Oh Hell

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Oh Hell
OriginUnited States
Alternative namesSee Names section
Skills requiredsome
Cards52 cards
Playing time25-50 minutes
Related games
Bid whist, Bluke

Oh Hell is a trick-taking card game in which the object is to take exactly the number of tricks bid. Unlike contract bridge and spades, taking more tricks than bid is a loss. It was first described by B. C. Westall around 1930.[1]


The game of Oh Hell explores the idea of taking an exact number of tricks specified by a bid before the hand. It differs from other trick-taking games in that players play a fixed number of hands. The game uses trumps, often decided by a cut of the deck after the hand's cards have been distributed.

Like many popular social card games, Oh Hell has many local variants, in both rules and names.

Famous players[edit]

Prominent players of Oh Hell include former President Bill Clinton, who learned it from Steven Spielberg.[2]

Dan Pearson of Leicestershire is also a key player.


There are many variations to this game; a common set of regulations is given here.

Oh Hell can be played with almost any number of players (3+) although 4-7 is considered optimal. The game is played using a standard 52-card deck, with ace (A) being the highest rank, two (2) the lowest. With six or more players, the game can be played with two decks combined or with a 63-card deck from six-player 500.

A game consists of a fixed number of hands, and each hand consists of dealing a certain number of cards to each player, depending on the variation and the number of players. During a hand, each player bids for a number of tricks, then attempts to take exactly that many tricks during the hand.

The dealer (initially determined by cutting cards) deals out the cards one by one, starting with the player to his left, in a clockwise direction, until the required number of cards has been dealt. After the dealing is complete, the next card is turned face up, and the suit of this card determines the trump suit for the deal, which is why only up to 12 cards are dealt in a four-player match. (If there are no unused cards, the largest hand is played without a trump suit. Alternatively, the maximal round trump suit can be determined in a variety of ways: for instance, by revealing the dealer's last card as in whist, by cutting the pack before dealing, or the dealer can decide the trump before seeing his own cards.)

Each player now bids for the number of tricks they believe they can win. The player to the left of the dealer bids first. Bidding is unrestricted except for the screw the dealer rule: the number of tricks bid cannot equal the number available. That is, every deal must in total be either overbid or underbid. For example, if five cards are dealt, and the first three bids are two, zero and one, then the dealer may not bid two. However, if five cards are dealt, and the first three bids are three, one and two, then the dealer is free to make any bid. (The "screw the dealer" rule is not used in the version played in West Virginia, South Carolina, rural Maryland, and Pennsylvania, with the dealer being free to make any bid.) In an alternative style of bidding, all players simultaneously hold out fingers for the number of tricks they want to bid (similar in style to a rock paper scissors shoot). The players' bids are recorded on the score sheet.

When every player has made a bid, the player to the left of the dealer makes the opening lead. Play then proceeds as usual in a trick-taking game, with each player in turn playing one card. Players must follow suit, unless they have no cards of the led suit, in which case they may play any card. The highest card of the led suit wins the trick unless ruffed, when the highest trump card wins.

In multi-deck games, the first of identical cards to be played (say two queens of clubs) wins the trick. In a more complicated variant, identical cards cancel each other, leading to the possibility (if the number of players is even) of an entire trick being canceled out.

The player who wins the trick leads to the next trick.

Number of hands per game[edit]

