Knock-Out Whist

This page is based on contributions from Nick Wedd, C. Kroll, Kevin Ammerman, Max Madhax, Nic Cleveland, Chris Gibbs and Mike Shaffer.

Introduction

This is a simple plain-trick game. It is often played as a children's game but it has enough interesting tactics that it is also played by adults, sometimes for small stakes.

In Britain it is called Knockout Whist, or sometimes just Trumps. In North America it is known by other names including Scrounge or Rat or Rat **** where the **** stands for various vulgar words, according to the taste of the players.

A session consists of seven hands of diminishing size.

Players and Cards

Any number from two to seven may play. A standard 52-card pack is used, with four suits ranking from high to low A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2.

Play

A player is selected to deal, and deals seven cards each, clockwise. The uppermost of the undealt cards is turned face upwards to indicate the trump suit.

The player on dealer's left leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if they can, otherwise they may play any card. Each trick is won by the highest trump in it; otherwise by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next trick.

After the first hand, a second hand is dealt by the next player in order around the table, with only six cards each. The game continues like this, with one fewer card per player on each hand, until the final hand consists of one card each.

The winner of most tricks on a hand chooses the trump suit on the next hand. If there is a tie for who took most tricks, the players involved in the tie cut cards for the right to choose trumps.

The Knockout

A player who takes no tricks at all in a hand is knocked out, is dealt no more cards, and takes no further part in the game.

There is one exception to the rule about being knocked out: the first player during the game who takes no tricks on a hand is not knocked out immediately but is awarded the "dog's life". On the following hand, she is dealt just one card, and may decide on which trick to play it. In the course of the play, a player "on a dog's life" may, when it is her turn to play, either play her card or knock on the table to indicate that she wishes to keep it for a later trick. If she is the player on the dealer's left, she is not compelled to lead her card to the first trick; she may either do so, or knock, allowing the next player to lead.

If two or more players take no tricks on the same deal, no one having previously used the dog's life, these players get one dog's life each. Apart from this case, there is only one dog's life available during the game. Players who take no tricks in later deals are eliminated immediately.

If a player on a dog's life manages to take a trick with her card, the player on her left leads to the next trick, and the dog's life player is dealt a normal hand on the next deal, and treated like the other surviving players. If the dog's life player doesn't manage to win a trick, she is knocked out of the game, like anyone else who takes no trick.

Since the right to lead to the first trick is an advantage, it is fair for everyone in turn to have this opportunity. Therefore, if the player to dealer's left is knocked out, this player should deal the next hand before leaving the game. This way the player to the left of the one who was knocked out is not deprived of the chance to play the first card of the next hand.

Winning the Game

The game is won by the winner of the one trick on the final hand. Or if all but one of the players are knocked out before this, the surviving player is the winner.

Advice on Play

In choosing trumps, always choose the longest suit. From

Clubs 6
Spades K Q
Hearts 6 5 4

make hearts trumps.

In choosing between suits of the same length, do not choose a suit with very high cards in it, as these may well win tricks even if they are not trumps. From

Clubs A Q
Spades 8 6
Hearts 4

make spades trumps.

Variations

Deal and opening lead
Many people play that from the second deal onwards, the winner not only chooses trumps but also deals and leads to the first trick. Some play that the dealer also leads to the first trick in the first deal.
Card exchange
Some play that after trumps are chosen, each player may discard 1, 2 or 3 cards and be dealt an equal number of replacement cards before play begins. These cards must all be discarded at once: a player can't discard a card, get the replacement, and then discard another. Obviously when only 2 cards each are dealt, only 1 or 2 can be discarded, and when only 1 is dealt, only 1 can be discarded. A player is always allowed to discard nothing and play with the cards he or she was dealt.
Elimination and Dog's Life
  • Many play without the dog's life. Anyone who takes no trick is immediately out of the game.
  • As an alternative, some play that no one can be eliminated in the first deal: a player who takes no trick on the first deal is dealt a full hand of 6 cards in the second deal. From the second deal onwards, anyone who takes no trick is eliminated.
  • Some play that anyone who is eliminated should stand up and shout "Rat ****".
Options when choosing trumps
Some allow extra options for the winner of the previous deal. The winner may choose 'no trump' rather than trump suit, may designate aces as either high or low, and may specify whether cards rank in normal order (high card takes) or reverse order (low card takes). So the ranking from best to worst card can be chosen as AKQJT98765432, KQJT98765432A, A23456789TJQK or 23456789TJQKA.
Tie for Winner
Some play that in case of a tie for winner, trumps are determined in the next deal by turning a card from the deck (as in the initial 7-card deal).
2 of diamonds
Some play that the 2 of diamonds counts as the permanent highest trump, ranking above the ace of trumps, whatever suit is trumps.
Rainbow
Some play that in the four-card deal, if a player is dealt a 'rainbow' - four cards of different suits - that player wins the game immediately. If two or more players are dealt rainbows, cards are cut to decide which of them wins. I suggest that this should not be combined with the card exchange variant, or at least it should not be possible to win with a rainbow obtained by exchanging cards.
Money Version
Nic Cleveland describes the following money version of Knockout Whist, played on the island of Guernsey.
  • All players chip in 1 unit to start play (normally the unit stake is 5p)
  • The winner of each round becomes the dealer, chooses trumps and also leads to the first trick of the next round.
  • All players who successfully win a trick in a round chip in again to play the next round.
  • On the very first occasion that someone fails to win a trick they are offered the dog's life which is a 'whole hand' (e.g. 6 cards for hand 2 etc.) and is bought for one unit - in other words they can play in the next round on the same terms and at the same price as the other players. If on this first occasion there is more than one player failing to win a trick all such players are also offered a dog's life; however after this first occasion, no more dog's lives are offered to other players.
  • Should a player with a dog's life fail again to win a trick, he is offered 'Parish' for the next round for the cost of 1 unit. That player is dealt a single  card to be played to any trick in that round.
  • Again, should the 'Parish' card fail, the player can buy a 'Blind parish' for another unit, being another single card. This time the player cannot look at the card but may play it 'blind' to any trick in the round.  
  • During play any draws are settled by cutting the cards. The winner of the final round, or the last survivor of the game takes the pot.

Variant. Occasionally the game is played so that every player is entitled to take 1 dog's life, 1 Parish & 1 Blind parish if they wish. This usually means that everyone is kept in the game longer with more people reaching the final one-card round with more money in the pot.

Knockout Whist Software

Mana Battery publishes online games for the Microsoft Xbox 360, Windows Phone, IOS and Android, including a Knockout Whist game to play online or against the computer.

With the Whist program from Special K Software you can play Knockout Whist against computer opponents.