Beyond

Contributed by Jens Baj

Short introduction

Beyond is created in the spirit that all four players must feel entertained in each game

Most other trick-taking card games favour the player who gets the high cards at the expense of the others. In Beyond one player wins a suitable trump by contracting for a specific number of tricks, but the 3 remaining players must also commit themselves to a specific number of tricks. Thus accuracy is ranked higher than muscle (many tricks). You can actually win with poor cards over players who have been fortunate enough to get a lot of high cards, if you can give them under- or overtricks, and succeed in your own contract however small it may be.

There are extra points to earn if both teammates fulfill their contracts. To make it possible to compete against high cards the bidding process is reversed compared to (say) Bridge: in Beyond you bid downwards. Winning the bidding and thereby making the trump suit has however a price. The lower you go in the rivalry for the trump the more weak your position becomes. This contrast is one of the virtues of Beyond, because it often creates a better balance among the 4 hands, which is essential for all players to have a good degree of involvement and enjoyment.

In short:

  • The lowest bid determines the trump suit.
  • All 4 players must commit themselves to a contracted number of tricks.
  • Exactly fulfilled contracts win over unfulfilled contracts.
  • Higher contracts win over lower contracts.
  • Among unfulfilled contracts most tricks is best.
  • Extra points if a team fulfills both their contracts.

Dealing and general play of the hand

Beyond is played by four players who form two partnerships; the partners sit opposite each other at a table. The compass directions can be used to refer to the four players, aligned with their seating pattern. Thus, South and North form one partnership and East and West form the other. On each deal, one player, the dealer, distributes the cards. The player left of the dealer start the auction and has the lead, when the auction is over.

The play consists of thirteen tricks, each trick consisting of one card played from each of the four hands. Aces are 14 (high), followed by kings, queens, jacks, 10s, 9s ... down to 2s. The first card played in a trick is called the lead; after the lead play proceeds clockwise around the table. Any card may be selected from a hand as the lead (with one exception: the joker blocking rule below), but the remaining players must follow suit, meaning they must play a card of the same suit as the lead, unless the hand in question has no more cards of that suit, in which case any card may be played. The hand that plays the highest card in the suit of the led wins the trick, unless any of the played cards are of the trump suit, in which case the hand that plays the highest trump card wins the trick. The player that wins the trick plays the lead card of the next trick, until all the cards have been played.

The game is played with a deck of 52 cards from which the eights of clubs, diamonds and hearts are removed and replaced by three jokers. A joker can only win a trick to which a joker is led. A joker can be played on a trick to which a suit card is led only if the player does not have any cards of that suit, and in this case the joker cannot win the trick. If a joker is led to a trick, the other players can play any card they wish. A player who has another joker is not forced to play it, but if another joker is played in a trick to which a joker is led, the trick is won by the last joker played. It is said that jokers are "covered" by the other jokers. Note that if you lead a joker early, there is a very high risk that it will be covered by the opposing team. There is also a blocking rule: after a joker lead the next lead must be a suit lead unless you have nothing but jokers left in your hand.

The goal of a single deal is to achieve the highest score with given cards. The concept of contract, which distinguishes Beyond from its predecessors, refers to a statement by one of the players that he shall take a certain number of tricks (neither more nor fewer), with a given suit as trump, or without trumps. The trump suit is determined by an auction, the suit named in the final bid being trump. Each bid consists of two components: the level and the strain. Level represents the number of tricks from 0-13. Five strains are ranked, from lowest to highest as: clubs (club), diamonds (diamond), hearts (heart), spades (spade), no trump (NT).

The bidding process is similar to that in Bridge, but there are some important differences.

  • The level relates to the number of tricks taken by the player, not by the partnership.
  • The level indicates the exact number of tricks to be taken (not the number of tricks in excess of 6 as in Bridge) - for example the bid "5 hearts" is an assertion that the bidder will take 5 tricks with hearts as the trump suit.
  • The player must take the exact number of tricks bid for the contract to succeed.
  • A bid at a lower level (smaller number of tricks) outranks a bid at a higher level (more tricks).

So the lowest bid is 13 clubs, followed by 13 diamonds, 13 hearts, 13 spades, 13 NT, 12 clubs, 12 diamonds, etc. The highest possible (but not attractive) bid is "0 NT". The final bid on the lowest level determines the trump suit or no trump. If more than one player bids at the same level, the highest strain bid determines the trump.

During the auction, bids can be "raised" (analagous to the double in Bridge - see point system) and re-raised (analagous to redouble). If none of the four players bids a strain a "pass round" is played (see below).

