Nap

Introduction

This page is about the British game known as Napoleon or Nap for short. There is a completely different Japanese game, also known as Napoleon - details can be found on the Japanese Napoleon page of this site.

Nap is straightforward trick taking game in which players receive five cards each; whoever bids the highest number of tricks chooses trumps and tries to win at least that many. It first appeared in the late 19th century. It may be less popular now than it was, but it is still played in some parts of southern England, in Strathclyde, Scotland, and perhaps in some other places in Britain. It is usual to play for small stakes and settle up after each hand.

Players and cards

Nap could be played by as few as three players, but it is better with four or more. There are no permanent partnerships; in each hand the high bidder plays against a team consisting of all the other players.

A standard 52 card pack is used, the cards in each suit ranking from high to low: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2. Formerly it was played with the full pack, but nowadays many players prefer to reduce the pack by taking out the low cards of each suit, so reducing the number of undealt cards. For example three players might play with 24 cards (A-K-Q-J-10-9), four with 28 (from ace down to 8) and five with 32 (ace down to seven).

Deal

In most schools the cards are shuffled only at the start of the game and after a successful bid of 5 (Nap) or above. Otherwise they are just gathered together and cut by the player to dealer's right. The dealer deals five cards to each player - a batch of three each followed by a batch of two each, or two each followed by three each.

Deal and play are clockwise, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

Bidding

The bidding starts with the player to dealer's left, goes around the table clockwise and ends with the bidder. Each player has just one chance to speak and at your turn you must either pass or bid more than the highest bid so far. The possible bids, in ascending order, are:

  • Three - the bidder undertakes to win at least three tricks.
  • Four - the bidder undertakes to win at least four tricks.
  • Nap (or Five) - the bidder undertakes to win all five tricks.
  • Wellington - the bidder undertakes to win all five tricks (same as Nap, but for a higher reward). Wellington can only be bid if another player has already bid Nap.
If all pass, the hand is not played, and the next dealer shuffles and deals.

Play

The high bidder leads to the first trick and the suit of this first card played by the bidder is trumps for the hand.

Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trumps, by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick may leads to the next trick.

In all tricks, players must follow suit, playing a card of the same suit that was led if they can. A player who has no card of the suit led is free to play any card - either trumping or discarding from another suit.

Scoring

If the bidder is successful each of the other players pays the bidder depending on the bid:

  • Three: 3 units
  • Four: 4 units
  • Five (Nap): 5 units
  • Wellington: 10 units
If the bidder wins insufficent tricks, the bidder must pay each opponent the same amount that he would have won.

Variations

Additional bids are allowed by some groups as follows:

  • Two: A bid to win two tricks - if allowed this is the lowest bid, worth 2 units and ranking below Three.
  • Mis, also known as Misère: A bid to lose every trick - it fails if the opponents can force the bidder to win a trick. It is worth 3 points and ranks between Three and Four in the bidding.
  • Blücher: A bid to win all five tricks. It can only be bid after another player has bid Wellington, and is worth 20 units. (This bid is presumably named after Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Prince of Wahlstadt, a Prussian general who led his army against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.)

Some players double the payment for Nap, Wellington or Blücher if they are won but not if they are lost. Some double them whether won or lost - paying 10 for Nap, 20 for Wellington and 40 for Blücher.

In the variation Purchase Nap, before the bidding each player may pay a fixed stake - typically 1 unit - to a pool, and discard any number of cards. The dealer then gives the player an equal number of replacement cards from the undealt stock. The pool is won by the first player who bids Nap, Wellington or Blücher and wins five tricks.

Nap with a floater

This modern variation of Nap was first described to me by Darren Holmes. It is played in the South of England, specifically in Hastings and Reading; maybe also in other places. Michael Harris reports having played with a floater on Teesside in Northeast England in the 1960's, but including the full range of bids (from two up and Misère) listed in the variations section above. Ken Short played another version in the 1970's in Aylesbury and in the 1950's in Dorset.

