Bid Whist is an American trick-taking card game. It developed as a variation of the British game of Whist. In one 2005 interview for NPR, author Greg Morrison describes the particularly African-American history and popularity of the game.
In the 1940s, Black Pullman Porters were key workers on the inter-continental railways in the United States. These workers would play card games together to pass the time. As the Pullman Porters traveled all over the country for their job, they spread Bid Whist to other Black communities all over the U.S.
How to Play Bid Whist
Bid Whist is played using the Joker Variant of the Anglo-American deck, two Jokers included in the Standard 52-card deck for a total of 54 cards. This is a partnership game, playable by 4 Players formed into two teams of two.
Each Player should sit in a different cardinal direction around the table, opposite of their partners, such that North-South and East-West are partners. This ensures that the turn order alternates between the two partnerships evenly.
Traditionally, the Dealer is chosen by dealing cards from the deck until a Player receives the first ♦-suited card. That Player shall then become the Dealer, collecting the cards and reshuffling them.
- Once the deck is shuffled, the Dealer will deal out 12 cards face-down, one at a time, in a clockwise fashion to each Player.
- Throughout the deal, six cards must be dealt face-down in the center of the table to form a “Kitty”, or an additional half-hand that will become important after the Bidding Phase.
For now, keep in mind that the first four, and last four cards from the deck cannot be dealt into the Kitty.
Once each Player has received their necessary cards, the Bidding Phase begins.
The Bidding Phase
The Bidding Phase begins with the Player to the immediate clockwise of the Dealer. Players are only given one opportunity to make their bid. Bids in Bid Whist are composed of two components.
Firstly, the number of tricks, called “books” in Bid Whist, that a Player needs to win in order to achieve their bid.
The number of Books is always assumed to be over 6, such that the lowest possible bid is 1, for a total of 7 won books during the round and the highest possible bid is 7, for a total of 13 won books.
The Player who makes the highest bid earns the right to exchange their cards with cards from the Kitty. Although there are only 12 possible books available in regular play during a round, taking the Kitty is considered a taken book.
The second component of a bid is the Player’s Trumps of choice. Players can declare either Uptown, Downtown, or No Trump in addition to their number.
- Uptown means that cards shall be ranked from low to high, with the higher ranking cards (Ace, K, Q, J) as the highest ranking cards under the Jokers.
- Downtown means that cards shall be ranked from high to low, with the lower-ranking cards (Ace, 2, 3, 4) as the highest-ranking cards under the Jokers.
Players that call Uptown or Downtown, and successfully win the bidding phase, earn the right to declare their suit of choice as the Trump suit.
If a Player declares No Trump for the round, and wins the bidding phase, there will not be a Trump suit for the round. The winning bidder may choose whether cards will be counted “Uptown” or “Downtown”, however.
Take for example the following pair of bids:
Player 1, or North, bids 3 Downtown. This means Player 1 intends for their partnership to win a total of 9 books (including the kitty), with the low cards outranking the high cards (Ace, 2, 3, 4).
In Response, Player 2, or East, bids 5 No Trump. Player 2 intends for their partnership to win a total of 11 books (including the Kitty), and will choose whether cards are ranked high-to-low, or low-to-high.
Player 2’s bid wagers a greater number of tricks, 11 to Player 1s 9. As such, Player 2’s bid supersedes Player 1s, and Player 2 wins the bidding phase.
Although Bid Whist is a partnership game, only the Player who declared the winning bid earns the right to exchange their cards with the Kitty.
- The bid-winner takes the Kitty and adds those six cards to their hand.
- They must then discard any 6 cards from this new 18-card hand, until they are back to 12 total cards.
- The 6 discards can be discarded face-down, into a new kitty at the center of the table.
- Players may discard their original cards, or any of the 6 cards from the kitty.
Once the bidding Player has exchanged their cards, gameplay begins.
The bid-winner leads the first trick, with normal trick-taking rules applying. Players must follow suit, and Trump cards always outrank non-Trumps.
The Jokers are distinct from one another. There is a “Big Joker” and a “Small Joker.” Players should determine whether the Black, or Red Joker is the Big Joker before the round begins.
