6 of the Best Trick-Taking Card Games

By Neal Taparia - 01/21/2023


Trick-taking games are engaging games that employ strategy like a board game but offer a more casual atmosphere, typically requiring just a standard deck of playing cards–or just part of the deck–to play. Although each game has its own rules and variants, many of these games share some basic elements, like taking tricks, using trump, and playing with partners.

Taking a trick refers to how each player takes a turn playing a card and the one with the highest ranking card wins. However, what makes these such great games is the use of trump, which makes taking tricks, well, tricky. At the start of most games, players typically select one suit to be trump—meaning any card of that suit has a higher rank than any card of any other suit.

Most games can be modified for any different number of players, but many trick-taking card games are best played by four players to make use of partnerships so that you play as a team.

If you want to learn more about trick-taking card games, this post gives you the details for game rules, set up, and playing through a hand so that you can enjoy the strategy and fun of taking tricks and trumping your opponents.

The Best Trick-Taking Games

  1. Euchre

  2. Hearts

  3. Spades

  4. Pinochle

  5. Whist

  6. Oh Hell

1. Euchre

While versions can play with fewer than four players, euchre works best when played with four people, with two partnerships. Using a trump suit every hand, players try to get as many tricks each hand as possible for their team.

euchre starting strategy

Game basics

Objective: The first team to 10 points wins.

Deck: Tens through Aces of each suit (although other variations use different deck sizes)

Game setup: For each hand, the dealer deals clockwise to each player, dealing cards in amounts as follows—two, three, two, three, and then three, two, three, two so that all players have five cards. Then the top card of the remaining stack is flipped up on top of the stack. Partners sit across from each other.

Card rank: The jack of the trump suit is the highest card, and the jack of the same color as the trump suit is the second highest card. Then rank is in descending order with aces high and tens low.

How to play

A euchre hand has two phases. You must first determine trump, and then play the hand. Determining trump may take two passes around the table, but bear in mind that if you or your partner call trump, you need to take the majority of tricks because if you don’t, you get “euchred” and allow the other team to score.

In the first pass, the player to the dealer’s left decides whether to make the face-up card’s suit trump or passes.

  • If the first player wants the face-up card to be trump, they “order” the dealer to pick up the card. The dealer must discard, facedown, a card from their hand and pick up the trump card.

  • If the player doesn’t want that suit to be trump, they pass, and the same decision is passed to each player, clockwise, until it reaches the dealer. If the dealer doesn’t want the face-up card to be trump, then the dealer turns that card facedown, and deciding on trump goes through a second round.

If the dealer turns down the card, then each player, starting to the dealer’s left, gets a turn to make any suit trump except the one the dealer turned down. If the player passes, the decision passes to the next player until it finally reaches the dealer. If trump isn’t made by the dealer in the second round then a new hand is dealt by the next dealer.

A player may decide to “go alone,” meaning their cards are so good, they think they could take all the tricks without their partner’s help. If that happens, the player can only say they’re going alone during one of the rounds of deciding trump, and they must be the one calling trump.

Once trump is decided, play begins:

  • The person to the dealer’s left leads, and all players follow, playing one card of the same suit led. If they don’t have a card in the suit led, they can play another suit, either sloughing off (non-trump suit) or by trumping the trick.

  • The person with the highest ranking card or highest trump takes the first trick, and play continues until all five cards are played and all tricks are taken.

Scoring

If the team who called trump:

  • Gets three or four tricks, they score 1 point

  • Gets five tricks they get 2 points

If the team who didn’t called trump gets three or more tricks, this is considered “euchre,” and they get 2 points.

If the person who went alone

  • Gets three or four tricks, they score 1 point

  • Gets five tricks they get 4 points

2. Hearts

Hearts is best played with four players. As the name may indicate, you play with the hearts suit as trump in every hand, which makes this a quick dealing, quick playing game. Because certain cards have point values, hearts is considered a point-trick game.

 hearts starting strategy

Game basics

Objective: The player with the lowest score wins after one player reaches 100 points.

Deck: 52-card deck

Game setup: The dealer deals 13 cards to each player.

Card rank: Hearts rank highest as the trump suit for every hand, and rank for all suits is aces high, twos low.

How to play

After the deal and before the hand is actually played, a pass occurs where each player passes three cards of their choosing as follows:

  • First hand: Pass to the player on your left.

  • Second hand: Pass to the player on your right.

