Jocu Game Night #005 – How to play ‘Classic Whist’

Welcome to the fifth edition of Jocu Game Night! Tonight we look at the second in our trilogy of trick-taking games with Classic Whist – the original and, some will argue, best variant of the game.

If you haven’t learned the key concepts of Whist or trick-taking games in general, we recommend you first check out last week’s Knockout Whist to get to grips with it, as it’s very different to your usual poker or rummy variant. What’s more, Classic Whist builds upon strategies from the knockout variant and so has a lot more tricks up its sleeve.

Without further ado, grab your nearest deck and let’s get started!

Deck of the Night – Dram ‘Private Reserve’ Copper Edition

Our brand-new series Dram was designed to be our most player-friendly deck yet. Large, clear indices and pips for easy-reading, classic (yet fully custom) courts designed by Alessandra, beautifully simple metallic ink backs and of course a beautifully-printed and embossed tuck box made with top quality paper.

What you need

  • 1x Dram Private Reserve Copper Edition Deck (or any 52-card deck of cards)
  • Remove the jokers!

Introduction

Whist and its variants are part on a classic type of card game called a ‘trick-taking’ game, where the aim is for the players to make ‘tricks’ in order to score points. It is also where the concept of trump cards come into play, and after learning just a few basic concepts you’ll have access to a whole new world of great strategic card games for your next Game Night.

For Game Night 4, 5 and 6 we will be covering the two key variants of Whist – Knockout Whist and Classic Whist, plus our personal favourite version German Whist which is played with just 2 players. This way whether you’re with one friend or a whole group, we’ll have a version for you!

If you’re new to Whist we recommend learning the three variants in order:

  1. Knockout Whist teaches you all the necessary concepts in a simplified version of the game that is suitable also for kids, so start with this one if you’re not familiar with these kinds of games. It can be played with between two and seven players, so is also the most flexible variant we’ll be teaching.
  1. Classic Whist is played by four players, and is the traditional group version of the game invented in the 1800s. It’s got a great blend of strategy and planning involved and is a great way of honing the skills necessary to win in all the variants.
  1. German Whist is for just two players, so it’s a great, quick variant to learn if you don’t have a group of four or perhaps you want something a bit different!

After last week’s introduction, we now move on to the original Classic Whist variant which has been around for over 200 years.

Players and Cards

The game requires exactly four players working in two teams. Players must not disclose information about their hands to their partners though, and the strategic benefits of this silent teamwork will come apparent when playing. Players always sit opposite their partners, so that each turn is taken by a player from a different team.

Card rankings are Ace (highest) down to 2 (lowest) for each suit: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs.

Whist Terminology

So you’re now familiar with Whist and its particulars thanks to last week’s Knockout Whist right? Let’s recap:

  • A trick is when a player plays a card, and the others try to play a higher value of the same suit or, if they can’t, a lower value. If they have no cards in the led suit, they can play any card at all or a trump card to win the trick.
  • A trump card is any card belonging to the trump suit which is decided at the beginning of the game. This is achieved in different ways depending on the game, but the trump suit remains for the length of the round. All cards in this suit beat any other suit to a trick.

Now we’re familiar with these terms, we can get into how to play the original Classic Whist.

Play

  1. Choose the dealer. The deck is shuffled and cards are dealt to each player until each has 13 cards. Play will continue clockwise from the dealer.
  2. The final card, which will belong to the dealer, is turned face up on the table. This will be the trump suit for the round, and will remain displayed until the the first trick is decided, at which point it goes back into his hand. It does not play part in the first hand.
  3. The player to the dealer’s left leads the first trick. As with other variants (see Knockout Whist for more details) the player can play any card of any suit, and the other players in turn attempt to win the trick by either playing a higher value of the led suit or, if they cannot, playing a trump card. Alternatively they can play a lower value of the same suit or, if they cannot, any random card and lose the trick, focusing on the next one.
  4. 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 a trick leads to the next.
  5. Remember, players must play a card of the same suit at all times unless they don’t have any. You cannot choose to play a trump card for example, just because you don’t have a high enough diamond to beat the Jack of Diamonds your opponent played.
  6. When all 13 tricks have been played, the team which won the most tricks scores 1 point for each trick they won in excess of 6.
  7. The partnership which first reaches 5 points wins the game. This should take several rounds.
  8. Remember – whilst you and your partner cannot speak about your hands, you can still work to help each other out. Say your partner lead the trick with the 10 of diamonds, and you have the Queen of Diamonds. It doesn’t make sense to attack his trick as the points will go to you anyway – so play a lower diamond if you can to avoid wasting your Queen – unless of course you know that your opponent on the left will have the Jack!
Trumps beat any other suit – but can only be played when you don’t have any of the led suit (in this case, hearts)

Variations

There are a number of variations to scoring and so on that we won’t go into here. If you enjoy the game do some research on this as there are many – Whist was an incredibly popular game in its day and rivalled Poker in terms of popularity for a while!

Tips and Tricks

  • Don’t waste your Trumps! If you must play one because your opponent leads with a trump card, if you can’t beat it just use your lowest trump card to keep the stronger ones back.
  • Learn to count cards – keeping track of what trumps have been played will enable you to make better decisions about which ones to use from your hand. For example, if the trump suit is clubs and you have the 5 of clubs, it might be best to wait until you’ve seen the lower cards like the 6 and 7 be used up by your opponents to reduce the likelihood of them being able to beat your five.

Final Thoughts

Classic Whist is classic for a reason – there’s a huge amount of strategy and skill involved once you get to grips with the basics and this should become apparent quite quickly. It does have one drawback however – you must have four players! So next week we have a great solution for that – a two-player variant called German Whist which builds on all the key concepts and skills whilst adapting the game perfectly for two players.

Have a great Game Night everyone and we’ll see you for the next one!

Do you play this game already? What do you call it in your country? And do you have any recommended variations on the rules? Let us know below!

  • The new series Dram has not yet been released, but you can check out some great photos of the decks here and be notified of its release by signing up for our newsletter at the bottom of the page.
  • Receive our most exclusive decks in a quarterly package and get a year-round discount off our entire store: www.innercircle.jocu.cards

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