This is one of several South Asian trick-taking games in which the Jack and Nine are the top cards in each suit. They are probably certainly descended from the European family of Jass games that began in the Netherlands. They were most likely transported to the Indian subcontinent by Dutch merchants.
We don’t have much information on the geographic distribution of 29, although it appears to be popular throughout most of northern India, including Bombay and West Bengal, as well as Bangladesh and Nepal.
The descriptions of this game that we have seen differ in many areas. There are probably numerous variations: the game may be played differently by participants in different areas of India and overseas.
Players and Cards
29 is often played by four players in fixed pairs facing each other.
To play, 32 cards from a regular 52-card deck are needed. Each of the four traditional “French” suits has eight cards: hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. The cards in each suit are ranked from highest to lowest: J-9-A-10-K-Q-8-7. The goal of the game is to win tricks using valuable cards. The card values are as follows:
Jacks 3 points each
Nines 2 points each
Aces 1 point each
Tens 1 point each
Other cards (K, Q, 8, 7) no points
Cards receive a total of 28 points as a result of this. The last trick in some versions of the game is awarded one additional card point, for a total of 29: this sum explains the game’s name. The point for the last trick is no longer counted by most players nowadays, although the name of the game remains 29, even when playing this variant with just 28 points.
Traditionally, the discarded Twos, Threes, Fours, and Fives from the complete 52-card pack are used as trump indicators: each player receives a set of these cards, one of each suit. The Sixes are used to keep score; each partnership has one red and one black Six.
Deal and Bidding
The cards are dealt and played clockwise; the dealer shuffles them and the player on the dealer’s right cuts them. Each player is then given four cards, one at a time.
Players bid for the opportunity to pick trumps based on these four cards. Each bid is a number, and the highest bidder guarantees that his or her side will win at least the amount of points bid in tricks. The player on the dealer’s left speaks first, and succeeding players may either bid higher or pass in clockwise order. The minimum offer is 15 and the highest bid is 28. (assuming that the point for the last trick is not counted). If any player bids, the auction will continue for as many rounds as it takes until three players pass in a row. If the first three players pass, the dealer is compelled to bid 15, bringing the auction to a close.
To signify the selected suit, the last bidder arranges the face down pile of Twos to Fives that are not used in the play such that a card of the chosen suit is at the bottom, but does not expose this card to the other players. The dealer then completes the deal by dealing four additional cards to each player, bringing the total to eight.
The first trick is led by the player on the dealer’s left; players must follow suit if feasible, and the winner of each trick leads to the next. The trump suit is initially unknown to all players except the bidder. The first player who is unable to follow suit must request that the bidder announce the trump suit; the bidder then displays the trump indicator card to all players. If the bidder is the first player who is unable to follow suit, he must announce which suit trumps at that time. A player who is unable to follow suit may play any card; even the player who needed trumps to be proclaimed has no duty to play a trump. Each trick, beginning with the trick in which the trump suit is proclaimed, is won by the highest trump in it, or by the highest card of the suit led if no trumps are present.
A player who holds both the King and Queen of trumps in hand can announce them immediately after he or his partner has won a trick at any moment after the trump has been proclaimed. This is referred to as a ‘Royal’ or a ‘Pair.’ It is important to note that a player who initially possessed the King and Queen of trumps cannot announce them if one or both have already been played, and they can only be proclaimed after the declaring side has won either the trick in which trumps were declared or a subsequent trick. If the bidder or his partner declares a Pair, it reduces the number of card points necessary to complete their bid by four, subject to a minimum of 15; if an opponent of the bidder announces a Pair, it raises the number of points required by the bidding side by four, subject to a maximum of 28. (assuming there is no point for the last trick).
After all eight tricks have been performed; each side calculates the card points in the tricks it has won, with the final trick winners adding an additional card point. If the bidding side takes at least as many card points as they bid, adjusted for a Pair declaration if necessary, they win one game point; otherwise, they lose one game point. The score of the team competing against the bidder remains unchanged.
Each side keeps score by drawing a red Six (known as nali or red chaka) and a black Six (known as kala or black chaka) from the deck of cards that are not used in the game. These are set up to show either a number of red pips for a positive score or a number of black pips for a bad score. There are no pips shown at the start of the game. If the bidding side wins, they reveal one extra red pip or cover one black pip (if they have black pips showing); if they lose, they expose a black pip or cover a red pip. The game is won by the first side to accumulate a total score of + 6 game points, as shown by six red pips. It also finishes when a team achieves minus 6 game points (six black pips), resulting in a loss of the game.
Sequence of play
In various parts of the world, the number 29 is played backwards. In this situation, the player to the dealer’s left bids first and deals the first card. In addition, certain games require that the bidding and play be initiated by the dealer.