  • In the British variation of the game,[3] the first hand is played with one card dealt to each player. On each succeeding deal one more card is dealt out to each player, until there are not enough cards for another round.
  • In another version of the British variant, once the full number of cards have been dealt out the number of cards per player decreases by one every round until back down to one card. The game is complete when the last round (with one card per player) has been played. A sub-variation for a small number of players (three or four) uses a step in the jump, such as three players opting for the pattern to be 1-3-5-7-9-11-13-15-13-11-9-7-5-3-1. Another variation consists of the pattern 12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12, though this version takes longer to play: in a 4-player game, starting from "1" deals a total of 144 tricks, while starting from "12" yields 155 tricks. This also assumes using the entire 52-card deck, not an abbreviated game.
  • Yet another variation, played extensively in American colleges, begins with the "1" hand, then climbs up to the "10" hand before descending back down to a "1" hand. This version, referred to by students as "Rats!", "Rat Fink", and sometimes "Rat Fuck", is well suited for up to five players; since at its maximum it accounts for 50 of the 52 cards, with the "10" hand's trump suit determined from one of the remaining two cards.
  • The Diminishing Bridge variation begins with the maximum hand size and counts down.
  • In the Devil's Bridge variation, for the 1-card hand each player holds their own card on their forehead and looks at the other players' cards, rather than their own, to bid.
  • The Basas variation plays as the British version. Because there is no remainder card defining the trump suit in the last 4 rounds, the trump suit is auctioned in a manner similar to bridge. However, there is no hierarchy of suits, and a higher bid must be numerically higher. In Basas, if a player does not have a card of the suit with which the round was opened, they are required to play a trump. It is only if they do not have a trump that they may play any other card.

Cooperative version[edit]

In this variant, all bids must add up exactly to the number of cards dealt for that round. Players must then "make it work" to move on to the next round. If anyone takes more or less than their bid, the deal moves to the left and the round is re-dealt. With four players, a second deck may be used to specify the round to be played—the value of the upcard determines the number of cards dealt and the suit determines the trump suit for the round.

Prospect version[edit]

This variant is played for money. Prior to dealing the first hand, players agree on the amount of money the “losers” will have to pay to the winner. The last place finisher pays the most and the second-place finisher pays the least. The sliding scale in the Prospect version keeps all the players invested in the outcome of every hand, since their finishing rank corresponds to how much money they will owe the winner.


The WPOHL (World Prospect Oh Hell League) Championship is usually held in December in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, using “Prospect” rules. The deal begins with 10 cards, plays down to 1, then back up to 10 for a total of 19 hands per round. Depending on the size of the field, the five or ten lowest scoring players in the room are eliminated each round until there is a five-person "final table."

In the early 1990s, the International Oh-Hell League's annual Championship Tournament of All Creation was held each March in the Fire Hall of Riverton, New Jersey. This yearly tournament lasted for over 20 years. Players vied for nominal, but not actual, possession of the league trophy, a two-inch bronze reproduction of the Manneken Pis, which resided permanently in the home of tournament founder, John B. "Jack" Mathews. Alcohol was off-limits, but profanity was encouraged. A full table consisted of four players. Play began with a one-card hand, went up to 13, then back down to one for a total of 25 hands. In each hand, except the 13th when the entire deck was dealt, the first undealt card was turned over to establish the trump suit. The tournament entry fee was $5 and included complimentary hot dogs, doughnuts, and Tak-a-Boost (the official drink of the International Oh-Hell League). The tournament was a grueling all-day affair. All players had to commit to playing at least three games. Cumulative tabulation of the end scores from the first three-rounds allowed the top eight highest scoring players to move on to the semi-finals. The semi-finals portion of the tournament was where the commitment to play ended. If a semi-final eligible player could not or did not wish to continue, the player with the next highest cumulative score was offered the seat. The drawing of cards determined random seeding for the semi-final tables. The first and second place players at each semi-final table advanced to the finals, where the top-scoring player in this last game was the tournament winner. Consolation games and clean up by any remaining players were encouraged while waiting for the outcome of the tournament. For a period, the International Oh-Hell League was a registered corporation.

The Annual Cartier 'Oh Hell!' Tournament began in 1995. The tournament formula was created by Tessa Kennedy and Tomasz Starzewski. Cartier Ltd. sponsors the tournament with all money raised going to charity.

