How to Play the Card Game Sergeant Major

By Dana Severson

Sergeant Major is a little different than your standard trick-taking game. Though you’re tasked with taking a certain number of tricks per round, they aren’t actually used to earn points towards your overall score. They are used to figure out how many cards you’ll need to exchange for the next round of play. As you, and your opponents, get further into the game, the idea is that someone will eventually be able to exchange enough cards to bring his hand up to a win—taking 12 out of the 16 available tricks in a single round.

Deal out the deck until all players have a total of 16 cards in hand. The remaining four cards are set aside and will act as the blind.

Call trump. This privilege is always given to the dealer. He may choose whatever suit he wishes to call trump—hearts, diamonds, spades or clubs. He is not allowed to call “no trump,” an option in some trick-taking games where cards are played as normal without the addition of a trump suit.

Discard four cards, if you’re the dealer, and add those cards in the blind to your hand. Once you’ve discarded the cards and seen the blind, you may not change your discarded cards.

Play a card, starting with the person to the left of the dealer. In the game of Sergeant Major, you must follow suit when possible. Highest card wins the trick. If you are unable to follow suit, you may either throw off or play trump. Highest trump card takes the trick. In both scenarios, winner of the trick leads the next card.

Try to make and/or exceed your objective. Each round your objective will change based on your position at the table. Dealer has the objective of taking a total of eight tricks. The player to his left must take five tricks and the one to his right must take three tricks.

Note the total tricks each player has taken by counting if he is up or down a certain number. If the dealer only takes six out of his eight needed tricks, he is down two. If the player to his right has taken two more than the five tricks needed, he is up two. This will come into play on the next deal.

Pass the deck to the player to the left of the first dealer. The deck is again dealt out as before, bringing all hands up to a total of 16 cards. Any players who are up may now exchange a certain number of their lowest cards with those players that are down. The number of cards exchanged is based on the tricks up or down you were on the previous hand. If you were up two tricks, you may now exchange two of your lowest cards for two of an opponent’s highest cards of the same suit. See the Tips section for further instructions and variations.

Continue to play by the same rules as already described.

Win the game of Sergeant Major by being the first person to take a total of 12 tricks in a single round.

About the Author

Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.