Tactics

  • In finding an optimum contract, you seek for a trump, where both players can get a good contract. 5 + 3 is a very good contract, whereas 6 + 2, 4 + 3 and 5 + 2 are more normal.
  • The stronger hand shouldn't go below 4 tricks and the weaker hand shouldn't go below 2 tricks.
  • Sometimes it pays off to win a weak contract (6 tricks together), rather than allowing the opposing side to make a strong dominant contract. This is known as a sacrifice, and is quite common if both sides are contesting the final contract. Going under a total of 6 tricks is certainly not recommendable, because then you will most likely end up being dominated by 7 tricks, added to the fact that the defence furthermore have the advantage of higher potential bonus-points (40 against your 20) - see below.

Point system

It is very important to understand the point system to be able to find profitable contracts and to choose (and when necessary to change) the best strategy. The highest ranked in placement are players with fulfilled contracts, the higher the better. After them come the players with failed contracts, the more tricks taken the better. To put this in perspective, it is better to take 0 tricks if they are bid, than to take 13 tricks when you bid only 12.

Points for placement:

  • 30 points for 1st place
  • 20 points to 2nd place
  • 10 point for 3rd place
  • 0 point for 4th place

If two or more players share the same placement they share the points. For example if two players share 2nd and 3rd place they get 15 points each.

Bonus points:

If a team fulfills both their contracts, they gain bonus points according to the list below. Notice how many points are available here, which means that every contract has a potential 'slam bonus' waiting for the successful team.

  • 20 points if you are the trump makers
  • 40 points if you are in defence
  • 20 points if the game was with no trump
  • 30 points if the call is raised
  • 60 points if the call is re-raised

Point system for pass rounds only:

  • 10 points for each trick the opponents take
  • 30 points if you give the opponents the last trick
  • If one team takes all 13 tricks, the round is a draw 0-0

The auction

The auction determines the declaring side and the final contract. In addition to establishing strain and level, the final contract may be raised (by the opponents - analagous to a double) or re-raised (by the declaring side after the opponents had already raised - analagous to a redouble), in which case the scoring is increased if both players in one team fulfill their contract.

During the auction, each player makes a call in turn, which must be one of the following:

  • A bid (stating a level and a denomination)
  • Raise (when the last call was a bid by an opponent)
  • Re-raise (when the last call other than pass was a raise by an opponent)
  • Pass (when unwilling to make one of the three preceding calls)

A bid remains in effect, until there is a new bid (on a lower level or at the same level in a higher strain). Raise and re-raise remain in effect only until the next bid - any subsequent bid invalidates them.

The auction ends when three successive passes occur at some point after a call or raise/re-raise (or if all four players pass at their first turn to speak). If nobody calls a suit, you play a pass-round. In a pass-round the aim is to avoid taking tricks. This rule encourages players with high cards to take responsibility for a call (see more at point system).

Once the auction ends, the last bid (together with any raise or re-raise that followed it) becomes the contract, and the level of this bid determines the number of tricks required to fulfill the contract and its strain determines what suit, if any, will be trumps. However the play doesn't start until the 3 other players, one by one clockwise after the winning bid, claim how many tricks they will take in the play. The last player is not allowed to claim, so that the total sum will be 13. This ensures that at least one of the teams is not able to fulfill their contract.

It should be noted that the primary purpose of early bids is often to exchange information rather than to determine the final contract. Most players use most calls (bids, raises and re-raises, and sometimes even passes) not with the intention that they become the final contract, but to describe the player's hand strength, so that the team can make an educated guess which contract would be the optimal one. The set of agreements used by a team about the meanings of each call is referred to as a bidding system, full details of which must be made available to the opponents. 'Secret' systems are not allowed. The pair that did not win the contract is called the defence.

Bidding systems and conventions

A bidding system is a set of partnership agreements on the meanings of bids. A partnership's bidding system is usually made up of a core system, modified and complemented by specific conventions (optional customizations incorporated into the main system for handling specific bidding situations) which are pre-chosen between the partners prior to play. There has been a lot current development and testing of different conventions by main founder Jens Baj.

Here is the most common system, which is quite effective despite its simplicity:

Suit information level 10-13 tricks
On this unrealistic level the bidding is only to show your suits to your teammate. If for example North bid 13 spades, it is not because the North can take 13 tricks, but just that it is his strongest suit. If South has good diamonds he bids 12 diamonds. If he doesn't like spades and he has no suit to show he bids 13 NT. Now North can show the next suit and so on. Please notice: Never pass if your partner has an active bid in this level, he will then get stuck with an impossible contract. If you have nothing you can bid NT as high as possible, or bid the number of tricks you can take in your partners trump.
Real level 4-9 tricks
Sooner or later a player comes down to the real level 4-9 tricks. When partner calls at this level, one can safely say pass, as by agreement the bid is real. Some players choose to go directly down to the real level, to prevent the opponents' team from exchanging information.
Demand and support level 0-3 tricks
You don't open in a suit if you can take fewer than 4 tricks in total. Therefore this lower level 0-3 tricks is used to demand a particular suit, if the opponent team have found too lucrative a contract. It is done by bidding the suit just below the suit you want. If for example you bid 3 clubs, it is because you want your teammate to bid a number of diamonds (hopefully 3). However, there are certain associated risks. You may force your teammate down in a contract so low that he is unable to fulfill it in the ensuing play. To avoid confusion as to whether you are supporting an earlier bid from your teammate or demanding for your own suit, there is a strict rule. If the bid can be interpreted as a support to your teammate it is always support.

