Trick-taking games are card games with a distinct and common play structure: Each round of play is divided into units called tricks, during which each player selects one card from his or her hand. These games compose one of the most diverse and prolific genre of card games.[citation needed] One theory regarding the prolific nature of the genre is that they are popular because of the relatively intense play complexity — including both psychological and mathematical elements — that emerges from a relatively simple structure.[attribution needed]

Essential building-block: the trickEdit

All trick-taking games use the concept of a trick. For each trick, one player will have the lead, the right and obligation to play the first card of the trick. The others play in order according to their physical position, typically clockwise in games originating in English-speaking countries, counter-clockwise in some other countries. During each trick, every player puts one card from his or her hand into play. Once each player has played a card, the trick is evaluated to determine the winner. The played cards are turned face down and removed from play: typically the winning player or partnership takes them, but in duplicate play, as at Bridge tournaments, the face-down cards remain in front of each player so the hand remains together for reuse.

Playing last to a trick is often an advantageous position, because the last player can react to the other players' decisions and can compute exactly the outcome of the trick for each of his possible plays. However, leading can be advantageous as well, since it determines the suit which other players, if able, must play.

In some games, such as Bridge, the lead to the first trick (the opening lead) is made by the player next in rotation after the contractor, so that the contractor plays last to that trick. Other games feature a fixed initial lead: in Hearts as commonly played in North America, the player holding the 2 of Clubs must lead it on the first trick. Subsequently, the lead for each trick is made by the winner of the preceding one.

Domino games analogous to trick-taking card games are the Chinese Tien Gow and Texas 42.

Variations in trick-taking gamesEdit

Many variations exist among trick-taking games, and these dimensions of variance, in fact, determine the character of the game.

  • In positive trick-taking games, players seek unambiguously to take tricks. There is no penalty for taking as many tricks as possible. Examples of this include Bridge, 500, some variations of Spades, and Euchre.
  • In evasion trick-taking games, players seek to avoid tricks. An example of this is Hearts.
  • Exact-prediction trick-taking games, always involving some sort of contract (see below) reward players for predicting (usually after knowing their hands) how many cards they will take. Oh Hell and some variations of Spades are exact-prediction games, but also positive in that they are biased in favor of one's taking more tricks (i.e. it is better to predict taking 5 tricks, and do so, than to accurately predict taking 4 tricks.)
  • In final-trick games, such as Cắt Tê, the object is to take the final trick of a game. Winning the initial trick or intermediate tricks is of little consequence (although in Cắt Tê, one must win at least one of the first four tricks in the round to stay alive).

Some point-trick games contain features of both positive and evasion games. For example, in the Omnibus variant of Hearts, the Jack of Diamonds is actually counted as -10 points (where negative scores are to a player's benefit) and therefore Omnibus Hearts is not strictly an evasion game. Alternatively, in 500, while most rounds are positive, in misère rounds, the aim is to lose all tricks.


As far as scoring goes, trick-taking games are usually classified as either:

  • Plain trick games, where the contents of each trick are irrelevant, and only the number of tricks taken by each player matters.
  • Point-trick games, wherein players are penalized or rewarded for taking certain cards, each of which has an assigned point-value.


Many trick-taking games contain a trump suit. Cards in the trump suit outrank all others. If trump is played to a trick led in another suit, the highest card of the trump suit (rather than the highest card in the led suit) wins.

Trump may be static or dynamic. Static trump is featured in Spades, where the spade suit is always trump, as well as many tarock games where a separate trump suit (in addition to the other four) is featured. When trump is dynamic, as in Contract Bridge, it is usually declared by the winner of the auction, the right to choose trump being an incentive for players to bid; or in some games, such as Oh Hell and the original form of Whist, it is determined randomly by exposing a card (in this case it's as if the trump was static, but it adds some psychological variety to the game and makes it more difficult to cheat while dealing the cards if the trump suit is only chosen in the end of the deal).

In some games, certain special cards are high trumps regardless of the actual trump suit. For example, in skat, jacks are the highest four trumps.

