Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute (as potentially misremembered after many moons)

1. Initial Stuff

1.1. Super-Duper Vague Basics

Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute is a trick-taking card game, like other games such as bridge, hearts, and spades. It is closely related to the game Oh Hell. At the start of each hand, players bid a number of tricks, and each player tries to win exactly as many tricks as they bid (no more, no less). As in many trick-taking card games, there is (or at least usually is) a trump suit. The trump suit varies from hand to hand. Unlike (for example) bridge, it is not a team game; all players are out only for themselves.

1.2. Players

A game can be played by anywhere from one to 54 players. Be warned that a one-player game will result in an embarrassingly bad score for that one player (but they will emerge victorious nonetheless!). Typically the game is played with four players, or close to four.

The recommended number of players is 37.

1.3. The Deck

The deck consists of 54 cards - a standard 52 card deck plus two jokers. The two jokers must be distinguishable from each other (when face up), with one being known as "the big joker" and the other as "the little joker". All cards including the jokers should be indistinguishable when face down.

The big and little jokers are always considered to be trump cards (see below). The big joker is the highest card in the deck, and the little joker is the second highest. Within a suit, other than the jokers, aces are high.

1.4. The Scorekeeper

One player will be responsible for keeping score throughout the entire game. The official scorecard will include not only the running totals of the scores of each player, but also information on each individual hand of the game, including the bids of each player, the number of tricks taken by each player, and the points scored by each player during that hand.

After each hand of the game, the scorekeeper will report every player's total score. Any player may inspect the official scorecard, or ask the scorekeeper to report information from it, at any time.

The scorekeeper may be chosen by volunteering, by acclamation, by vote, at random, or in whatever other manner the players decide. In cases such as acclamation or voting, the selected player has the right to decline unless otherwise agreed.

A typical method of determining the scorekeeper (and -- see below -- the first dealer) is "high card deals, low card scores" - i.e. all players pick a card; the player with the highest card is the first dealer, and the player with the lowest card is the scorekeeper.

2. The Deal

For each hand, one player will serve as the dealer of that hand. The dealer of the first hand of the game will be chosen randomly (perhaps by high card draw). For any hand after the first, the dealer will be the player to the left of the dealer of the immediately preceding hand.

At the start of each hand, the dealer will collect all of the cards and shuffle them face down. After the cards have been shuffled, the player to the dealer's right will cut the deck, and the dealer will commence dealing.

The cards will be dealt one card and one player at a time, clockwise starting with the player to the dealer's left. The cards will be dealt face down. The only player who is allowed to look at a player's cards is that player themselves, and they can do so at any time.

The number of cards to be dealt may vary from game to game (depending upon the number of players), and also during a game (depending upon how many hands have been played so far). For the first hand of a game, the number of cards dealt will be the maximum possible number such that each player receives an equal number of cards. For example, in a game with four players, they will each be dealt thirteen cards in the first hand, for a total of 52, leaving two leftover cards.

After the first hand, the number of cards dealt to each player for a hand will decrease by one each time, eventually down to one card per player. After such a one-card hand, the next hand will also have one card per player, and thereafter the number of cards dealt to each player for a hand will increase by one each time, eventually back up to the same number as was dealt in the first hand of the game. After that hand, the game ends.

For example, in a four-player game, the players will get thirteen cards each in the first hand, twelve in the second, eleven in the third, ..., one in the thirteenth, one in the fourteenth, two in the fifteenth, ..., and thirteen in the final, twenty-sixth hand.

3. The Trump Suit, or Lack Thereof

If there are any cards leftover after the deal (for example, the two cards remaining after dealing the first hand of a four-player game), the top one is flipped over face up, and the suit of that card is known as the "trump suit" for the hand. Jokers are always considered to be trump cards.

If there are no leftover cards, or if the flipped card is a joker, there is "no trump" (other than the jokers) for the hand.

No player is allowed to look at any of the remaining leftover cards.

4. The Bidding

4.1. Bidding Basics

For each hand, after the deal, bidding commences. Each player bids, starting with the player to the dealer's left and proceeding clockwise, with the dealer bidding last.

Each player must bid a number from zero to the total number of cards in their hand (or else one of two special bids, described momentarily). This number is intended as the exact number of tricks that the player is going to try to win during the hand (no more, no less). The number must be an integer.

With the exception of the dealer, any player can bid any such number. The dealer can bid any such number except for a number which would make the total of all bids exactly equal to the number of cards in their hand. For example, in a four-player hand where each player has thirteen cards, if the first player bids three, the second bids five, and the third bids zero, then the dealer is not allowed to bid five, since 3 + 5 + 0 + 5 = 13. They can legally bid any other number from zero to thirteen; just not five.

4.2. Board Bids

One of the two special bids is known as a "board bid". If a player bids board, they are saying that they intend to take all of the tricks in the hand. For example, in a hand where each player has thirteen cards, bidding board means that the player intends to take all thirteen tricks in the hand.

