heart  club  BID FAIR  diamond  spade 

Number of Players: Two.

The Deck: 24 Cards (strip out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

The Deal: Twelve cards are dealt to each player.

The Crib: Out of these twelve cards, four are removed and put aside by each player: they are combined to make a crib of eight cards[1]. This crib is to be used later.

The Bidding: The non-dealer may bid by taking one card from her hand and placing it face up in front of her to her left.  The non-dealer may make no bid by placing this card (perhaps a discard) face down instead.

If the non-dealer does not wish to place a card (bid or no bid), she may verbally pass this option to the dealer.

If the non-dealer has bid, the dealer can respond with a bid of her own face up to her left: this must be a higher ranked card.  If the dealer does not wish to do this, she places a card (typically a discard) face down to her left (no bid).

If the non-dealer hasn’t bid (played a card face down) or has passed, then the dealer may offer an initial bid by placing a bid card face up, or place her card face down.  If the dealer had made a bid and the non-dealer has an opportunity to respond (the non-dealer having initially “passed”) this card must be a higher-ranked card (bid) or face down (no bid).

Where both bid cards are face down, there is no contract for this deal (please see Consequences of Bidding below).  Where both cards are face up, this could further affect the scoring for this deal (as outlined in The Scoring below).

If the dealer also passes, then the cards are collected for an immediate redeal.

Consequences of Bidding: Where a bid card is played face up, the rank and the suit of this card are significant.  The rank signifies the high rank of the deal[2] and the contract value for her opponent.  The suit is important if it subsequently comes up trumps (please see Trumps below).  The highest ranked bid card encourages the contract holder (ie the player who played the lower card or made no bid) to collect a certain number of points from tricks.

If both bid cards are face up, this could further affect the scoring at the end of the deal (please see The Scoring below).

Along with setting up high rank and the nominal contract value(see table below) which the contract holder may or may not pursue, the higher-ranked card that one bade in a sense compels her opponent into the role of contract holder.

Where there is a contract holder, that player has an option to exchange her hand with the crib in the Exchange phase below.

Trumps: The crib is then shuffled and cut, and the cut card is placed, face up, between the two bid cards. The suit of this card determines the trump suit for this deal (there is always a trump suit in Bid Fair). If the trump suit matches the suit of either player’s bid, then that player receives a bonus of 40 points in the Scoring phase.

The middle of the table should now look something like this:

heart    club

(Face Down -
No bid)

diamond    spade

heart    club


diamond    spade

heart    club

unsuccessful bid
(Face Down -
No bid)

diamond    spade

The Exchange: The contract holder (that is, the player that had the lower bid) then has the option to exchange his hand with the crib. There is no penalty for doing so. If there is no contract then this is not an option for either player.

The Contract: “Accepting” a contract (that is by bidding the lower-ranked card or not bidding) encourages the contract holder into making a certain amount of points from tricks collected:

Rank of bid cardHigh Rank in dealValue of Contract

The Play: The contract holder then leads from her hand of seven. If there is no contract then the non-dealer leads from her hand of seven. Players must follow suit if possible, otherwise they may trump or discard. Highest ranking card of suit led (ace is low when led, high when played second, or stipulated as high rank in the contract) takes trick unless trumped by trump suit. Winner leads to next trick.

The Scoring: Aces captured in tricks score one. Picture cards in tricks captured score ten. Tens and nines captured score face value. Points are claimed by both players.

If there is an active contract, then the points collected by the contract holder should equal or exceed its value. If this is the case, the contract is fulfilled and as a bonus the difference between the two player’s scores is added to the score of the holder.  If all three cards on the table are face up (ie both players bade for their opponent’s contract) then any difference in the score is doubled.  If there is no contract, then only the scores from tricks are claimed.

Where a contract is fulfilled and bonus points awarded to the holder, her opponent receives a contract reward of 40 points [3]. This reward cannot be doubled.

The player leading on the scorecard deals the next hand, and play begins again until the game is decided. If scores are level then the deal alternates.

To Win: The highest score past 800 points wins the game.

Game Notes:

  1. For example, the crib could be used to discard weaker cards, or to stack with a long suit for that suit to come up trumps. The latter play could give the contract holder an idea of the content of the crib.
  2. "Beats a King" - for example if Jack is high rank then the order is (A)-J-K-Q-10-9-(A). If Ace is high rank then the order is A-K-Q-J-10-9.
  3. There is quite an incentive to encourage the contract holder to make contract - however points from all tricks are counted, and the larger contracts with two bids means higher points for the contract holder. On the other hand if the hand dealt is stronger, it is viable to deny your opponent the contract and play for individual points.


When we playtested this, experience with the earlier game Third Hand was assumed.

Much as I have liked Third Hand, which this game is a clear descendant of, and as much as I could get the former to table, this didn’t mean that Third Hand couldn’t use a little refinement.  I wasn’t happy that it is easy enough to go the defensive route, almost to the point that the riskier plays were slightly inferior.  To fix this, I believe that both players should have an incentive for a “contract” to be offered and made.  Hence the concept was born in Bid Fair of one’s opponent accepting a contract for mutual benefit.

To consolidate the many Bid Fair in-game decisions, the first could be what is my creed?  Would I be more comfortable winning as many tricks as possible, or deliberately losing a few to manage my risk?  Take one that wants the thrill of accumulating tricks.  One’s opponent might cheerfully go along with this and bank the 40-point contract rewards, which certainly aren’t trivial.  So a key to this is to be prepared to violently switch direction (that is, to throw a few tricks within the rules) if the contract isn’t juicy enough.  There isn’t a penalty for not making contract.  There certainly is an opportunity cost to not taking those extra tricks.  It may be viable to change mid-stream and deny a contract, having tempted the opponent in the first place!

While I like math games, and Third Hand also would encourage controlling the flow, Bid Fair in a sense encourages each way bets and acknowledging opponent preferences.  Unlike Third Hand, which offers the player the opportunity to control the trick cards (through manipulating the crib, or “third hand”), one has to accept that her opponent may or may not play along with the hand composition.  While there is that greater depth, it comes at the expense of control.  But I feel it keeps things interesting.  Disagree?  I’d love your feedback.

© Matthew Shields 2021

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Last updated: 7th April 2021