Tag - Strategies

Aggressive Bidding Scenario

Rook Hand - High BidHere’s a real game scenario.  We were playing set partner rook the other day as we usually do and my partner and I found ourselves relatively close in score with our competition at 240 pts to 210 pts in the middle of a heated rook game to 500.   During this next had, the bidding was more intense than normal.  Myself and an aggressive bidder to the left of me were pushing the action further and further.  Finally, the bid got to 170 and I needed to bid 175 in order to likely take the kitty and have a chance to win the hand.

Looking at my hand, I was holding:
Greend – 3, 5, 10
Red – 5, 6, 9, 10, 1
Yellow – 5
Black – 10, 11, 14
Rook – Yes

I indeed had a powerhouse hand in set partner rook.  The problem is, my partner had passed early, and my competition had both bid aggressively throughout the entire bidding stage.  That being said, I likely was not going expect any help from my partner.  Also, there was a good possibility that the kitty was not going to have a lot of strength since my opponents were bidding so strong, they likely had many of the good cards out there.

Given the above situation, I chose to take the cautious route and pass the bid to my opponent at 170 knowing I actually did not have a good chance at setting them.  AS it turns out, my opponent chose yellow and proceeded to play the 1 and 14 of trump right away pulling my only yellow.  With my partner having an extremely weak hand this round, we only ended up taking a measly 5 pts and our opponents easily took a strong lead in the overall game.

Looking back on it, I think my decision was correct, however, if by chance the 1 of black or the 14 of red were in the kitty, I might have a decent shot at making my bid.  That is the risk you take when bidding aggressively or not.

Table Talk

Table talk is a term used to refer to partners giving clues about their hands through comments they say across the card table. For the most part, these are passing comments that are not necessarily meant to give away their hand, but by deduction, a partner can gain information. This might be something like asking if a certain card has been played, or commenting that you did not play a certain color last time it was played. Basically, it is a form of cheating that for the most part is not intentional.

Using the Kitty or Nest

One of the major uncertainties with playing rook is dealing with the kitty.  These 5 cards can sometimes make or break your hand.   There is no real way to know whether or not the kitty is going to help or hurt your hand when bidding, this is what makes rook so fun.  There is some significant risk in taking the kitty, especially when you are overbidding your hand.  However, no matter if the kitty is good to you or completely destroys your power hand, there are some strategies to consider when looking to use the kitty.

So once you have one the bid and picked up your kitty, there are a few specific things you are trying to do:

  • Empty out as many colors in your hand as possible.  If you do not have the top cards in a color, it is best not to have any of that color at all so that you have the flexibility to trump the color if an opponent plays point cards in it.  If you cannot only have just trump color in your hand (highly unlikely) then you are basically trying to get a strong two color hand by using the 5 cards from the kitty, your trump suit being the strongest and then your “off suit” being as strong as possible.
  • Placing point cards in the kitty.  It can often be a valuable strategy to place some of the point cards in your hand in the kitty when you are fairly certain you are going to take the last trick and do not have certain ways of protecting the point cards.  For example, 5s are often good to put in the kitty unless you have a lot of that suit.   If you keep a 5 in your hand, you are basically hoping that your partner will be able to take it in some form or another.
    Keeping singleton 14s can also be dangerous and are better served to put in the kitty and keep something else.  Even though a 14 is a top card, if a 1 is played by an opponent, you are giving away 10 or more points instantly.  10s are tricky as well.  It is my opinion that unless you have a lot of the color where your 10 or sometimes 14 are, you are better served putting them in the kitty and keeping something like a 9 or 11 instead.  They are still fairly strong, but if you loose them, you are not giving away extra points.
  • If you have a 1 of an off-suit color, it is often advised to use the strength of the 1 and keep some other cards around it.   For example, if you have a 1 and an 8 of black, it might not be bad to keep both the one and 8 if there are other risky cards to get rid of.   Rather than putting the low 8 in the kitty, you can gamble that your opponent will lead a black with no points and you can sluff your 8 without giving away points.  You also have the option to play the 1 if too many points have been played.
  • If you do not have do not have a clear choice for trump, for example maybe 5 of 3 different suits, it is often best to consider both high cards as well as point cards when choosing the trump color.

