Minnesota Whist

This page based on contributions from Marisa Johnson, Tanya Veverka, Bill and Rita Rabe, Rand Allgaier and ErikPeter Walker.

Introduction

This game is very popular in Minnesota, USA, where it is just called Whist. It seems certain that it was brought there by settlers from Norway. It is also played in South Dakota, which has a high proportion of people of Norwegian ancestry. It is extremely similar to a Scandinavian game, often listed in English language card game books under the name Norwegian Whist. The main difference from the European version is that in America a black card indicates that one wants to play "high" (aiming to win tricks) and a red card is a vote for "low" (avoiding tricks), while in Europe red means high and black means low.

Players

There are four players in two fixed partnerships. Partners sit facing each other. The game is played clockwise.

Cards

A standard 52 card pack is used. The cards in each suit rank from highest to lowest: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. There are no trumps.

Deal

The dealer deals out all the cards one at a time so that each player has 13.

High / Low Bids

Each hand is played either "high" or "low". If it is played "high", the partnership that takes at least 7 of the 13 tricks scores points. If it is played "low", a partnership must take 6 or fewer tricks to avoid losing points.

All four players indicate whether they wish to play the hand as "high" or "low" by simultaneously placing a card face down in front of them. A black card indicates that they wish to play "high"; a red card indicates that they wish to play "low" (sometimes known as "nullo"). Usually players pick their lowest red or black card to represent their bid.

Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each person turns over their bidding card in turn. If the card is red, the next player to the left turns over their card. If any card is black, all revealing of bid cards stops and the hand is played "high". Only if all four bidding cards are red is the hand played "low".

The partnership containing the person who showed black first is said to have "granded".

Play and Scoring with High Bid

The player to the right of the person who granded leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit. The player of the highest card in the suit led wins the trick and leads to the next. When all 13 tricks have been played, the side which won more tricks scores 1 point for each trick they won in excess of 6.

Play and Scoring with Low Bid

The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit. The player of the highest card in the suit led wins the trick and leads to the next. When all 13 tricks have been played, the side which won more tricks loses 1 point for each trick they have in excess of 6.

End of the Game

The partnership which first reaches 13 points wins the game. This takes several deals.

Variations

2 points per trick for a failed grand
Many play that if a high bid fails - that is the side that did not grand takes more than 6 tricks, they receive 2 points for each trick they won in excess of 6. If the side that granded wins more than 6 tricks, they receive just 1 point for each trick in excess of 6 as usual. This type of scoring reflects the idea that granding is like undertaking a contract, and the penalty for failing should be greater than the reward for succeeding.
Askov Rules
This version, reported by ErikPeter Walker, is played to 15 points. In a Black/High hand if the opponents of the pair that granded win, they score 2 points per trick in excess of 6.
There are two additional options. A player can bid Sola Nola or Grand Dix. In both of these special cases, the player who makes the bid plays alone against the other partnership while their partner sits out. A player may bid Sola Nola or Grand Dix to overrule another bid, and a bid of Grand Dix overrules Sola Nola. For example, if one player shows a black card, which would start a High hand, another player (even one who has already bid red/Low) could say "Sola Nola" to overrule the black bid. The player who had bid Black might in turn bid Grand Dix if he was confident. A player can even overrule his own partner's bid.
By bidding Sola Nola, (akin to Nolo in other games), the player undertakes to win no tricks. Before the first lead, the player who made the bid and his partner must trade one card - each simultaneously passes a card across face down across the table. The opposing player to the right of the bidder leads the first card.
By bidding Grand Dix, the player undertakes to win the first seven tricks (despite the name, which suggests it once required taking ten). In this mode of play, there is no trade of cards, but the bidding player's partner leads the first card before sitting out the rest of the hand. Obviously the partner must choose wisely so as not to force their partner's defeat.
Players do not score points for Sola Nola or Grand Dix. Instead, the successful partnership scores a "Star", which counts as a whole game won by the partnership (effectively 15 points). The current score is unaffected. As an example, when one partnership wins by reaching 15 or more points, the losers pay the winners 15 cents for the game and an additional 15 cents for each star they had earned. Thus stars have the effect of "upping the stakes", because the losing partnership's stars count for nothing at the end of the game.
South Dakota Whist
In this variant, reported by Rand Allgaier, a player who "goes black" also leads to the first trick, and the suit led is trump for that deal. (A trick to which a trump is played is won by the highest trump in it, not by the highest card of the suit led as usual. Players must follow suit as usual. Players unable to follow suit may play a trump or sluff a card of any other suit.) The team of the player that "goes black" scores 1 point for each trick above 6 that they win. If they win fewer than 7 tricks, they lose 1 point for each trick below 7. The other team does not score. If everyone "goes red", the team that takes 7 or more tricks loses one point for each trick in excess of 6. The game is played to 11 points rather than 13.
Whist parties
Whist is sometimes played in parties, with several tables playing at the same time, and the players moving after each game. In one format, suitable for three or four tables, the tables are numbered from highest to lowest. After each game, the winning pair moves to the next higher table (the winners on the top table remaining on the top table) and the losing pair moves to the next lower table (the losers on the bottom table staying there). Players swap partners on all but the top table, where the winning pairs from the top two tables in the previous round keep their partners and play against each other.

Tactics

The Invite
When a person leads for the first time, it is called an "invite". (Thus there are usually four invites during a game.)
Tactics for the high bid
When playing high, the invite should be the lowest card of the player's best suit. This gives their partner a hint as to what to lead later on if their own hand is weak, yet doesn't give away the true strength of inviter's hand. The inviter's partner should respond by playing their highest card in this suit. This gives the inviter a sense of what the partner has to offer during the hand.
Sometimes when it comes to the partner's turn to invite (after having won a trick), they will choose instead of leading their own suit to lead back their partner's suit. To do this indicates to one's partner that one has a very weak hand.
The most important invite is the first lead by the person who "granded" earlier - this indicates to everyone the strongest suit of a person who considered themselves to have a strong hand.
When sluffing (discarding when you cannot follow suit), a good tactic is to sluff the suit you do not want your partner to lead. That way, after a couple of sluffs, your partner can deduce what suit you are looking for, and you will not have wasted any of the cards in your best suit. However, to avoid misunderstanding, you need to discuss this before the game, because many people sluff a low card from their best suit.
Tactics for the low bid
Playing low is generally considered more difficult than playing high. The invite during a low game should be the highest card of a player's weakest suit. This gives their partner a hint as to what to lead later on. The response of this person's partner is to play their highest card in this suit as well.
In a low bid, the natural tactic would be to sluff cards from a short suit where no low cards are held, so as to get rid of the suit entirely.

Minnesota Whist Software

Malcolm Bain has written a Minnesota Whist program for Windows, with which you can play against computer opponents.

Chris Davidson has released a Whist Portal through which Minnesota Whist can be played online against live opponents.