Rules of Card Games: Cardigan
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Contributed by Jared McComb

Players, Cards and Equipment

Required: 4 packs of 52 cards; six markers of one color and seven of two others; pencil and paper for scoring.

Cardigan is for four players.


Shuffle the four packs of cards together, making sure they are thoroughly mixed. Allow each player to pick a card, and highest rank wins (Ace high, 2 low) and becomes first dealer. Ties for highest are determined by subsequent draws; do not replace any drawn cards during this initial stage.

Following the preliminaries, replace the drawn cards, reshuffle all the cards, and deal each player out a deck of 52 cards. Players do not look at their decks. Before each round begins, set the unused decks aside, where they will not get mixed up with any played cards. First deal goes to the person who won the preliminaries, and deal passes to the left in subsequent deals. The game has ended when the four deals are over. When it is your deal, take your deck, shuffle it as you see fit, and deal 13 cards to each player. Players across from each other form partnerships.


The partnership with the most points at the end of the four deals that consitute a game wins. Ties may happen, although they are extremely rare.


Before the bidding on a hand starts, any player with duplicate cards in their hand may announce it, place them face up on the table, and immediately score points for their partnership. A pair of cards is worth 1000 points, a triplet 5000 points, and a set of four is worth 25000 points. If one single player has multiple sets, the sum of their values is multiplied by the number of sets, so for example a pair and a triplet is worth (1000 + 5000) x 2 points, or 12000 points. The cards placed on the table remain there in front of their owner, as part of their hand, but remain face-up during the bidding and play. The advantage to doing this is to get a large number of points before the hand, but the disadvantage lies in having your opponents know what your hand contains. If a hand is somehow entirely declared in this manner (which is very rare but can happen if it consists entirely of identical pairs, triplets, etc.) and the partnership which it belongs to makes the contract, that hand is automatically considered as an open hand or as the dummy, depending on its owner and scored accordingly (see below).

The bidding for a hand starts with the player on the dealer's left, and continues clockwise. There are eleven different possible bid types (Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, Spades, Diamonds Alone, Clubs Alone, Hearts Alone, Spades Alone, Red, Black, and No Trump, in order from least to greatest) and seven different levels of bid (1 through 7), for a total of 77 different possible bids. All bids of 1 are lower than all bids of 2, etc. When three players pass after a bid has been made, a contract is established and that partnership immediately scores a contract bonus, given by doubling the value of the contract (see below). If the first three players pass on the first time around, the dealer (who is the fourth) is "stuck" and must name a contract which is immediately adopted; however, when a dealer is "stuck" the contract bonus is doubled.

The player who named the final contract may subsequently order his partner to play as a dummy, meaning his partner plays open and takes all direction from the contractor. Alternatively, he may play his own hand open himself. He may also opt to do both. The defenders may never play open (except for previously declared cards), but they may benefit from foolish open play on their opponents' parts.

After the bidding is over and a contract determined, the six markers of one color are set in a line, followed by as many markers of the second color as the contract was for, followed by enough markers of the third color to make a total of thirteen. The six markers of one color are the "book markers" and signify tricks taken by the contracting side towards the book. The book is made of six tricks and must be taken before the actual contract tricks, which are signified by the second color markers. The third color markers signify overtricks. When the contracting side wins a trick, they take a marker from the first end of the row (so they take book markers first, then contract markers, then overtrick markers) whereas the defending side takes markers from the other end (so they start with the overtrick markers, etc.) Thus, if the defenders have only overtrick markers at the end of the hand, the contract has been made; if they have contract markers, it was not made and the defenders score higher than otherwise; if they have book markers, the contract was either poorly played out or based on insufficient material and the defenders score even more. Markers are used as a convenience, since not all tricks contain four cards (see below); that way all one team's won cards can be put in a single pile.

Card Ranking and Play

The trump suit of a hand differs depending on the bid.

