Original Card Games by David Parlett
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Players 4   Cards 52   Type Constructing Poker hands
Here's one for players who like cooperative partnership games and ingenious signalling systems but aren't keen on trick-taking games like Bridge. Despite the tag line, it's not really a Poker variant but happens to makes use of Poker combinations because they're well known. First published in my Original Card Games book of 1977 (though in a more primitive form than the improved version described below) it remains one of my own particular favourites. (Revised 2013.)
Four players sit crosswise in partnerships, establish a first dealer by any agreed means, and are dealt 13 cards each (singly) from a well-shuffled 52-card pack ranking AKQJ1098765432 in each suit. The turn to deal and lead passes always to the left.
Each side's aim is Poker hands
Poker hands from lowest (1P = 1 pair) to highest (SF = straight flush)
to create and score for four five-card Poker hands from the 26 cards between them, and to avoid being left with any such combination in the six cards remaining at end of play. In this game Poker hands score as follows:
One pair  1
Two pair  2
Threes  3
Straight  5
Flush  6
Full house  8
Fours  8 (4+0), 12 (3+1), or 16 (2+2)
Straight flush  10 (5+0), 15 (4+1), or 20 (3+2)
Note: Scores for the two highest combinations vary according to how many of the significant cards were contributed by each player, as no skill is required if one of them been dealt such a hand. (In the case of Fours, it doesn't matter who plays the fifth, non-significant card.)
The first hand is played by North-South only. Each of them in turn, starting with North (the player to the dealer's immediate left), plays a card face up to the table until five cards have been played. If it forms a Poker combination, they score for it as specified above. If not, they score 0.
North then spreads the completed hand face up on the table before him or her and the turn passes to East-West, with East leading and both playing as described.
Note that only one partnership plays at a time: there is no interaction of play between the two sides.
The leader to a hand must always play the first card and may not pass. Thereafter, each of you on your turn to play may either play a card or say 'Pass'. If you pass, your partner may either play the next card or pass too. If, however, they also pass, you must then contribute the next card, as no more than two consecutive passes are allowed for the play of any one card. (But this doesn't prevent you from passing all your own consecutive turns, thus enabling your partner, having the lead, to play out a ready-made Poker combination from their own hand.)
Whenever you are entitled to pass, you may instead say 'Play'. This forces your partner to complete the hand alone, or, if they haven't enough cards left, to play out all their remaining cards in one go.
North having led to the first hand by North-South, and East to the first by East-West, the turn to lead continues in rotation to the left. This process is repeated until eight hands have been played, each player having led to two hands and stored them face up on the table before him or her. All completed hands remain visible throughout play, as Concerto is intended to be a game of calculation rather than memory. Note that the dealing side, since it plays to the second, fourth, sixth and eighth hands, always has the advantage of being able to see five more cards unavailable to them because all previous completed hands are left face up.
When each side ha completed four hands and totalled its score for them, the side with the higher score for hands made may then score a bonus for "left-overs" - that is, any combination that their opponents failed to get out. For this purpose the losers reveal their last six cards, and the winners score a bonus equivalent to 10 times the value of the highest five-card combination that can be made from them. For example, if the left-overs are 5-6-7-8-9-A of mixed suits, the winners add 50 for the straight. Six-card combinations don't count, with the exception of three pairs, which gives the winners a bonus of 60.
The winners are not themselves penalised for any left-overs. However, if both sides tie for hand-scores, then the appropriate bonus goes to the non-dealing side, since at each hand they will always have had sight of fewer cards than their opponents. (Revision of September 2013.)
Game score
Each subsequent deal is made by the player to the left of the previous dealer, after very thorough shuffling, and each first lead by the player at the new dealer's left. Play continues until four deals have been made and played, or until either side, after scoring for hands and any left-overs that may accrue, has reached or exceeded a total of 100 points.
