Created and Maintained by Umesh Shankar
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Please Note: These rules are not those found in Hoyle's. However,
after much experimentation we have settled on rules (and variations
thereupon) which essentially make the game as great as it is. (Hoyle does not include
the idea of partners, for example.)
We highly recommend that you read the Variations Page,
for what some consider more interesting forms of setback. You definitely want to read
the section on different numbers of players.
The Official Rules are divided into these
Points to be Won
Who wins a Trick?
High, Low, Jack, and Game
Basic Bidding Strategy
The Setup of the Game
Setback is a versatile game played with a standard deck of 52
cards. Aces are high, twos low, and the order of the cards is
as follows: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
It can be played with anywhere from two to six players. Technically
it can be played with up to eight, but the game really degrades
at that point.
The game starts with bidding for trump suit, proceeds with the
play of all six tricks, and then tallying of the four possible
points and scoring at the end.
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There are four points to be won in each setback hand, and which
should always be in your mind as you learn and play:
- Game (or Most)
[Note: Game, the official term, is also often called
"Most" for reasons which will be made clear, and thinking
of it as Most rather than Game (because the latter does not in
fact determine who wins the game) will likely help you
learn more quickly.]
If you know bridge, the gameplay is identical except that you
may trump at any time, not just when you can't follow suit.
You can skip the next sub-section if
you understand the concept of trump, following suit, etc. as in
The way play proceeds is as follows:
- One person plays a card from her hand. (The first lead is made by the high bidder, and
must be a trump).
- The play continues with the person to her left, and so on
until all players have played a card. This is called a "trick."
- Each person must do one of the following:
- Play a card of the same suit as the first card that was played
- Play a card of the designated trump suit (see Who wins a Trick?
below to understand this concept)
- Only if she do not have any cards of the suit that was led,
play any other card
- After each person has played, one person has won the trick
by the rules in the section below. That person (or perhaps, if
playing with partners, his partner) takes the cards played for
tallying at the end of the game
- The person who won initiates another trick by leading a card.
- This continues until all the players have no more cards.
(One important concept to understand is that of a trump suit. At
the start of the game, in a manner to be described below, a particular
suit is chosen to be the trump suit. This suit is more powerful
than all the others: even the lowliest card (a two, for example)
of the trump suit can beat an Ace of a non-trump suit.)
A person wins a trick if he
- Played the highest trump
- If no trumps were played, played the highest card in the suit
that was led
Now that you know how to play the game, it would help to know
what you're trying to achieve in doing so! These four points are
calculated from among the cards you (or you and your partner)
win. For each of these cards you possess, you get a point:
- High=the highest card in the trump suit (this
may not be the ace: you're not playing with all the cards!)
- Low=the lowest card in the trump suit (likewise,
this may not be the two)
- Jack=the Jack of the trump suit (may or may
not even be in play)
- Game/Most=the sum of "game points"
contributed from all point cards (10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace)
that are in play. For the calculation of who has the most
(told you it would come up) game points, all suits are equal,
unlike the other three points. If more than one player (team)
holds the highest number of points, nobody get the point.
The following table gives the point values of each point card:
|Ten||10 game points
|Ace||4 game points
|King||3 game points
|Queen||2 game points
|Jack||1 game point
- At the end of the game, the distribution of the points is
determined by seeing which player (partners) has high, low, jack,
- Each of these is worth 1 point.
- If the bidder (he and his partner) did not make as many points
as were bid, he is set back, which is where the name of
the game comes from. He then loses the number of points he bid,
regardless of how many points he made.
- He may make and get credit for more points than he bid, just
as the opponents get credit for as many points as they made.
- Generally a running total of points is kept; games are either
played to 11 or a number of the players' choosing.
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Before the bidding begins, the cards must be dealt. At the start
of the game, a dealer is designated, and the deal rotates to the
left. The dealer deals six cards to each person, starting with
the player to his left, three at a time. The exact number of cards
depends on the variation being played. See the Variations Page
for more information.
Bidding proceeds clockwise from the person to the left of the
dealer. The bid goes around only once; if nobody else bids,
the dealer must bid. Each person bids one of the following:
- A number: 2, 3, or 4 which indicates how many points the person
thinks he can make if he is allowed to choose trump
- Pass, which means that he does not think he can make more
points than the previous bidder (or if nobody has bid, he can't
(x=a card from 3-9)
If nobody has bid:
|Bid this||if you hold this (or equivalent) in one suit
- A, K/Q, reasonable other cards or x
- K, J, x
- Q, J, x, 2/3 (it is risky to bid here unless you hold low; your opponents may hold A/K, 2 between them, leading to a quick set)
- J, x, x, 2; high cards in other suits
- A/K, J, x(/10 if K), x
- A, K/Q, x, x; high cards in other suits
- A, K/Q, J; reasonable other cards
- 5 trump including J, 2 and a decent sixth card
- A, K and/or Q, J, 1 10; and high cards (A/K) in other suits.
- A, K, Q, J, reasonable cards in other suits
- 5 trump including A, K/Q, J and a reasonable sixth card
If your partner has bid, generally you let him have the bid unless:
- You feel that your trump suit is far stronger and overall
would be a much better choice
- You have a very long trump suit including J, 2, and you feel
partner's strength would assure you game
- At that point in the game, it is crucial that an opponent
(assuming you are bidding third) not get an easy overbid.
These are only general guidelines. Exceptional circumstances
may require bids in different situations. As you get more familiar
with the game, feel free to experiment. Everyone gets set once
in a while.
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Some Basic Strategies
- Never, ever, lead the jack on the first trick unless:
(1) You have A, K, Q; (2) You were forced to bid and your best
suit is J, 2
- Always go for low. This is the easiest point to throw
away. If you are bidding and don't have it, you should generally
continue playing trump until you get it. Of course, good judgment
should be used here: in almost all circumstances, you don't look
for the 2 with the 3. If the dealer does not play trump on
the second trick, he generally holds low in his hand. You
should use this to your advantage.
- Playing last is a great advantage. Knowing when to
lose a trick is an important part of the game. Playing last allows
you to take low on a non-trump trick, and allows you to decide
who wins it. If you can trap the bidder between you and your partner,
you can often squeeze out low because he will be forced to play
- If you are bidding first, you can afford to be a little
more liberal in bidding. Bidding first with the suit of your
choice blocks opponents out or makes them go to the much more
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