Note that a player who intends to take all of the tricks does not have to bid board; they can also bid the total number of tricks, as usual (for example, if there are thirteen cards per player, they can bid thirteen rather than bidding board). The only difference is that bidding board is taking a greater risk in hopes of a greater reward (as described later in the section on scoring).

For the purpose of determining the number of tricks that the dealer is not allowed to bid, any board bids are considered as being the same as a normal bid for all of the tricks. For example (and I'm lookin' at you, Emad Miazad), if all players other than the dealer in a thirteen-card hand each bid zero, then not only is the dealer not allowed to bid thirteen, but also they are not allowed to bid board.

4.3. Rainbow Bids

The other special bid is known as a "rainbow bid". This bid can only be made in certain specific situations: The player's hand must have "equal distribution". That is, the number of cards in each player's hand must be divisible by four, and a player making a rainbow bid must have exactly the same number of cards of each suit. For example, in an eight-card hand, the player must have two clubs, two diamonds, two hearts, and two spades.

Remember that if there is a trump suit for the hand, a joker counts as being of the trump suit. Continuing the example given above, two clubs, two diamonds, two hearts, one "real" spade, and one joker would allow for a legal rainbow bid if and only if the trump suit is spades.

A player bidding rainbow is announcing their intent to take a number of tricks exactly equal to to the number of cards in the hand divided by four. For example, in a hand where each player has eight cards, a rainbow bid is an intent to win exactly two tricks.

Note that (similarly to a board bid) a player who wants to take exactly that number of tricks can make a "normal" bid of that number instead of bidding rainbow, even if they legally could bid rainbow. Again, the difference is that bidding rainbow is taking a greater risk in hopes of a greater reward. Unlike for board bids, though, the risk is not a scoring penalty in the case of failure. Rather, the risk is that letting the other players know that you have equal distribution may make it more difficult for you to take the exact number of tricks that you need.

For the purpose of determining the number of tricks that the dealer is not allowed to bid, any rainbow bids are considered as being the same as a normal bid of the appropriate number (for example, in an eight-card hand, a rainbow bid is considered a bid of two).

5. Play of a Hand

After all bids have been made for a hand, play of that hand commences. Play is divided into separate tricks, with each trick consisting of the play of exactly one card from each player, and the number of tricks in a hand being exactly the number of cards in any given player's hand. For example, in a thirteen-card hand of a four-player game, there will be thirteen individual tricks, each consisting of exactly four cards, those four cards being exactly one card from each of the four players.

In any given trick, the cards are played one at a time, starting with one player and proceeding clockwise. For the first trick of a hand, the first player to play (i.e. the player who "leads" with a card) is the player to the dealer's left. For subsequent tricks, the player who leads is the player who won the immediately preceding trick (with "won" being described momentarily).

The player who leads can lead with any of their cards. Other players may be limited in their choice of cards to follow with. The most common limitation is that if they have any cards of the same suit as was led, they must play a card of that suit. Remember that if there is a trump suit, jokers count as being of that suit. If there is no trump suit, the two jokers are considered to be the same suit as each other (and thus one must be played if the other was led), but not the same as any "real" suit.

Another limitation is that if the lead card is the big joker, and a player has any trump cards (including the little joker), they must play their highest trump card (with "highest", other than the big joker itself, being the little joker, then the ace of the suit, then the king, ..., down to the lowest being the two of the suit).

When a player leads with the big joker, it is suggested that they call attention to that fact, so that other players do not accidentally overlook the requirement to play their highest trump card. The traditional method of doing so is to excitedly, boisterously, and/or goofily exclaim "Rake 'em and shake 'em!" while leading the big joker.

As the little joker is such a high card -- the second highest in the game -- being required to lose it when another player leads with the big joker is often quite disappointing and notable. This has lead to an alternate name for the little joker: BOHICA ("Bend Over, Here It Comes Again").

If neither of these limitations applies, a player is allowed to play any card from their hand that they want. In particular, note that unlike in some other trick-taking games, they are not required to play a trump card if possible in this situation.

After each player has played a card for a trick, one of them wins the trick. If any trump cards were played during the trick, the player who played the highest trump card wins the trick. Again, "highest" means big joker, then little, then ace, and so on down to two. Remember that jokers are always considered to be trump cards, even during a no trump hand.

If there were no trump cards played, then the player who played the highest card of the suit that was lead wins the trick. Cards of any other suit cannot possibly win the trick.

The winner of a trick collects all of the played cards, and places them face down in front of themselves. This should be done in a manner that will make it easy to see at a glance how many tricks any player has won so far at any given time during or after the hand.