There can be from three to seven players, and the pack is reduced as follows:

  • 3 players: use 20 cards (A-K-Q-J-10 of each suit)
  • 4 players: use 24 cards (A-K-Q-J-10-9 of each suit)
  • 5 players: use 28 cards (A-K-Q-J-10-9-8 of each suit)
  • 6 players: use 32 cards (A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7 of each suit)
  • 7 players: use 36 cards (A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6 of each suit)

The cards are only shuffled at the start of the game and after a bid of Nap or above has been won.

Before each deal, each player must pay 1 unit into the pool or kitty. Then five cards are dealt to each player, and one 'floater' card is dealt face down in the middle. The bidding begins with the player to dealer's left and goes once round the table. Each player, immediately before bidding, can view the floater without showing it to the other players on payment of one more unit to the kitty.

Each bid can be with or without the floater: a bid without the floater ranks immediately above the corresponding bid with the floater. If the winning bid is with the floater, the high bidder can pick up the floater card and discard one unwanted card (possibly the same one) before leading to the first trick.

Note that you are allowed to bid 'with the floater' even if you have not paid to look at it in advance, and conversely, you might pay to look at the floater, and then choose to bid 'without the floater', knowing that the card will not help you.

The lowest bid allowed in this version is four tricks with the floater. The bids in ascending order and the payments for them are as follows.

BidMeaningBidder winsBidder loses
Four with floaterBidder must win at least 4 tricksReceive 2 from each playerPay 2 x (number of players) to the kitty
Four without floaterBidder must win at least 4 tricksReceive 2 from each playerPay 2 x (number of players) to the kitty
Nap with floaterWin all 5 tricksWin the kitty plus 5 from each playerPay 5 x (number of players) to the kitty
Nap without floaterWin all 5 tricksWin the kitty plus 5 from each playerPay 5 x (number of players) to the kitty
Bonaparte with floaterWin all 5 tricks; lead your lowest trump to the first trickWin the kitty plus 10 from each playerPay 10 x (number of players) to the kitty
Bonaparte without floaterWin all 5 tricks; lead your lowest trump to the first trickWin the kitty plus 10 from each playerPay 10 x (number of players) to the kitty
Wellington with floaterWin all 5 tricks; lead your lowest non-trump to the first trickWin the kitty plus 20 from each playerPay 20 x (number of players) to the kitty
Wellington without floaterWin all 5 tricks; lead your lowest non-trump to the first trickWin the kitty plus 20 from each playerPay 20 x (number of players) to the kitty

For example, if there are five players and you bid Nap and win, you collect the kitty and win an additional 20 units (5 from each player); if you lose, you put 25 in the kitty and pay nothing directly to the other players. Notice that as the kitty grows larger it becomes more attractive to attempt a risky bid.

The highest bidder chooses trumps and plays the first card. The rules of play are as usual. Players must follow suit if they can; otherwise they play a card of their choice. The player who played the highest ranking card of the same suit as the leader wins the trick, unless one or more trumps are played, in which case the highest trump wins. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

Should everyone pass, no one being willing to bid as many as four tricks, then the cards are collected in and redealt by the person left of the dealer; as usual each player pays 1 unit to the kitty before the new deal.

Note that in Wellington you are obliged to lead a non-trump. It follows that a player who has five cards of the same suit cannot in practice bid higher than "Wellington with the floater", and even that bid is viable only if the floater is a different suit: the player would need to discard a trump and lead the floater. If you do find yourself playing Wellington and all your cards are the same suit, your only legal option is to name a different suit as trumps, but you will certainly lose this bid when one of your cards is trumped.

In Ken Short's Aylesbury version there was no Wellington bid and the Bonaparte bid was known as Napoleon (as distinct from Nap). In his Dorset version the bids were 3 with, 3 without, 4 with, 4 without and Nap, which was the highest bid. There was no equivalent of Bonaparte or Wellington.

Links to other Nap pages and software

There was another set of Nap rules on Dave Barker's web site. Here is an archive copy of his Napoleon page.

Derek Lazenby has written a Nap program for Windows, which plays with a 28-card deck (ace to 8).