Le Neuf / Nines
This game from Eastern Canada is played primarily in French-speaking regions, especially Quebec province, where it is known as Le Neuf or sometimes as Chômeur (unemployed). It is also played by Acadians in Nov Scotia, and in Newfoundland and in Eastern Ontario where it is called by the English name Nines. The name refers to the fact that everyone starts with 9 points. The aim is to reach a score of zero by winning more than your quota of tricks: each trick above quota removes a point but each trick below quota adds a point.
This page is based on contributions from Paul Garreau, Michel Fortin, Pierre Germain and Gerald Hamilton.
Players and cards
A standard 52 card pack is used, the cards in each suit rank in the familiar order from ace (high) to two (low).
There are usually three players: 13 cards are dealt to each player and there is spare (or 'unemployed') 13-card hand - hence the alternative name Chômeur.
The trump suit rotates from deal to deal in the sequence hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades, no trump, hearts, etc. (the same as the ranking order of the suits in 500 and many other games).
The deal and play are clockwise and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.
The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts. The dealer then deals the cards one at a time face down into four piles, one pile for each player plus an extra hand next to the dealer, and continues until every player and the extra hand has 13 cards. The extra hand is then moved to the centre of the table and the players pick up, look at and sort their hands.
The player to dealer's left has the opportunity to change all 13 cards with the 13 cards of the extra hand (whose cards are unknown). If the player to dealer's left chooses not to exchange, the opportunity to do so passes clockwise around the table.
A player who exchanges places their hand face down on the table in place of the extra hand and the opportunity to exchange continues around the table. After all three players have had an opportunity to exchange hands, either with the original spare hand or with a hand discarded by a previous player, the final spare hand is put aside and cannot be looked at until the play has ended.
The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if possible; if unable to follow they may play any card. The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or, if it contains no trump, by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.
All three players start with 9 points, and each player has a quota of 4 tricks to win.
- Players who win more than four tricks score one point for each trick in excess of four and these points are deducted from their previous score.
- Players who win fewer than four tricks lose a point for each trick short of four and these points are added to their previous score.
- Players with exactly four tricks neither win nor lose.
The game continues until a player's score has dropped down to zero or less: this player is the winner. If two players reach zero or less on the same hand, the player who is furthest below 0 wins. If they are equal at zero or below they are joint winners.
The normal method of scoring is to write the names of the three players across the top of a sheet of paper with the initial score of 9 written under each name. At the far right of the points, the total of all 3 scores is written down, which at the outset is of course 27. In a column down the left hand side of the page, the trump suits for the deals are written in their order, so that each row will show the trump suit for the deal, the cumulative scores of the players and the total of these scores.
This helps keep track of trump and of the person dealing and to avoid scoring mistakes. For each hand played the total score in the right hand column should reduce by one: there are 13 tricks but the quotas add up to only 12 so in aggregate the players must be one trick over quota.
The game will last at most 25 deals because at that point the total of the scores will be 2, so someone must have a score of zero or below.
There are many alternative versions of the sequence of trumps, and often a fifth deal with no trumps is included so that the cycle repeats after 5 deals rather than 4. Options that I have seen are:
- spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs, no trump, spades, etc.
- hearts, diamonds, spades, clubs, no trump, hearts, etc.
- hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades, no trump, hearts, etc.
- hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades and no trump, hearts, etc.
The choice of trump sequence makes no real difference to the game. The players should agree in advance what sequence they prefer.
In many places the dealer has the first opportunity to exchange cards, followed by each of the other players in clockwise order.
Players who want to avoid the possibility of a drawn game in which two players reach the same score of zero or below on the same deal could adopt the following house rule. A player who wins more than four tricks is entitled to score points for the extra tricks as soon as they are taken. So for example if the scores at the start of a hand are A:3, B:1, C:1, if either B or C takes a fifth trick they win the game immediately without further play. Note: this is just a suggestion from the editor. I have not heard from any Canadian players who actually use this house rule.
Four player game
Gerald Hamilton reports that in Newfoundland Nines is normally played by 4 people - 2 teams of 2 with partners sitting across from each other. All cards are dealt out, 13 to each player, and there is no exchange of cards. The rules of play are as above.
Each team has a quota of 6 tricks and begins with 9 points. At the end of the play of each hand, for each trick a team has won in excess of 6 they subtract one point from their score and for each trick by which they are short of 6 they add one point. The first team to reach a score of zero or less wins. This takes at most 17 deals since the total score of the two teams begins at 18 and reduces by one for each deal.
Apart from the particular method of scoring, this form of the game is almost identical to classic Whist.