This page is based on a contribution from Dan Glimne, plus further information from Mike Paine, Johanna Kristoffersen and Carl Svensson.
Note: This page is not about the version of Bridge called Chicago (which you can find on the Bridge page) nor about the American Poker variation Chicago. This page is about a Swedish card game called Chicago which now played throughout the country, though when this page was first published in 1996 it was said to be especially popular in the Östergötland area, southwest of Stockholm.
Players and Cards
Chicago is a game for 2 to 4 players, using a standard 52 card pack without jokers. Points are scored for having the best hand according to poker ranking, but also in the final stage of the game the cards are played to tricks, and points are scored by the winner of the last trick.
The game is played clockwise. The first dealer is chosen at random, and thereafter the turn to deal passes clockwise after each hand. The dealer deals 5 cards to each player, one at a time. A hand consists of three phases.
Each player, starting with the player on the dealer's left and proceeding clockwise, may discard (face down) as many cards from his hand as he wishes and receive an equal number new cards from the pack, replenishing his hand up to 5 cards again. There is no compulsion to discard any cards - for example if you are dealt four aces and a king you can just keep them.
Then the player with the best poker hand scores points for it according to the following table:
|trips (three of a kind)||
|four of a kind||
|royal straight flush||
For those not familiar with ranking of poker hands, an explanation will be found on the poker hands page.
The actual procedure is that each player in turn, starting with the player to dealer's left, either announces a poker combination (from the above list) which they have in their hand or passes. The turn to speak just goes once round the table, ending with the dealer, and if you announce a combination it must be higher than or equal to the previous highest combination announced in this phase - otherwise you must pass.
Note that no one shows their cards at this stage! This means that in theory you could cheat by claiming a combination you do not have. This is unwise, however, as you will eventually have to show your cards, and if you are shown not to have the combination you claimed you lose the game.
When naming their combination, players just state the type of combination, as in the scoring table above. If two (or more) players claim the same combination, and no one else claims anything higher, they players involved in the tie each name the ranks of their cards, revealing information in stages, until the tie is broken. If the two (or more) best hands are exactly equal, which is possible since there is no ranking among the suits, no one scores. Also if everyone passes (no one even claims to have a pair) then no one scores.
Example: A, B and C each claim a pair, and D passes. A claims a pair of nines, B a pair of fives, and C a pair of nines. A claims to have a king and so does C. A's next best card is a seven, but C has a ten, so C scores one point.
Once again each player in turn discards as many cards as he likes and draws new cards up to 5. If a player who scored in the first phase (or in case of a tie, any of the players who tied for highest combination) chooses to break up the combination claimed in the first phase, they must show their cards to the other players before discarding, to prove that they really had the cards they claimed.
When everyone has had a chance to discard, once again the player with the highest hand scores points for it. The scores and the procedure for announcing hands is the same as in the first phase.
For the third time, each player has an opportunity to discard cards and draw an equal number of new cards. As before a player who by discarding breaks up a combination which was highest or equal highest in a previous phase must show it before discarding. If players discard a lot of cards there is a chance that the deck of undealt cards may run out. If this should happen the previously discarded cards are shuffled to make a new deck to draw from.
This time there is no announcement of poker hands. Instead the cards are played out in tricks. There are no trumps, and the sole objective is to win the last trick. The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit, and a player with no card of the suit led may play any card. Whoever plays the highest card of the suit led wins the trick and leads to the next. The winner of the last trick scores 5 points. When playing tricks, the cards are not thrown into the centre of the table (as in whist); each player plays onto a face-up pile in front of himself, so that at the end of the play, the hands remain intact.
After the winner of the last trick has scored his 5 points, all the cards are face up in front of the players, and the player with the highest poker hand scores points according to the same system used in phases one and two.
Thus during a hand, points are scored three times over for the highest poker hand (once in each phase), and once for the last trick.
