The third Thursday of every month, a small band of cutthroat Irish gamers gathers in the basement of P.J. McIntyre's pub in Kamm's Corners to play cards.
The game of choice? Twenty-five, the national card game of Ireland. It's got a few tricky rules, but it's a blast once you get the hang of it and perfect for small groups. Take these rules to your St. Patrick's Day gathering and try it on for size while sipping your sundown Guinness.
Twenty-five is played with a standard 52-card deck, usually by four to six players.
After anteing up one chip (or dollar), each player receives five cards in batches of three-two or four-one. The next card is turned face-up to establish the trump suit.
The normal ranking of cards from high to low is K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A in red suits and K, Q, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 in black suits ("high in red, low in black").
In trump suits, the highest is always the five, followed by the jack, the ace of hearts (regardless of the nominal trump suit), the ace of the trump suit (if not hearts), and the remaining cards in their usual ranking order according to color.
The primary object of the game is to sweep the pool by winning at least three tricks, preferably all five. Alternatively, it is to stop anyone else from doing so ("spoil five"), thereby increasing the size of the betting pool for the next deal. If written scores are kept, each trick counts five points, and the target is 25.
WRINKLE: Any player dealt the ace of trumps may, if desired, "rob the pack" before playing to the first trick by taking the face-up card and discarding an unwanted card facedown. If the face-up card is an ace, the dealer may rob the pack by exchanging it for any unwanted card from his hand.
The player at dealer's left leads the first trick, and the winner of each trick leads the next. To trump a lead the other players must follow suit if possible, unless the only one held is one of the top three trumps (five, jack, ace of hearts) and is higher than the one led. In this case that player may "renege" by discarding from another suit.
To a non-trump lead, the others may either follow suit or trump, as preferred, but may discard only if unable to follow suit. The trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led or by the highest trump if any are played.
Whoever wins three or more tricks wins the pool and, for winning all five tricks, gains an extra chip (or dollar) from each opponent. If nobody wins three, the tricks are "spoiled," and the pool is carried forward to the next deal, increased by one chip per player. The game ends when a player runs out of chips or reaches 25 points.