This description was contributed by Jon Melton
- The Play
- Three-Hand and Two-Hand Versions
Pepper is played in Iowa, USA, and also in Ohio. It is a essentially a version of Bid Euchre. A related game is found in several card-game books under the name Hasenpfeffer ('peppered hare'), and the name Pepper probably derives from this.
Pepper is an easy game to learn, but offers opportunities for strategy both in the bidding and the play. The somewhat unusual ranking of the jacks in the trump suit will be familiar to players of Euchre and 500.
Two, three, or four players. The four-hand version, which is played with partnerships, will be described first.
A pack of 24 cards containing 9, 10, J, Q, K, and A in each suit. The rank of the cards in the trump suit is: J (of trump suit, a.k.a. the right bower; high), J (of the other suit of the same color as the trump suit, a.k.a. the left bower), A, K, Q, 10, 9 (low). In the plain suits the rank is: A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9 (low). When playing with no trumps, all four suits follow the 'plain suit' ranking.
Cards are dealt one at a time to each player, clockwise, starting with the player to the dealer's left. Each player receives six cards.
Starting with the player to the dealer's left, and proceding clockwise, each player can bid or pass. A bid indicates the number of tricks that a player (with the help of their partner) will contract to win if allowed to choose either the trump suit or no trump. The possible bids are the numbers from one to five; above five is 'little pepper' which is a bid to take six tricks, and the highest bid of all is 'big pepper' which is also a bid to take six tricks, but the stakes for that hand are effectively doubled.
Each player in turn must either bid higher than the previous bid or pass. The auction continues for as many rounds as necessary, until a bid is passed by all of the other three players. The highest bidder then either names a trump suit or chooses 'no trump'. This fixes the trump suit, if any, for that hand.
The highest bidder then makes the opening lead, and may lead any card. The other players each play a card (playing clockwise) and must follow suit if possible. If a player cannot follow suit, he/she may play any card. The trick goes to the highest trump or, if there are no trump cards, to the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next trick.
Note: if (for example) spades are trump, the jack of spades is the highest trump, followed by the jack of clubs (the other jack of the same color) which is considered a spade for this hand, the ace of spades, K, Q, 10, 9. The ranking follows the same pattern for the other suits when they are trump.
The contracting side scores one point for each trick taken if it makes at least its contract, but is set back (loses) six points if it fails to make its contract, regardless of the value of the contract. A side can have a negative score. An exception to this is the 'big pepper' bid. With this contract, if all the tricks are taken the contracting side wins 12 points. However, if the contracting side fails to take all six tricks, they are set back 12 points. The opposing side always scores one point for each trick taken.
The first team to score 30 or more points wins. If both sides reach 30 or more points on the same hand, the side with the higher score wins. If their scores are equal, the game is a tie.
Three-hand and Two-hand Version
Three hands of eight cards each are dealt and each player plays for him/herself. Possible bids are numbers from one to seven, 'little pepper' for eight tricks and 'big pepper' where a player contracts to take all eight tricks with the stakes doubled.
Players lose eight points for failing to make their contract, but otherwise score one point for each trick taken. In big pepper the stake are doubled, so if the contracting player takes eight tricks the player receives 16 points, but is set back 16 points if he or she does not make the contract.
With two players, one of the three hands is a dummy hand which is not played, but which remains face down during the hand.
The version of Pepper described on this page, as contributed by Jon Melton, is probably not the most usual form. Many play a version in which the bidder's opponents are penalised if they take no tricks but have the opportunity to surrender to avoid this. This type of game is described on Jeremy Condit's Pepper page.
You can download a freeware Pepper / Bid Euchre program from Thanos Card Games.