Original Card Games by David Parlett

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HAMLET


Now, what was the question again?

Players 3   Cards 33   Type Plain trick game
I've been fiddling about with this rather trivial game for years, and only now that I've found a sort of theme for it - courtesy of William Shakespeare - does it feel like time to offer it to the real world.
Cards
33, made by adding a Joker (hereinafter referred to as Polonius) to a 32-card pack ranking AKQJ10987 in each suit. Whoever draws the highest card deals first - eleven cards to each player, face down and one at a time.
Object
Given that 11 tricks are played, one player will win either the middling number of tricks, or, if two win the same number, a unique number of tricks. That player is designated Hamlet and the other two Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In each deal the object is either to be or not to be Hamlet, as decided immediately after the deal.
To be or not to be
What the trump suit shall be or not be, and whether the aim is to be or not to be the Prince of Denmark, is decided more or less at random as follows. Each player selects a card from their hand and, when all are ready, they are simultaneously revealed. Then:
  • If two or three players show the same suit, that suit is trump.
  • If all three show different suits, then the fourth (unshown) suit is trump.
  • Finally, if at least one person shows a face card (King, Queen or Jack), then the aim is to be Hamlet; if no one does, then it is not to be.
Note: Polonius may not be used as one of the be-or-not-be cards. (He is hiding behind the arras.)
Play
The player at dealer's left leads to the first trick and the winner of each trick leads to the next. You must follow suit if you can but may play any card if you can't. The trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led or by the highest trump if any are played.
Polonius. If led to a trick, Polonius wins it, and the others may play as they please. If played second or third to a trick (only permissible when you have none of the suit led), he loses.
Score
The basic score is 1 point per trick, or 10 points for winning none. If the aim was "to be", then Hamlet scores 10 per trick (or 100 for winning none) while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern score just the basic amount. If it was "not to be", then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern score 10 per trick (or 100 for winning none) and Hamlet scores only the basic amount.
Next deal
Each new deal is made by the player who was Hamlet in the previous one, and its opening lead is made by the player at Hamlet's left.
Game
Play up to any agreed target, such as 250 points for a game of about nine deals.
Examples of scoring

1. The aim is to be Hamlet and tricks fall 2-4-5. The player with four is Hamlet and scores 40, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern score 2 and 5 respectively. (Or vice versa, depending on who is which.)
2. The aim is not to be Hamlet and tricks fall 2-4-5. Hamlet scores 4 points, while Guildenstern and Rosencrantz score 20 and 50 respectively, or vice versa as the case may be.
3. The aim is to be Hamlet and tricks fall 4-4-3. The player with three is Hamlet and scores 30; Rosenstern and Guildencrantz score 4 each.
4. The aim is not to be Hamlet and tricks fall 4-4-3. Hamlet scores 3 points, Guildencrantz and Rosenstern 40 each.
Footnote
I don't usually offer advice on play, as I am not always the best player of my own games, but this one has some interesting points to consider, so here are some suggestions.
If the game is To-Be, you should aim to be the only player to win three or four tricks. As the only player to win four, you will inevitably be in the middle because the others must fall 5-2, 6-1, or 7-0. Three is an even better target, as you will be either in the middle if the others fall 8-0, 7-1, 6-2, or the odd one out if they divide 4-4, giving you an extra favourable division.
If the game is Not-to-Be, you will want to avoid being in the middle by winning either a small number of tricks (0 to 2) or a large number (5 or more, and preferably even, so 6 and 8 are better than 5 or 7). The ideal is none, as this gives you a basic score of 10, expanded to 100 if successful. Two is better than one, as this prevents the others from winning the same number each and thereby casting you as Hamlet. (Or hamming you up, as we say in the trade.)
In choosing what to bid, bear in mind that it is better to win as Hamlet than as Rosencrantz or Guildenstern  - that is, to bid a "To-Be" game if you think you can make it - as you will then be the only player to score tenfold rather than one of two players to do so. A time to do so is when you have a hand that looks good for three or four tricks in at least three suits, or when you are well ahead or on a winning streak, or even merely when you think you're the strongest player at the table, if only for the time being. On the other hand, if in doubt as to the nature of your hand, it is probably easier and safer to be one of the pair, and therefore to bid a "Not-to-Be" game. A time to do this is when you think you can lose every trick, or win not more than one, regardless of the trump suit, or when you think you can win at least six in either of two suits.
You have, of course, little control over which suit will get selected as trump. If you nominate a suit that you really want, there's only a one in four chance (if I calculate aright) that at least one of your opponents will match it. There may be occasions when you put out a suit that you really don't want, in the hope that the one you do will be entrumped by being the only one that nobody shows.
Copyright © renewed 2017 by David Parlett