Pitch or Setback is a trick-taking card game that was particularly popular in England and the American colonies during the Pre-Revolutionary period of the North American East Coast, widely referred to as New England.
Pitch exists in the “All Fours Group” of card games. These are all derivatives with similar rules to All Fours. Each game builds upon the same foundation, with slightly different rules and regulations for each game.
How to Play Pitch
Pitch, as an English game, is naturally played using the standard 52-card Anglo-American deck. The Jokers should be omitted from the deck, if they are present.
Shuffle & Deal
A round of Auction Pitch begins with shuffling the deck, and dealing each Player six cards in two “packets” of three. This means each Player will be given three cards at a time.
Pitch can be played in two-, three-, or four-player versions. Regardless of the number of Players, each Player will always be dealt six cards.
Once each Player has had their cards distributed, and they have seen their cards, the “auction” begins.
The Auction begins with the Player sitting to the left of the Dealer. That Player may either bid or Pass, as can all Players. It is possible to begin a round of Pitch without a single Player bidding for a contract.
If a Player does begin bidding by attempting a contract, the lowest possible bid they may put forward is 2. These bids are an attempt to achieve the “contract”.
Normally, there will only be one contract in each game. This is why this portion of the game is called the Auction. If Players want to enter the game with the contract, they must put forward the highest bid.
These bids are essentially a declaration that a Player will take a certain amount of tricks in the upcoming round.
For example, if Player 1 bids 2, and all other Players pass, Player 1 wins the contract. In the coming round, Player 1 has declared with their contract that they will win at least 2 tricks. If the Player does take the requisite amount of tricks, they will be awarded with Victory Points that match their contract.
A contract of 2 will reward the Player with 2 Victory Points if that Player took at least 2 tricks. However, be wary. If a Player does not meet their contractual obligation of tricks, their score will be deducted that number of Victory Points. If Player 1 has a contract for 3 tricks, but only took 2 tricks in the round, Player 1’s score will be reduced by 3 Victory Points.
As there is only one normal contract, Players must bid more than the previously highest bid in order to take the contract. If Player 1 bids 2, then Played 2 must bid 3 if they want to take the Contract.
The only Player that does not have to increase the bid is the Dealer. The Dealer may accept a contract at its “going rate.” For example:
- Player 2 bids 3
- Dealer (Player 4) bids 3 as well, taking the contract for its going rate.
- Only the Dealer may take a contract at its going rate.
There is also a special contract, known as the “Smudge”. If a Player declares Smudge, they automatically declare that they will win exactly 4 tricks, no more and no less.
This contract is sealed the moment it is declared, and cannot be taken away from the Player by a higher bid.
If a Player that declared Smudge achieves their contract, they automatically win the game. If a Player fails their Smudge, either by going over or under the 4 required tricks, then that Player will lose 4 Victory Points.
The Game is then played as any normal trick-taking game. Each Player will use their hand of six cards, playing one per trick and comparing their ranks (2-9, J, Q, K, Ace) and suits (♥♦♣♠) to the other cards played by each other Player.
The “Pitcher” is the Player that won the normal contract by putting forth the highest bid, unrelated to Players that might have declared Smudge.
If all Players passed or Smudged, then the Pitcher is the Player to the immediately left of the Dealer. The Dealer position will move clockwise at the end of each round, or set of six tricks.
The Pitcher will play the first card of the first trick, and for subsequent tricks the Player to the left of the Pitcher will play the first card of the next trick, and so on. The Pitcher’s role is unique, because the suit of the first card played by the Pitcher will become the Trump suit of the round.
Other Players must “follow suit” if they are able, and are not playing a Trump card. To follow suit means that the first card of a trick determines the suit of the trick, and any non-Trump cards played in that Trick must be the same suit, if a card of the same suit is in the Player’s hand.