  • Players choose trump (not a random card), and 4 players constitute a full table.
  • Each game is 23 hands from 13 cards each down to 2 cards each and from 3 cards back up to 13. Players alternate as Dealer in a clockwise direction. One player is nominated as scorer.
  • The person with the highest number of bids names the trump suit which can be any of the four suits or "no trumps."
  • Two decks of cards are assigned to each table. As one deck is dealt, the other is shuffled for the following hand, by the player sitting opposite the dealer. Players pick a random card from the deck to select the Dealer for the first hand (highest card is first Dealer).
  • The tournament is played with 32 people. The first round has all 32 people playing on 8 tables of 4 players each. The winner and first runner up from each table go on to play in the second round. The second round is therefore played with 16 people on 4 tables of 4 players. First round winners and runners-up are split up so they do not play each other again in the second round. The single winner from each table then goes on to the final table of four players. The winner is the tournament champion.


There are several alternative methods of scoring:

  • Basic scoring: Each player scores 1 point for each trick they take. A player that wins the exact number of tricks bid receives an additional 10 points for making the contract. Players who miss their contract are thus encouraged to take as many tricks as possible, which results in other players also missing their contracts.
  • Variant basic scoring: As with Basic Scoring each player scores 1 point for each trick they take. However, a player that wins the exact number of tricks bid receives an additional 5 points for making the contract. This makes the game closer when there are a large number of players and encourages players to bid more than 0 tricks as much as possible.
  • Exact scoring: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 10 plus the amount bid. Players who overbid or underbid score nothing.
  • Exact scoring with penalty: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 10 plus the amount bid. Players who underbid are deducted points in the amount of the bid. (Missing a 3 bid scores -3; missing a zero bid scores 0.) Used in the Hassenpfeffer variant.
  • 10 times exact scoring: Similar to Exact scoring, with or without penalty, but each trick bid is worth 10 points; a player who bids 4 is awarded 40 points for exactly making the bid and scores either zero or -40 if they do not make the contract. Variants of this also put a 5-point value on bidding ZERO - negative 5 if you take a trick, positive 5 if you don't take any tricks.
  • Double Whammy: Played like basic scoring, except that a successful 1-bid earns 15 points, a successful 2-bid earns 22, and further successive bids are awarded in multiples of 11 (33 for 3, 44 for 4, etc.). This variation may be played in the second half of an otherwise regular game, if desired.
  • Penalty under, Zero Over: A variation of exact scoring that combines variants with and without penalties; overtricking scores zero points while undertricking results in a penalty according to the specific exact scoring variant used. This promotes "sacrificing" one's own contract by severely overtricking in order to "set" someone else.
  • Exact scoring with penalty where points are multiples of 5: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 10 plus the amount bid multiplied by 5. Players who underbid are deducted points in the amount of the bid multiplied by 5. (Missing a 3 bid scores (3*(-5))=-15; missing a zero bid scores -10. Making a 5 scores (10+5*5)=35) Used in the Cypriot variant. This variant encourages high bidding due to the number of possible points to gain.
  • Exact scoring with set penalty: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 10 plus the amount bid. Players who underbid score only one point for each trick. Players who overbid have "gone set" and lose 10 points, regardless of the number of tricks taken. For example, if a player who has bid four takes exactly 4 tricks, they score 14. If they take 5 tricks, they score 5. If they take 3 tricks, they score -10.
  • Exact scoring with progressive penalty: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 10 plus the amount bid. Players who underbid or overbid lose the amount of the bid, plus ten points for each trick under or overbid. For example, a player bids 4: If they take exactly 4 tricks, they score 14. If they take 3 or 5 tricks, they score -14. If they take 2 or 6 tricks, they score -24. This variation makes it easier to "pile on the leader" and eliminate even a large lead in just one hand.
