What is California Jack?
California Jack is a Two-Player trick-taking card game, similar to the popular British All Fours card game. Despite the name California Jack, it is not certain if the game is an American take on the British All Fours, or if the game originated in England and is merely an allusion to the State of the same name in America.
How to Play California Jack?
California Jack is played utilizing the standard Anglo-American 52-card deck. A Dealer is chosen by flipping a coin, with one or both of the Players declaring a side/opposite sides of the coin. The winning Player becomes the Dealer.
After the deck is shuffled, the Dealer should give each Player six cards in packets of three, meaning they deal three cards at a time. Three to the opposing player, three to themselves, three to the opposing player, three to themselves.
Once the cards are dealt, the Dealer places the deck off to the side, and draws the top card from it, flipping it face-up and placing it next to the deck. Like in many trick-taking games, the suit of this flipped top-card becomes the Trump suit of the round.
Once the Trump has been determined, gameplay begins with the Dealer leading the first card of the trick. A “trick” is merely a comparison of cards, with both Players placing one card into the center of the play area. The first Player to play a card, known as the “lead” card conveys an advantage.
The first card played determines the suit that must be followed. In order to follow suit, a card played after the leading card must match its suit (♦♥♣♠). If a card is played that does not follow the leading suit, that card cannot win the trick.
Cards “win” the trick by being more valuable. Cards which do not follow suit cannot win the trick. Cards which do follow suit, but are ranked (Ace-2 from high to low) lower than the leading card cannot win the trick. A card which follows suit, and is ranked more highly than the leading card, will win the trick.
Cards of the Trump suit will beat all other cards of all other suits automatically. A Trump card can only be beaten by another Trump card of a higher rank. For example, a 2 of Trump will beat an Ace of non-Trump.
Gameplay continues, with the ability to lead tricks alternating between Players, until all 6 tricks have been completed.
Winning and Ending
Just like in All Fours and its other variations, the goal of the game is to accumulate game points for winning tricks that have particular cards within them. There is also a game point awarded for winning the most valuable tricks in the round. This scoring system of game points will further be explained in the scoring section.
A game of California Jack is ended when a Player accumulates 10 points.
In subsequent rounds after the first, the Dealer position alternates between Players, so that no Player ever deals two games in a row. The same should be done when leading tricks, so that no Player leads a trick twice in a row.
- The Trump suit is determined at the start of the game, by turning over the top-card of the deck.
- Subsequent games are usually played using the same, unshuffled deck, with the cards of the previous game removed from Play. If the deck becomes depleted and the game does not end in the round it was depleted, simply reshuffle the deck at the end of that round.
- Only a single card may be played in a trick at a time.
- Trump cards always beat non-Trump cards. Higher ranking Trumps may beat Trump cards.
- Non-Trump Cards which follow suit and rank the highest take the trick.
Scoring & Points
The California Jack card gamer, like most All Fours variations, utilizes a system of game points awarded when a Player achieves certain conditions during rounds of the game. There are 4 of these conditions, listed as the following:
- Taking the trick which contains the Ace of Trump awards a single game point.
- Taking the trick which contains the 2 off Trump awards a single game point.
- Taking the trick which contains the Jack of Trump awards a single game point.
There is also an additional game point that can be awarded, the confusingly named “Game” point. To win Game, a Player must take tricks of the highest value in a given round. Cards have their own associated “card points” explained below:
Card points are tallied between both Players won tricks, and the Player with the highest card score wins the Game point. This is important to keep in mind, as winning two tricks with 10s can easily win a Player the game point, even if they lose the remaining 4 tricks.
The following is a possible starting hand in California Jack, assuming that the Trump card is ♦
6♣, K♦, 3♥, 6♥, J♦, 2♣
The above is actually quite a strong opening hand. Although there are no guarantees, as the Jack of Trump can be outmatched by 3 Trump cards, it is still highly possible to play smart and wind up with a free game point.
Further, with the King of Trump, a trick can be nigh guaranteed to be taken. If your opponent leads the trick with a 10, immediately play that King of Trump for a valuable trick of 13 card points.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between California Jack and All Fours?
All Fours and California Jack use different scoring systems, although they are very similar. All Fours awards points for High Card, Low Card, the Jack of Trump, and Game.
How many rounds should you play before shuffling the deck?
A whole game of California Jack can be played with a single deck, and removing cards from play as you go along adds an extra element of challenge to a game, removing high ranking Trump cards as the game continues.