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Okinawa

Okinawa is a variant of Back Alley, invented by Messrs. Schumacher and Kottinger. This description was contributed by

Deck: Standard 52 card deck

Players: 4

Card Ranking: Ace high - 2 low.

Object: Achieve the highest score in 13 hands.

Gameplay:

For the first five hands:

Two teams of two sit, each player opposite their partner. A dealer is selected, who deals five cards to each player. The deal is followed by the first round of bidding, which begins left of dealer. For one rotation each player evaluates their hand and bids on how many tricks they believe they can take. Each bid must be higher than all previous bids (e.g. if someone has bid 3 tricks, you could not also bid three, or anything lower than three, but you could bid higher). A player who does not wish to bid can say "pass" instead. The highest bidder wins the right to select whichever suit they choose as trump. Once trump is selected, there is a second rotation of bidding where the remaining three players (starting to the left of the player who selected trump) bid on how many tricks they believe they can take, and the total bids for each team are recorded.

The player to the left of the dealer leads whichever card they choose. Play continues clockwise, and all players MUST follow the suit that is led if possible. If a player does not have any cards of the suit that is led, that player may play any card, including trump. If a player plays trump, it will beat any other card played excepting higher cards of the trump suit. Assuming no trumps are played, the highest card of the suit lead takes the trick. Whoever takes a trick leads the following trick, until all tricks are played for the hand. The deck is reshuffled*, and the next hand is dealt by the person to the left of the last dealer. The turn to deal continues to pass clockwise throughout the game.

(*Note: It can be more efficient to play with two decks. The partner of the player dealing shuffles the cards of the last hand and places them to the right, for the next dealer. This is hardly a requirement, just a way to get more playing time in.)

Scoring:

For each trick that a team bids and makes, the team is awarded 5 points. For each additional trick the team makes in excess of those bid, the team is awarded 1 extra point. However, if a team bids more tricks than they make, the team loses 5 points for every trick they bid (example: Team A bids 2 tricks and makes 3, Team A would score 11 points. Team B bids 3 tricks and makes 2, Team B would LOSE 15 points).

If a player believes that their team can take every trick of the hand, they may bid Okinawa. If an Okinawa is bid and made, that team is awarded 5 points for each trick and an additional 50 points. If an Okinawa is bid and NOT made, the team will lose 5 points for each trick they bid. Okinawa is permitted during both rounds of bidding, so, for example, if a player wins the first round of bidding and calls spades as trump, and his/her partner has a very strong spade hand, the partner may call Okinawa on the hand. (VARIATION: A failed Okinawa loses 5 points per trick AS WELL AS the 50 point bonus.)

After five hands:

All the former rules apply, but from the sixth hand on, one extra card is dealt for every hand, so 6 cards for the sixth hand, 7 cards for the seventh, 8 for the eighth, etc. Also, from this point on, during the FIRST round of bidding before trump is selected, a player may ask his/her partner permission "throw up," given these specific conditions: the player requesting to throw up must be holding no face cards, no aces, and two or fewer tens. This rule is to ensure that no hand can be too unbalanced, especially in the later hands when most cards are in play. So, a sixth round throw up hand could be heart2 club4 club5 diamond7 diamond10 spade10. If your partner asks to throw up, normally you should allow it, but you do not NEED to let your partner throw up. For example, if you're holding a straight flush A-9, you would probably say no, but otherwise saying no is kind of shooting yourself in the foot, since you know you will have no support from partner. Be assured, if you don't have a damn good hand and deny your partner the option to throw up, you will hear about it... sometimes for years afterwards. If the partner grants a throw up, the player who asked for it displays their hand to prove it valid, all the cards are thrown in and reshuffled and the entire hand is re-dealt. (VARIATIONS: Some people do not allow throw up hands at all. Others only allow a throw up hand with a maximum of one ten.)

Score Boards:

There are differing opinions on what makes a good score board, but at minimum you need a column for each teams' Bids and Score. Some prefer a slightly more involved score board, with more information about why teams won/lost each hand, so include columns for Bid, Made (to see how short hands that went down were), Score, and Trump (because it's nice to see which team called trump, and what their tendencies are). Here are some ready-made excel spreadsheet score boards that people can print - simple and complex.

Family tradition demands a check mark next to the score for the leading team after each hand. Probably this is solely for the purpose of smack talking each other.

Further notes

As in most partnership card games, partners are not allowed to talk across the table for strategy, but you find strategies to comminicate with your partner by the cards you play. For example if you're void in trump, you may sluff off (discard) a low card of your strong suit, thus telling your partner to lead that suit. [This is a matter for partnership understanding - if my partner has trump control, I would prefer to discard to indicate my weak suit, keeping my strong suit intact. JM]

There are other aspects of strategy that can be debated endlessly, like the relative value of bidding four tricks on a five card hand, where so many cards are left in the deck. To be sure you can get four, and with luck you should have a good chance of taking the fifth for the Okinawa bonus. If you're not sure enough to get the Okinawa, you should be bidding three.

The highest score in the author's recorded history (all scores are preserved in a special notebook), was 304, and another game that same night was 302, but most games the high score is about half that. The games tend to last somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour.

What makes the game great is that people's "card personalities" really come out. People who bid high and recklessly tend to have dramatic shifts in score, in both directions, while more timid players tend to leave far too many points on the table from bidding short. And having 4 players gives you different pairing possibilities. No matter what happens, the game is a great excuse to sit around, have fun, and talk shit all night.


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Last updated 8th March 2010