  • Third hand: Pass to the player across from you.

  • Fourth hand: You do not pass any cards.

  • Repeat the cycle of passing until all rounds are played.

Once the pass is finished, the gameplay begins:

  • The player with the two of clubs begins play by playing that card to the middle. All players must follow suit. Whoever has the highest ranking card wins the trick and leads the next round. Note: Neither a heart nor the queen of spades can be played in the first round.

  • A heart (trump suit) can not be led until hearts are broken. In other words, once someone plays a heart when they can’t follow what was led, then hearts can be led at any point.

  • Each subsequent round is played by having the player who won the previous trick lead a card and everyone follow suit when possible until all cards have been played.

Scoring

After each round, each player counts their points as follows:

  • Each heart taken in a trick is worth 1 point.

  • The queen of spades is worth 13 points.

If one players takes all the hearts and the queen of spades, for a total of 26 points, this is known as “shooting the moon.” The player who shoots the moon deducts 26 points from their score. If their score is too low to subtract 26 points (for example, they only have 13 points so far), it adds 26 points to each opponent’s score.

3. Spades

Spades is similar to hearts in that one suit—spades—is always trump, but you play spades with partners and bid how many tricks you think you will win. Although you can make adjustments for different numbers of players, a four-player game works best for spades. Be sure your team tries to match your bid each hand; otherwise, too many tricks over your team’s bid could penalize you.

spades starting strategy

Game basics

Objective: The first team to 500 wins.

Deck used: 52-card deck

Game setup: Dealer deals 13 cards to each player, and partners sit across from each other.

Card rank: Spades rank highest as the trump suit for every hand, and rank for all suits is aces high, twos low.

How to play

  • Before the round begins, each player bid how many tricks they think they’ll take during the given round.

  • The player to the dealer’s left begins by playing the first card to the middle. All players must play the same suit card if possible. The highest-ranking card wins the trick and that player leads the next trick.

  • A spade (trump suit) can not be led until spades are broken. In other words, someone must play a spade when they can’t follow what was led, and then spades can be led at any point.

Scoring

  • A team whose number of tricks won matches their bid number (the number of tricks they predicted they would win for the round) or exceeds their bid number, they get 10 points for each trick bid and one point for additional tricks won. It doesn’t matter if the individual player meets the individual bid number; the team’s total needs to match the total tricks bid by the team.

    • For example, if the team bid five tricks but actually won seven tricks, they get 52 points, fifty points for the five tricks bid at ten points each and two additional points for actually winning two more tricks than the bid number.

  • A team wins a bag when they win more tricks than their bid. For instance, if a team bid five tricks but won seven tricks, they will get two bags. Once a team gets ten bags, they are penalized by 100 points (must subtract 100 points from their score).

  • If a player bids more tricks than they won, they lose the amount bid in points. For instance, if they bid five tricks but only won four tricks, their total would be a negative 50 points.

4. Pinochle

You play with partners in pinochle and follow two phases for scoring—meld and the trick-taking phase, which is called pinochle. Because this game has a few more steps and scoring rules than other card games, pinochle makes a good next step if you want to increase the challenge and strategy of partnership trick-taking games

pinochle starting strategy

Game basics

Objective: The first team to score 150 points wins.

Deck: Two decks of just aces to nines, totaling 48 cards

How to deal: Each player gets 12 cards dealt four at a time. The top card of the draw pile is flipped face up and the suit of that card will be the trump suit for the round.

Card rank: Rank is high to low in the following order—ace, ten, king, queen, jack, ten, nine.

How to play

  • After the deal, players bid how many points they think they’ll win until no one outbids the highest bid. The highest bidder calls trump.

  • The teammate of the highest bidder passes three cards to their teammate who then exchanges them for three.

  • Then the meld phase begins where you simply score your hand according to specific combinations.

  • After the meld phase, trick-taking gameplay begins with the bid winner leading.

    • Players must follow suit and, if possible, play a higher-ranking card to beat the high card played, even if it’s your partner’s card.

    • If you have the suit but not a higher-ranking card, you must still follow suit.

    • If you can’t follow suit, you must play trump; if you don’t have trump, you can play any other card.

  • You must take one trick during the trick-taking phase if your team won the bid.

Scoring

  • Meld phase scoring: You can score points for the following combinations.

