A Quick Guide to Trick-Taking Card Games

By Neal Taparia - 2/22/2024

A guide to trick-taking card games

Spades, Hearts, Bridge, Euchre—perhaps you’ve heard the names of these trick-taking card games at a family gathering and wondered what they’re all about.

Well then, grab your deck of cards and get ready to explore the history behind trick-taking card games and what they are! We also cover their common traits and share some example games with you.

Trick-Taking Card Games: A Brief History Overview

Fun fact: Trick-taking card games date way back to 13th-century China!

Even more fascinating, some records show that Chinese card games appeared back in the 9th century, under the rule of the Tang Dynasty.

Those card games made their way across Europe and the Middle East during the second millennium.

The trick-taking card game, Karnöffel, was the oldest one to appear at the time (specifically around 1426), according to the card game researcher, David Parlett.

The 15th century later saw the addition of ‘trump cards’ to trick-taking games. Trumps, as well as ‘bidding’, are purely European inventions and weren’t featured in original Chinese trick-taking card games.

What are Trick-Taking Card Games?

With such a rich and extensive history, exactly what are trick-taking card games?

Here’s a quick definition: Trick-taking games are card-based games where each turn the players have to perform a trick by playing one card.

In Bridge, for example, the trick starts with the first card played on the table. After that, it’s all about who plays the highest-ranking card that matches the first trick. Whoever does wins the trick.

The game mechanism in Bridge is also prevalent in most trick-taking games, like Hearts and Euchre, for instance.

That said, the main differences among trick-taking games include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Number of players
  • Whether it’s team-based or each player's own
  • Rules of playing
  • Number of trumps (some games have no trumps at all!)
  • Game objectives

Those differences are what make each trick-taking game a uniquely challenging experience!

Trick-Taking Card Games: Common Traits

Leading and Following Suit

For the most part, a great percentage of trick-taking card games follow the game mechanism mentioned before. It’s a simple process with three basic steps:

  1. Dealing: The dealer throws down the first card of the trick. This step is also known as leading.
  2. Following Suit: Subsequent players put down cards of the same suit as the one led.
  3. Winning the Trick: The player who serves the highest-ranking card (or a trump suit) wins the trick.

The process repeats itself for upcoming turns or tricks. The player with the highest score is then declared the winner.

That said, a few trick-taking card games don’t follow that process. Shaman is one where the rules are inherently different and players don’t have to follow suit.

Cat in the Box is another interesting trick-taking game where you get to decide the suit!


Bidding is where players predict or bid on how many tricks they expect to win in a subsequent playing game.

It is a major part of strategy in trick taking games. When you bid correctly, you get to compete for the right to specify certain conditions for the upcoming round, such as the trump suit or the number of tricks you aim to win.

Bidding adds a layer of anticipation and suspense to an already-thrilling card game! Plus, successful bids lead to extra points overall. Alternatively, overbidding results in penalties, so correctly assess your hand’s strength before bidding.


In many trick-taking games, a trump suit is designated. In Spades, for example, cards from the Spades suit are designated trump cards. It gives you the ability to ‘trump’ a trick even when it’s of lower rank than cards from the suit led.

Let’s take a practical example:

Say the game is Spades, where the dealer leads with a 10 of hearts, and the next two players follow suit. If you don’t have a card from the hearts suit, you can play one from the spades suit instead, effectively ‘trumping’ the trick!

What are Some Examples of Trick-Taking Card Games?

Did you know that giving the exact number of  trick-taking card games there are is close to impossible?

Due to the category's multiple variations and vast diversity, no one can talk about all the trick-taking games out there. From the thousands of trick-taking card games, here three brief overviews of the most popular ones.

Popular trick taking card games


The game of Hearts dates back to the 18th century and remains popular today. It’s a favorite among many because everything’s reversed! The player with the lowest score wins. The game’s objective isn’t to win tricks, and you must stay clear of all cards from the heart suit!

Playing the game includes:

  • Breaking hearts: When a player puts down the game’s first heart card, thus ‘breaking hearts’.
  • Shoot the moon: The player who accumulates all the heart cards as well as the Queen of Spades gets to ‘shoot the moon’, giving the other players 26 points.
  • Black Maria is the name eloquently given to the Queen of Spades card.


Euchre is the simplest of trick-taking card games. It’s played with a partial deck, with the number of cards depending on where you’re from and what variation of Euchre you’re playing, and two teams or four players total.

The game follows the basic mechanism of trick-taking, with the first team to reach a certain number of points being declared the winner.

Oh Hell

Oh Hell, also known as Oh Pshaw, and originally called ‘Oh Well!’, is a dynamic card game where successful bidding takes center stage. Aces are high, twos are low, and the deal determines what the trump suit is!

Trick-Taking Card Games: Wrapping Up

Have you found a deck of cards yet? Try your hand at any of the many trick-taking card games out there, and enjoy endless fun and competition with your friends and family!