While doing a recent turn in stir owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding, I discovered a swell card game called “Oh Hell!” Played with 3 to 7 people, each player declares a bid per hand, immediately after the cards are dealt. A hand of 7 cards equates to 7 rounds, because only one card per player is put into play per round. The bid reflects the number of rounds each player thinks hu can win (referred to as “tricks”), with 2 through Ace values applying. For example, let’s say I am dealt 7 cards, 3 of which are Aces. I might declare in advance a bid of three tricks, because I am confident that each of those Aces will win a given round. There’s more to it, but that’s the essence. Details include things like the number of cards dealt per hand (ascending then descending) throughout play, and the presence of a trump suit per hand.
What really interests me is that scoring is based entirely on how accurately one bids (in Project Management parlance, estimates versus actuals). In other words, it doesn’t matter how many rounds I win in a given hand; I only win points for that hand if I estimated my bid accurately. For example, let’s say that I declared a bid of 3 tricks for the hand. If I win exactly 3 tricks, I get 3 points plus a 10-point bonus for estimating accurately. If instead I only won 2 tricks, I lose 10 points plus the difference between my estimate (3) and the number I actually won (2), for a total of -11. Therefore, as a hand evolves, one’s strategy sometimes involves playing to lose.
I had great fun when I played.
There are many variations to the rules and scoring of Oh Hell!, so I decided to create MrPikes’ House Rules, fundamentally based on Carter Hoerr’s rules (rulekeeper for the OH HELL! Club of America) with a couple of interesting differences, Rule 2 inspired by PJ O’Rourke’s Modern Manners:
- When all players are ready to BID, they put a fist on the table. When everyone’s fist is out, the group says “One, Two, Three” while bouncing their fists on the table. On “Three”, everyone must stick out some number of fingers (possibly zero) to indicate how many tricks they will try to take. Of course, with this method, there’s no restriction against the total number of bid tricks being equal to the number of cards dealt. Since players cannot adjust their bids based on the other players’ bids, the total tricks bid can be wildly different from the tricks available – for example it is not uncommon for three or four players to bid “one” when only one card was dealt.
- The PANTS rule: Any player who bids 5 tricks or higher and does not realize that bid precisely has to take off hus pants. For the especially shy or aesthetically repugnant, writing “Dumbass” in grease pencil or lipstick on the forehead is an acceptable substitute. The spirit of the rule is to add an element of risk (and corresponding thrill) to the game, similar to Russian Roulette but without the cleanup headaches. In addition, you can learn a lot about a person who willingly takes the gamble. The pants rule applies once per player.