If one side finishes with 100+ points and the other does not, the winning side adds a game bonus of 100, plus an additional 100 for each deal left unplayed if fewer than four were played. (Revision of June 2008).
uplink downlink CONCERTO SIGNALS
How to communicate your holdings
The point of this game - if you want to take it seriously - lies in devising ways of so playing cards as to convey information about the state of the hand being played from. For example, when your partner leads the first card to a hand, you do well to pass immediately (unless you can turn it into a straight flush straight off), to enable your partner to show by their second card whether they're going for a straight flush or for four of a kind. Conversely, as leader yourself and assuming your partner passes, you can give fairly precise information about your hand by the order you play your first two cards in - for example, whether you play high-then-low or low-then-high, whether you play from the same or from different suits or colours, and so on. Here's the system I use. You may want to simplify it, or come up with something entirely of your own.
When you have the lead, go down this checklist and signal the first of the following combinations or part-combinations contained in your hand:
Five to a straight flush
Four of a kind
Four to a straight flush
Two sets of three
Full house
Three to a straight flush
Five-card flush or straight
Two pair
Four to a flush or straight
Three to a flush or straight
One pair
First-round or "strong" signals aim for a straight flush or four of a kind. They are normally played on the first two hands, and may be played later given a good distribution. Second-round or "weak" signals aim for a straight or flush, possibly a full house, and are normally played on the third and fourth hands, or on the first two given a bad distribution.
Of course, it's up to you and your partner's discretion whether you follow these signals strictly, or whether and how you modify them in the light of whatever known information may be visible in the hands already played, or deduced from how your opponents fared in the preceding hand.
Strong signals (1): straight flush
You can signal a straight flush bid when you hold three or more cards in suit and range. Show your holding by playing upwards or downwards, and with one or more gaps between the two ranks (marked "x" below) as follows:
Signal e.g. Meaning
L x x x H A-5 5 held, 5 in sequence (A-2-3-4-5)
L x x H 2-5 4 held, 4 in sequence (2-3-4-5)
L x H 3-5 4 held, 3 in sequence, 1 higher or lower (A-3-4-5 or 3-4-5-7)
LH 4-5 3 held, 2 in sequence, one higher (4-5-7 or 4-5-8)
HL 5-4 3 held, 2 in sequence, one lower (5-4-2 or 5-4-A)
H x L 5-3 3 held, 3 in sequence, no other (5-4-3)
H x x L 5-2 4 held, 1 missing between (5-4-2-A)
H x x x L 5-A 3 held, none consecutive (5-3-A)
Note: Some holdings can be shown in more than one way. For example, 5-4-3-A could be signalled 5-2 or 4-A, or even 5-A, since, if your partner holds the missing 3, they will know it can't mean 5-3-A and will therefore play it. Use your discretion, but always try to avoid playing across a gap whenever possible.
Strong signals (2): Fours and full houses
Call for four of a kind or a full house by playing your first and second cards as follows:
From this... play this...
four of a kind same rank, heart then diamond
three & three different rank, same colour
full house different rank, different colour, from threes first
threes only
red and pass (heart if possible)
two pairs
same rank, black-red or minor-major* -
or, if out of range, different rank, high then low
one pair black and pass (diamond if both red)
* major = spade or heart, minor = club or diamond
Weak signals (straights, flushes, two pairs)
When leading to your side's third or fourth hand, or earlier given a bad distribution, go for a flush or straight by signalling as follows:
To show this: L-H H-L Examples
same suit, out of range 5FL 2P diamond4 diamondJ = five diamonds held
diamondJ diamond4 = J-J-4-4 held
same suit, in range 4FL 3FL spade4 spade8 = four spades held
spade8 spade4 = three spades held
different suit, in range 4/5ST* 3ST club4 heart8 = 4-5-6-7-8 held
club4 heart6 = four to a straight held
club8 heart4 = three to a straight held
* With a complete straight, play lowest then highest regardless of suit. With four to a straight, play low-high, but beware giving misleading 5-straight or 4-flush signal.
Interpreting all signals listed above
  same suit same colour different colour
same rank - fours if heart diamond
otherwise 2 pairs
two pairs
same range 3 or more to a SF
or 3 or 4 to a FL
two threes or
3 or more to a ST
full house, threes first
or 3+ to a ST
out of range two threes or 5 flush two threes or 2 pairs full house (threes first)
Examples: Partner plays red 4, black 4 = holds another pair. Red 4, black 7 = holds either a full house of 4s over 7s or at least one other card to the same straight. Red 4, black J = holds a full house, 4s over Jacks.