  • Reduced 0 bid: Similar to basic (or exact) scoring, with the modification that making a zero contract scores only five points. (Zero bids are often the easiest to make.)
  • Adjusted 0 bid: Similar to basic scoring, with the change that a zero bid is worth five plus the number of cards dealt out to a player. For example, in the first round, a successful zero bid is worth 6 points, while a successful one bid is worth 11 points. (Zero bids are harder to make in larger hands.)
  • Progressive scoring: As in basic scoring, a player that fails to make the contract receives a number of points equal to the number of tricks they take. However, a successful bid is worth the 10-point threshold plus the square of the bid, thereby rewarding a person bidding and making four tricks with 26 (10 plus 16) points. This has the advantage of rewarding riskier bids, and making it possible for someone to catch up from behind more easily.
  • Simplified / Montreal progressive scoring: Each player receives 10 points for satisfying the contract plus twice the number of tricks taken, otherwise they receive zero points.
  • Negative scoring: The scoring system is reversed, as in golf, lowest score winning. Satisfying the contract scores zero points. The first undertrick or overtrick costs one point, and each additional undertrick/overtrick costs a point more than the one before it. For instance, 3 overtricks would add 6 points (the sum of 1, 2, and 3) to a player's total. This rewards sacrifices, for it is now often beneficial to risk an overtrick (1 point) to cost a person that is already down to get an additional undertrick (which will cost many more points).
  • Simplified negative scoring: Each player scores the square of the number of overtricks or undertricks taken.
  • Variant negative scoring: Each player who fails to satisfy the contract scores points according to the number of total tricks in that round (e.g., in a round where there were five total tricks, every unsuccessful player scores 5).
  • Spades double: In variations where the trump card is chosen randomly, some play that if a spade is turned up, the points for that round double.
  • Trick scoring: Each player that scores the number of tricks bid receives that many points, with the exception of correctly bidding 0, in which case the player receives a half point. Any overbid or underbid loses the number of points their bid was off (a player bidding 3 tricks that wins only 2 would lose a point, as would a player bidding 2 and winning 3).
  • Binary scoring: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 10. Players who overbid or underbid score nothing.
  • Binary scoring with nil rule: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 10. If the number of tricks exceeds the number of players, players who bid nil (zero) score 20 if they take no tricks, otherwise -10.
  • Binary scoring with increasing penalty: A player who makes the exact number of tricks bid scores 8. Players who overbid or underbid have their score cut in half, (rounding up).
  • Scratch / Quick scoring: Players who overbid or underbid get a scratch (signified by crossing through their unsuccessful bid). The person with the least scratches wins the game. In the event of a tie, the tied player who bid the most wins the game (This is done by adding up each tied-player's successful bids.)
  • Adjusted exact scoring: A player who makes the exact number of tricks receives that number of points plus the number of cards dealt out to a player.
  • Get Fred / Oy Vey scoring: A player who makes the exact number of tricks receives that number of points plus 10. Players who miss the contract lose the difference between the bid and the number of tricks taken. Thus, a player who bids three and takes either two or four tricks will lose one point. (In the Oy Vey variant, if many players are playing, often a successful bid is worth the 10-point threshold plus the square of the bid. This lifts the scores in the game, as in general the more players participate, the lower the scores are.)
  • Novacastrian scoring: A player who makes the exact number of tricks receives that number of points. Players who overbid lose the number of points they bid for that hand. Players who underbid lose the number of tricks they've taken that hand. A player's score will change by at least the number bid and by at least the number of tricks they take.
  • Gentleman scoring: A player who makes the contract scores the number of tricks bid times 10, unless they bid zero, in which case the player scores 5. If a player fails to make the contract and takes overtrick(s), they score the number of tricks taken. If a player has overbid, they score the difference between tricks bid and tricks taken times -10.
