The Card Game called Fifty-Six (56)

This card game is typical to Kerala, India. I have seen people playing this, wherever they can - fields, trains, etc,. The game is somewhat similar to Bridge , one of the commonly played card game around the world. If you see any descrepancy in the following description of the game, please bring it to my attention by emailing to raj_nair@iwaynet.net.

Players and Cards

There are 4, 6 or 8 players in two fixed partnerships, which means each team has 2, 3, or 4 players. Alternate players belong to the same team. The game is played clockwise. Only one score is kept for each side.

Two decks of cards are used, with the following point values and order:
 
Cards
#
Points
Total Points
Jack
8
3
24
9 (Nine)
8
2
16
Ace
8
1
8
10 (Ten)
8
1
8
King
8
0
0
Queen
8
0
0
Total
48
-
56

Hence the name 56.

If 8 people are playing, 8 (Eights) and 7(Sevens) may also used, which also have 0 point values. If 4 people are playing, you could eliminate Kings and Queens.

Deal

The cards are shuffled by the dealer and (optionally) cut by the player left to the dealer. The dealer deals all the cards 4 at a time, if there are 48 cards/4 or 6 players or 64 cards/8 players. The cards are dealt 3 at a time if there are 48 cards/8 players. So each player can get 12, 8 or 6 cards.

Bidding

The next step is an auction (bidding) to determine which team will be the final bidder. A bid specifies the number of points and a trump suit (or that there will be no trumps). The side (team) which bids the highest will try to win at least that many points with the specified suit as trumps.

The mandatory bidding, by the opposite team of the dealer, starts at 28 points with or without a trump. Examples are: 28 Clubs, 28 Hearts, 28 Noes or 28 No Trumps. There is a difference between NOES and NOTRUMPS, Noes means that the bidder is not strong in any suit, but has to bid something. No-trump means, the dealer is strong with Jacks, but not in any suit. It is customary that you should have at least 4 cards with a jack in any particular suit to start at 28. That is, if you have a Jack of Clubs and 3 other Clubs you can start bidding at 28 Clubs. If your partner bids at a suit and you are strong in the same suit, you can "support" him by increasing the point value in the same suit. If you have 2 Jacks and some other cards in the same suit, you can start your bid adding 2 to the previous bid (29 when bidding starts). Similarly, if you have 2 Jacks and a Nine in the same suit you can increase the bid by 3. If you have 2 Jacks and 2 Nines, you can increase by 4 and so on. If your partner starts at 30 Clubs (meaning he has 2 Jacks and a Nine), for example, and you have the other Nine and an Ace of Clubs, you can up the bidding by 2 (i.e. 32 Clubs). If your partner bid, for example 28 Clubs (he has one of the Clubs Jack and a few other cards in Clubs), and you just have the other Jack of Clubs, you can say "Plus One" Clubs and so on. If your partner bids in a specific suit and you have nothing in that suit, you can increase it by one and say Noes for the suit (Example: Your partner bids 28 Clubs and you bid as 29 Noes). If your partner bids in a specific suit, you don't have anything in that suit, but the opposite team member between you and your partner bids something, then you bid as "Plus One Noes" (Example: Your partner bids at 28 Hearts, the other team member bids at 30 Spades, you can say "Plus One Noes", meaning you have no Hearts). If you are strong in some other suit than your partner, you may open that suit with whatever the next point value is. You should always allow the other team to bid at their turn.

It is also possible, during the bidding to "double" a bid by the other side or to "redouble" the opponents double. Doubling and redoubling essentially increase the score for the bid contract if won and penalties if lost. If someone then bids higher, any previous doubles and redoubles are cancelled.

So here is a complete scenario. The bidding starts with the player immediately right to the dealer. At each turn a player may either:

If everybody pass on their first turn, it is implied that the bidding stopped at 28 Noes. If you bid a suit and your partner(s) did not support nor bid anything else, then you cannot change the suit, but can go to the next higher level (explained later) in the same suit. So bidding is the most important part of the game and if you follow it carefully, at the end of bidding, you should know what exactly your partner(s) have and what your opponents may have.