Some games have more than one trump suit, such as Stortok, in which there are two trumps, with one superseding the other.

Trick structureEdit

Most trick-taking games feature systems of requirements regarding what cards players are allowed to play. A common feature is the requirement of following suit where players must follow with a card of the suit led, if able. In some games with a trump suit, players are required to ruff (play a trump card) if they are unable to follow suit but able to play trump.

These requirement systems are ordered lists of instructions where players must follow the "top" instruction they can satisfy. For example:

  • In Bridge or Euchre a player must:
    • Follow suit, if able;
    • Otherwise, play any card.
  • In some versions of Hearts, a player must:
    • Follow suit, if able;
    • Otherwise, play the Queen of Spades, if holding it;
    • Otherwise, play any card.
  • In Pinochle a player must:
    • Follow suit with a higher card than any already played to the trick, if able;
    • Otherwise, follow suit, if able;
    • Otherwise, play a trump higher than any already played to the trick, if able;
    • Otherwise, play any card.
  • In some versions of Oh Hell, a player must:
    • Play a wild card (for which following suit is not required);
    • Follow suit, if able;
    • Otherwise, play any card.

The last instruction on each list is, by necessity, always "play any card". Each trick must contain one card per player, and hence a player unable to satisfy any other instruction is at liberty to play any card at all.

These requirement systems constitute "honor rules" in that violations cannot be detected when they are committed; players follow them "on their honor". However, other players use these rules to infer the absence of certain cards in the player's (hidden) hand, and will detect the irregularity when such a card is played later. This violation of the game's rules is known as a revoke or renege, and is usually considered quite a serious offense, and the breach is severely penalized.

In some trick games--typically ones in which players are not penalized for winning tricks, and there is no requirement for trumping or following suit when possible--players may slough, or play a card face down. A card so played is incapable of winning the trick; but sloughing has the advantage that the other players cannot see what card is played.

Winning the trickEdit

If trumps have been played in the trick, the player who played the highest-ranked trump card wins the trick. Otherwise, the highest card of the suit led wins. Cards that are neither trumps nor of the suit led, or which are played face down in games which permit this, never win a trick.

If one standard deck of playing-cards is used in the game, the previous rule always unambiguously determines the winner of a trick. Some games, such as Pinochle, use several decks shuffled together. In these games, there may be several equal winning cards in a trick; such games then use other rules to break ties.


In some trick-taking games, such as Hearts, players compete as individuals. In others, such as Bridge and Spades, they operate in two-player partnerships; in Bridge the partner of the contractor or declarer is called dummy and does not participate in the play, dummy's hand being fully exposed after the opening lead, and declarer playing the cards from both hands at their respective turns. There are games with fixed partnerships such as Bridge, and those with temporary partnerships, changing every round, such as Skat. Some games with temporary partnerships are played one-against-two or even one-against-three.


Many trick-taking games contain an auction (or bid) that represents a player's confidence in her own (or her team's) trick-taking ability. These bids result in contracts for some or all players, or agreements to take a certain number of tricks or points. In some games the winner of the auction declares trump.

In most games, a more difficult contract results in more points for tricks taken. Failing to meet the contract is called being set and results in a penalty.

  • In Bridge, each player bids for his or her partnership. For example, a bid of "3 clubs" indicates willingness to make a contract requiring 9 tricks (7 tricks is the minimum bid in bridge, so 6 tricks are subtracted in declaring) with the club suit as trump. Bidding continues, each bid higher than the last, until three players pass in a row. Only one partnership wins the bid. The other partnership is said to be defending; they do not have a contract, but seek to set the contractors.
  • In common versions of Spades, each player bids based upon her confidence in her own trick-taking ability, but the contract is formed by the team. For example, one partner may make a bid of 3 tricks, and the other of 5. The partnership's contract is fulfilled as long as they take, in combination, at least (or perhaps exactly) 8 tricks.
  • In Oh Hell, all players make contracts. This exact-prediction game is often played with the rule that players' bids must not total the number of tricks to be played, so that at least one player is set in each hand.

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