Bidding Strategies

  • It is wise to remember that the more information you have from your partner, the more you can expect help or not having any help at all.   For example, if you are the first person to bid, you can often give your partner a bit of information about the strength of your hand by your very first bid.  If you simply always state 100, no information is shared (sometimes this too is smart so that your opponents do not have any information as well).  If you sometimes start off and bid 125, you are indicating to your partner that you have a very strong hand do not necessarily need any help or information from them to continue bidding.  If you simply pass right off the bat without even stating 100 as the first bid, you have indicated to your partner that your hand is extremely week.
  • Bidding high early has advantages and disadvantages.  On the positive side, by bidding high right away, you are limiting the amount of information your opponents are able to share with each other.  For example, if you bid 150 right off the bat, you opponents need to have a strong hand even to bid.  And if they do, they typically will have no information from their partner on how strong the partner’s hand is.  On the other hand, when you bid strong right off the bat, you have limited your partner’s ability to possibly be a leader in the hand.  If they have a strong trump color but are missing strength elsewhere, they may be tempted to pass rather than go for a higher bid as the 150 bid has demonstrated such power and strength.  What may happen is the partner with a strong trump color may end up being a bad supporting hand, all because they weren’t able to bid.
  • Cheating takes away from the game.  Yes, there are many ways you can cheat in rook with your partner.  Everything from creating signals of card strength or color to even the amount of cards you have in a suit.  However, our goal here is not to create cheaters.  In fact, we are so against cheating that any sort of accidental information that is given away, we will often call a person out on it (calling it table talk).   This may be something like, “Oh man, my hand is bad!”

In the Western Kentucky style of rook, we suggest the following:

With our set of rules, bidding starts at 70 and ends when all players but one have passed. 180 is the maximum bid (I’ve never seen that happen). The highest bid I’ve witnessed was about 140 or 145.

Most bids end around 110-125. Only newbies will allow opponents to take the bid for less than 100. For heck sakes, 90 is half the total points so if you can’t make half the total points with the help of the kitty and trump color of your choice, you are very unskilled and/or unlucky indeed. Only once in the hundreds of games played have I been set with a bid of 90. That was really wacky.

You should contend for the winning bid if you have high cards (1s and/or 14s) and a reasonably good trump suit. 13s are good to have in hand but are only a factor when the suit is distributed evenly e.g. 3-3-4-4 which happens less often than not.

A good trump suit has 5 cards headed by 2 of the top 3 cards i.e. (1,14 or 1,13 or 14,13). You don’t have to have such good high cards if you’ve got 6 or more of that suit. The longer your suit, the fewer high cards you need. Conversely a trump suit with the top 4 cards can work but is quite marginal. I would choose a 14,13,9,8,7,5 trump suit over a 1,14,13,12. Of course, a really excellent trump suit would be longer and stronger than any of the aforementioned. If you can get two suited with a really long trump suit (8 or more) you will be in great shape.

Which brings me to the next criteria for a good bidding hand – always look for what suit(s) you can void yourself in (get rid of all cards in a color during the lay-down). You will always try to ambush the 1s and other point cards held by the opponents. This becomes possible when you have few cards in a particular suit and no point cards in that suit. The “gotcha” is, you will often pick up points in the kitty that ruin your ambushing plans. There is nothing you can do about that. However, if you have two or more suits that are potential ambushing suits, you increase your odds of overcoming those obstacles. Therefore hands which have multiple color “voiding” potential are stronger than those which do not. In this sense, 10s and 5s are more often a curse than a blessing if you have designs of taking the bid. On the other hand 10s and 5s are usually nice to have if you are the bid taker’s partner.

