Illustrated Whist

rationale

This is an attempt to give the venerable game of Whist the ‘Hungarian treatment’, by which I mean, to enrich it with a schedule of bonus announcements that lends excitement and variety to play.

Briefly: I’ve attempted to add enough bonuses, usually drawn from the Tarok family, as to encourage a variety of different strategic approaches as befit different hands—but while maintaining what I think is the “essence” of a Whist game. That includes:

  • 4 players in fixed partnerships
  • A full Anglo-American deck, with traditional rank ordering
  • Plain-trick scoring
  • Whist/Bridge style follow mechanics: f,tr

teams

The game is played by 4 players, in two fixed partnerships. Conventionally, we’ll refer to them as North/South and East/West.

deck

The game is played with a full Anglo-American 54-card deck, including two Jokers: the Big and Little Joker.

deal

Dealer rotates to the left. Each player is dealt 12 cards, leaving a kitty of 6 cards.

bidding

Forehand, to the left of the dealer, begins the auction to name the trump suit. The possible bids are:

Bid Base value Section
8 <suit> 1 Low
8 notrumps 2 Low
9 <suit> 3 Low
9 notrumps 4 Low
Null 5 Middle
10 <suit> 6 Middle
10 notrumps 7 Middle
11 <suit> 8 Middle
11 notrumps 9 Middle
Open null 10 High
Slam (12) <suit> 11 High
Slam notrumps 12 High

Numbered bids are ‘positive’ bids, whose goal is to make that number of tricks.

Every numbered trump bid must be accompanied by the suit that will be trumps. A notrumps bid overcalls a trump bid of the same number, while trump bids of the same number can never overcall each other. For example, if I call 8 Spades you can’t then bid 8 Diamonds (or vice versa); you must either bid 8 notrumps or 9 Diamonds (or higher).

In notrumps, there’s no special trump suit: the only way to take a trick is to play the highest card of the led suit.

In null bids, the declarer plays alone against the opposing team. They make their bid only if they avoid taking any tricks. In open null bids, the declarer turns their hand face-up before the second trick.

Bidding proceeds to the left, each successive plyer must bid higher than the previous one, or pass. When three players have passed, the remaining player has won and is the declarer. Their winning bid is the contract that will be played.

draw

The declarer then picks up the kitty and discards the same number of cards in order to improve their hand.

In a trumps contract, the declarer may never discard any Jokers during the draw and exchange.

Alternately, the declarer may may take only half the kitty, leave the kitty aside entirely, or allow the opposing team to inspect the kitty and exchange instead. These adjustments increase the value of the contract.

Bonus Low bids Middle bids High bids
Half 0 2 4
Without 0 3 5
Against 0 6 10
  • Without any bonus, the declarer picks up the whole kitty and discards six.
  • Half: the declarer picks up the first three cards and discards three. No player may look at the bottom three cards until the hand is finished.
  • Without: the declarer leaves the kitty untouched. No player may look at it until the hand is finished.
  • Against: the declarer lays out the whole kitty face-up. Proceeding to the left:
    • The first opponent picks up as many cards as they like from the kitty and then discards an equal number.
    • The second opponent picks up the remaining cards and discards an equal number.

The difficulty adjustments add a certain amount to the Hand Value—the amount of points that are won or lost by the declarers based on whether they make their contract. The bonus scales with the size of the bid, as indicated in the table below. There is no difficulty bonus at all for the lowest bids.

announcements

Starting with the declarer, players announce any bonuses they want to undertake. Any player may announce any bonus, and any player may double a bonus announced by the opposing team. The opponents may also double the game. Any double may be redoubled.

Feat Silent score Announced score Valid contracts
Four Kings 2 4 trumps, notrumps
Four Aces 3 6 trumps, notrumps
Dix Last 4 8 trumps
All three 2 4 trumps
Joker Catch 10 20 trumps
Slam 6* 12* trumps, notrumps
  • Four Kings: a single team taking all four kings in tricks.
  • Four Aces: a single team taking all four aces in tricks.
  • Dix Last: winning the contract (if declarer) or defeating the contract (if opponent) and winning the last trick with the Dix, the 2 of trumps.
  • All Three: capturing the Big Joker, Little Joker, and Dix in tricks.
  • Joker Catch: capturing the Little Joker in a trick (only possible by playing the Big Joker to that trick) when the Little Joker was played by the opposing team.

In all cases, if the feat is accomplished during the hand, the team that accomplishes it scores the amount in the first column; if they announce the bonus and then make it, they score the doubled amount.

