In this three-player card game from the US East Coast, each player has a quota of 4 tricks to win and gains or loses points according to how far they are above or below the quota. It is quite similar to the Canadian game Le Neuf (or Nines), but in Clubs the target score is 11 rather than 9, and clubs are permanent trumps.
The first version of this page appeared as Clubs (4) in the invented games section of pagat.com, based on a posting to the newsgroup rec.games.playing-cards by TC in July 1997. More recent information from Spencer Cappallo makes it clear that this game is quite widely known and that at least two different versions of it exist.
Players and Cards
There are three players and a standard 52-card pack (without jokers) is used. The cards of each suit rank from high to low A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
Clubs are always trumps. The other three suits (hearts, diamonds and spades) will be referred to as plain suits.
Deal and play are clockwise and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.
Deal and Bid
The first dealer is chosen by any convenient method. The dealer deals out all the cards one at a time into four hands of 13 cards, one for each player and a spare hand, known as the "bid" hand, which is face down in the middle of the table. The three players pick up their cards and look at them.
Next each of the three players in turn, beginning with the player to dealer's left and ending with the dealer, decides whether to keep the cards they are dealt or exchange them for the bid hand. When exchanging a player picks up the bid hand and places the whole of their original hand face down in the middle to form the new bid hand.
It is possible for more than one player to exchange, each taking the cards put down by the previous exchanger.
A player who exchanges has the advantage of having seen 26 cards rather than 13. However they do not know in advance what they will get from the bid hand, and since each player has only one turn to exchange, if the bid hand turns out to be worse than your original hand there is no possibility to get your original cards back.
If the bid hand was taken, the last player who exchanged plays the first card (leads) to the first trick. If no one exchanged, the player to dealer's left leads to the first trick. Each trick is won by the highest club (trump) in it, or if it contains no clubs it is won by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.
Players must always follow suit if possible - i.e. play a card of the same suit that was led. Subject to this rule, they must always if possible play a card that beats the highest card so far played to the trick.
It is illegal to lead a club (trump) to a trick until either clubs have been 'broken' or the player whose turn it is to lead has nothing left in their hand except clubs. Clubs are said to be 'broken' when a player trumps a plain suit lead or leads a club because they have no other suits.
It follows from the rule that the highest card in the trick must be beaten if possible that if a plain suit is led and the second player has no card of that suit, they must play a trump if they have one. The same applies if the third player cannot follow suit, unless the second player has played a trump that the third player is unable to beat.
Tricks should be neatly stacked face down in front of the winner, with the tricks overlapped so that everyone can easily see how many tricks each player has won. When all 13 tricks have been played the hand is scored.
The scores are recorded on paper, with a column for each player. Everyone begins with a score of zero. At the end of each hand, the number of tricks won by each player is compared to their quota of 4 tricks. Players with more than 4 tricks have one point added to their score for each trick in excess of 4, players with fewer than 4 tricks subtract one point for each trick by which they fall short of 4, and players with exactly 4 tricks neither add not subtract anything. Total scores can be negative.
For example if players A, B and C win 7, 2 and 4 tricks respectively, their scores for the hand are +3, -2 and 0. Since there are 13 tricks and the quotas of the three players add up to 12, it is easy to see that the total of the players' scores must increase by 1 for each hand played, for example after 5 deals the total of all the scores must be 5.
The object of the game is to reach a total positive score of +11 or more, or a negative score of -11 or beyond, over as many deals as it takes. If two people achieve this on the same hand - either both reaching +11 or one +11 and another -11, there are two winners. It is even possible for all three to reach the target on the same deal - two +11 and one -11 - in which case the game is a draw.
Spencer Cappallo describes a variant played by his family in Pennsylvania with the following differences:
- In the play, players must follow suit and are not allowed to lead clubs until they are broken, but there is no requirement to beat the highest card so far played to the trick, and therefore no requirement to trump if you have no card of the plain suit that was led.
- The object is to reach a cumulative score of +11 or more. Reaching -11 does not win the game.