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Card shuffling.jpg
Card rank (highest first)A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Related games
Ruff and Honours, Minnesota whist, Auction bridge, Contract Bridge, Solo whist

Whist is a classic trick-taking card game which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries. It developed from the older game Ruff and Honours. Although the rules are extremely simple, there is enormous scope for scientific play; since the only information known at the start is the player's thirteen cards, the game is difficult to play well.

In its heyday a large amount of literature about how to play Whist was written. Edmond Hoyle, of "according to Hoyle" fame, wrote an early popular and definitive textbook. By the late 19th century an elaborate and rigid set of rules detailing the laws of the game, its etiquette and the techniques of play had been developed that took a large amount of study to master. In the early 20th century, Bridge, which shares many traits with Whist, displaced it as the most popular card game amongst many card players. Nevertheless, Whist continues to be played in Britain, often in local tournaments called "whist drives".

Versions of whist

Nowadays there are many other games called Whist - the name has become attached to a wide variety of games based on classic Whist, but often with some kind of bidding added, for example:

  • Bid whist (a partnership game with bidding, played in the USA, and made popular by the US Military.)
  • Boston (played in 19th century Europe, favored by Count Rostov in Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace)
  • Call-ace whist in which the bidder chooses his partner by calling an ace is the national game of Denmark
  • Catch the Ten (aka Scotch Whist) (uses only half the deck, 10 is most valuable
  • Colour whist or Kleurwiezen (a Belgian game similar to Solo Whist, but more elaborate)
  • German Whist (a British two-player adaptation of Whist without bidding)
  • Jass (pronounced Yass) (a Swiss four-player card game, partners alternatively declare trump)
  • Hearts and Spades are also American versions of the game and can be found on Windows as simple fun games. Hearts (Windows).
  • Israeli whist (another game somewhat related to Oh Hell, in which one tries to bid the exact number of tricks one will take)
  • Knock-out Whist, Trumps (UK) or Diminishing Whist (a game in which a player who wins no trick is eliminated)
  • Minnesota whist (in which there are no trumps, and hands can be played to win tricks or to lose tricks - also the very similar game of Norwegian Whist)
  • Oh Hell (players bid on exactly how many tricks they will take; going too high or too low is penalised)
  • Romanian whist (a game in which players try to predict the exact number of tricks they will take - similar to Oh Hell)
  • Solo whist (played in Britain; a game where individuals can bid to win 5, 9 or 13 tricks or to lose every trick)
  • Tarneeb (played in the Arab world, a game in which the person who wins the bid picks the trump)
  • Three-Handed "Widow" Whist (or Three-Handed Whist, an extra hand that is dealt just to the left of the dealer)
  • Rang - (played in south Asia; like whist for two teams of two people; one player on the team that wins a game chooses trumps on the basis of the first five cards dealt for the next game)
  • Double Sir / Double Trumps - (also played in south Asia, an interesting variation to Rang, in which tricks are only captured when the same player wins two tricks in succession. The player then captures all the unclaimed tricks up to that point.)
  • Hokm - Played in Iran, The name means "To Rule". Like whist it is played by 4 players who team up in pairs (although there are 3 player and even 2 player spin offs). Typically at the start of the game the first "Hakem" (Ruler) is selected by dealing 1 card at a time from the top of the deck clockwise to the 4 players. Whichever player is dealt the first Ace is the Hakem. The second person to be dealt an Ace becomes the Hakem's partner. The player sitting to the right of the Hakem deals and the Hakem picks the trump suit from his/her first 5 cards or declares the suit of his/her seventh card as trump. The team to win seven plays first wins the hand and the team to win seven hands first wins the game. In any hand, if a team fails to win even one play it is known as a "Kot" and counts as 2 hands. However, it is customary, though not always practiced, for a hand to count as 3 if the Hakem's team becomes Kot and the Hakem picked the trump from his/her first five cards. This is known as "Hakem Koti". The role of Hakem is passed to the player to the left of the sitting Hakem if the opposing team wins a hand.

Whist rules

A standard 52 card pack is used. The cards in each suit rank from highest to lowest: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Whist is played by four players, who play in two partnerships with the partners sitting opposite each other. Players cut or draw cards to determine partners with the two highest playing against the lowest two, who have seating rights. The players then cut for deal. It is strictly against the rules to in any way comment on the cards. One may not comment upon the hand he was dealt nor about his good fortune or bad fortune. One may not signal his partner.

Shuffling and dealing

The cards can be shuffled by any player, though usually the player to dealer's left. The dealer has the right to shuffle last if they wish. To speed up dealing a second pack can be shuffled by the dealer's partner during the deal and then placed on their right ready for the next hand. The cards are cut by the player on dealer's right before dealing. The dealer deals out all the cards, one at a time, face down, so that each player has thirteen cards. The final card, which belongs to the dealer, is turned face up to indicate which suit is trumps. The turned up trump remains face up on the table until it is dealer's turn to play to the first trick. The deal advances clockwise.


