Italian Whist

A trick-taking game specifically designed for three players. Created by A. Chart, S. Drew and T. Phipps during a holiday in Italy.

To understand these rules it will help to have a working knowledge of other trick-taking games (such as Whist) as the focus here is largely on what differentiates this game from others.


The game is specifically designed for 3 players and requires a regular 52 card deck with the addition of two distinct jokers (referred to in the rules as the 'red joker' and 'black joker').

NB. regular decks of cards often come with two jokers, but sometimes they are not distinct from each other. In that case we usually distinguish them by writing a small 'R' and 'B' somewhere on the cards to clarify which one is the red joker and which the black.

Game play

Each deal is divided into two separate hands.

The players are dealt 18 cards each, they must then divide their cards into two hands of 9, by looking at the available cards and choosing the most advantageous combination. The first hand they will play themselves, aiming to win as many tricks as possible. The second hand they will pass to the player on their left or right or keep for themselves, according to the instructions below. Cards are always passed face down, and the player who receives the cards is not allowed to look at them until the play of the first hand is finished. When playing the second hand, tricks count against your score, so you want to win as few as possible.

After both hands have been played, players subtract the number of tricks won in the second hand from the number of tricks won in the first hand to reveal their total score for that round. The total score of all the players added together is always zero: usually some players will have positive scores and others will have negative scores.

The first three deals are played without any trump suit. In the second three deals spades are trumps throughout. The card passing scheme is as follows.

  • 1st deal - no trumps; the second hand is passed to the player on the left
  • 2nd deal - no trumps; the second hand is passed to the player on the right
  • 3rd deal - no trumps; the second hand is kept.
  • 4th deal -  spades are trumps; the second hand is passed to the player on the left
  • 5th deal -  spades are trumps; the second hand is passed to the player on the right
  • 6th deal -  spades are trumps; the second hand is kept

Further deals repeat this pattern, beginning again at deal 1.

The game ends when (after playing both hands of a deal) one player has reached an agreed upon upper or lower score limit. For newer players we recommend a score limit of 10 and -10, for more experienced players this number could be lowered to as little as 5 and -5. For your very first game you may wish to set an even higher score limit, e.g. 20 and -20 so that you can be sure of trying out all the rules before the game finishes. You may find the game goes on a very long time this way though!

When the game ends, the player with the highest score wins ( a 2 way draw is possible though unusual).

Playing a Hand

The turn to deal passes to the next player, clockwise round the circle. Play is always clockwise. In the first hand of a deal, play is begun by the player to the dealer's left (so that the dealer plays last to the first trick) and in the second hand of a deal, play is begun by the player to the dealers right (so that the dealer plays second to the first trick).

Keep the two hands separate from each other! Keep your second hand face down in front of you until you finish your first hand.

Basic play follows many of the standard whist rules: the player who plays the highest card of the led suit (or the highest trump card) wins the the trick and has the lead for the next trick. You must follow suit if you can before you are allowed to discard cards of other suits. Aces are always high in Italian whist.

Rules concerning jokers

The red joker can be used as a heart or a diamond. If either red suit is led, the holder of the red joker can play it to follow suit, and cannot discard from any other suit until the red joker has been played. Similarly, the black joker can be used as a spade or a club.

A joker can take on the value of any card of its suit which was not played to the trick. The player of the joker chooses the value when the trick is complete. (For example in the first hand of a deal one would normally choose to make the joker an ace if the real ace of the suit was not in the trick.)

If a joker is led, its suit is determined by the next card of the same colour to be played to the trick. If no cards the same colour are played, the joker's suit is irrelevant. It will win the trick unless it is the red joker and it has been trumped by a spade.

If a joker is played on a lead of the opposite colour (only possible if the player has no card of the suit led and no joker of the colour led), and the third card in the trick is the same colour as the joker, the joker counts as belonging to the suit of the third card. If a joker is played to a trick in which both the other cards are the opposite colour to the joker, the player of the joker chooses its suit. This makes a difference only for a black joker played to a red trick when spades are trumps: the player would normally make the joker a spade to win the trick in the first hand of a deal, but a club to lose the trick in the second hand.