The Whist card game is a trick-taking card game of English origin, being played since the early 18th century. Unlike other trick-taking games, the Whist game is split into two phases.
How to Play Whist for Beginners?
Whist is a game designed for 2 or 4 players. Whist’s most classic form involves 4 players, but has since been superseded by the 2-player variant, which adds the multi-phase stages which reward thinking ahead.
All you need to play Whist is the standard 52-card Anglo-American deck with Jokers removed. The following guide will be focused on the 2-player variation of Whist.
In Whist, the aim is to win the most tricks in the 2nd phase. The player who wins the most tricks will win the round. Before the game begins, players specify a point threshold. The player reaching the point threshold first across multiple rounds wins the game.
Before the game begins, a dealer is determined by card splitting. The player drawing the higher card will be the dealer.
Each player is dealt 13 cards, one at a time. The remaining 26 cards are set aside to form the draw pile. The top card of the draw pile is flipped over, and the suit of the revealed card will be the trump suit for the round.
Trick-taking in Whist
Trick-taking involves each player playing a card. The player who leads the trick determines the leading suit, and the opponent must follow suit if possible. Note that this rule is different from other trick-taking card games, where players can choose to forfeit rounds by not following suit even if they can.
If both players follow suit, the player playing the highest-ranked card will win the trick. Players can also override suits by playing the trump suit, which outranks other cards.
The player winning the trick will lead the next trick.
- The 1st phase of Whist gives players the chance to improve their hands. On each trick, the top 2 cards of the draw pile are at stake.
- The winning player takes the revealed top card of the draw pile, and the losing player takes the unrevealed 2nd card of the draw pile.
- The non-dealer leads the first trick. The leading player can choose to deliberately lose the trick by playing a low-rank card if the revealed top card is not desirable.
- After each trick, the cards used in the trick are discarded and are not used in the remainder of the round. The next top card is revealed and the process repeats until all 26 from the draw pile are removed.
- The player winning the final trick of Phase 1 will lead the first trick of Phase 2.
- In phase 2, the game proceeds like a usual trick-taking game, with the same rules as the first phase.
- Players play tricks with the winning player leading the next. Players must follow suit whenever possible. Each winning trick is kept by the player.
- Players are then scored based on the number of tricks they’ve won.
- The player winning the round then becomes the dealer for the next round. This continues until one player has reached the specified point threshold.
The basic Whist game rules for 2 players are:
- The dealer is determined by deck splitting.
- Each player is dealt 13 cards each, with the remaining cards forming the draw pile.
- The top card of the draw pile is revealed. The suit becomes the trump suit for the round.
- Phase 1 begins, allowing players to improve their hands by replacing cards by winning tricks. The winning player gets the top revealed card, and the losing player gets the unrevealed 2nd card.
- Once all cards are depleted from the draw pile, Phase 2 begins. Players play out tricks using the cards from hand, and the player winning more tricks wins the round.
Scoring & Tricks
Whist scoring is based on the final number of tricks won after Phase 2 concludes. Each trick won is worth 1 point each, and the winning player is awarded the difference between tricks won.
- Player 1: 8 tricks won
- Player 2: 5 tricks won
Player 1 wins and is awarded 3 points.
This is a whist hand played in Phase 1, showing how players can improve their hands.
- Revealed Card: 5♦
- Player 1’s hand: J♦ 8♦ 4♦ 3♦ K♣ J♣ 10♣ 6♠ 4♠ 2♠ A♥ K♥ 2♥
- Player 2’s hand: A♦ K♦ 10♦ 8♦ 7♦ 9♣ 8♣ 7♣ 5♣ Q♠ J♠ 10♠ 7♥
Since the first card is the trump suit for the round, it is always desirable, and players should always seek to win the trick for it. Player 1 leads the trick and plays the A♥ to guarantee the trick. Player 2 must follow suit, and plays their only 7♥.
Player 1 wins the trick and gets the card. Player 2 gets the unrevealed 2nd card of the draw pile, which is a Q♣.
- Revealed Card: Q♦
- Player 1’s hand: J♦ 8♦ 5♦ 4♦ 3♦ K♣ J♣ 10♣ 6♠ 4♠ 2♠ K♥ 2♥
- Player 2’s hand: A♦ K♦ 10♦ 8♦ 7♦ Q♣ 9♣ 8♣ 7♣ 5♣ Q♠ J♠ 10♠
Since Player 1 won the 1st trick, they lead the 2nd trick as well. Knowing that Player 2 does not have good cards from the ♥ suit, Player 1 plays their K♥ card. Player 2 is unable to follow suit since they do not have a card from the ♥ suit. Hence, Player 2 plays their 7♦ card, which wins by default since it is of the trump suit.
This continues until all cards are removed.
Strategy and Tips
- The main aspect of Whist strategy is to improve your hand during the 1st phase.
- Try to anticipate what cards your opponent has to win tricks.
- Play out lower-ranked cards when you know you can’t win tricks.
- Count cards, there is only 1 card of each suit and rank.
- Know that you can bluff by deliberately losing tricks.
- Try to win as many tricks as possible to maintain momentum.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I play Whist online for free?
Does this game have variations?
Whist has popular variations such as Bid Whist and Knockout Whist. Furthermore, Bridge, Tarneeb, and the game of Spades belong to a sub-group of Whist, known as the Auction Group. Oh Hell or Oh Psaw on the other hand is considered to be part of the Exact Bidding Group.
What is the highest card rank in Whist?
In Whist, Aces are the highest rank, and 2s are the lowest.
How to play 4-player Whist?
4-player Whist removes the 1st phase but retains the rule that players must follow suit if possible.