This page is partly based on a contribution from Bjørnar Strand.
Although the name of this Norwegian game means "American", it is not exactly equivalent to any American card game that I know of. A related game Kani is played in Iceland.
Players and Cards
The usual game is for four players. This is generally agreed to be the best version of the game and will be described first. It is possible for 3 or 5 players to play, and the modifications for this are given later.
A standard international 52-card pack is used, the cards of each suit ranking from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2. Deal and play are clockwise.
The first dealer is chosen by lot and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. Before dealing the dealer shuffles the cards and the player to dealer's right cuts. The cards are dealt out one at a time until each player has 12 cards and the remaining 4 cards are placed face down in the centre of the table to form a kitty.
The player to dealer's left speaks first. Each player in turn may pass or bid a number, which is the number of tricks they undertake to win with the help of a partner if no one bids higher. The minimum bid is 6 and each number bid must be higher than the last. Since there are 12 tricks, the highest number bid is 12, but there is one higher bid 'Amerikaner', which is an undertaking to win all the tricks without the help of a partner.
The bidding continues as many times around the table as needed until no one is willing to bid higher. A player who has passed is not allowed to bid at a subsequent turn. In the unlikely case that all four players pass the cards are thrown in and there is a new deal. If someone bids the bidding continues until three players have passed.
The last and highest bidder picks up the kitty without showing it and discards an equal number of cards face down - the cards discarded can include cards that were picked up.
The bidder leads to the first trick. If the bid was a number the suit led becomes the trump suit for the hand, and the bidder simultaneously calls for a card of that suit that he or she does not hold (normally the highest). The owner of that card must play it to the first trick and thereby becomes the bidder's partner for this deal.
Players must follow suit when possible. A player who is unable to follow suit may play any card. The highest trump, or if no trumps were played, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. The winner of each trick leads to the next.
If the bid was Amerikaner the bidder leads to the first trick and there are no trumps.
If the bidder and partner together win at least as many tricks as they bid, they score the number bid (not the number of tricks they won). If they fail they lose that number of points. Each of the other players scores individually one point for each trick that they won, irrespective of whether the bid succeeded or failed.
Example 1. North bids 8 and West is North's partner. North and West win 9 tricks between them, East wins 2 and South wins 1. North scores +8, West scores +8, South score +1, East scores +2.
Example 2. North bids 8 and South is North's partner. North and South win 7 tricks between them, East wins 2 and West wins 3. North scores -8, West scores +3, South scores -8, East scores +2.
If the final bid was Amerikaner the bidder scores +52 if successful or -52 if not. When an Amerikaner fails the other players each score 1 per trick won as usual.
A cumulative score is kept for each player and the game ends when one or more players have a score of 52 points or more. The player with the highest score wins. Therefore a successful bid of Amerikaner wins the whole game unless the player previously had a negative score.
Three or five players
If there are 3 players, 16 cards each are dealt, there is a kitty of 4 cards, and the minimum bid is 8.
If there are 5 players they are dealt 10 cards each, there are only 2 cards in the kitty, and the minimum bid is 5.
Some players require the bidder to show the kitty before picking up. Some count the kitty as an extra trick of the bidder, in which case the minimum bid should be increased by 1.
Some play without a kitty, so with 52 cards and four players each player is dealt 13. With three players a 2 is removed from the deck and with 5 players two 2's are removed so that the cards can be dealt evenly. The minimum bid is half the total number of tricks rounded up, so 7 if there are 4 players, 9 for three players and 5 for 5 players.
When playing without a kitty when there are more or fewer than 4 players, some add jokers to the deck instead of removing twos: 3 players add 2 jokers, 5 players add 3 jokers, and there is even a 6-player version with 2 jokers and 9 cards each. A joker that is led to a trick automatically wins the trick, and the other players can play whatever card they wish. A player who has no cards of the suit led may discard a joker - in this case the joker has no power and cannot win the trick.
Some play that a two led to a trick cannot be beaten. The other players must follow suit if they can, but even if they play trumps, no one else can win the trick.
Some allow the bidder, when leading to the first trick, to name a different suit as trump. Some also allow the bidder the option to call 'Grand', in which case there are no trumps. In any case, the player also calls a card of the suit led whose holder is the bidder's partner and must play the called card to the first trick as usual.
Some play that the bidder wins or loses twice as much as the called partner, and there are two alternative ways of doing this:
- the bidder scores the bid multiplied by 2 while the partner scores the amount bid - for example if the bid is 9 the bidder wins or loses 18 while the partner wins or loses 9;
- the bidder scores the amount bid while the partner scores half that amount rounded to the next larger number - for example if the bid is 9 the bidder wins or loses 9 while the partner wins or loses 5.
Some play that if everyone passes, the cards are not thrown in but the hand is played without trumps and each player scores -1 point for each trick taken.
Tómas Albertsson has provided a description of Kani, played in Iceland. This is essentially the same game as Amerikaner, and its name also means American. There are a few differences as follows.
- There are four players and no kitty. 13 cards each are dealt. Many players deal them in a single batch to each player rather than one at a time.
- The bidder and partner score the amount bid if successful. If they fail the opponents score the amount of the bid - so all opponents of the bidder score equally and there are no negative scores. The target score to win the game is agreed at the start.
- The highest bid, 13 tricks, is also known as Kani, and the score for it is 50 points if successful and if not the opponents score 50. Unlike the Norwegian bid Amerikaner, it seems that the Kani bid is played with trumps and with a partner.
- Some play that all bids other than Kani have a fixed value of 10 points irrespective of the number of tricks bid.