- In order to follow suit, Players must play a card of the same suit as the leading Player.
- If a Player does not follow suit, they cannot take the book. Players must follow suit, if they are able.
- Players that fail to follow suit, if they were able, can be given a renege penalty.
- In order to renege a play, it must be declared by the opposing Partnership.
- If a renege is declared, and it is discovered that a misplay indeed occurred, the offending partnership subtracts a penalty of three books from their total at the end of the round.
- If a renege was falsely declared, then the declaring partnership must assume the penalty themselves.
The Player who plays the highest-ranking card, according to the current rules of the round, wins the book. A partnership’s taken books are combined.
- Trumps always beat non-Trumps, and only lose to other higher-ranking Trump cards.
- Trumps are also ranked Uptown, or Downtown, depending on the rules of the round.
Players complete all 12 Books, and then scores are tallied. The scoring system of Bid Whist is somewhat complicated, as given below in the “Scoring” section.
Some essential Bid Whist rules to be aware of:
- There is a Big Joker, and a Small Joker. Players must determine before the round begins which color of Joker represents Big or Small. The Jokers are unaffected by Uptown and Downtown, the Big Joker always supersedes the Little Joker.
- The Player who makes the highest-numbered bid wins the bidding phase. The highest-bidding Player earns the right to exchange cards with the kitty.
- If Playing Downtown, cards are ranked in the following order highest-to-lowest: Ace, 2-10, J, Q, K
- If Playing Uptown, cards are ranked in the following order highest-to-lowest: Ace, K, Q, J, 10-2.
Whist is scored based on the highest bid of that round. The score is always relative both to the contract made by the bid-winner, and the actual number of books won by that partnership in the round.
For example, if a Player made a bid of 3 Uptown, they are required to win at least 9 books in that round.
For every book a Partnership won greater than their bid, they score 1 point. For example, Player 1 won the bidding around with a bid of 5, for an overall contract of 11.
Player 1’s partnership won all 13 books, including The Kitty, and as such scored 2 points. 13-11=2.
If a Player does not meet their required contract, then they score negative points. Negative points subtract from positive score, and can bring a Player below 0, down to -7.
Suppose that a Player won the bidding phase with a bid of 5, for a contract of 11 books. In the round, that player’s partnership only won a total of 7 tricks. That partnership would lose 4 points, 7-11=-4.
Bid Whist is played with matchplay, such that the score is kept over multiple rounds. The overall winner of a match is the partnership that achieves a total of 7 points, or forces the opposing team to achieve a score of negative 7.
Suppose that you have the following 12 cards:
K♦ 8♦ 2♥ 10♥ A♦ 7♣ 4♠ A♠ 9♦ 4♦ 9♣ K♣
This is a very strong hand for an Uptown game, as you have many high-ranking cards (K♦ 8♦10♥ A♦ 9♦ 9♣ K♣). If the opposing partnership is able to make this a Downtown game, you will almost certainly lose the round. As such, bid at least 10 Books or more.
If you are able to win the bidding phase, and make the game an Uptown game, then suppose the following 6 cards are the Kitty:
3♠ Q♦ 9♠ 7♥ 7♦ J♣
Since the game is Uptown, discard all of the kitty cards except for the Q♦ J♣ and 9♠. Use those three cards from the Kitty to replace the 2♥ 4♠ and 7♣ from your hand. This will all but guarantee that you can secure your contracted number of bids, and will score this round.
Aces are always high, whether Playing Uptown or Downtown. As such, keep a close eye on your opponent’s bids during the bidding phase. If they bid Uptown, wait until you see one of their Kings or Queens before playing your aces. If they bid Downtown, wait until you see 2s or 3s.
The No Trumps bid can be a great way to disrupt opponent’s hands. No Trumps bids can be very beneficial for Players who do not have a hand composed in the majority of any suit.
A hand with three diamonds, three clubs, three spades, and three hearts would be the theoretically perfect hand to bid No Trumps on.
If you want to learn more in-depth strategies Chris Jones’s How to Master Bid Whist book might be interesting.