A player who believes he can take all five tricks in phase three may declare a Chicago before the first trick is led to. If he then indeed does take all five tricks, he scores 15 points for the Chicago. If however another player takes any of the tricks, the hand is immediately over, no points are scored for the last trick, nor for the highest hand at the end, and instead the player who declared the Chicago scores minus 15 points.
In order to declare a Chicago, a player must already have a cumulative score of at least 15 points; a player's score may never fall below zero.
Ending the Game
A running total of each player's score is kept. As many hands as necessary are played until a player have a score of 52 points or more at the end of a hand. Then the player with most points wins from each other player the difference between their scores. A typical stake is 1 kr per point. If two or more players tie for most points, the other players lose the amount by which they are below the winning total and the winners share this equally between them. Example: at the end A has 53, B has 45, C has 53, D has 47. B loses 8 kr, D loses 6 kr, and A and C win 7 kr each. If A had 54 points instead then A would win 17 kr: 9 kr from B, 1 kr from C and 7 kr from D.
A player whose score has reached 46 points or more at the end of a hand is no longer allowed to discard cards and replenish in subsequent hands; he must play all three phases with the cards he is originally dealt. Note that, this rule does not take effect in the middle of a hand when a player reaches 46, only in subsequent hands.
A popular variation is that a player who holds four of a kind in any phase can choose either to score for it or to reset all the other players' scores to zero. If this occurs in the third phase, the four of a kind should be announced before the lead to the first trick. Setting the other players' scores to zero ends the hand - there is no play of tricks and if it happens in the first or second phase the remaining phases are omitted. The cards are thrown in and and the next dealer deals. A player who previously had a score of 46 or more and was therefore unable to exchange cards is of course permitted to exchange again in future hands after his score is reset to zero. If two players acquire four of a kind at the same time, it is only the owner of the higher four of the kind who can reset the other players' scores.
If the holder of a four of a kind chooses to score the 7 points for it rather than resetting the other players' scores, some play that the hand continues, and the player has the same options in future phases, while others play that four of a kind always ends the play, whether the holder chooses to score 7 or to zero the other players.
Some people play that if two players have the same highest type of poker combination (any three of a kind, for example, regardless of the rank of the cards), then no player scores. Others play that hands are compared in the same way as poker, comparing not only the cards in the combination but also the odd cards in descending order if the cards in the claimed combination are equal. For example 8-8-8-K-2 beats 8-8-8-Q-J and 7-7-10-6-2 beats 7-7-10-5-4. Some play that if two hands are exactly equal, the tie is broken by the suit of the highest card, using the order hearts (highest) > diamonds > spades > clubs (lowest) or any other suit order that may be agreed in advance.
Some players score 10 points for a straight flush, rather than 8. Some play that a player who has a straight flush immediately wins the whole game.
Some play that the limit at which you can no longer exchange cards is 42 rather than 46.
Some play that in a three-player game, a player must have succeeded with at least one Chicago to be able to win the game at 52 or more. A player who reaches 52 without a Chicago is immediatley zeroed. This rule is not recommended for four players, since the game can then last a very long time.
Some play that when a Chicago fails, the player who destroys it by taking a trick scores 8 points and the Chicago player loses 15 points (but there is no score for the best poker hand).
Some play that negative scores are allowed. It is then possible to say Chicago even if your score is below 15. However, if someone wins the game while another player has a negative score, the player whose score is negative will have to pay double their difference from the winner.
Some allow an extra option when exchanging cards. A player who wants to change just one can ask for "one open card". The dealer shows the replacement card to everyone, but if the player exchanging does not want it, he can reject it and receive the next card face down instead. This version is often used when playing with children.
Although Chicago works best for 2 to 4 players, it is possible for 5 or more to play. One problem is that there is a significant chance that the deck will run out, in which case the players' discards are shuffled to dreate a new drawing deck. An alternative is to limit the number of cards that can be discarded by a player in any round.