Fifty Six

This page is based on information from Raj Nair and from the web site www.56cards.com.

Introduction

This is one of a group of South Asian trick-taking games in which the Jack and the Nine are the highest cards in every suit. It is almost certain that they are related to the European family of Jass games, which originated in the Netherlands. 56 (Ambathiyaaru) is popular in the southern province of Kerala, India. It is an expanded form of the simpler game 28, played with a double pack.

Players and Cards

56 can be played by four, six or eight players, divided into two fixed partnerships. The players from the two teams sit alternately, each player between two opponents.

The four- and six-player versions are played with 48 cards - all the Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, Tens and Nines from two standard 52-card packs. The cards in each of the suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) rank from high to low: J-9-A-10-K-Q. When eight play the Eights and Sevens are added as the lowest cards of each suit, making a 64-card pack. The aim of the game is to win tricks containing valuable cards. The values of the cards are:

Jacks3 points each
Nines2 points each
Aces1 point each
Tens1 point each
Other cards (K, Q, 8, 7)       no points

This gives a total of 56 points for cards, hence the name of the game.

Some of the low cards (2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) not used in playing the game are used for keeping score. These cards are known as tables. One team begins the game with 12 red tables (hearts and diamonds) and the other with 12 black tables (hearts and spades). After each hand, the losing team has to give the appropriate number of tables to the winning team, as explained under "scoring". When a team loses a hand and does not have enough tables left to pay the winners, they have lost the match.

Deal and Bidding

The deal, bidding and play are clockwise according to some sources, but counter-clockwise according to others. This page is written assuming counter-clockwise play. If you are playing clockwise, 'left' and 'right' should be reversed throughout.

The first dealer is chosen by drawing cards - highest deals. The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's left cuts, and the dealer deals out all the cards in batches of four at a time. Each player thus has a hand of 12 cards in a 4-player game, and 8 cards in a 6-player or 8-player game, since the 8-player game uses 64 cards.

The player to dealer's right bids first, and the bidding continues counter-clockwise around the table. Each bid specifies a number of points and a trump suit or 'no trumps'. The team that makes the last and highest bid has the objective of taking at least the number of points bid, with the trump suit (or no trumps) specified in the bid. The minimum bid is 28 and the maximum is of course 56.

In the bidding, all suits and 'no trumps' are equal; each bid must be numerically higher than the previous bid. A player who does not wish to bid can pass. If the most recent bid was made by an opponent, then at your turn, instead of bidding or passing, you can 'double' the bid. If the most recent bid was a double by an opponent of a bid made by a member of your team, then you can 'redouble' at your turn. A redouble ends the auction.

If everyone passes initially, the hand is played in no trumps, and scored as though the dealer's opponents had bid 28. If someone bids, the bidding continues until either there is a redouble, or a bid or double is followed by passes from all the other players in succession. The trump suit and objective are then as specified in the last and highest bid.

When bidding, there are several different forms of words that can be used. These are generally given conventional meanings, and used to convey information to one's partner(s) about what cards are held.

When no one has previously bid, there are four styles that can be used:

  1. Number followed by suit - e.g. 28 Clubs
  2. Suit followed by number - e.g. Clubs 28
  3. Number followed by 'No-trump' - e.g. 28 No-trump
  4. Number followed by 'Noes' - e.g. 28 Noes

After a bid by another player, two additional styles are possible, indicating the number by which the bid is increased:

  1. Plus number followed by suit - e.g. Plus Two Diamonds (which takes the bidding level to 30 if the previous bid was 28)
  2. Plus number followed by 'Noes' - e.g. Plus One Noes (which takes the bidding level to 29 if the previous bid was 28)

Note that in some groups, the suit of Diamonds is known as "Dice", so one would bid "30 Dice", etc., rather than "30 Diamonds".

  • Number followed by suit conventionally shows that you have the highest card(s) of the suit with others. At a minimum level it shows just one top card (a jack, if no cards of this suit have previously been indicated). Jumps can be used to show additional top cards.
  • Suit followed by number shows strength in the suit but without the highest card.
  • 'Plus One' in a suit shows the highest card alone. 'Plus two' would show two top cards alone, and so on.
  • While a bid of 'No-trump' shows general strength without any particularly good suit, a bid of 'Noes' is generally used to indicate that one has no cards at all in the suit most recently bid. No cards in the suit bid before that is variously shown by jumping in Noes or by bidding 'Plus One Noes'.

It is not compulsory to follow the above conventions. In some circumstances it may be a good tactic to make a bid that does not reflect the cards you hold, in order to mislead the opponents.

The Play

The player to the right of the dealer leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if they can. A player who has no card of the suit led may play any card. If a trick contains trumps, it is won by the highest trump played. If two equal trumps are played, the one played earlier ranks higher. If no trumps are played to a trick, it is won by the highest card played of the suit that was led, or by the first played of two equal highest cards of that suit. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

Scoring

The bidders win if the tricks they won contain at least as many points as they bid. Otherwise they lose. The score is kept using "tables" (the low cards not used in play). Each team begins the match with 12 of these tables, and pays or receives tables according to the bid as follows:

BidBidding team winsBidding team loses
28 to 39receive 1 tablepay 2 tables
40 to 47receive 2 tablespay 3 tables
48 to 55receive 3 tablespay 4 tables
56receive 4 tablespay 5 tables

Bids of 40 and above are sometimes known as Honours.

If the final bid was doubled, the number of tables paid or received is doubled. If it was redoubled, the number of tables paid or received is multiplied by 4.

Variations

Some groups do not allow everyone to pass. If you are the last player of the non-dealer's team to bid and everyone before you has passed, you are forced to bid at least 28. This means that by the time the bidding reaches the dealer, there has always been at least one bid.

Some play that if any player has no points (his hand consists entirely of Kings and Queens), the cards are thrown in and redealt by the same dealer.

Some play that in the unlikely case where one player is dealt all eight Jacks, the cards must be thrown in and redealt by the same dealer.

Some play with slightly different scoring:

  • In one version, all bids from 40 to 55 win 2 or lose 3; a bid of 56 wins 3 or loses 4.
  • In another version bids from 40 to 48 win 2 or lose 3 and all bids of 49 or more win 3 or lose 4.

As in 28, some play a variation called 'Cot': if the winning team wins all the tricks they win twice the usual number of tables. To prevent this, their opponents can offer to surrender before the end of the play. If the winning side accepts the surrender, play ends and they just win the ordinary number of tables for the bid; if the winning side insists on playing on and wins all the tricks, they win twice the usual number of tables for their bid, but if they lose any tricks at all, they lose twice the usual number of tables for their bid.

Other 56 Web Sites

Another description of 56 can be found on Raj Nair's 56 page.

Nalinap's Fifty Six site includes a detailed introduction and tutorial for the six-player version of 56, and an invitation to join a 56 club.

From GamesOnlineCorner you can download the Windows program Playsoft, which allows you to play 56 or 28 (or chess) online against live opponents.