    • Run in the trump suit: 15 points

    • Marriage (a king and queen of the trump suit): 4 points

    • Marriage (king and queen of a non-trump suit): 2 points

    • Nine of trump suit: 1

    • Four aces: 10 points

    • Four kings (one of each suit): 8

    • Four queens (one of each suit): 6

    • Four jacks (one of each suit): 4

    • Pinochle (queen of spades and a jack of diamonds): 4 points

  • Going set: If you don’t make your bid, you’re set and lose the amount of points bid (if you bid 28, but only got 25 points, you lose 28 points).

  • Pinochle phase scoring: After all the tricks are taken, you score one point for each ace, ten, and king as well as the last trick taken.

5. Whist

Best with four players, you play whist with partners sitting across from each other. If you’re not familiar with trick-taking games, whist makes a good start. Using just a single deck of cards, you get used to following trump, playing with a partner, and taking tricks without needing to call trump or make bids.

whist starting strategy

Game basics

Objective: Players decide beforehand how high to play (typically fairly low, anywhere from 5 to 20 points). The first team to reach the points goal wins.

Deck used: 52-card deck

Game setup: Deal 13 cards each with the dealer flipping up the last card instead of dealing it out, which is trump. During the dealer’s first play, they put the card in their hand.

Card rank: Trump suit is highest and all suits rank aces high, twos low.

How to play

  • Player to the left of the dealer begins by leading a card.

  • Everyone must follow suit if possible with the highest ranking card winning the trick. If you don’t have the suit that was played, you can play any suit, including trump.

Scoring

Each team adds up their total tricks between partners. What they have above six is their score. So if one team has eight tricks, they score 2 points. The first team to reach 5 points wins.

6. Oh Hell

Oh Hell is a progressive game, where you decrease and increase cards each hand. Although you don’t use partners, this game is best played with four players. This is a good next step after whist because you don’t call trump, but you must make bids for tricks prior to playing each hand.

oh hell starting strategy

Game basics

Objective: The player with the most points wins.

Deck: 52-card deck

Game setup: Play the game in rounds starting with 12 cards to each player and progressing down by one card each round until you deal 1 card each. Then progress back up again to 12 cards. After the cards for the round are dealt, flip up the next card, which then determines trump for that round.

Card rank: Each round contains a trump suit determined by the deal, and for all suits, aces are high, and twos are low.

How to play

  • Play the game in rounds starting with 12 cards to each player and progressing down by one card each round until you deal 1 card each. Then progress back up again to 12 cards.

  • After the cards are dealt, the person to the left of the dealer bids how many tricks they think they can take. Keep track of bids with tokens or write them down.

  • Player to the left of the dealer leads, and everyone follows suit if possible.

  • If you don’t have the suit led, you can trump or play any other suit.

  • Keep playing until all cards have been played for that round.

  • The game continues until all rounds have been played.

Scoring

  • Each trick: 1 point regardless of whether you were over or under your bid

  • Exact bid: You get a 10-point bonus if you made your exact bid in addition to the one point per trick.

  • Exact bid of zero: If you bid zero and took zero tricks you get 5 points plus points for the number of cards dealt in a round. So if you bid zero during a round that dealt 10 cards and you took no tricks, then you get 10 points plus a 5-point bonus for a total of 15 points.

Themed trick-taking games

Themed trick-taking games may seem like a modern twist on traditional card games, but they look more like tarot games, which are very old trick-taking games from Europe. With special cards and colorful characters, tarot games may have introduced the concept of trump into what are now considered traditional card games. Early in the 20th century, the card game Rook packaged up trick-taking, trump-calling games into a special deck, but now you can find several different types of partnership trick-taking games with varying themes.

Modern trick-taking card games like Skull King, The Crew, The Fox in the Forest, and more include many or all trick-taking elements seen in traditional card games. You bid, take tricks, use a trump suit, and play with partners. You just do so with some added flavor from characters and themes. From pirates and mice to astronauts and foxes, modern, themed trick-taking games offer an equally challenging and fun alternative to traditional cooperative card games.

Conclusion

If you enjoy trick-taking games, you don’t have to wait for card night or work to gather the right amount of players. You can play a variety of trick-taking games anytime you like online at Solitaired. You can brush up on strategy, play partner games or solo games, and even learn new games all from the comfort of your screen.


About the author

Neal Taparia is one of the founders of Solitaired. He loves playing card games and is interested in understanding how games can help with brain training and skills building. In addition to card games, he also likes fishing and mountain biking.

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