How to Play Hand and Foot

By Joe Andrews
Play Hand and Foot

Hand and Foot is a popular American game that is similar to Canasta. The latter game (which originated in Uruguay) was the rage in the United States during the early 1950s, and for a while, supplanted Bridge as the most popular partnership card game. Hand and Foot is a simplified, but still challenging version of Canasta. Five standard decks of cards may be used to make a full pack of 270 cards. There are also custom-made Hand and Foot decks available on the Internet. The game is best played with four people in two competing partnerships.

Secure five standard decks of cards including 10 jokers (there are two jokers per deck). If you are playing with five individuals or with three partnerships, you will need additional decks (six decks for a five-player game and seven decks for a six-player game; in other words, it's the number of players plus one deck).

Determine who is playing. The game is best played with four people as two sets of partners. Four individuals may also play, as in the game of Hearts. For the sake of instruction, use the two-partnership variation as the model. Note: Partners always sit opposite each other, as in the games of Spades, Bridge, Pinochle, etc. Partners always play their own individual deals and may not consult during the play.

Shuffle the deck thoroughly. Eleven cards are then dealt to each player. These first deals are called the "Hand" and may be picked up and examined by each player. Another deal of 11 cards is then made to each player. These deals are called the "Foot" and must not be picked up or seen by anyone. Each player now has one deal that he has examined and another deal (the "Foot") that remains face-down on the table. Variation: Some groups use a rule that allows each player to "guesstimate" 22 cards by taking a small stack from the deck. If the person cuts exactly 22 cards, a bonus of 100 points is recorded to that person's score. (The player then splits her stack into one Hand and one Foot.)

Place the remainder of the undealt cards in the middle of the table after each player has received his 11-card "Hand" and his 11-card "Foot." The large deck in the middle is called the "Kitty" or the "Stock." The top card is turned face-up to start a Discard pile. If it is a red three, a deuce or a Joker, it is buried in the stock and a new card is turned.

Learn the value of the cards.

Jokers (Wild cards)--50 points Deuces (Wild Cards)--20 Points Aces--20 Points Eights thru Kings--10 Points Threes thru Sevens--5 Points (Red threes have special rules; see below) "500" Card - A negative Penalty card (custom sets)

Get rid of the cards from your "Hand" (first) and then your "Foot" by melding them. A "Meld" is a set of three to seven cards of the same rank that are placed face-up on the table (similar to the protocol for "Rummy"). After a Meld of three or more cards has been started, you can add more cards to it until there are seven cards in that Meld. It is then designated as a "Book." Remember, cards are melded by rank -- that is, fives, Jacks or Kings. Deuces and Jokers are wild cards and can be used to complete Melds, as long as there are at least four natural -- not "Wild" -- cards of the seven required to complete a Book.

Learn the types of melds.

"Clean"/natural meld--Seven real cards of the same rank ("Red" Book)

"Dirty"/wild meld--A minimum of four cards of the same rank and at least one wild card. Example: Five nines and two wild cards ("Black" Book)

There are no all "Wild Card" Melds. When a Book is complete, it is identified with a Red ("Clean") or "Black" (Dirty). The latter must have the Wild Card turned to show that it is a Dirty Meld.

Learn about completed book points (7-Card Sets).

Red Book--All natural cards, no Wild cards--500 Points Black Books--At least 4 natural cards and Wild Cards--300 Points

Note: Some groups have scoring variations for the value of books. The first person to "go out" (deplete his Hand and Foot) receives a bonus of plus 100 points.

Play with point options for each round. The typical game consists of four rounds.

In Round 1, the numerical card points must be 50 to play (table a Meld). This progresses to 90 points for Round 2; 120 points for Round 3 and 150 points for Round 4.

Another system requires points in this order (Rounds 1 to 4): 50 /100 / 150 / 200.

Consider the option of red threes. There are plenty of variations here. Some groups prefer to score ALL threes as five-point cards. Others penalize the holders of red threes minus 100 points each if they are stuck with these cards when someone goes out. A few groups also use the option of using a black three to "Freeze" the Pile and a red three to "Unfreeze" the Pile.

Start with the person to the left of the dealer. The player draws two cards from the Stock. He must then discard face-up a card from his hand (to the other side of the stock or the "Pile"). To table a Meld, your "board" (cards played) must equal the number of points required for that round. Wild cards are bonus points. If a player chooses to pick up the pile, he must pick up the entire pile and make a Meld of the top card of the pile. As you complete Melds, you will also deplete the number of cards in your Hand, and eventually get to your Foot--a new set of 11 cards. You can go out until you have at least one Red and one Black Meld. Once you make a Book, you may add equal cards of the same Rank to that Book. (You may NOT add additional Wild Cards.) The game ends when any player has depleted his Hand and his Foot. He is credited with the points contained in his Books.

Beware of penalty cards. When a player has gone out, the other players are penalized for the numerical value of the cards in their hand. Wild cards also count as penalty cards, as well as the red threes.

Tip

Try to meld sets or Books with higher numerical values (eights through Aces). Wild cards can be very rewarding, especially the Jokers (50 points each). When playing an individuals' game, watch the discards, and do not "feed" wild cards or high-numbered value cards to your opponents. When playing the partners' game, work closely with your partner by observing his plays and discards. Use the 50-point wild cards (Jokers), if you can. There is no governing body or standardized rules for Hand & Foot. Variations abound. If you purchase one of the custom sets, you will find additional rules, as well as easily identified cards.

Warning

Do not pick up the pile if it contains many useless cards. When a player has picked up his Foot, it is an alert for you to begin unloading high-point cards, Red threes and worthless wild cards. You are not allowed to talk with your partner or show him any card(s). Cards marked "500 Points" are best dumped ASAP.

About the Author

I am an avid collector of playing cards, and card memorabelia. I founded the Grand Prix "live" Tournaments Organization nine years ago. I have played competitve "live" card game events for more than thirty years. I also wrote complete instructional books on Euchre, Hearts, Spades, Whist, and Barbu. In addition to card games, I am a numismatist, and enjoy researching U.S. coin history, as well as appraising coin collections. In my spare time, I listen to music, especially classical and jazz.