The bidding continues until there are no bidding by the members of the opposite team. The last bid becomes the point value and suit for that game. The team who made the final bid will now try to get at least that many points of the bid. The first player is the one, on the right of the dealer.

The Play

The player immediately to the right of the dealer leads the first trick. It is customary to lead Jacks, if you have any. Also you may get rid off your opponents' trumps by leading the higher value trumps that you or your partner(s) hold.

Play proceeds clockwise. Each player must, if possible, play a card of the suit led. If you do not have the suit, that is being led, you may "trump" it by playing any of the trump cards. If you do not have the suit nor any trump, then you may play any card. It is not wise enough to "trump" your partner's trick or play a high point value card for your opponent's trick, unless it will help you in some way. A trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if no trumps were played by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

Scoring

The minimum bidding is 28 and the maximum is 56. The scores depend on the point value of the final bid (or level of bidding).

39 and below: Scores 1 if won and 2 if lost

40-48 (Honors): Scores 2 if won and 3 if lost

49-56: Scores 3 if won and 4 if lost

In some places, a slightly different scoring system is used. 40-47 : 2 if won and 3 if lost, 48-55 : 3 if won and 4 if lost 56 : 4 if won and 5 if lost.

The scores double or redouble, depending on the double/redouble bidding.

Special Cases of Bidding

  1. If you do not have Jack in a particular suit, but is strong in that suit (i.e. 5-6 cards of the same suit), you can bid by specifying the suit first and then the point value instead of point value and suit (example: bid Diamonds 28 rather than 28 Diamonds, meaning you may have Nines, Aces, Kings, etc, of Hearts with no Jacks).

  2. As mentioned before, it is the common practice to start a bid only if you have at least 4 cards in the same suit, including the Jack. But if your partners have built up a strong bid declaring all of their Jacks and other possible tricks, then you have to show them all the tricks you may be able to take. In this case you may open a suit with 1, 2 or 3 cards. For example, suppose your partners built up a bid of 48 Clubs (i.e. they are not sure about 1 trick). If you can show them that you can take that one trick, they could easily go up to 56 Clubs. This one trick may be in any other suit.

  3. Cot (I am not sure about the spelling): Before the completion of the game, the opposite team can ask the bidding team, if they can take all the tricks. If the answer is yes and they did not get all the tricks, the score is doubled. This variation is not allowed in all places.

Partnership Agreement and Convensions

As in most card games, partners are forbidden to convey information to each other by talking, gesture, facial expressions, etc,. However there is considerable scope for partners to exchange information within the rules of the game by their choice of bids or cards played.

The bidding mechanism is such that if a player makes a bid (or double or redouble), it is always possible for the player's partner at their next turn to override that bid with a higher bid. This makes it possible for partners to assign arbitrary meanings to bids. Bids can be classified as "natural" (which can be taken at face value - that is they convey a genuine wish to play a final bid to take the relevant number of tricks or more with the trump suit stated) or "conventional" or "artificial" (which carry an agreed meaning other than "natural").

For example if we are partners, we might agree that a bid of 28 Clubs by me shows a strong hand, but has nothing to do with wanting Clubs as trumps. Provided that we both understand this, you will not leave me to play a hand of 28 Clubs, but will make some other bid, natural or artificial.

Always remember that these games are played for fun and should be taken as such. You may often be playing with an unfamiliar or inexperienced partner or in an informal setting. Be courteous to your partners as well as your opponents. There is no need to get all uptight, if your partner made a mistake (wrong play). That is how they learn the game. Discuss it with your partner after that game is over, in a courteous manner. He or she will definitely appreciate it and will want to be your partner next time you play the game.

Have fun!!