If a player plays the Dix to the last trick but doesn’t take the trick, the opposing team scores for Dix Last. This holds regardless of whether the player makes their contract or not.

If a player holding the Big Joker announces Joker Catch, and the Little Joker is played by the announcer’s teammate, then that player has failed to make that bonus—even if they take that trick.


*Finally, either team may announce a Slam; this is the intention to take all 12 tricks. A Slam increases the value of the contract, or Hand Value; the difficulty bonus, the base value of the contract and the Slam bonus make up the Hand Value and are won or lost together if the contract is made or fails.

$$ \begin{equation} \text{Hand Value} = \text{Contract Base Value} + \text{Slam Bonus} + \text{Difficulty Bonus} \end{equation} $$

The Slam bonus + the base value of the contract max out at 12. For instance, if a Slam is announced, no matter what the winning bid, the contract is worth 12 points (and then adjusted by any difficulty bonus). If a Slam is not bid or announced, but one team takes all the tricks, then the base value of their contract is incremented by up to 6 points, not exceeding a new base value of 12, and then adjusted by the difficulty bonus.

$$ \begin{equation} \text{Hand Value} = \left( \begin{aligned} 12 & \text{, if Slam announced} \\ \text{CBV} + 6 & \text{, if Slam made and CBV} \leq 6 \\ 12 & \text{, if Slam made and CBV} \geq 6 \end{aligned} \right) + \text{Difficulty Bonus} \end{equation} $$


Bonuses are only available in positive bids. In Null contracts, the only valid announcement is to double and redouble the game.

play

Declarer leads. Play proceeds to the left.

Players must always follow suit; if they can’t follow suit, they may trump or discard.

In a trump game, the Jokers are the two highest trumps. The trump suit is always ranked: Big Joker, Little Joker, Ace, King, et cetera.

In a notrumps game, the Jokers do not belong to any suit, but they also do not count as trumps. They can only be played as a discard, if the player can’t follow suit, or discarded as a part of the draw/exchange.

scoring

Both teams score for any bonuses made during the hand. Any announced bonuses that were unsuccessful are subtracted from that team’s score. The values for bonuses and the hand are appropriately adjusted according to any doubles or redoubles.

$$ \begin{equation} \text{Bonus Scores} = \begin{aligned} & \text{Four Kings Score} \times \text{doubles} &+\\ & \text{Four Aces Score} \times \text{doubles} &+\\ & \text{Dix Last Score} \times \text{doubles} &+\\ & \text{All Three Score} \times \text{doubles} &+\\ & \text{Joker Catch Score} \times \text{doubles} \end{aligned} \end{equation} $$

If the declaring team takes at least the number of tricks they’ve bid, they have made their bid, and add the Hand Value to their score. If they fail to make their bid, their hand value is subtracted from their score.

The one exception to this rule is in the case of a Slam announced during the bonuses announcements. If a team announces Slam and makes it, the value of their game (before difficulty adjustments) is upgraded to 12. However, given that the announcing team had the benefit of seeing their entire hands when they announced Slam, if they then fail to make their new bid, the base value of the game (before difficulty adjustment) is doubled, to 24.

$$ \begin{align*} \text{Declarers Score} &= \left( \begin{aligned} \text{Hand Value} & \text{, if contract made} \\ -(\text{Hand Value}) & \text{, if contract set} \\ -(24 + \text{Difficulty Bonus}) & \text{, if contract set and Slam announced} \\ \end{aligned} \right) \times \text{doubles} + \text{Bonuses Scores} \\ \text{Opponents Score} &= \text{Bonuses Scores} \end{align*} $$


history

2020–07–22: Preliminary Draft

2020–07–24: Increase value of Open Null

2020–08–05: Tie Dix Last to contract

It’s much more difficult to force out the Dix given that a holder of trumps may discard if they like. That makes it relatively trivial, if you’re longest in trumps, to hold on to the Dix until the last trick and ensure Dix Last. While I think it’s right that Dix Last sometimes be more valuable than the contract itself, that shouldn’t ever be reason to “throw” the contract. So we’ll make it harder to score that bonus by requiring that, as declarer, you also make your contract, or as opponent, you also set the declarers.

2020–08–06: Allow discard of Kings and Aces

The value of short-suiting oneself is too great; to be forced to hold on to a lone King, just so that someone else can more predictably shoot for All Kings, is perverse. And at that point, you might as well treat Aces the same. If someone would rather short themselves entirely than hold on to an Ace, that’s their business.