Honeymoon Whist

Jonny Groves writes:

Honeymoon Whist is an improvement of the version of two-player Whist I invented almost ten years ago that Grandma and I played. I state the rules for this old version in this article for comparison with the new version I call Honeymoon Whist (I derived this name from Honeymoon Bridge, which is a name for variants of Bridge for two players). I e-mailed John McLeod in April 2005 the rules so that he could put them on his website; but, shortly after, he mentioned some of the problems with my rules. Then he mentioned his version of German Whist that fixes some of the problems with my rules. He later referred me to the rules of the version of German Whist partly contributed by Alan Holdsworth that is stated on his website (John McLeod mentioned this other version of German Whist only because I looked at it to get the complete rules and noticed it differed from the version he had earlier described to me). He also mentioned a few rules recommended by David Parlett. I had decided to improve my version of two-player Whist but have not done so till recently. He told me he would later mention those problems and possible improvements, but he has yet to have done so. So I mention those problems with some of these versions of two-player Whist and how the current rules for Honeymoon Whist fix them.

In this article, German Whist refers to the version partly contributed by Alan Holdsworth, unless otherwise stated.

Object. To be the first player to score 14 points by winning tricks.

Cards and Deal. Use a standard deck of 52 cards with two distinguishable Jokers (one called High Joker and the other called Low Joker) added. Dealer shuffles the deck, and nondealer cuts if he wishes. The dealer then deals thirteen cards to each player, sets the rest of the deck on the table as a stock, turns over the top card of the stock, and sets this card face up on top of the deck. The suit of this card determines trump. If the card is one of the Jokers, then Spades is the trump suit for the hand.

Rank of Cards. In the trump suit, the cards rank High Joker, Low Joker, Ace, King, and so on down to 2. In the non-trump suits, the cards rank from Ace down to 2 in the usual manner for Whist.

Playing the Hand - Phase 1. Nondealer leads to the first trick; thereafter, the winner of a trick leads to the next trick. A trick is won by the higher card of the suit led if no trump card is played. If a trump card is played, the higher trump card wins the trick. In Phase 1, the stock is still on the table. During Phase 1, players are not required to follow suit. In other words, the opponent of the one who leads a trick may play any card; he may choose to follow suit or trump even if he can follow suit, or he may play a card of another suit that is not the trump suit. The winner of the first trick takes the face-up card, and the other takes the card below it and does not show it to his opponent. Then he turns the top card face-up on top of the stock. The players then continue playing tricks as before with the winner of the trick taking the face-up card and the other player taking the card below it. The winner of a trick leads to the next trick.

Note: The rules for German Whist in Phase 1 are similar to the rules for Phase 1 in Honeymoon Whist except that players are required to follow suit if they can (but are not required to trump if they cannot follow suit). However, this rule is unenforceable because a player who breaks the rule (say, he trumps a diamond lead) and is later caught (say, by playing a diamond) can justify himself by saying he drew that card sometime after that previous trick. And his opponent cannot prove him wrong. Thus, I have decided to suspend this particular rule from this game. But I do like the idea of placing the top card face-up so that the players have some idea of whether it is better to win or to lose the trick. In fact, John McLeod had told me that his version of German Whist uses the same rules for Phase 1 in Honeymoon Whist for the same reason I have these rules for Phase 1.

Note: My original version of two-player Whist I played with Grandma used these rules for Phase 1: (1). Players must follow suit if they can (but are not required to trump if they cannot follow suit); (2). the top card of the stock after the deal remains face-up beside the stock the entire duration of Phase 1; (3). no cards from the stock except the first one are turned face-up; (4). when the stock is down to one card, the winner of the last trick in Phase 1 takes the face-down card, and the other player takes the face-up card. According to John McLeod, both versions of German Whist make the second through fourth rules for my old version of two-player Whist more interesting because they add strategy to the game. I agree.

Playing the Hand - Phase 2. Phase 2 begins once the stock is depleted. In Phase 2, players must follow suit (but are not required to trump if they cannot follow suit). All other rules for Phase 1 apply except that there is no drawing of cards after tricks are won.

Scoring and Winning the Game. A player scores 1 point for each trick won in excess of 13. For example, a player who wins 15 tricks scores 2 points (15-13 = 2). A player who wins 13 or fewer tricks scores nothing. The first player to score 14 or more points wins the game. Since there are 27 tricks total per deal, only one player scores points on a deal (thus, it is not possible for both players to reach 14 or more points on the same deal).

Note: In German Whist, the only tricks that count toward the score are those won in Phase 2. The purpose of Phase 1 in German Whist is to build the hand with as many trumps and high cards as possible in preparation for Phase 2. The rule requiring players to follow suit makes it possible for the leader of a trick to lose the next trick if the top card of the stock is a low card of a non-trump suit. If players are not required to follow suit, the leader will find it almost impossible to lose the trick in this case. However, in John McLeod’s version, the players score for all tricks won, including those won in Phase 1. With these better rules, players may not necessarily gain anything by trying to lose a trick (thus, winning a trick and then drawing a low card is not necessarily bad). John McLeod had mentioned to me that David Parlett recommends one point per trick in Phase 1 and two per trick in Phase 2 and recommends playing Phase 1 as no-trump. I agree with John McLeod in that there appears to be no advantage in playing Phase 1 as no-trump. Both his and David Parlett’s version add to the strategy in Phase 1 by counting tricks won in this phase, so I have decided that in Honeymoon Whist any trick won either gives the winner a point or pushes the winner one step closer to scoring points.

Note: In the usual four-player Whist, a partnership scores nothing if it takes in 6 or fewer tricks and scores 1 point per trick in excess of 6 otherwise. First side to score 7 or more points wins the game. My version of two-player Whist with Grandma had this rule as well, but we played to 50. In usual Whist, only one side scores on a deal, and the side that takes all the tricks wins the game even if this hand is the first hand of the game. But in my old version of two-player Whist, both players can score on the same deal, and it is impossible for one player to win the game in one hand (15 is the maximum score per hand). To make Honeymoon Whist work the same way in scoring in usual Whist, I had noted that counting only those tricks in excess of 13 makes it impossible for both players to score on the same deal (since there are 27 tricks total). Game score is 14 since a player who wins all tricks scores 14. Adding both Jokers gives an odd number of total tricks so that one player will score (if there were no Jokers and everything else the same, both players score nothing if each wins 13 tricks).

Versions of Honeymoon Whist. 1. Instead of making Spades trump suit if a Joker is the first face-up card, players may agree beforehand to change this to a different suit or even to play the entire hand at no-trump.

2. Instead of playing with two distinguishable Jokers, players may agree to this alternate rule (especially if both Jokers in the deck are not distinguishable): A Joker wins the trick it is played on if the other card is not a Joker; if both cards are Jokers, the Joker led wins the trick (similar to the rule in most versions of Pinochle that specify which of two identical cards in a trick wins).

3. Players may agree to play to a score higher than 14.

Final Note. German Whist and my previous version of two-player Whist will work as a computer game since the rule requiring the players to follow suit in Phase 1 can be enforced.