You can contact the author for more advanced conventions.

Example of a bidding round

West
spade 10 8 3
heart J 7 5 4 2
diamond A 6 5
club Q 3
-
North
spade K J 9 4
heart Q 6
diamond Q 4
club A K 10 7 2
-
East
spade 6 2
heart K 10 3
diamond K J 10 7 3
club J 5
Jr
South
spade A Q 7 5
heart A 9
diamond 9 2
club 9 6 4
Jr Jr
 
West North East South
Pass 13club pass 13spade
Pass 4spade 3club pass
2diamond pass pass 2heart
raise 2spade raise re-raise
pass pass pass

What happened here?

  • West is not comfortable with his potential hearts and passes.
  • North shows his clubs on information level, which invite the partner to show his suit(s).
  • East refuses to show his position and passes (he hopes that North/South will stray into diamonds).
  • South show his spades
  • West passes.
  • North accepts spades on level 4 (looks very prosperous!).
  • East now wakes up and demands that his partner bid diamonds by bidding 3 clubs.
  • South passes to see how many diamonds West actually can bid (if it is only 0 or 1 trick South/East are in trouble).
  • West supports East with 2 diamonds.
  • North and East accept the 2 diamonds.
  • South is not keen on the diamonds and forces North down to 2 spades by bidding 2 hearts.
  • West takes the free opportunity to show to East that he wishes a raise in the 2spade-contract. He can do that without risk, because he knows that North has to bid 2 spades, and thereby release him from the raise.
  • North must obey South and bid 2 spades.
  • East could now pass or demand 1 diamond, but he follows the hint from West and raises the 2 spades.
  • South should normally pass here, but he smells blood and re-raises.
  • West, North and East accept, there is no reasonable escape.
  • Now the other 3 players must commit themselves to the number of tricks they want to take, before the playing starts.

Is South out of his mind, re-raising when the partner is forced down in 2spade from originally 4spade? Not necessarily so. North is fixed on 2spade, East follows with 2 also. South would originally have claimed 4, but since North needs extra support to get rid of the 2 obvious overtricks, and South doesn't want to be rivaled by West (2+2+4+4=12 tricks), so South claims 5. West is now not allowed to claim 4, because of the 13 trick rule. It would be suicidal to claim 5 because North and South were originally good for 8 (4+4) tricks, alas he has go down to 3. Even though they were put under pressure, North/South got out of the battle with a reasonable dominant 7-5 bid.

There is a left over trick, so maybe the players will play to avoid tricks? Not a good idea! If East and West slow play their hands and give 2 easy tricks away, North and South will change their strategy. Originally they have shown strength at 4 + 4 tricks, with 2 cheap tricks they can take 10 tricks, which very well may kill both their opponents' contracts. North and South will then win 50-10 on placement points.

I would say that things look quite good for North/South. The unpleasant high spades in North's hand are covered by the South's high spades, and when South during the game leads a joker, North can get rid of a trump or another high card if necessary. When this is said we actually don't know who is going to win, and that is just wonderful, because that is what makes Beyond fun and interesting to play.

Playing technique

The optimum play of the cards can require much thought and experience, and is too complicated to describe in a short article. However, below are some common good pieces of advice.

The first lead is often not as crucial as in other trick games. If you have a singleton it is obvious to play it. But you might as well start with an unpleasant middle sequence of 9-10-J which you want to get rid of, to find out whether you will get tricks from it or not. The sooner you know the outcome of your uncertain suits, the better chance you have to change plans if necessary. Often it is a good idea if the player with the lowest contract “goes home” first, because the partner with the highest contract can offer some “protection” in the following leads. In general don’t lead a low card if your partner has just fulfilled his contract, give him a chance to dump some junk-cards first.

How do you use the jokers?

In most other trick-taking games the joker just has a trivial function. But in Beyond the Jokers make the outcome more unpredictable, so even if you have good cards you need to be on your “toes” to make a good win.