It has previously been stated that some players receive an additional point for the last trick, while the majority do not. With the point for the last trick, the greatest potential offer is 29, which explains the game’s name. Those who play without a point for the last trick, so that the highest score is 28, may explain the game’s name 29 as the sum of the points necessary by each team to succeed. For example, if the offer is 16 and there are 28 points in play, the opponents must defeat the bid by at least 13 points, and 16+13=29.
Some games have a minimum bid of 16 permitted. In this scenario, the team that formed trumps cannot decrease their requirement below 16 by declaring a Pair (king-queen of trumps).
Some gamers supplement each player’s supply of trump indication cards with a Joker. The bidder might then choose ‘No Trumps’ instead of a Trump suit by placing the Joker at the bottom of the pile. It is, of course, impossible to proclaim a Pair when ‘No Trumps’ are chosen.
In West Bengal, this is a popular variation.
By picking a 2 of any suit as the trump signal, the bidder chooses a No Trump game in which the card rankings are inverted (7 highest, Jack lowest), but the point values remain the same. The inverted ranking applies to the trick in which trumps are requested, as well as all subsequent tricks.
Two signals a reversal bet with the suit of the two as trumps in this variant. No trump bids are signalled by jokers or, if no jokers are available, by threes: red for regular no trumps and black for reverse no trumps.
Some enable a player who desires to bid but is hesitant to pick a suit based on his or her first four cards, maybe holding one card of each suit, to call for the trumps to be the ‘seventh card.’ In this scenario, the trump suit is determined by placing the bidder’s penultimate card under the trump indicator cards in the second phase of the deal. The bidder may examine this ‘seventh card,’ but the other players will not know what suit it is until the trumps are revealed.
If you call for the ‘seventh card’ as the bidder, this card is not regarded to be in your hand for the purposes of following suit until the trump suit is proclaimed. You are not permitted to lead the seventh card (except to the very last trick, when you have no other card). If another player leads the suit of the seventh card before trumps are proclaimed, you must follow with a card of the same suit from your hand, if feasible. If you can’t follow suit with your hand, you can either discard from another suit or declare trumps by revealing your seventh card and following suit with it.
Double, Redouble and Set
Some players think that after the bidder has selected trumps or requested the ‘seventh card,’ but before the dealer continues the deal, either of the bidder’s opponents may declare ‘double,’ if he or she feels the bidder’s team will fail. If the bidder’s team succeeds, they will receive two game points rather than one, and if they fail, they will receive two game points.
After a double, the bidder or bidder’s partner can respond with a ‘redouble,’ which doubles the score to four game points, won or lost.
Some players send the entire pile of unused cards (2s to 5s of all suits) to the trump maker, who arranges them with a card on the bottom to signify the trump suit – or the seventh card is put beneath them if the trump suit was named. A double or redouble is signalled by flipping one or two cards from the top of this pile face up. The identification of the flipped card has no influence on the game; it only serves as a reminder to the players that the game has been doubled.
Some variations allow the doubler or the doubler’s partner to respond with ‘set’ following a redouble, in which case the game score climbs to 6 points, won or lost. If the team starts from zero, this is enough to win or lose the whole game in a single deal, but it may not be enough to terminate the game if the team already has a score. If, for example, a side with a score of black 2 bids and wins a set, their score is reduced to red 4.
Bids of 20 or fewer can be doubled by opponents and redoubled by the bidding team in this variation, as mentioned above. Bids of 21 or more, which are already worth two game points, can be doubled by the bidder’s opponents, boosting their value to four points (this is referred to as a redouble), but this is the limit: the value cannot be raised further by the bidding team.
Some players believe that after all of the cards have been dealt but before the lead to the first trick, a player with very powerful cards might proclaim a “single hand,” committing to winning all eight tricks while playing alone. When there are no trumps, the player who announced ‘single hand’ leads to the first trick, and the lone player’s partner lays his or her hand face down and does not participate in the game. If the lone player’s team wins all eight tricks, the team earns three game points; otherwise, the team loses three game points.
According to certain rules, a ‘single hand’ cannot be proclaimed with a hand that is guaranteed to win eight tricks – the player must have at least one card that might potentially lose a trick.
Asking for trumps
When you are unable to follow suit, you do not have to ask for the trump suit to be announced; instead, you can just discard a card of any suit. Of course, this discarded card cannot win the trick (unless a subsequent player to the same trick requests for the trump suit to be revealed, converting the card you played into a trump suit), but you may not need to win the trick if your partner’s card is already winning. You may, however, ask for the trump suit to be announced, and in this form, if the bidder declares trumps, the player who requested is required to play a trump to that trick if feasible.
A player is only compelled to trump a simple suit lead in this circumstance; otherwise, players who are unable to follow suit may play any card. If the bidder is unable to follow suit, he or she may choose to disclose his or her own trump and must then play a trump to the trick. Cards of the trump suit have no particular impact until the trick in which trumps are declared: each trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, even if it also contains cards of the suit that are later revealed as trumps. As is customary, trumps beat cards of other suits beginning with the trick in which the trump suit is announced.
