display | more...

Pitch is a card game played generally with four people arranged in teams sitting across a table from each other. It is a trump game similar in structure to Hearts or Spades with some interesting twists. The game is over when a team has reached or bettered 21 points. Conversely, the game also ends if a team has reached or descended past negative 21 points.

To begin the game the dealer (the deal is passed clockwise) deals out six cards to all players. In the set of house rules I am most familiar with cards are always dealt three at a time. Cards can of course be dealt one at a time if one wishes. Once all cards are dealt the bidding round begins to the left of the dealer. A bid by a player must be higher than the bid from the player to their right with the exception of the dealer, who may at his option “steal” the current winning bid. A player at this point also has the option of turning their cards face up in order to get six new cards if and only if all six of their cards are lower than a Jack. Below is a list of the bidding options for a hand.

  • Standard Bids
    • Pass, the bidder believes they can win zero points for their team this round.
    • Two, the bidder believes they can win two points for their team this round. As will be explained this bid, just as a pass, is not a valid starting bid for a hand.
    • Three, the bidder believes they can win three points for their team this round. This is the minimum starting bid for a hand.
    • Four, the bidder believes they can win four points for their team this round.
  • Non-Standard Bids
    • Low-wrap, the bidder believes that they can win six points for their team this round. A low-wrap implies that they, or their teammate, will have the lowest card playable (while following suit) for each of the six tricks. Aces may be declared to be high or low for a low-wrap.
    • High-wrap, the bidder believes that they can win six points for their team this round. A high-wrap implies that the bidder, or their teammate, will have the highest card playable (while following suit) for each of the six tricks. Aces must always be high. A weak high-wrap bid upon in times of desperation may be declared aces low, but this is only a joke to relieve tension.
    • Smudge, the bidder believes that they can win eight points for their team this round. This is the granddaddy of all pitch hands. This bid implies that the bidder believes they can win a four, but furthermore they or their teammate will win all of the six tricks this round.

Play continues with the winner of the bidding round playing their first card. In a wrap, no trump is declared. In all other hands, trump is the suit of the first card played with the exception of a verbal declaration that trump is otherwise. For the rest of this round, that suit has precedence over rank. For example, if spades are declared trump and the dealer is south, east would win the following hand:

    10♥

3♥         2♠

    A♥

because they have successfully “trumped” the dealers attempt to win points. This play is valid if and only if east has no more hearts in their hand.

Once the round has been played out points are awarded on the following basis:

  • The highest card of the trump suit earns one point for the team holding it.
  • The lowest card of the trump suit earns one point for the team holding it.
  • The Jack of the trump suit earns one point for the team holding it.
  • The team with the most trick points earns one point.

Trick points are calculated as follows:



Some simple math shows that there is a maximum of 80 points in the entire deck. Since just about half the deck is used, each round will generally provide about 40 points.

Just as not all points are always in play, it is equally if not more important to remember that the Jack of trump is not always ensured to be in play. In fact, if the bidder is not holding the Jack of trump is it recommended to not assume it is in play.

Round scoring, traditionally, affects only the team that won the bidding round. Only their score may be affected positively or negatively. In some house variations, the team that lost the bidding round may still receive points for capturing the high, low, or Jack of trump in a standard hand. After the round has played, if the team that won the bidding round was successful their bid is added to their overall score. If they were beaten by the other team, generally by losing points or the low, their bid is subtracted from their overall score. A representative hand may play out as below, with teams of North and South, East and West.

Hand One
North dealing


                                   A♠, Q♠, 9♦, 6♦, 8♥, 6♥


A♥, 4♣, A♦, 10♦, 8♦, 7♦                                            6♠, 5♠, 3♠, 2♠, 7♣, K♣
               
                          
                                   J♠, 5♥, 3♥, 6♣, 3♦, 2♦

East bids Pass
South bids Pass
West bids Three
North bids Three.
North-South wins the bidding round.

Trick One, North leading.

   A♠
4♣      3♠
   J♠

Trick Two, North Leading

  
    9♦
10♦    7♣
    2♦

Trick Three, West Leading

   6♦
A♦     K♣
   3♦

Trick Four, West Leading

   6♥
A♥      5♠
   3♥

Trick Five, East Leading

   Q♠
7♦     6♠
   5♥

Trick Six, North Leading

   8♥
8♦     2♠
   6♣

Trick Scoring:

  • Team North-South is awarded one point for the high of trump (Trick One).
  • Team East-West is awarded one point for the low of trump (Trick Six).
  • No point awarded for the Jack of Trump.
  • Team East-West is awarded one point for outscoring Team North-South in trick points 21-7.


The score of this game out be 0 - -3 after one hand, Team East-West winning. In this hand we see that by taking West’s three bid, North walked into East’s monster bid-busting hand. North properly led off-suit in trick two after winning the Js and a potential low in the 3♠. West winning trick two with the 10♦ allowed team East-West to steal momentum, points, and in the end win the hand.

Now let’s see how the hand plays out if North, as the dealer, doesn’t steal West’s bid.

Hand Two
North dealing


                                   A♠, Q♠, 9♦, 6♦, 8♥, 6♥


A♥, 4♣, A♦, 10♦, 8♦, 7♦                                            6♠, 5♠, 3♠, 2♠, 7♣, K♣
                                
         
                                   J♠, 5♥, 3♥, 6♣, 3♦, 2♦

East bids Pass
South bids Pass
West bids Three
North bids Pass.
East-West wins the bidding round.

Trick One, West leading

   6♦
A♦    K♣
   3♦

Trick Two, West leading


    9♦
10♦    3♠
    2♦

Trick Three, West leading

   6♥
A♥     2♠
   3♥

Trick Four, West leading

   8♥
8♦    5♠
   5♥

Trick Five, West leading

  Q♠
7♦   6♠
  J♠

Trick Six, West leading

   A♠
4♣     7♣
   6♣

Trick Scoring:

  • Team East-West awarded one point for winning the high of trump (trick one).
  • Team East-West awarded one point for winning the low of trump (trick two).
  • No point awarded for the Jack of trump.
  • Team East-West awarded one point for winning trick points 28-0.

In this hand, we see that West’s aggressive play by leading the 10♦ in trick two pays huge dividends, as with no J♦ in play any other card would allow South to trump trick two with the 2♦, thus winning the low of trump and the hand. In this example East-West would open the game winning 3-0.



Pitch is, in the end, a game that rewards aggressive three bidding and conservative four bidding. Loose fours bid with only two or three trump, or worse with no Jack in hand, are susceptible to being busted by an opponent or by a lack of a Jack in play. Weak wraps, those with multiple holes (a hole would be any gap in cards for which you need help or luck to win the trick) or holes of 5 or greater cards, will also punish your team and show in the final score. A team that defends its deal by stealing the other team's bid whenever plausible will generally have the advantage, as will a team who consistently wins the bidding round when they are not dealing. The most notable bidding round advantage can be found if one team can manage to have their more agressive player sitting to the right of, and having first action in a bidding round, the other team's more agressive player.

These, of course, are just rules and standard modes of play. More advanced concepts would include comfortably making A2 three bids hold up as well as making Jack-less four bids. Also included would be knowing when to lead off-suit after winning the bidding round when to bid wraps. Another advanced concept is knowing when, towards the end of a game, it is better to bid out a marginal hand such as A♥, 9♠, 7♠, 6♠, K♣, Q♣ or to pass on such a hand in an attempt to break the other teams bid assuming they have or will make one.

Moments to learn, a lifetime to master, pitch is a friendly and enlivening game which all lovers of card games would do well by to try.