copyright © 2003 Dennis Paul Himes

Rules of Oh Hell - Pratt & Whitney East Hartford Cafeteria Card Players' Club variation


Oh Hell is a card game I once spent a lot of my time playing. In spite of its stupid name, it is actually a very good game, requiring a lot of skill.

Oh Hell is played with a standard 52 card deck (4 suits of 13 cards each, no jokers). Standard rules for card games apply, except that table talk is not only permitted, but encouraged. Oh Hell may be played by three or more players. Special rules apply for three or four players (see below). Five or six players is ideal.

Aces are always high in Oh Hell.

The Deal

Oh Hell is played as a series of hands. For each hand one player is the dealer. The dealer deals cards clockwise until each player has the correct number of cards. This number changes from hand to hand. For the first hand each player gets one card. For the second hand each player gets two cards. This increase in the number of cards continues until the maximum number of cards is reached. (Maximum in the sense of 52 divided by the number of players and rounded down to the nearest integer.) The number of cards per hand remains at this maximum for the remainder of the game. After the dealer deals out the cards to the players he turns the next card face up and places it on the remainder of the deck, which he places between himself and the player to his left. This card is the trump card. The suit this card is a member of is known as the trump suit, or just "trump".

If multiple games are played in one sitting then for the second and subsequent games the player to the right of the winner of the previous game deals first. For the first game in a sitting the deal for the first hand is determined by turning a card face up in front of each player. The player to the right of the player who gets the lowest card deals the first hand. If there is a tie for lowest card (suits are not ranked) new cards are dealt face up among those that tied for lowest card and the lowest of those counts. (Tied tiebreakers being handled by repeated tiebreakers.) For subsequent hands in a game the deal passes to the left.

The Play of a Hand

The play of a hand consists of two parts, bidding and playing. I will describe the latter first. The playing consists of a series of tricks. At the beginning of a trick one player is the leader. The leader of the first trick is the player to the left of the dealer. The leader plays a card face up on the table, and then each other play in turn (proceeding clockwise) also plays a card on the table. Players after the leader must follow suit. In other words, if a player has at least one card in her hand of the same suit as the card led she must play a card of that suit. If a player does not have any cards of the same suit as the one led she may play any card in her hand. The card led may also be any card in the leader's hand. One of the cards played on a trick takes the trick. If at least one trump card has been played on a trick then the highest trump played takes the trick. If no trump cards have been played on a trick then the highest card of the suit led takes the trick. The person who played the card which takes the trick gathers up the cards, places them face down in front of her, and, if there are still unplayed cards, is the leader of the next trick. A player must place her tricks before her in a way which makes it clear how many tricks she has taken so far. Since each player plays one card on each trick the number of tricks in a hand will equal the number of cards dealt each player.


Before the tricks are played, however, the players bid, starting with the player to the left of the dealer. Each player bids a number between zero and the total number of tricks for that hand, inclusive. The bidding is not auction bidding; the only restriction on bids is that the dealer may not make the total number of bids equal to the number of tricks to be played unless his bid is either zero or equal to the total number of tricks. A bid for a player other than the dealer may be changed up until the next player makes a bid. The dealer's bid may be changed up until the first card is played on the first trick.


After a hand is played each player receives a score dependent on her bid and the number of tricks she took. If a player took exactly the same number of tricks as she bid she receives a score of ten plus her bid. If a player took less tricks than she bid she receives a score of minus her bid. If a player took more tricks than she bid she receives a score of minus the number of tricks she took. So if a player bid 2 and took 1 trick she receives -2. If she bid 2 and took 2 tricks she receives 12. If she bid 2 and took 3 tricks she receives -3. If a player's score becomes a multiple of 50, that player's score is changed to zero. The game ends when at least one player has a score greater than 100. The player with the highest score wins. There are no tiebreakers.

If a player reneges (i.e. does not follow suit) and it is not immediately caught, that player is penalized 20 points.

Special Rules for Three of Four Players

For a three player game, a smaller deck is used. Only the 8 through ace of each suit is used, for a total of 28 cards.

For a four player game, when the thirteen card hand is played there is no trump. After that the number of cards starts decreasing, until it hits 1 (although I've never seen it go that far), when it starts increasing again.

Other Variations