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Oh Shit is an individual trick-taking game which is best played by between 3-4 people, but can accommodate up to 6 or 7 easily. Exactly which family of card games to which it belongs is a point of debate, given the similarity in play to the Bridge, Whist and Euchre families, however its style is probably closest to Bridge, and thus I have used some Bridge terminology in this description. For anyone familiar with the above three families of card games, Oh Shit is a simple game to pick up and can provide entertainment for as long as it has to.


The game is played with a standard 52-card pack, and the rank order of cards is 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-A in each suit. If all agree, a joker can also be used, which ranks as the highest trump. If six or seven play, a 63-card pack (such as those used for six-player 500 games) should be used if available. The rank order of cards here would be 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-J-Q-K-A in black suits and 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-J-Q-K-A in red suits, with the joker again being the highest trump. Bowers, as in euchre, are not used.


A full game of Oh Shit consists of seventeen deals; a half game consists of nine. In each deal, each player is dealt an equal number of cards. In the full game, they are dealt 1 card in the first round, 2 in the second, 3 in the third, and so on up to the ninth; then, in the tenth round, they are dealt 8, 7 in the eleventh, and so on back to 1 card in the seventeenth. In the half-game the deal starts at 9 and proceeds backwards to 1. Because it is easier for elder hands to win more points in the lower numbered rounds, it is fairer to play the full-game.


A dealer deals the cards clockwise around the table, starting with his left, until each player has the number of cards defined by the round. He turns the next card on the stockpile face up, or if the deck is exhausted, shows the final card he deals to himself - its suit defines the trump suit for the deal. However, if the turn-up is an ace or the joker, the deal shall be played with no trumps.

Each player examines the cards and indicates exactly how many tricks they believe they will win with the cards they hold. When they have made their decision, they place a clenched fist on the table in front of them. When all are ready, players indicate the number of tricks they intend to win simultaneously by extending the appropriate number of fingers - in order to ensure simultaneity, players should pump their fists twice and then throw fingers on the third, as one would playing scissors/paper/rock. In the rare circumstance that a player would bid for six or more tricks, they should bring their other fist out to the table on the third pump and extend the appropriate number of fingers. The number of fingers extended by each player represents their contract, of which there are two types:
1) Winning contracts: the number of tricks bid is one or more;
2) Losing (or Misere) contracts: the number of tricks bid is zero. Losing contracts are worth fewer points than winning contracts, which is the rationale for the names (the name misere, with which I shall hereinafter refer to losing contacts, stems from forms of whist and euchre).


Play begins with the eldest hand, who plays any card he wishes. Then, sequentially clockwise, other players must play down another card. Players must follow suit if they are able to do so: i.e. if they hold in their hand a card of the same suit as that led by the eldest hand, they must play it. If a player cannot follow suit, they may play any other card. A player who revokes by playing a card in a suit that they had previously not followed automatically receives a net five point penalty for the round, regardless of their bid or the number of tricks won (except in the unlikely circumstance that the outcome of the deal yielded a greater points decrease, in which case the result stands).

In a no-trumps situation, the joker can only be played under three circumstances, all of which it wins:
1) As a suit in which the player has not played another card yet.
2) As a suit in which the player has run out of other cards, but has not yet off-suited in (by playing another suit to its lead)
3) In the final trick, which it always wins, regardless of whether the above criteria are satisfied.
4) If the joker is led, its suit must be identified verbally.
So, for example, a player holds: 8♦, K♦, 6♣ and JOKER.
-The first card led is the 9♦; the player could play the joker and win the trick.
-If the player did not play the joker, but instead played 8♦. The next card led is the A ♦. The player is obliged to play the K ♦. Playing 6♣ or playing the joker while another diamond was still in the hand would both lead to revoking.
-The next card led is the Q♦. The player could play the joker and win the trick, or play the 6 ♣ and lose it.
-The final card led is the 10♦. If the joker is the only card left, it must clearly be played. Even though by playing the sequence 8♦, K ♦ and 6♣ the joker is no longer allowed to be played as a diamond, it will win this trick as if it were a diamond.

After all players have played a card, the trick is complete. The player who played the highest trump card into the trick wins it; if no trumps have been played into the trick, then the highest card of the suit which was initially led wins it. In no trumps, the highest card of the suit initially led wins the trick; if it is the final trick and the joker is played, it automatically wins. Then, the player who won the trick leads the first card into the next trick. This continues until all players are out of cards.


The scoring in Oh Shit is fairly simple:
If the player exactly meets a winning contract: 10 points
If the player exactly meets a misere contract (zero tricks): 5 points
For each trick the player takes if he meet or exceeds his contract: 1 point
For each trick by which the player's contract fails: lose 1 point

This sample round, in which six people with different letters starting their names (conveniently) decided to play, gives examples of all possible scoring permutations:

Tricks Won111033
ScoreLose 2Gain 1Lose 5*Gain 5Gain 13Gain 3

- Adam's contract was three tricks. He only took one, and thus lost 2 points for overbidding by two.
- Bonnie's contract was for misere. She took one trick. Thus she gained 1 point for taking the trick, but lost the opportunity to gain five for successful misere.
- Chaz' contract was for two tricks. He took one, but revoked in the process, and was thus penalised 5 points, rather than losing 1.
- Daniel's contract was for misere. He was successful, and thus gained 5 points for it.
- Ellie's contract was for three tricks. She was successful, and thus gained 13 points: ten for the successful contract and one for each of the tricks.
- Fred's contract was for two tricks. He took three tricks, and thus gained 3 points, one for each trick, however lost the opportunity to gain twelve for successful contract.

Scores are noted down on a simple scorecard with as many columns as there are players. Scores should be added progressively, rather than totalled at the end, so that close to the end of the game, players are aware of the differences in points.


After seventeen deals (full-game) or nine deals (half-game) the player who has the highest score is the winner. In case of a tie for any position, the following tie-breakers determine the winner:
1) The highest number of total contracts fulfilled;
2) The highest number of winning contracts fulfilled;
3) The highest number of total contracts fulfilled OR exceeded.
In the unlikely event of a tie still persisting, the two players can play one final deal with five cards. Unless both bid misere and one collects every trick, this deal will decide the position.


The game of Oh Shit derives its name from the common expression which arises when the number of outstretched fingers does not equal the number of tricks, particularly when it exceeds it. Despite not being personally very good at it, this game is one I particularly enjoy. It is a good game to play when there are too many people to play just one game of 500, but not enough to play two.

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