At any time, any player may look at the cards that were played in the immediately preceding trick. Generally speaking, no player may look at the cards that were played in any trick other than the immediately preceding trick, but there is an exception to this general rule:

If a player reneges (i.e. plays a card that they were not allowed to play), it might not be detectable by the end of the next trick. If a player comes to suspect that someone has reneged, they may lodge an accusation. In order to confirm or refute such an accusation, it might be necessary to look at the cards played in earlier tricks.

Punishment for reneging, or for falsely accusing a renege, is severe and shall include at a minimum shaming and adequate restitution to the aggrieved parties. Penalty points may also be assessed for multiple or flagrant offenses. The suggested penalty is 37 points, but it is negotiable based on the cluelessness of the offender.

After a trick is complete, the next trick of the hand commences, starting with a lead from the player who won the trick. After all tricks of a hand are complete, scoring for that hand is done (see below), and the next hand commences, with the dealer being the player immediately to the left of the most recent dealer.

6. Scoring a Hand

6.1. Scoring Standard Bids

For a standard bid, if a player won exactly the number of tricks that they bid for the hand (no more and no less), they are awarded a number of points equal to ten plus the square of the bid. For example, if they bid three, and they won exactly three tricks, then they are awarded 10 + 3 * 3 = 19 points. If they bid zero, and they did not win any tricks, they are awarded 10 + 0 * 0 = 10 points.

If they won any other number of tricks (no matter whether more or less), they lose a number of points equal to the square of the difference between the number of tricks they bid and the number of tricks they won. For example, if they bid four, and won exactly two tricks, they lose (4 - 2) * (4 - 2) = 2 * 2 = 4 points. Or if they bid four and won exactly six, they also lose four points: (6 - 4) * (6 - 4) = 2 * 2 = 4.

6.2. Scoring Board Bids

Board bids are scored exactly as the standard bids are scored, except that there is a bonus or a penalty of an additional 25 points. For example, bidding board on a three-card hand, and winning all three tricks, is worth 10 + 3 * 3 + 25 = 44 points. But missing that bid by two tricks (by winning exactly one trick) results in a loss of 2 * 2 + 25 = 29 points.

6.3. Scoring Rainbow Bids

Rainbow bids are scored exactly as the standard bids are scored, except that there is a 20-point bonus for success (note that there is no additional penalty for failure). For example, bidding rainbow on an eight-card hand and succeeding (by winning exactly two tricks) is worth 10 + 2 * 2 + 20 = 34 points. Missing by one trick on that same bid (by winning exactly one or exactly three tricks) results in a loss of 1 * 1 = 1 point.

6.4. Scoring Side Note

This is not really a "rule", but rather a notable implication of the rules:

Since the total number of tricks bid is not allowed to be equal to the total number of tricks in the hand, note that at least one player in each hand will not win exactly the number of tricks that they bid, and thus at least one player will lose points for any given hand.

7. Final Scoring

After all hands of a game have been played, each player's scores from each hand are added up, and the player with the highest total wins the game.

8. Variants

8.1. Ultimate Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute

Ultimate Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute is the same as Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute, except that if any player has exactly 37 total points at the end of the game, they win. If no player has exactly 37 total points, the winner is (as in the standard game) the player with the most total points.

8.2. Drinking Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute

Drinking Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute is the same as Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute, except that whenever a player misses their bid, they must consume one or more sips of a refreshing libation. Exactly what refreshing libation or refreshing libations are allowed for these purposes is agreed upon by all players prior to the start of the game.

The exact number of sips to be consumed in the case of failure is also agreed upon by all players prior to the start of the game. It may or may not vary depending upon how bad the failure was (for example, missing a bid by two tricks may require more consumption than missing by one trick), and in any case the exact amount of consumption for any particular failure should be agreed upon by all players prior to the start of the game, based on exactly how refreshed they are hoping to be by the end of the game.

Any player may, at their sole discretion, consume any amount of their refreshing libation at any time, even if they are not required to do so.

8.3. Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute Cutthroat

I remember that there is a variant known as this (or maybe Cutthroat Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute? Killer Cutthroat Back Alley Bridge Substitute?), but unfortunately I don't remember what it is.

I have a vague feeling that what I described above as the base game actually is the "Cutthroat" variation, and that the "real" Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute doesn't do the squaring in calculating points (for example, bidding and making three would be worth 10 + 3 = 13 points, not 10 + 3 * 3 = 19 points). If so, then I don't think I've ever played "real" Killer Back Alley Bridge Substitute, only Cutthroat.

8.4. Half-Game

A shorter version of the game can be played by only going "down" or "up" the trick count ladder for the hands rather than the standard down-then-back-up. For example, in a four-player game, instead of starting with a thirteen-card hand, working down to one-card hands, doing another one-card hand, and finally working back up to thirteen, just start at thirteen and work down to one (or start at one and work up to thirteen).

Thanks

This document has been updated with corrections and clarifications suggested by various friends, including but perhaps not limited to Rich Butler, Jim Burke, Mike Coless, and Scott Rideout. Thank you all!

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