Bid Whist

Written by Howard Fosdick ©

Overview: Bid Whist offers a fun twist on your traditional trick-taking game. Players can opt to reverse the card ranking if they win the bid, so even a "bad" hand could be good. Only the bid winners can score, so there's an emphasis on competitive but precise bidding. Bid Whist is popular among African-Americans in the United States.

Players and Deck: For four players in two partnerships. Use a 52-card deck plus two Jokers. The Jokers must be distinct from one another. One will be the Big Joker and the other, the Little Joker.

Objective: To reach at least 7 points across hands, or drive the other partnership in the hole to -7 points across hands.

Deal: Deal 12 cards to each player. Place the remaining 6 cards face down to become the Kitty.

Bidding: Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player gets to make one bid, or pass. The bid may be either:

  • Uptown -- along with the number of tricks above 6 you'll win
  • Downtown -- along with the number of tricks above 6 you'll win
  • No Trump -- along with the number of tricks above 6 you'll win

Tricks are called books. So if you bid "5 Uptown", you are committing to winning 11 books (6 + 5) with cards in their normal rank of high to low.

If you bid "4 Downtown", you are committing to winning 10 books (6 + 4) with cards in their inverted "downtown" rank of low to high.

This chart shows how cards rank -- from high to low -- in Uptown and Downtown bids. You can see that Downtown bids reverse the normal order of card ranking.

Uptown trump suitBig Joker, Little Joker, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Uptown non-trump suitsA, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Downtown trump suitBig Joker, Little Joker, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K
Downtown non-trump suitsA, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K

Since there are 13 books total, the highest bid would be for 7 books. Allowable bids range from 3 to 7.

Each bid must out-rank the previous one. No Trump bids out-rank Uptown or Downtown bids, which are considered equal. So here are all possible bids, from lowest to highest:

  • 3 Uptown or 3 Downtown
  • 3 No Trump
  • 4 Uptown or 4 Downtown
  • 4 No Trump
  • 5 Uptown 5 Downtown
  • 5 No Trump
  • 6 Uptown or 6 Downtown
  • 6 No Trump
  • 7 Uptown or 7 Downtown
  • 7 No Trump

For Uptown and Downtown bids, you name the trump suit after you've won the bid.

For No Trump bids, you specify whether you're playing with Uptown or Downtown card ranking after you've won the bid.

Play: If he made an Uptown or Downtown bid, the bid winner now names the trump suit. If he made a No Trump bid, he now states whether cards will be played by regular ranking (Uptown) or by reversed ranking (Downtown).

The bid winner then picks up the Kitty and replaces any cards he likes in his hand with cards from the Kitty. He discards any cards he wants face down. These constitute his first book.

Now, the bid winner leads any card to the first trick. Opponents must follow suit if able, otherwise they may play any card. If any trump(s) are played, the highest trump wins the book. Otherwise, the highest ranking card of the suit led wins book. The winner of one trick leads to the next.

The Jokers: When a trump suit is declared, the Jokers rank as the two highest cards (as shown in the above table).

If the hand is played at No Trump, the Jokers have no rank and can not win tricks. They are played in response to a lead where you have no card of that suit to play.

In the case where a Joker is led at No Trump, the second player to the trick can play any card, and the suit of that card becomes the suit led for that trick.

Scoring: If they made good on their bid, each book above 6 scores one point for the bidding team. If they didn't make their bid, they're set. In this case, they score minus the number of points they bid.

The opposing team -- the team that did not win the bid -- never scores any points.

Example: your team won the bid with 5, and you took 12 books (11 won in tricks plus the Kitty). You score 6 points for the hand. If you failed to make your bid, you would score minus your bid, or -5 points.

No Trump hands double the normal scoring.

Winning Game: First team to reach at least 7 points across hands win. Or you can win by driving the opposing partnership to -7 points in the hole.

Strategy: Only the bidding team scores points, so there's a premium on winning the bid. But be careful... if you're set you'll lose points.

This game requires mental agility to visualise your hand in Uptown, Downtown, and No Trump card rankings. The Big and Little Jokers complicate the picture.

How aggressively you'll bid sometimes depends as much on whether the other team verges on winning 7 points as it does on the strength of your hand. This adds interest because behaviours are driven by the overall score as well as the strength of each hand.

There's one big luck element in the game. The bid winner picks up the Kitty after he's won the bid and after he's declared the trump suit. So the Kitty could blindly swing things in the bid winners favour... or not.

Sources: How to Play Bid Whist by R. Wesley Agee and Bid Whist Road Map by Butch Thomas.

License: Feel free to print, copy, and distribute these rules, so long as you retain this paragraph. Written by Howard Fosdick © 2023, distributed under Creative Commons License BY-ND.      HOME