It is possible that the trumps are never announced – either because every player gets two cards of each suit, or if no one asks (in the form where asking for a trump declaration is discretionary). If no trumps are proclaimed by the end of the game, the deal is null and void, and neither team scores.
Guess the first trump
According to certain rules, the trump suit is only announced at the end of the first trick in which a player is unable to follow suit. Only the bidder knows what the trump suit is throughout this trick. The other players cannot request that the trump be revealed: if they are unable to follow suit, they may only guess which suit to play if they desire to trump. The bidder must disclose the trump at the conclusion of the trick, and the highest trump wins if any have been played; otherwise, the highest card of the suit led wins as normal. The trump is revealed as a result of this trick, and the game continues as usual.
A session may consist of numerous six-point games. Some players use the extra cards to keep track of how many games each team has won or lost, with a red card indicating a victory and a black card indicating a defeat. Some people believe that a game won is worth twice as much as a game lost.
Many people in the eastern region of India, particularly in Bengal, Bihar, and Jharkhand, believe that if the bidder scores less than half of the call, the amount of game points they lose doubles.
After each player has been dealt four cards, he or she may proclaim “Tenny.” In this instance, no further cards are dealt, and the Tenny player’s goal is to win all four tricks while playing alone and without trumps. The four-card hand of the Tenny player’s partner is laid face up on the table and is not utilized in the game. The opening trick is led by the Tenny player. If Tenny is successful, the player’s team gets four points; else, they receive four points. ‘Single hand’ (also known as ’29’) is also played in this variant, with the bidder’s partner’s hand displayed throughout. It gets 8 points if it succeeds and loses 8 points if it fails.
During the bidding, a player might pronounce “ditto” to match the preceding bet. For example, if the first player bids 16 points, the second player may respond “ditto,” indicating that he, too, is betting 16 points. If the last bid was “ditto,” you cannot say “ditto” – the following bidder must raise the bid. In the scenario, the following player would have to bid at least 17 or pass after “16” – “ditto.” If no one increases their bet following a “ditto,” the player who stated the “ditto” becomes the declarer and selects the trump suit.
Only when the holder or partner has won a trick by playing a trump on a non-trump trick may “Pair” or “Royals” be proclaimed.
When scoring, once a team has used up all of the available pips on one of their sixes (red or black), the game continues with that team utilizing fives, fours, threes, and twos. This allows a team to score up to 20 (6+5+4+3+2) good or negative points. The game would terminate if a team achieved that amount, although it is most commonly terminated earlier by mutual consent, with the pips exposed by each team indicating the final scores.
The game is played counter-clockwise, and the bidding procedure is as follows once each player has been dealt four cards.
The player on the dealer’s right takes the first turn and must bet at least 16 or pass. If the first player offers, the second player (dealer’s partner) must either pass or bet higher than the first player. The bidding between these two players will continue until one of them passes. To continue in the bidding, the first player must simply match the second player’s bid (by stating “ditto”). When one of the first two players passes, that player’s partner can take over the team’s bidding from that moment on. For example, if the first player has a bad hand and passes, his partner, the player on the dealer’s left, speaks first, followed by the dealer’s partner.
The deal is nullified if either of the first two players has no points in his first four cards (a hand with just kings, queens, eights, and sevens). The cards are tossed into the deck and shuffled before the next player deals. If the first three players pass, the deal is likewise null and void; in this situation, the dealer is not permitted to bid.
The bidding will continue until three players pass. Even after both players on one team have passed, the fourth player might bid higher than his partner – for example, South deals, East: 16, North: pass, South: 17, East: same, South: pass, West: 18, East: pass. West has a strong hand and believes that his chances of winning are higher if he plays trumps, so he bids ahead of his partner East.
The last player to offer a number or say ditto to the last bid becomes the declarer and chooses trumps or calls for the seventh card. Opponents have the option to double, and the bidding team has the option to redouble. The transaction is then finalized.
If a player requests for the seventh card and does not have a point scoring trump card in hand after the deal is completed, the transaction is nullified and the following player deals. The transaction is likewise invalid and void if the bidder’s opponents have no trumps or just the 7 of trumps in their combined hands.
A marriage is formed by the union of the king and queen of trumps. This offers the bidding team an advantage only if the bid is more than 18. A team that bids 16, 17, or 18 points cannot lower their point total by announcing a marriage. A marriage declaration would decrease the need to 16 if the bid was 19 or 20, and if the bid was 21 and a marriage was declared by the bidding team, they would need at least 17 to win. The marriage score can be claimed at any moment after the end of the trick in which the trump suit is revealed, as long as the player still has both cards. The team of the marriage holder does not have to win a trick, however the marriage cannot be claimed if either of the cards has already been played.
Variation in bidding – Each player has just one turn to bid. If a player offers greater than you, their bid takes precedence over yours, and you have no chance to respond. The bidding is over after each player has spoken once.