Ascot -- The Basic Game

This game is a variant of Pinochle that requires substantial skill. The game has 3 players. The deck has 32 cards, with A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 in each of 4 suits. Each hand is scored separately. The deal passes clockwise for each hand played. Deal 10 cards face down to each player and 2 cards face up in a Kitty. Deal 3 cards each on the first round, then 4 each on the second round, then 3 each on the third round, and put 2 in the Kitty.

Bidding: Start with the player to dealer's left. Each non-pass bid must be at least 60 and higher than any previous non-pass bid. Bidding goes clockwise until some non-pass bid is followed by two passes, in which case the highest bidder becomes the declarer. But if the bidding starts with 3 passes, the hand is passed out and the next dealer deals.

Scoring the hand: Each Ace or Ten counts 10 points and each King or Jack counts 5 points, so there is a total of 120 points. Only the declarer scores. He earns the total number of points in the tricks he takes plus the Kitty, plus any bonuses described later, if the total is at least equal to what he bid. If he earns fewer points than he bid, he gets a negative score of 120. So in the play of a single hand, the two non-declarers are a team cooperating against the declarer. At the end of play of several rounds, each player collects from or pays to each other player the difference in scores.

Play of one hand: The declarer takes the two cards in the Kitty into his hand, then discards 2 of his 12 cards face down, then announces the trump suit, then leads a card to the first trick. On each trick, each player in clockwise turn plays one card. The only restriction on what he plays is that a player must follow suit if able to do so. The winner of the trick is the highest trump played, if any, otherwise it is the highest card of the suit led. The winner of the trick turns the trick face down in front of him and then leads to the next trick. This continues until all 10 tricks have been played.

Rank of the cards in play: The four Jacks are the top 4 trump, with Jack of Clubs highest, then Jack of Spades, then Jack of Hearts, and lastly Jack of Diamonds. The other 7 cards of the named trump suit are lower trumps, in the order A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7. So the trump suit has 11 cards. The 3 side suits each have 7 cards in the order A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7.

Irregularities: A bid or pass out of turn is penalized 10 points on the score sheet but is otherwise ignored. Any card exposed in the dealing becomes one of the cards in the Kitty. If 3 or more cards are exposed in the dealing, the hand must be redealt. If any player is dealt more than 10 cards, the hand must be redealt. But a failure to follow the 3-4-3 dealing pattern is redealt only if it is noticed out loud before any player bids.

If the declarer plays a card out of turn or chooses to play with cards exposed, there is no penalty. But if one of the declarer's two opponents exposes a card out of turn to his partner, or if any player fails to follow suit when required, the penalty is 20 points moved from the offending side's cards to the other side's cards and a failure to follow is corrected from the point where it was made.

Ascot -- Advanced Rules

The above rules for a Suit hand should be played for the first hour or so, until the players understand the game fairly well. Then the following five rules should be added:

1. If the declarer announces a KittyFree hand, the declarer leaves the Kitty untouched (no swapping of cards), although the points in the kitty still count for him at the end of the hand. The declarer gets a 15-point bonus that counts towards making his bid, as long as he earns at least 60 regular points.

2. If the declarer announces a Grand hand, then the four Jacks are the only trump cards, so there are 4 side suits instead of 3. When following to a trick, you must play a Jack if you can when a Jack is led, and you cannot play a Jack if you have a non-Jack card of the suit led. The declarer gets a 40-point bonus that counts towards making his bid, as long as he earns at least 60 regular points. A declaration of Grand KittyFree combines both kinds of bids (leave the Kitty untouched and only Jacks are trumps) for a combined bonus of 55 points. So the maximum score possible is 175, 120 for points and 55 for the bonus.

3. If the declarer announces a NoTrump hand, there are no trump cards and the Jacks rank between Queen and 9. This declaration does not earn any bonuses unless played KittyFree for a 15-point bonus.

4. If the declarer announces a Null hand, there are no trumps and the Jacks rank between Queen and 9. The declarer must lose every trick, in which case he earns 75 points. If he takes even one trick, he loses 120 points. Exposing a card out of turn to one's partner or failing to follow suit loses the hand for the offender.

5. Either of the two opponents can announce Contra before the second card is played to the first trick, if the bid is at least 65. This means that he thinks he and his partner will defeat the declarer. It doubles declarer's score, whether positive or negative. But the declarer may then announce Redouble directly after the first trick is completed (before any card is played to the second trick, unless an opponent took the first trick and played to the second without giving declarer a clear chance to Redouble). A Redouble quadruples declarer's score, e.g., he loses 480 if he does not make his bid.

The optional Ramsch rules: It is rare for a hand to be passed out. The game is even more interesting if you add: (a) The minimum bid is 75, not 60. (b) You can only give Contra on a bid of 80 or higher. (c) If everyone passes, it is a "Ramsch": The player to dealer's left makes the first lead and no one touches the Kitty. Whoever gets the most points during the play has that number subtracted from his score. If there is a tie for most points, they both get that number subtracted from their scores. Use the trick-taking rules for play of a Grand hand (only the 4 Jacks are trumps).

For four players: Dealer does not play; the other three play exactly as in the 3-person game. Since each hand only takes about 3 minutes once the players are comfortable with the game, this gives each player a break 1 out of 4 hands without it becoming boring.