It would be really nice to know exactly what your partner has before deciding to take the bid. But you can’t know that… exactly. But you can gather some clues by the way you partner and your opponents are bidding.

Bidding is the only way you can legally communicate with your partner what kind of cards you hold. Hand signals, sounds, verbal cues such as, “My favorite ice cream is lemon and cherry” or “A bird in the hand is worth ones in the bush” for purposes of communicating your hand to your partner are forms of cheating.

However, opening the bidding with a 70 in contrast to opening with 100 to tell your partner the relative strength of your hand is not cheating – it’s just part of the game.
If you are the first to bid, if you have any two of the following, bid 70:

  • Good Trump suit
  • 1
  • Rook
  • Two 14s
  • Void in one color

If you have three of the items in the list, bid 75. Four of these items, bid 80 and so on. Bidding 70 tells your partner that you have enough points to be a force in the game. An opening bid higher than 70 tells your partner that you are thinking about seriously taking the bid.

This same list applies to the second bidder if the first person passes. If the first player bids 70 then the second person can bid with the same list except he would start at 75. A bid of 80 after the first person opens with 70 (jump bid) would express a stronger hand.

When the first and second players both pass the opening, the bidding convention changes. If your partner has passed, you keep bidding until your opponent bids at least 100. Only with the very most sucky hand would let the opponents have it for less than 100.

You could also let them have it for less if you are close to making 500 match points and the opponents aren’t close enough to steal the match from you. Don’t risk going set when you are close to winning the match!

Bidding over your partner shows a strong hand. You should always bid over your partner if you have a strong hand and the opponents haven’t passed and the bid is 100 or less. Bidding over your partner when she already bid over 100 means you have a very strong hand and a very strong trump suit – At least 7 cards with 3 of the top 5 cards headed by the 1.

Pulling Trump

It is highly recommended that if you are the bid taker, you should attempt to pull all trump from your opponents and ensure you get the bird in the process. Pulling trump can be done simply by leading high trump early in the round. The strategy behind pulling trump is that you as the bid taker want to be the only one with trump when the last trick is played. That way you are more likely able to get the last trick. In addition, you have more flexibility with using your trumps throughout without being worried that an opponent will over-trump you. Finally, you can be sure that your high cards are not trumped by opponents by forcing them to play their trumps early in the round.

Counting Points

Counting points can sometimes be the key to winning or loosing. When you are looking to set an opponent or simply make your bid, being aware of how many points you have, how many points are still out there, and how many you are wiling to loose is what will make you win or lose close rounds.

When you are aware of how many points you can lose and still make your bid, it allows you to throw away some potential tricks that you might be considering trumping. Also, if you are aware of how many points you need to set the opponent, it will help to know how many points to sluff to your opponent. For example, if you have a 10 and a 1 in your hand, it may be worth throwing the 1 on your opponents winning card rather than the 10 if it is all that is needed for setting your opposition.

Simply remember that the difference between making your bid and being set is often only a matter of 5 points, so manage your points wisely and you will be on your way to a winning strategy.

Choosing Trump

In the game of rook, choosing your trump color after getting your 5 card kitty is usually fairly obvious.  For the most part, you are going to choose the color you have the most cards in, unless they are very low (like to the 10 or something).   Otherwise, if you have 7 or more of one color, that is likely going to be your trump by shear numbers.   Every so often, it is worth choosing your second most color when it is extremely powerful.  For example, if you have the 11 through 1 of one color, than that is all, but then 7 of another suit, not as powerful.   You are taking a risk that you will have less trump than an opponent, but it is still possible that you can pull all trump in 3 or 4 tricks.

There is always a significant portion of luck involved when choosing trump.  There is a slightly higher probability that one of your opponents has a large amount of your trump rather than your teammate.  But what it boils down to is choosing a color that you can hope to force your opponents to play all their trumps early on without having to loose to many tricks. 

Depending on your bid, you may be willing to lose a certain number of points in your trump suit.    Count points to make sure you are going to make it.