Often referred to as “Bridge light”, Whist has waned in popularity over the years due to the surging popularity of Bridge. Whist is essentially the same game as Bridge, but a simplified version. The most important difference between the two is that in Whist there is no “bidding”.

The game of Whist, while deceptively simple, is actually a very strategic game of winning “tricks” (individual rounds of Whist) and can lead to some friendly competition and back and forth. Whist is after all what is called a “trick game”, and the winning of various tricks becomes quite cut throat.

Whist Cards, Decks, and Players

Whist is a game for four players, in which the four players break up into two groups of fixed partners. Whist partners should sit facing one another, and the game play moves clockwise.

Whist requires a standard deck of playing cards with the Jokers removed, 52 cards in all, and the cards are assigned “ranks” from highest to lowest. Aces are the most valuable cards, moving down through the face cards all the way to the least valuable card, the two (or deuce).

The shuffling of cards is done by the player seated at the dealer’s left and the deck is then cut as many times as necessary by the player on the right of the dealer. This means that the dealer’s opponents have control over the fair shuffling and cutting of the deck.

The dealer then deals out all 52 cards, one at a time, until all the players have 13 cards in their hand.

The last card is always dealt to the dealer, who turns the final card face up on the playing table. This card’s suit is then called the “trump suit” for that hand of Whist. A card of the trump suit literally trumps all other cards and the highest trump card “takes” a trick — more on that later.

The card the dealer lays face up stays face up until it is the dealer’s turn to play the first hand or “trick” of the game.

Traditionally, Whist is played with two separate decks of 52 cards. One deck is used for game play, while the other deck is set aside for the next hand. This “second deck” is shuffled by the dealer’s partner (while the dealer is shuffling the “main deck”) and this shuffled deck is kept to the dealer’s right. Once the first hand is over the deck is simply passed from the dealer over to the next person meant to be the dealer. This traditional setup is not necessary for the game play of Whist, but it certainly speeds the process of dealing and playing.

Whist Gameplay

To begin play, the person to the dealer’s left starts the first trick. Any card of any suit may be played at this time — you don’t have to lead with a trump card or any particular card at all.

The rest of the players, (remember that gameplay moves in a clockwise direction) play a card to add to the trick — the idea is to play the most valuable card and “take” that trick for your team. Ideally, all players must play the same suit as the card that was led in the trick, if this is possible can. If any player can’t play a card of the same suit, that player may use any card. A little strategy note — playing “off suit” is a great time to get rid of “garbage cards” — cards of low rank like fives or less.

At any time, a trump suited card can be added to a trick — if that card is the only “trump card” played, that card wins the trick. If, however, there are more than one trump card in a trick, the highest trump card wins that trick. If no trump card (remember that a trump card is the card determined for that hand of whist by the dealer’s last card) is palyed, then the high card of the suit played wins the trick. The winner of a trick is required to “lead” the next trick.

That’s basically it — except for variations and special notes on scoring, Whist is a simple game of playing the highest card and winning the most tricks.

Whist Scoring

When it comes time to score, remember that the team that won more tricks scores a single point for every trick they won over the number six — since thirteen tricks occurr in every game, there’s plenty of opportunity to score. The team to first score five points wins a game of Whist. This will normally take between five and ten deals, though every game is different. If you’d like, you can alter the scoring system to make the game longer or shorter — simply change the number of tricks required to score.

Whist Variations – Honors

A major variation of Whist is called “Honors”. In Honors, a team of Whist players earns extra points for holding and playing the four top trumps: Ace, King, Queen and Jack. If a team plays all four of the top trumps, they claim this victory at the end of a round of Whist and earn an additional four points. This is huge, considering that the game of Whist traditionally only plays to five points.

During “Honors” games of Whist, other numbers of “honors” (high trumps) count for points as well. If the team played three of the four honor trumps, then they can also earn 2 points.

In Honors, a team which starts a round of Whist within one point of victory cannot claim “honors points” for that round. This makes it a little less easy to win on honor cards alone. Many players of Whist consider “honor rules” to be a bit unfair, and claim they make the game of Whist more about “luck” than about strategy, but many players still make use of the “honor card” rule.

Other Whist Variations

A couple of other alterations to Whist rules — there is at least one other way of determining the “trump card” for a round of Whist. Instead of using the suit of the card that the dealer is dealt last (and turns over for everyone to see) you can determine a trump suit in advance, and then work your way through the suits for each hand of the game. For example — you decide beforehand that Spades will be the first trump, Diamonds the second, Clubs the third, etc. Another fun variation is to play at least one round of Whist without a trump suit. This makes the game even more strategically based.

The final variation I’ll mention involves the scoring method. In American, Whist players tend to use a target of seven points to “win” a game of Whist, while the five point tradition is more of a British thing. You can make endless variations of scoring — try playing an extra long game where the winning total is nine or ten points.

Whist may not be as popular a game today as it once was, but the rules are simple and the game play is exciting. Try a game of Whist at your next party, and I guarantee your guests will be clamoring for it at your next party.