The jokers are not safe themselves because they can be covered by other jokers, but they certainly make life unsafe for trumps in the endgame. If you don’t want to risk losing a trump to a joker-lead you need to be “home on the ranch” before endplay. However if you go home early and still have potential tricks on the hand you may very well be the loser in the end. Each game has its own (exciting) dilemmas, but in general the threat of joker-leads push some players so much to take their tricks early that even if the sum of the contracts is only 12 tricks there will still be a fight to get home first.

The first lead is very rarely a joker, because it gives the opponents' team the opportunity to get rid of singletons or junk cards. If a player has 2 jokers, he is most likely to be the first one to lead a joker. Usually he only wins the trick if his teammate has the 3rd joker. But even though the 1st joker is covered, the 2nd joker is now a sure trick, if the holder of the joker has a side entry - a very dangerous weapon in the endplay.

It can be an idea to lead a joker if your teammate has fulfilled his contract. This gives him the opportunity to get rid of a high trump or other risky card. But remember it gives the opponents the opportunity to get rid of their junk cards too.

Very often nobody leads a joker until the endplay. This creates a thrilling finish where even the holders of high trumps may wave goodbye to safe tricks.

Now and then the amusing situation occurs where a player is forced to take an overtrick if he didn't get rid of his joker in time and the last lead is a joker.

If you have 3 jokers on your hand, you can only count them as 3 tricks if you have strong trumps also. Remember that because of the blocking rule, you need to make a suit lead after each joker. (Actually the blocking rule is made to protect the other players from trivial use of 3 jokers in the same hand).

Mathematically, the jokers are distributed among 3 hands in 40% of cases, 2 and 1 in 55% and all 3 in one hand in 5% only.

How to play when the total commitment hits 12 (occurs in around 60% of deals)

There is a natural predominance of this number, as most players prefer to commit themselves to 2 rather than 3 tricks, when they estimate 2 and a half tricks on their hand.

When playing it is dangerous to let the other party get their tricks early and easy, because they can often make a counter-attack, if they get an overtrick in the midplay. Even in the endplay there is danger. If you need the rest of the tricks to fullfil your contract, you will not be safe, even if you have the ace of trump, if an opponent makes a joker-attack.

So in most of these plays there is actually some fight for the tricks, in spite of the unwanted over trick.

How to play when the total commitment hits 11 (occurs in around 15% of deals)

This happens often when the trump holder has been forced down under pressure. It is certainly worth considering a "raise" if you believe the opponents have ended up in a sacrifice bid. Obviously it is not attractive to take tricks in this kind of game. However it can be dangerous to give the other party 2-3 cheap tricks in the beginning, since they can switch tactics and go for 3 overtricks instead, which means that you or your partner can't make your contract.

How to play when the total commitment hits 14 (occurs in around 20% of deals)

Congratulations, you find yourself in a dogfight. In these games, it is a "mortal sin" to give the opponent team easy tricks. An easy trick you give to the opponent team, is the trick your teammate will miss in the end. There is, as you know, one trick too little for everyone to be fed. However, if you discover that the opponents possess all 3 jokers, it might be a good idea to limit the loss, by "granting" one of them an overtrick.

How to play when total commitment hits 15 or more (occurs in less than 1% of deals)

This is an unusual situation. Usually it indicates that one player possesses all 3 jokers. 3 jokers in one hand are 3 sure tricks, if the joker-holder has a strong trump suit.

How to play when the total commitment hits 10 or less (occurs in less than 1% of deals)

This is an unusual situation. It only occurs as a result of hazardous sacrifice bidding or bluff (which is non recommendable).

How to play in a pass-round (occurs in about 5% of deals)

A risky affair that often can go either way. Loss/win seldom goes above 50 points. It is important when possible, to play a suit which enables your teammate to dump high cards from other suits.

Duplicated cards

It is very recommendable to play Beyond with duplicated cards, however you need at least 8 players. As in Bridge tournaments each deal is preserved for the entirety of the tournament session rather than being reshuffled. In this way, each time it is played, the results for different players will be comparable and the element of chance due to some players having better cards is largely eliminated.

Accessories

When you have found out that Beyond has come to stay in your life, you should make yourself a "bidding box". A player wishing to make a call displays the appropriate card from piles on the table, rather than making an oral declaration. This prevents unauthorized information (i.e. anything other than the call itself) from being conveyed via voice inflection.

The cards can be made of: board, laminated paper or small tile. Making a card covering each legal bid is too much. But you can make cards for each player with numbers from 0-13, and cards with the 6 strains (if you want to bid 5 clubs you put a number 5 card and a club card in front of you). Also you need: "pass", "raise" and "re-raise" cards.You can contact the author for further help.

If you want to help new players you can make a beginners' kit. Here the numbers from 10-13 are in red, to remind players that they must remember not to pass. The numbers from 4-9 you make green. The numbers from 0-3 yellow, to remind players to consider whether it is a support bid or a demand bid.