Bid Whist is a comparatively new game of the Whist family. In certain regions, it has gained a considerable following. Since then, some of the rules have changed. The conventions that follow are based on R. Wesley Agee's booklet How to Play Bid Whist.
Four people play in partnerships of two against two, with partners sitting opposite each other. Partners may be chosen by mutual agreement or by drawing cards from a pack spread face down. The two highest cards are partners, and the person with the highest card deals first.
The standard 52-card pack is used, plus the big and little jokers. As in many bridge games, two packs of cards of contrasting back design are recommended. While one pack is being dealt, the other can be shuffled for the next deal.
The cards rank either from ace (high) down to deuce or from ace (high) down to king. Herein lies the main characteristic of Bid Whist and one of the most original features of any card game. When Bid Whist is played in an "uptown" contract, the cards rank: ace (high), king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. When the contract is played "downtown," the cards rank in reverse, from ace (high), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king (low). Thus, aces are the best cards in either the uptown or downtown formats, which will be described later. In all trump contracts, the big joker ranks best, and the little joker is second best. In notrump contracts, the jokers are of no value.
The goal of the bidders is to make the contracted bid. The object for the opponents is to defeat the bid. The partnership with the most points at the end of play wins the game.
After the shuffle and cut, the dealer distributes 12 cards one at a time, face down, to each player, beginning with the opponent on his left. The dealer gets the last card. The remaining six cards (referred to as "the kitty") are placed in the center of the table face down. The player receiving one or both jokers should place the joker with the card suit which appears to be the strongest.
A bid is an offer to win a stated number of odd-tricks (tricks in excess of six). Thus a bid of One contracts for seven tricks, a bid of Two, for eight tricks, and so on. The highest possible bid is Seven (a contract to win all 13 tricks), and the lowest possible bid is One. (In some games, the lowest allowable bid is Three.) In addition to bidding a number from One to Seven, the bidder must specify whether the bid is trump or notrump and whether the cards will rank uptown or downtown if the bid is a trump bid. If the player bids a number only, it presumed that there will be a trump and the cards will rank uptown.
A simple bid of Four means 10 tricks are contracted for, the cards will rank uptown (ace down to deuce), and there will be a trump suit. The trump suit is named only after the bidding ends and only if the highest bid was not notrump. A bid of Three-Low or Three-Downtown indicates nine tricks, with a trump suit to be named later, and that the cards will rank ace down to king. A bid of Four Notrump calls for 10 tricks to be won, and if it stands as the highest bid, the bidder will then state if it is high or low (uptown or downtown).
The player on the dealer's left starts the bidding and may bid a number from One to Seven or may pass. The bidding proceeds clockwise, and each player has only one turn to call. The dealer has the last bid or pass, and if all three players pass, the dealer must make a bid, and the auction ends.
When a bid is announced, any succeeding bid must be higher than the last bid. A downtown bid outranks an uptown bid; thus a bid of Four-Low is higher than a bid of Four-High (or just Four). A notrump bid is higher than a suit bid; thus a bid of Four Notrump outranks Four-Low or Four-High. Finally, a bid of a higher number outranks any bid in a lower number; for example, a bid of Five-High, Five-Low, or Five Notrump is higher than any bid at the four-level.
The highest bidder names the trump suit or, if the bid is notrump, he states whether it is uptown or downtown. After these designations, the highest bidder is entitled to the six cards placed in the center of the table, the "kitty." These additional cards allow the highest bidder to exchange up to six of the cards in his hand for some or all of the cards in the kitty. After the exchange, the highest bidder should again hold 12 cards.
For a trump bid, the highest bidder customarily permits the other three players to see the six cards in the kitty before he exchanges. (This is commonly referred to as "sporting the kitty.") For notrump bids, the highest bidder does not sport the kitty, but a player who has a joker may play it when he cannot follow suit.
Each partnership tries to win tricks. A trick consists of four cards, one from each player in rotation, and the first card played to a trick is the lead. A player must follow suit if possible, and the highest card played in the suit wins the trick. When a player cannot follow suit, he may play any card. The highest trump card wins, if it is not a trump, it is merely a discard, and loses.
The highest bidder wins the kitty (classified in the play as the first trick) and leads first. The winner of a trick leads next. The play proceeds until all tricks are played.
When a side wins all 13 tricks, it is called a "Boston," but no extra bonus is awarded.
The best method is to pick a point total, usually 5. A side can win if it wins this many odd tricks. For example: The partnership makes a five- or six-bid (referred to as "rise and fly") or, over the course of few deals, it accumulates a few lesser bids that add up to at least five, such as a two-bid, two one-bids, and another two-bid (6 points in this case).
A partnership can also win if the opponents lose 5 points. A team loses points by bidding too high and then being set. For example, If a team bids Four and makes only eight tricks instead of the required 10, it loses 2 points. The partnership scoring 5 points first wins the game. If a partnership, over the course of one or more deals, loses 5 points, the opponents win the game. (In some games, the scoring process for a notrump bid doubles the number of tricks won. If the partners do not make their notrump bid, they are set for twice the number of tricks bid.)