The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. Any card in his hand may be led. The other players, in clockwise order, each play a card to the trick and must follow suit by playing a card of the suit led if they have one. A player with no card of the suit led may play any card either discarding or trumping. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump is played in which case the highest trump wins. The winner of the trick leads to the next trick. This continues until all thirteen tricks are played, at which point, the score is recorded. If no team has enough points to win the game then another hand is played. Part of the skill involved in the game is one's ability to remember what cards have been played and reason out what cards remain. Therefore, once the trick is played, the cards are turned face down and kept in a stack of four near the player who won the trick. Before the next trick starts, a player may ask to review the cards that were in the very last trick only. Once the lead card is played, however, no previously played cards can be reviewed by anyone.


After all 13 tricks have been played, the side which won more tricks scores 1 point for each trick won in excess of 6 (called the "odd tricks"). When all four players are experienced, it is unusual for the score for a single hand to be higher than two. A game is over when one team reaches a score of five. There are so called "House Rules" variations where other numbers are agreed to be played to in advance. Popular variations are American and "Long" where the games are played to seven and nine respectively. The "Long" version is normally combined with "Honours".

In longer variations of the game, those games where the winning score is not the standard five, honours are points that are claimed at the end of each hand. Honours add nothing to the play of a hand. Honours serve only as an element of luck that speeds up games, and they are often omitted these days. Serious players disdain honours because it greatly increases the element of chance in Whist. A team that was dealt the top four cards (A,K,Q,J) in the trump suit collect extra points. A team who holds three of the four honours between them claim 2 points, a team who holds all four honours between them claim 4 points. Tricks are scored before honours. Honours points can never be used for the last point of a game. Consider the following example: A game is being played to 9 points. The score is tied at 6. A hand is played and the winner of that hand took seven tricks and claimed honours. That team would receive 1 point for the trick and only 1 point for honours. The score would then be 8 to 6.

Basic Whist technique

  • For the opening lead, it is best to lead your strongest suit, which is usually the longest. A singleton may also be a good lead, trying to trump in that suit as partner should normally return the suit led.
  • 1st hand: It is usual to lead the king from a sequence of honours that includes it, including AK (the lead of an ace therefore denies the king).
  • 2nd hand usually plays low, especially with a single honour. However, it is often correct to split honours (play the lower of two touching honours) and to cover a J or 10 when holding Qx and cover a Q when holding the ace.
  • 3rd hand usually plays high, though play the lowest of touching honours. The finesse can be a useful technique, especially in trumps where honours can't be trumped if they are not cashed.
  • Discards are usually low cards of a suit you do not like, however, when the opponents are drawing trumps a suit preference signal is given by throwing a low card of your strongest suit.

Whist terms

Deal: One card at a time is given to each player by the dealer starting with the player on the dealer’s left and proceeding clockwise until the deck is fully distributed.
Dealer: The player who deals the cards for a game.
Deck: Standard playing card deck consisting of 52 cards in four suits.
Dummy: In some variations of whist, a hand is turned face up and is played from by the player seated opposite. This allows for whist to be played by three players.
Grand Slam: The winning, by one team, of all thirteen tricks in a hand.
Hand: Thirteen tricks. (52 cards in the deck divided by four players equals thirteen cards per player.)
Honours: In some variations of whist, extra points are assigned after a game to a team if they were dealt the ace, king, queen, and jack (knave) of the trump suit.
Lead: The first card played in a trick.
Rubber: A series of games. For example, best of three or best of five.
Slam: The winning, by one team, of twelve tricks in a hand.
Trick: A round in which each player gets one turn.
Trump: The suit chosen by the last dealt card that will beat all other suits regardless of rank. When two cards are played from the trump suit the higher card wins the trick.

Literary references

"[...] Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, [...]"

"[...] His only pastime was reading the papers and playing whist. He frequently won at this quiet game, so very appropriate to his nature;[...]"

  • Whist figures prominently in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth as part of the gradual decline of the novel's central character, Lilly, who gambles much of her money (and subsequently loses it) during extended games of whist.
  • In the opening chapter of Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich the characters contrast the solemnity of the funeral ceremony with the desire to escape and play whist.


  • The Pan Book of Card Games, Hubert Phillips, Pan Books Ltd, London, 1960
  • Waddingtons Family Card Games, Robert Harbin, Pan Books Ltd, London, 1972
  • Official Rules of Card Games, United States Playing Card Company, 59th ed., 1973

External links