  • In a bid of Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, or Spades, that suit is trump, with all Jacks of that suit being the highest (the Right Bowers), all Jacks of the other suit of the same color being second highest (the Left Bowers), all other Jacks being third highest (the Low Bowers), followed by all Aces, Kings, etc. in that suit, down to Threes. Finally, every Two is a trump card, all ranking equally and below the Threes of trump. In these contracts, all trump cards are considered to be of the suit of the bid; for example, if the bid was Hearts, all the Jacks and Twos are treated as Hearts in play.
  • In an Alone bid, the highest trump is the Ace of that suit, followed by Kings, Queens, etc., down to Twos of that suit only. They are called "Alone" bids because the trumps are made up of that suit alone, without any extra Jacks or Twos.
  • In a Red bid, the red Jacks are highest (the Right Bowers), followed by the black Jacks (the Left Bowers), followed by all the red Tens, followed by all the red Aces, followed by all the Twos (red and black Twos are equal in rank). No other cards are trump.
  • A Black bid is identical to a Red, except that the black Jacks are the Right Bowers, the red ones are the Left Bowers, and the black Tens and Aces are third and fourth highest. The trump cards in a Red or Black bid are considered to be of a fifth suit, called Reds or Blacks, depending on the bid; if one is led, others must follow if possible.
  • In a No Trump bid, there are no trump cards, the cards or each suit rank from Ace (high) down to Two (low) as in an Alone bid, and each trick is won by the highest card of the suit led.

The player who bid the contract leads to the first trick, and thereafter the winner of each trick leads to the next trick.

After a player has led to a trick, the other players can do one of the following:

  • Follow suit (which you must do if possible),
  • trump (which you may do, at your option, when you cannot follow),
  • throw in (play a card which neither follows nor trumps, and therefore cannot win the trick), or
  • discard (play your card face down in front of you, which you must do occasionally -- this scores the card for the opponents at the end of the hand).

Whether you play or discard a card is determined by the other cards on the table. If the card you wish to (or must, in order to follow suit or otherwise) play would be identical in value to another card on the table, you must discard. Otherwise (if the card is not identical in value to any others in the trick), you may play it as usual - following suit, trumping or throwing in. The definition of "identical in value" is as follows: exactly identical to another card on the table, or having the same rank in the trump suit, such as all the Left Bowers or red Aces in a Red bid, or all the Low Bowers or Twos in a Spades bid. Discarded cards are set aside after the trick and given to and scored by the opposing team at the end of a hand, irrespective of which team won the trick to which they were played.


There are five elements to the score: the score for duplicate cards (already described under Bidding above); the contract bonus; the score for tricks; the score for cards; and the score for full suits.

Each bid has a point value which is multiplied by various numbers to determine the value of the contract. This contract value is the basis of the contract bonus and the score for tricks taken. The point values for each bid are as follows:

    Diamonds Alone        300
    Clubs Alone350
    Hearts Alone400
    Spades Alone450
    No Trump600
  • A bid of 4 ("Little Slam") increases the base value of that bid by 50 points;
  • a bid of 5 ("Middle Slam"), by 100;
  • a bid of 6 ("Big Slam"), by 200;
  • a bid of 7 ("Grand Slam"), by 400.

Thus, a No Trump Grand Slam has a value of 1000, which is the highest possible contract value.

Following a declaration of dummy, the contract value is doubled; an open play triples the contract value. An open dummy hand multiplies the contract value by five.

The contract bonus, awarded automatically to the team that names the final contract, is normally equal to twice the contract value, but increases to four times the contract value if the first three players pass in the bidding.

Each book trick scores the value of the contract; each contract trick scores the value of the contract if the contract is not made and twice the value if the contract is met. Each overtrick counts for one-half the contract value. Each defending trick scores half-value if the contract is made, full value if the contract is not made, and twice value if the book is not made.

Points are also gathered from the cards taken in tricks or "discarded" face down by opponents (see above). The card values depend on which of the four deals that make up a game is being played:

Card scoresfirst dealsecond dealthird dealfourth deal
Each Ace11223344
Each King481216
Each Queen36912
Each Jack2468
Each Ten10203040
Each Five5101520
All other cards0000
Discards (from opponents)5555

The 5 points for a card discarded by the opponents is in addition to the normal value of the card if it is an ace, king, queen, jack, ten or five.

There is an additional bonus for collecting full suits (Ace through King of a single suit) in the course of the whole game (four deals). At the very end of the game, using every card collected by each partnership, the following bonuses are scored:

Full suit scoresonetwothreefour
Full suits of diamonds10003000600010000
Full suits of clubs200060001200020000
Full suits of hearts300090001800030000
Full suits of spades4000120002400040000
Home Page > Invented Games > Cardigan
Last updated: 27th April 2005