  • Variable bonus scoring: Each player scores one point for each trick taken, plus a variable bonus if the player takes the exact number of tricks bid. The bonus numerically decreases as the number of cards increases (and vice versa), meaning that when there are more tricks available in a round (and thereby a greater chance of successfully achieving the bid), there are less bonus points on offer. For example, in a game where the dealing pattern is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, the bonus points available in each successive round would be 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.
  • Penalty Scoring: A player who makes the contract scores 10 points + 5 points for each trick made. If the bidder makes more or fewer tricks than were bid, they lose 10 points for the first over or under trick + 15 points for each additional over or under trick.
  • Bidding Blind: Blind bids are unique to the Prospect version of Oh Hell. If a player falls 20 points, or more, behind the leader at the end of a round (e.g., Player 1 has 15 points and Player 2 is the leader with 35 points) the player that is behind can enter a blind bid by bidding prior to looking at any of his cards, and prior to anyone else bidding. Bidding Blind is optional, and can be done multiple times as long as the player continues to be eligible after each round. If a player looks at his/her cards prior to bidding, bidding blind for that round is not an option. There is no limit to the number of players that can bid blind and the order of blind bidding follows the same order as regular bidding (e.g., clockwise, starting to the left of the dealer). If the player bidding blind makes his bid, the player gets a bonus of twenty points instead of ten points. If the dealer bids blind and the other players bidding forces the dealer off the blind bid, 1 (one) addition trick is added to the dealer's blind bid. Blind bidding is significant in Prospect Oh Hell since Prospect, and all sanctioned WPOHL games, are played for money.
  • UL Scoring (Pronounced "ool"): Players begin at one card and work their way up to the maximum number of cards possible. Whoever is trailing at the top of the game is declared the Ultimate Loser and must perform an interpretive dance to a song of the group's choosing. Very effective for rooting out prospective suitors. Practiced in the 90s in New York City.
  • Basas Scoring: see gameplay above Basas begins by all players choosing a dare that the loser must complete at the end of the game. Each round starts with a betting phase, during which each player will claim how many tricks they will take that round. The betting of how many tricks each player will take starts by a different player each round (rotates clockwise). The final player betting cannot claim a number of tricks that makes the total number of bets add up to the round's number. At the end of each round, scores are updated. If a player takes the exact number of tricks (n) that they claimed in the betting phase, they get (n)^2 + 10 points. If they miss their bet, they lose 3*( | (n) - (actual tricks taken) | ) points. Special scoring: in the last rounds (when all of the cards are dealt), a player can go nil. If they succeed, they get +35 points. If they do not, they lose 10 points. Additionally, if a player renegs, another player can call the person out. If it is verified that the player who reneged did so, the transgression costs the player 50 points and the round is replayed. If a player accuses another of reneging, and it is verified that the player did not reneg, the accuser loses 25 points and the round continues and is not replayed. At the end of all rounds, the player with the lowest number of points loses and must complete the dare.
  • Stackpot: If you win the exact number of tricks bid, you get one point plus a variable bonus per trick you bid (the trick bonus starts at 0). If you fail, you lose one point per trick that was in the hand. The highest possible value of the sum of everyone's score at the end of any hand is 0 (since at least 1 person will fail each round) in which case the trick bonus for next hand will be 0. If the sum is negative however, the absolute value will increase the bonus for subsequent hands. For example, if the sum of all scores is -20 and the number of tricks for next hand is 9, the bonus per trick will be 2 (20 divided by 9, rounded down), increasing next hand's points per trick to 3. This scoring system is ideal for betting, since players can bring a pile of cash to the table, and the negative points will be "unwon money" that remains on the table, stacked in a pot. The scoring model was invented by the online game room Hell Club.[4]


