Oh Hell (Blackout) Game Rules

The complete guideline for the trick-taking card game

Cards on table

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Oh Hell is a simple trick-taking card game that presents as much strategic play as any popular board game. The game Wizard, published by US Games, is based on Oh Hell. This game is sometimes referred to as Oh Pshaw or Blackout.

Players

Three to seven players.

Deck

Standard 52-card deck. Ace is high; two is low.

Goal

To score the most points by accurately predicting how many tricks you'll win.

Setup

Shuffle the cards. Choose a dealer. For each subsequent hand, the player to the left of the previous dealer becomes the new dealer.

The number of hands in this card game varies according to the number of players:

  • three players, 15 hands
  • four players, 13 hands
  • five players, 10 hands
  • six players, eight hands
  • seven players, seven hands

For the first hand of the game, each player receives one card. For the second hand, each player receives two cards. The third hand, three cards, and so on until the end of the game.

After the cards are dealt, the dealer turns the next card face up. The suit of this card establishes the trump suit. (In the last hand of the game, there is no trump suit, so this card is not turned face up.)

Remaining cards are set aside and not used in that hand.

Bidding

The player to the dealer's left bids first. Each player must bid; no one may pass. Legal bids range from 0 to the number of cards dealt for that round. EXAMPLE: If four cards are dealt, legal bids range from 0 to 4.

Players are bidding on the number of tricks they think they'll win in that hand.

Gameplay

The player to the dealer’s left plays first ("leads"). Play continues clockwise. Each player must follow suit (i.e. play the same suit that was led) if possible.

Generally, each trick is won by the player who played the highest rank in the suit led. However, if the suit led was not trump, and one or more players played a trump card, then the trick is won by the player who played the highest rank of trump.

When a trick is won, the winning player sets the trick in front of himself so that it's easy to tell how many tricks each player has won.

Scoring

One player serves as the scorekeeper. As each player makes his bid, the scorekeeper writes them down. All information about the bids is open, and any player can ask for a reminder of who bid what at any time during the game.

Players only score points by precisely predicting the number of hands they would win. A bid that's either too high or too low scores zero points.

Each player who makes his bid exactly scores 10 points plus the number of tricks won. EXAMPLE: Evelyn bid four and won four tricks. She scores 14 points (10+4). Frank bid zero and won zero tricks. He scores 10 points (10+0).

Winning

The player with the highest total score at the end of the game is the winner.

Common Rules Variations

  • Some people play in reverse. That is, the largest hand is played first and each player only receives one card for the final hand. Some dislike this rule because it makes it harder for a player who's behind to come back and win.
  • Some players run from one card up to the maximum and then back down to one. Other players start at the maximum, run down to one card, and then back up to the maximum.
  • Some people prefer to play that the total number of tricks bid cannot equal the number available. EXAMPLE: If it's the fifth hand, the total number of tricks bid cannot equal five. This ensures that at least one player will fail to make his bid on each hand.
  • Some players use simultaneous bidding. In this variation, everyone decides what they'll bid for each and then all players reveal their bids simultaneously. Most commonly, this is done by placing one or two fists on the table, counting to three and having everyone reveal a number of fingers at the same time.
  • In a Spanish version of the game, known as La Podrida, players who cannot follow suit must play a trump card if they have one.

    Common Scoring Variations

    • Some people score so that players who miss their bid score one point for each trick taken. EXAMPLE: George bid three and won four tricks. He doesn't score the 10 point bonus, but he does score four points.
    • Some players prefer an alternate scoring scheme for a bid of zero. In this scoring option, a player who successfully bids zero wins five points plus the number of tricks in the hand. EXAMPLE: Helen bid zero and won zero tricks in the seventh hand when seven tricks are played. She scores 12 points (5+7).