Up and Down.

Well, I said I’d occasionally talk about board games and card games — two of my favorite pastimes (a third is double-checking the spelling of “pastimes”). However, I have not had the opportunity to play any board games or card games since Sage was born, unless you count the occasional Lexulous or Words With Friends. (Incidentally, if you play either of those and we are not already or very recently engaged in a game, please do not take it personally if I decline requests to play. I have enough of them going right now, and I plan to reduce that number soon too.)

So I thought I’d give you guys the rules to one of my favorite card games, taught to me by my dear friend Hilary.

The game is called “Up and Down.” It is for four players, with one deck of cards. Average time to play the game, for us, is usually close to two and a half hours — but we play socially, which includes chatting, the occasional bathroom break, and “Hey, you want another beer?” moments.

Typically, one person (the best with numbers and/or the one who has had the least to drink) is the scorekeeper. A Dealer is selected however you best like selecting Dealers. Dealer rotates clockwise with each new round. This is a trick-taking game with a bidding element.

In round one, Dealer deals one card face down to all players including himself. The next card on the top of the deck is turned face up for all to see. The suit of the face-up card is trump.

Starting on the dealer’s left, players announce how many tricks they think they will take. In round one, there is only one trick to take, so each player may only say “zero” or “one.” There is a fair amount of strategy involved already. If player one has a high card but it is not trump, she may say “zero” because she assumes that one of the other three players has either a higher card of that suit or a trump, or she may say “one” because she assumes that nobody was likely to get a trump card and she thinks she will take the round.

An important note, and the key to this game’s fun — the total number of tricks bid by the four players may not equal the total number of available tricks. This occasionally puts the dealer in a lousy spot.

For example, the cards dealt are:
P1 – 6d
P2 – Kc
P3 – 8h
P4 – 2h
TRUMP: Spades

Player 1 may say “one,” guessing that nobody else will have a higher diamond or a trump. (While this will work in this example, the truth is that there is about a 77% chance that at least one higher diamond or trump will be in play. If you are P1 and you want to play the odds mathematically, always bid zero unless you have a 4 of trump or higher.) Player 2 may say “zero,” thinking that either Player 1 will not have a club or someone will have a trump or the Ace of clubs. (Good call, mathematically; the only way Player 2 will lose is if Player 1 had a lower club AND Players 3 and 4 do not have a trump or the Ace of clubs — a 10% chance.) Player 3 may say “zero,” with similar logic. Player 4 — the Dealer — will very much want to say “zero,” but he is not allowed. If he says “zero,” the total number of bid tricks (one) will equal the total number of available tricks. Dealer will have to say “one.”

Once all bids are in and recorded, the cards are played, starting with the player on the dealer’s left. In this early round, Player 1 would win the trick, as no one had a higher diamond or a trump.

Scoring is based not on how many tricks you take, but on accurately predicting how many tricks you will take. A player who takes the exact number of tricks that he/she bid wins 10 points plus one point per trick bid/taken. A player who takes anything other than the exact number of tricks that he/she bid wins nothing. In the example round above, Player 1 will have 11 points; Players 2 and 3 will each have 10 points; and Player 4 (Dealer) will have 0 points.

Deal passes to the left; in round two, two cards are dealt to each player. This continues through round 12.

With more than one card, the challenge obviously increases as players have to try to predict which of their cards may take a trick, or when they might be able to get rid of an otherwise powerful card to avoid taking too many tricks.

Players must follow suit if possible. Players are not obligated to trump when they are unable to follow suit. The winner of a trick leads the next trick.

An example from Round 9.
P1 – As Ks Js 4s 10c 2c 8d 7d 3d
P2 – 7s 2s Ac 9c 4c 3c Kd Ah Kh
P3 – 3s Qc Jc 5c Ad Qd 4d 2d 6h
P4 – 6s Kc 8c Qh Jh 10h 9h 5h 2h
TRUMP – Hearts

P1 has no trump but thinks that his three face cards may earn him a trick or two just from dumb luck. He bids 1.
P2 has the two highest trump and knows she is guaranteed those tricks. She thinks she can leverage her other face cards into tricks and then throw away the rest of her cards. She bids 4.
P3 has a relatively low trump but four face cards. She is usually good at dumping high cards to avoid taking tricks, and she thinks she can successfully employ that strategy since the rest of her cards are so low. She bids zero.
P4, the Dealer, may not bid 4. Any other number between 0 and 9 is acceptable. He has six trump, but he knows that the two highest trump are more likely in play than in the deck. He conservatively bids 5.

I won’t bother to write out what everyone plays and why. I can’t imagine any of you really want to see that. If you do, comment and let me know, but also double-check how you’re using your time.

So that’s the first 12 rounds. On round 13, all cards are dealt and there is no trump.

Then, since the game is called “Up and Down,” rounds 14 through 25 proceed with one fewer card dealt to each player each round. (Round 14, 12 cards each; round 15, 11 cards each, and so on.)

Ultimately, the player who deals first has the disadvantage of having a bid option taken away one more time than anyone else, but I haven’t found that to be a real problem.

Some variations you can try:

  • Play with Rook cards; they go from 1 to 14, so the game will go a little longer.
  • For die-hard fans of marathon card games, play with two decks. No, seriously. The game will last 51 rounds. Here’s the kicker — if two people play the same card in a trick, the first one down is more powerful. (Trump spades: P1 plays As, P2 follows suit with 4s, P3 can’t follow and plays 2d, P4 follows with his only spade, As. P1’s As overrides P4’s As.)
  • Or, if the two-deck idea has you reeling with the idea of a five-hour card game, play with two decks but only up to 13 cards per player (as if you were playing with one deck). Strategy becomes that much harder as players try to calculate the odds of what other players are carrying and what’s left in the massive deck.
  • Add jokers of some sort to be a “super-trump.”
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