Oh Hell is known by many names, including:

  • 10-9-8
  • a giggity (Michigan)
  • Afghanistan
  • Basas (in Mexico)
  • Beredskap (Swedish: preparedness)
  • Biskauer (in Cyprus)
  • Blobs (United Kingdom)
  • Bondebridge (Norway)
  • Box (Archibald's in Richmond Hill, Ont.
  • Brown bread (New Zealand)
  • Buddit or Butted (on Long Island, NY)
  • Bugger it (in Australia)
  • Bugger Your Neighbour
  • Bumble
  • Burn Your Neighbor
  • Burn Your Baby
  • Contract Whist
  • Count Down
  • Crush
  • Curse You Red Baron
  • Cut-throat Bridge
  • Dang Shoot (in Racine, WI)
  • The Dumb Game (in Syracuse, NY)
  • Dentist's Comfort
  • Diminishing Bridge
  • Diminishing Sequence
  • Diminishing Whist
  • Disappearing Tens
  • Donut (in Canoe Lake, Canada)
  • El Partido (Uruguayans in Melbourne, Australia)
  • Elevator[5]
  • Erection (Northern Michigan)
  • Estimate (in India)
  • Estimation (in Egypt)
  • Fingers In
  • Fodinha (in Brazil)
  • Fuck your Buddy
  • Gary's Game
  • German Bridge (in Hong Kong)
  • Get Fred
  • Goodluck
  • Go to Heck Bridge
  • Go to Hell Bridge
  • Habanero
  • Hell Yeah
  • Judgement (in India)
  • Kachuful (in India)
  • Knights of Columbus (in Wigan)
  • Knock Bridge (Southern Minnesota)
  • Louie (in New Jersey)
  • Juego de Daniel
  • Madison Countdown
  • Moon oh
  • Mormon Bridge
  • Nah Pearse
  • Niggle
  • Nomination Whist
  • Number Deal
  • O'Hell
  • O'Shay
  • Oh Blanchard
  • Oh Heck
  • Oh Merde (French Canadian)
  • Oh Petunia
  • Oh Pshaw[6]
  • Oh Shuckins (Western North Carolina)
  • Oh Well
  • Old Hell
  • Orlando-Tallahassee
  • Osha
  • Oy Vey
  • Peanuts
  • Plump (Swedish: blob)
  • Pooch (in Montreal, Canada)
  • Prediction Whist
  • Pyramid
  • Quasimodo
  • Quesadilla (in California)
  • Rats (in Northwestern Ohio and Southern Michigan)
  • Rat Fink, also Rat F*** (widespread in American colleges)
  • Reddis
  • Ri-ki-ki (in Hungary)
  • Sausages
  • Scratch
  • Screw The Dealer
  • Screw Your Dentist as Part of a Blood Sacrifice
  • Screw Your Neighbor
  • Selbubridge (Norway)
  • Shit on Your Neighbor
  • Sod-it
  • Stinky Fingers
  • Stonecutters Revenge (Edgemont, Calgary)
  • Super Rookie
  • Ten And Back or Tennaback
  • Tens
  • Ten Down
  • Ten Up Ten Down (Wisconsin)
  • The Blank You Say
  • Up and Down the River (also in Russia)
  • Up Down
  • Up the River
  • Upsy Downsy
  • Up to 7 and back
  • Vanishing Whist
  • Weetabix
  • Wiggly Diggle
  • Wiggly Diggly
  • Wizard (in Spain and Germany)
  • You Bastard (in Canada and Australia)
  • You Dick (in United States)
  • Zonk
  • Zero Daav (in Maharashtra, India)
  • Oh Mierda

Dutch names[edit]

Boerenbridge, Boerenlullen, Chinees poepen, Chinees dekken, Chinees bridgen, Koreaanse poker, 10 op en neer, jodelen, pronostieken, Slagenvragen, Hellen, Bollen, op-en-affen, Afrikaans beffen.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parlett, David (1996). Oxford Dictionary of Card Games. Oxford University Press. p. 176. ISBN 0-19-869173-4.
  2. ^ https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/09/18/the-wanderer-3
  3. ^ Penguin Encyclopedia of Card Games, p. 86, David Parlett - Penguin Books 1979 ISBN 0-14-028032-4
  4. ^ https://hell.club/faq/why-is-the-stackpot-concept-a-better-scoring-system/
  5. ^ https://www.pagat.com/exact/ohhell.html
  6. ^ Hoyle, p. 216, Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (Aug 27 1996) ISBN 978-0-449-91156-3

External links[edit]