The basics

-Number of players: four

-Playing time: 1 hour (per rubber)

-Cards: standard pack, no jokers

-Ranking: Ace high, then King down to deuce. Suits are equal.

-Deal: partners, who sit opposite each other and play as a team, are decided by any convenient means. A common method is for all players to cut (when Ace is traditionally ranked low), those drawing the two higher cards playing those drawing the two lower.

The entire pack is dealt out, one card at a time to each player in turn. The last card (dealer’s) is exposed to determine the trump suit: alternatively, the suit is nominated before each deal.



The origins of Whist go back 400 years. It was long one of Britain’s most popular games until superseded by its more sophisticated offspring, Bridge. Whist remains an ideal introduction to trick-taking games in general. Despite its simple rules, the game demands a high degree of skill.


Object of the game

To take more tricks than the opposition and to be the first team to win two games.



Eldest leads to the first trick, each player in turn (clockwise from Eldest) contributing a card. In lead, a player is free to choose any card from hand. Players must follow suit; that is, play a card of the same suit as that led. If unable to do so, a player may trump (play a trump card) or discard (play a card from another suit). The highest trump takes the trick. If no trump card is played, the highest card of the suit led takes the trick. Either player of the winning partnership picks up the trick (four cards) and places the packet face down in front of them. The player who won the trick leads into the next trick. Subsequent tricks are overlapped so that they may be easily counted. The penalty for a revoke is 3 points.

The offended partnership can add these to their score, deduct them from the opponents’, or take three of the opponents’ tricks.



The winning side of a hand score one point for each trick in excess of six. The first side to reach or exceed five points winds the game and the first side to win two games wins the rubber.

A more elaborate scoring system is sometimes used when the game is played for stakes. The winners of a game score according to the number of points earned by the opponents:

No points = triple game (3);

One or two points = double game (2);

Three or four points = single game (1).

In addition, the team that wins the rubber scores two additional game points. Thus the maximum a partnership can win by in a rubber is eight (two triple games), and the minimum is one (two single games against opponents’ triple game).



-First player (if holding the top honours in a plain suit):

First lead Second lead
AKxx K A

In trumps, lead lowest of the top honours (AKQJ, lead J).

-Second player (if a low card is led, and holding top honours):

AKxx K

If an honour is led, cover it with a higher honour is possible. On other leads, play a low card unless there is a good reason to play high.

-Third player: Play your highest card unless finesse is desirable; if you are unable to beat previous card, play low. If you hold onours, play lowest or lower card of a sequence (KQJx, play J)

-Fourth player: Take the trick if possible, otherwise play low.


Tips on how to win

At the start of a hand of Whist you and your partner know nothing about each other’s cards. In order to play your cards intelligently it is therefore essential to exchange as much information with your partner as possible. This is done by the means of conventions, a large number of which have been developed during the long history of the game. A few of the more common ones have been shown earlier. Conventions should always be followed unless there is an excellent reason for deviating. Common sense is assumed: you don’t for example trump a trick that your partner is winning.

When first leading, play a card from your longest suit (the suit in which you have the most cards), but do not lead trumps unless you have at least five. If your lack top honours, lead your fourth highest card. If you have two suits of equal length, open with your strongest.

Return your partner’s lead when able to do so, normally playing the highest card in the suit. With long trumps it is usually good to lead with them in order to draw your opponent’s trumps.

Do not lose sight of the fact that you and your partner are a team: it does not matter which of you wins a trick. It is often true that your weak suit is your partner’s strongest.

A useful device is the peter. When you have only two valueless cards left in a suit you discard the higher one first. When you follow this with the lower one, partner will know you are void in the suit and are ready to trump. Conversely, a cardinal rule is to note carefully every card your opponents play. This should guide you as to what to lead to subsequent tricks.

A good memory is invaluable in Whist. If you cannot recall every card played (good players can) then try to keep a running tally of how many cards are left in each suit, particularly trumps, together with the controlling (top-ranking) cards in each case.


An example hand of Whist

As in Bridge, the players are traditionally designated by the cardinal points, North and South playing East and West.

South dealt and turned over the last card, 4 of Clubs, so clubs are trumps. The underlined card of each trick takes it and the owner leads to the next (see picture below).

West North East South
Trick 1 Queen of Diamonds Jack of Diamonds 9 of Diamonds 3 of Diamonds
Trick 2 King of Diamonds 10 of Diamonds 4 of Diamonds 6 of Diamonds

Both North and East have petered, so West knows the last diamonds, the seven, lies with South.

Trick 3 Ace of Diamonds 2 of Clubs 6 of Clubs 7 of Diamonds
Trick 4 8 of Hearts 3 of Hearts 10 of Hearts Jack of Hearts

South reasons North has the King of Hearts but doesn’t want to return East’s lead.

Trick 5 3 of Spades 2 of Spades 4 of Spades Ace of Spades
Trick 6 5 of Spades King of Spades 6 of Spades 9 of Spades
Trick 7 3 of Clubs 5 of Clubs Jack of Clubs 4 of Clubs

North wants to clear trumps before promoting hearts. East finesses successfully. West does not peter since there is nothing to gain – and the 8 could earn a trick over trumping South.

Trick 8 8 of Clubs 5 of Hearts 2 of Hearts 2 of Hearts

East, who knows that North has the trump K, would prefer West to lead the suit.

Trick 9 Queen of Spades 7 of Hearts 7 of Spades 9 of Clubs

North does not wish to trump as this would bare the K. Anyway, “second hand low”.

Trick 10 2 of Diamonds 9 of Hearts Queen of Clubss Ace of Hearts
Trick 11 5 of Diamonds 7 of Clubs Ace of Clubs 10 of Clubs

East had hoped the K would fall but has the consolation of netting two trumps.

Trick 12 Jack of Spades King of Clubs 8 of Clubs 6 of Hearts

North knows that the King of Clubs is the last trump and that the King of Hearts is good.

Trick 13 8 of Diamonds King of Diamonds 10 of Spades Queen of Hearts

East-West win by the odd trick (1 point).



In some circles, points for honours are awarded, although the practise is dying. The honours are AKQJ of trumps.

If one side holds all four, they receive four points at the end of the game; if three, two points (i.e. one point for every honour held in excess of those held by the opponents). All the honours can be in one hand or split between partners. However, a side that is within one point of game at the start of a deal cannot score honours.

There are many Whist variants. German Whist is a simple game for two players. Each player is dealt 12 cards, as in the normal game. The next card is turned up to determine the trump suit for the hand.

Elder leads: the winner of the trick takes the exposed trump; the loser takes the card off the top of the stock with the next card turned face up beside it. Play continues in this manner, with the winner of a trick always taking the exposed card, until the stock is exhausted.

The tricks are then discarded and the game proper beings, only the last 13 tricks counting. The object of the first stage is to improve one’s hand, with the players seeking to win the trick if the up card is desirable and lose it if it is not.


Related External Links

There is a great Classic Whist guide on the Pagat website