500, for Hearts players

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The card game “500” is popular at work. It’s played every lunchtime, almost like a religious observance.

AustralianCardGames.com.au has a good, simple description of the rules. (Wikipedia attempts to cover every regional variant of the game, which is very confusing.)

I didn’t know how to play 500, but I did know how to play Hearts, which is sort of similar.

The most important differences, relative to Hearts, are listed below.

500 is played in pairs

In hearts, every player scores individually.

A game of 500 always involves four players, playing as two partnerships.

The partners sit opposite each other at the table.

Bidding and Scoring

The objective of hearts is to avoid winning tricks, by playing low cards. (i.e. to avoid taking any hearts, or Q♠.)

The objective of 500 is to win tricks, by playing high cards. Which cards are the “high cards” is determined during “bidding”.

After the cards have been dealt, the players take turns to “bid”. Each player calls out the number of tricks they think their partnership can win, using a given trump suit.

  • “Six Spade” -> The partnership must win at least six tricks, with spades as the trump suit.
  • “Seven no-trumps” -> The partnership must win at least seven tricks, with no trump suit.

The bids must increase in the order 6♠, 6♣, 6♦, 6♥, 6 No-trumps, 7♠, 7♣, 7♦, 7♥ … 10 No-trumps. So if the previous bid is 6♥, and you want to bid diamonds, you can’t bid 6♦. You would have to bid 7♦.

It’s important to tell your partner what cards you have. But you can’t just say “I have J♠, J♣, A♠, and K♠” - you have to signal this indirectly, during the bidding process.

To a new player, this is the most mystifying part of the game.

  • Bidding 6 of a suit is a weak signal to your partner, that you have a few (but not many) high cards of that suit.
  • Bidding no-trumps tells your partner that you have the Joker, or a lot of aces.
  • Bidding 8 or more of something is a signal that you have a lot of high cards.

Trump cards

In hearts, the special cards are Q♠, then A♥, K♥, Q♥, J♥, 10♥, …

In 500, the order of cards depends on the winning bid.

  1. Joker is the highest card.
  2. The jack of the trump suit.
  3. The other jack, of the same colour as the trump suit.
  4. A, K, Q… of the trump suit.
  5. A, K, Q… of the suit that was led.
  6. Other cards are worth nothing.

So if the trump suit is clubs, the trump cards are:

  1. Joker (Which is considered to be a ♣)
  2. J♣
  3. J♠ (Which is considered to be a ♣)
  4. A♣, K♣, Q♣, 10♣, 9♣, … 5♣

If the trump suit is “no trumps”, then jacks aren’t special, and the order is: Joker, A, K, Q, J, 10…

Following suit

Just like Hearts, you must follow the suit that was led.

If you have no cards of the suit that was led, you can play any card in your hand.

(Unlike Hearts, you don’t have to wait for “hearts to be broken” before you can play special cards.)