The trick is “taken” by the Player that plays the highest rank card that either follows suit, or is a Trump card. A card that does not follow the suit of the first card, nor is a Trump card, does not win the trick even if it has a higher rank than other played cards that do follow suit, or are Trump cards.
End of Game
The game ends when one Player achieves 7 total “Victory Points.” Victory Points in Pitch are awarded for achieved contracts, or for the game conditions derived from Pitch’s mother game, All Fours: High, Low, Jack, and Game.
Below we listed the essential rules of the game.
- The Pitcher decides the Trump card of the round.
- The Game is divided into Rounds and Tricks. Each Round is a set of six Tricks.
- The Smudge wins the game immediately.
- Aces are always high, and are the highest ranked card in the game.
Rules for Victory Points
Victory Points are assigned at the end of the round, in order of Player.
The Pitcher counts their Victory points first. This means that if the Pitcher and another Player both achieve 7 Victory Points in the same round, the Pitcher wins the game because their score was counted first.
The only way the Pitcher will not win in this scenario is if the other Player achieved a Smudge. Smudge immediately wins the game at the end of the round, before Victory Points are tallied.
Scoring & Points
Points in Pitch are rewarded for taken the requisite number of tricks based on a Player’s contract. Victory points can also be awarded for the following special conditions: High, Low, Jack, and Game. Each condition awards 1 Victory Point.
- High: The highest rank Trump card played in the round.
- Low: The lowest rank Trump card played in the round.
- Jack: The Player that takes the trick containing the Jack of Trumps wins the Jack point.
- Game: The Player with taken tricks accumulating the highest “trick value” Trick value is explained in the score sheet below:
Note that some variants of Pitch include a specific rule from Euchre where the non-trump Jack of the same color as the trumps is also worth 1 point. This is called an Off-Jack.
The following is an example hand in Pitch:
J♣, K♣, 9♠, 5♣, 3♠, 6♥
In this case, it would be advantageous to bid highly in this round to become the Pitcher. By becoming the Pitcher, the Player can make the Trump suit clubs.
This would give them points for the Jack of Trumps, possibly winning the High point with their King of Trump, and can bid up to 3 during the Auction due to their 3 Trump cards increasing the odds of winning those tricks.
Basic Strategy & Tips
- A Smudge is an extremely risky contract to take, however because you get to see your hand before the auction, if the hand you were dealt has 4 high value Trump cards, there’s a very good chance of succeeding the Smudge. A Smudge instantly wins the game, and is only a deduction of 4 points if it is not made. If you can reasonably expect a win from the Smudge, go for it.
- Try to become the Pitcher as often as possible. The Pitcher determines the Trump suit of the game. This is an extremely advantageous position to be in, as the more prominent suit in your hand becomes the Trump suit.
- Contracts are the fastest way to generate Victory Points, but contracts are also the only way to lose Victory Points as well. A failed contract can leave you with a negative score. It may be better to try and win the High, Low, and Game points if your hand is rather weak.
- Remember, when it comes to the Game Point, anything besides the 10, Ace, and face cards (K, Q, J) offer no value. 10 cards are worth the most, so if you are trying for the Game Point, always try to take tricks where a 10 has been played.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Points in Pitch?
Pitch uses the same Victory Points as All Fours, except for the Gift point. This means, points in Pitch are tabulated by High, Low, Jack, and Game.
How do you win a Pitch?
A game of Pitch is won when a Player accumulates 7 of the Victory Points.
When it comes to the individual trick, a trick is taken when the Player plays the highest value card that either follows suit, or Trumps. A game also ends automatically when a Player that declared Smudge takes exactly 4 tricks, with that Player being the winner.
Can your score be negative in Pitch?
Yes, it is possible to get a negative score. During the bidding portion of the game, a Player’s contract is sealed before the round starts. If a Player does not take at least as many tricks as they bid, then the Player loses as many points as their bid was worth.
For example, Player 1 bids 3, but only takes 2 tricks. This means Player 1 loses 3 points at the end of the round.