Colonial Games

game piece

Boston Whist was a variation of Whist invented during the late 1700s in New England (Daniels 179). It was a popular game during the American Revolution (Diagram Group 84). Benjamin Franklin helped to popularize the game (The Key 150).

Boston Whist

The rules given here are from The Way to Play by the Diagram Group, pp. 84. It's a lot like regular whist, but the players play as individuals instead of teams, and there is bidding involved.

Players: 4

Object: To make (or "contract") and fulfill bids.

The Deck: One or two ordinary 52 card decks (no jokers) (see below).

Other Equipment: Chips or similar markers. (They're for keeping track of the score. A set of poker chips will be fine. Chips can be assigned different values.)

About the decks: The first deck is used for playing, and the second card deck is used to select "color" and "preference" suits. However, if you choose the "color" and "preference" before you deal out the hands to the players, you won't need a second deck. You can do it either way you want.

Color and Preference Suits: The player sitting across the table from the dealer cuts one of the decks. Turn the card on top of the bottom section face up on the table. The suit of this card is the preference suit, and the other suit of the preference suit's color is the color suit. (Ex. If the card is the nine of hearts, the preference suit is hearts and the color suit is diamonds.)

Trump Suit

The Pool: Before each hand is dealt, every player should put 10 chips into the pool. The maximum number of chips allowed in the pool is 250, so if there are more than that, the extra ones should be set aside and added to the next pool.

The Deal: Begin each hand by dealing out all the cards in the deck to all the players starting with the player on the dealer's left. The dealer should give each player three cards at a time, until the last round of the deal, when each player receives just one card. (If the dealer misdeals, he pays a 10 chip penalty to the pool.)

Bidding: This is where the game gets complicated. Once the hand is dealt and players have had a chance to study their cards, each of the players (going clockwise around the table, starting with the player to the left of the dealer) must either make a bid or pass. Players choose what to bid based on what they think they will be able to do during this hand of the game. Here is the ranking for the bids, from lowest to highest, along with the special names for some of the bids:

  1. "Boston" -- The player bids to win 5 tricks with one of the suits not chosen as the preference suit or color suit as the trump suit (these are also called the "plain suits")
  2. A bid to win six tricks.
  3. A bid to win seven tricks.
  4. "Little Misery" -- A bid to lose 12 tricks while not playing with trumps and each player discarding one card face down.
  5. A bid to win eight tricks.
  6. A bid to win nine tricks.
  7. "Grand Misery" -- A bid to lose all of the tricks while not playing with trumps.
  8. A bid to win 10 tricks.
  9. A bid to win 11 tricks.
  10. "Little Spread" -- A bid to lose 12 tricks while not playing with trumps and with the hand exposed.
  11. A bid to win 12 tricks.
  12. "Grand Spread" -- A bid to lose all of the tricks
  13. "Grand Slam" -- A bid to win all of the tricks (13).

If everyone passes, and there are no bids, all of the players turn in their cards and put 10 chips into the pool. Then, a new hand is dealt by the player sitting to the left of the last dealer.

Deciding What to Bid: This is especially tricky for new players, so I recommend reading all the way through the instructions for the game, especially the parts about Trumps, Winning Tricks, and Settlement, making sure that you completely understand them before you start playing and have to bid. There are consequences for failing to fulfill your bids, so bid carefully. There are a few things that you should keep in mind to help you:

  • There are four players in this game and there are thirteen tricks to win in a hand. That means that, all things being equal (they're not exactly, but we'll assume that the players are of equal skill and hands that are roughly equal in value and everyone has an equal chance to win every trick), each player can expect to win about three tricks (4 players x 3 tricks = 12 tricks, and there are 13 possible to win). The "Boston" bid is pretty close to this estimate of the average number of tricks you'd win, although there may be reasons to bid for more or less.
  • Notice that most of the options for bidding involve winning more than the average number of tricks and that the remainder involve losing all or almost all of them? None of them are for winning just three or four tricks. That means that the most likely outcome each round is that at least one person (and probably more) will fail to fulfill their bid.
  • When it comes to settling at the end, it's more important to be accurate with your bid on the number of tricks you'll win than it is to be the person who wins the most tricks. In other words, you can try to purposely lose tricks to keep your guess on the number of tricks you'll win accurate (although you may end up winning more anyway by accident just because of the cards your opponents have).
  • Suit is important in this game (see the section on the Trump suit). Do you have a lot of cards in a particular suit? Are they high-ranking cards?
  • A player with higher-ranking cards is more likely to win tricks than a player with lower-ranking cards, so if you have a lot of high-ranking cards in your hand, you're likely to win more tricks than the average person. Count the number of cards you have that are 10 or higher. The average number that you should have if each of player had the same amount would be five because each player would receive a 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace. Do you have more than that, or more Queens, Kings, and Aces than 10s and Jacks? If so, you're likely to win more than the average number of tricks.
  • Do you have a lot of low-value cards and not many high-ranking ones at all? If so, you're likely to win less than the average number of tricks.

Trumps: Trumps are chosen differently from regular Whist. Individual players choose their own trump suit when they make their bid and the other players accept the bid. If more than one player wants to make the same bid, their bids will be ranked by the trump suits they choose (from highest to lowest: the preference suit, the color suit, the two plain suits). Players do not choose trumps for spread or misery bids.

From here, the game plays like Whist, with players trying to win sets of cards as tricks. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer and continuing clockwise, each of the players lays a card from his hand face up on the table.

Whist Trick

Winning Tricks: When all of the players have placed a card face-up on the table, it's time to study the cards to determine who has won the trick. There are two rules for choosing the winner, and they must be followed in order:

  1. The winner is the one with the highest card in the trump suit (two is lowest, ace is highest, and jack, queen, and king are scored in that order, just below ace).
  2. If no one has played a card in the trump suit, the winner is the player with the highest card in the suit played by the first player

Once a trick has been won, the winner gathers the trick cards and places them face-down on the table, to be counted at the end of the hand (Burn 64). The winner of the trick will lead the next trick, laying down the first card. The players continue to play a sequence of tricks until all of the cards in the players' hands have been played (13 tricks total). Each set of 13 tricks is a hand. After each hand, if no team has won under the scoring system you've chosen, the person to the left of the previous dealer becomes the dealer for the next hand (The Key 149-150).

Penalties: When a person does not follow suit even though that person has a card with the suit led in his hand, it is called "revoking." The person has a chance to avoid penalties by correcting the error before the trick is awarded to a winner. The partner of a person who may be revoking may even ask the player to double-check his hand to whether he has any cards from the leading suit. After someone has won the trick, a player from the opposing team may challenge the player he suspects of revoking (although he should do so before the next trick begins and the player leading the trick has put down the first card). If it turns out that the player has revoked, that player's team cannot win the trick, and a point penalty is assigned, depending on the scoring system the players are using.

Settlement: This is where the chips are awarded, based on the bids fulfilled. Players who succeed in doing what they bid receive chips from the other players. If they fulfill bids for seven tricks or any bids higher than that, they receive the chips from the pool.

Players who fail to fulfill their bids pay chips to the other players and also double the number of chips in the pool.

Players who made misery or spread bids either receive the following amounts of chips from each player (if they fullfilled the bid) or pay the following amounts to each of the other players (if they failed):

For all other bids, see the amounts on Table 1 for the number of chips won from each player (for bids that were fulfilled) and Table 2 for the number of chips to pay each player (for bids that fail). The amounts on Table 2 are based on the difference between the number of tricks the person bid and the number that the person actually won. The difference by which a person fails his bid is considered to be the number the person "put in for."

Table 1
Tricks Bid: 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Payment: 10 15 20 25 35 45 65 105 170

Table 2
  Numbers Put In For
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Tricks Bid Payment
5 10 20 30 40 50                
6 15 25 35 45 55 65              
7 20 30 40 50 60 70 80            
8 25 35 45 55 70 85 100 115          
9 35 45 55 65 80 95 110 125 140        
10 45 55 70 80 95 110 125 140 155 170      
11 70 80 95 110 125 140 155 170 185 200 220    
12 120 130 145 160 180 200 220 240 260 280 300 320  
13 180 200 220 240 260 280 300 320 340 360 390 420 450

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