bid, lose 10 points for per trick under or over the bid. For example if you bid 2 tricks and take 4 you score -20 points.

A player who bids zero tricks scores as follows:

  • For bidding and making zero tricks when the game is "over", score 30 points.
  • For bidding and making zero tricks when the game is "under", score 50 points.
  • If the zero bid fails, lose 50 points for the first trick taken, but gain 10 points for each subsequent trick. For example if you bid zero and take three tricks you lose only 30 points.

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

End of the Game

A target score should be agreed before the start of the game. When one or more players reach or exceed this score the game ends and the player with the highest total score is the winner. In case of a tie, further hands are played until there is a single player with the highest score.

Variations

Gulash

In this variation, if the bidding starts with four passes the cards are not thrown in. Instead, each player passes three cards face down to the left. You must select the three cards you will pass before looking at the three cards you receive from the player to your right. Then the bidding starts again as before.

If everyone passes a second time, three more cards are passed as before and the auction begins again. If everyone passes yet again at this third attempt, the cards are thrown in and there is no score. The cards are shuffled and dealt again by the same dealer. (This situation is very rare.)

Eran Vax reports a version in which after all players pass the first time and three cards have been passed to the left, the minimum bid in the second round of bidding is 6 instead of 5. If all four players pass again, three cards are passed to the left and there is a round of bidding with a minimum bid of 7. Finally, if all pass in this round, three cards are passed again and there is a round of bidding where the minimum bid is 8.

Scoring

Yoni Elhanani gives a different method of scoring, as follows.

If every player fails to take the number of tricks they bid, there is no score for the hand. Otherwise:

  • A player who bid at least one trick and took the exact number of tricks they bid scores the square of that number (for example 25 for 5 tricks)
  • A player who takes a different number of tricks from their bid loses 5 points for each trick under or over the bid.
  • A player who bids and makes zero tricks wins 25 points if the game is "over", or 50 points if the game is "under".
  • A player who bids zero and takes at least one trick loses 25 points plus 5 points per trick taken.