How to Play Wizard

By Joe Andrews
The Mighty Wizard!

Wizard is a modern card game that was created in 1984 by Ken Fisher of Toronto. It is similar to the classic game Oh Hell and utilizes the theme of bidding the number of tricks a player expects to win in each (progressive) round of play. The unique feature of Wizard is the use of two special cards: the Wizard and the Jester. This is what makes Mr. Fisher's game a vast improvement over Oh Hell. Now, strategy and technique are rewarded. Younger players will like this new version and adults will discover that it is a good challenge, especially at the tournament level. Here is how to play.

The object of the game is to correctly bid (predict) the number of tricks that you will take or win in each round of play. Points are awarded for making (exactly) a bid and points are subtracted for an incorrect bid. After a designated number of hands (depending on the number of players) the person with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Each "Round" has three features: dealing, bidding and playing. The ideal game is played with four persons. A three-player game is also good. Some organized events (tournaments) will use a "rotation" of three, four and then five players for successive rounds.

The person drawing the highest card is the first hand dealer. One card is dealt to each player for the first hand. The second deal moves to the left and two cards are served to each player. The third hand consists of three cards. Each subsequent hand will always have one more card than the previous deal.

After each deal the top card of the deck is turned up to determine trump for THAT hand. (Some groups prefer to cut the deck for the trump suit.) If the turned card is a Jester, there is NO trump for that hand (high card wins). If the turned card is a Wizard, the Dealer selects a suit of his choice. On the last hand of the game, all of the cards are dealt and the hand is played at No Trump.

The person to the immediate left of the dealer declares the number of tricks that he expects to win (or not) for that hand. On Trick #1 the bid will be either one trick or zero tricks. There are two variations based on the rules for the game: The number of tricks bid must NOT add up to the number of tricks available or the number of tricks bid may equal the number of tricks available.

The opening lead is made by the player to the left of the dealer (sometimes called the "Eldest hand"). Any card may be led; the opening lead of the first hand is forced! Each person plays in rotation (clockwise), and MUST follow suit (if possible). The only exception is that a Jester or Wizard may be played at any time during the successive rounds that have more than one card.

Tricks are won by the first Wizard card played, then the highest trump played (if no Wizard card is in play), and finally, by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of the previous trick makes the first lead to the next trick. If a Wizard card is lead, it automatically wins that trick. (Another Wizard card may be discarded under it.) If a Jester is led, it is a neutral card. Any suited card played after the lead of a Jester is considered the suit in play. If all Jesters are played on a trick, the Jester which was led wins that trick.

There are variations. The most widely used rule rewards the successful bidder who makes his bid to score 20 points plus 10 points for each trick bid. A successful bid of zero scores 20 points. If a player is "set" (does not make his bid exactly), he loses 10 points for that hand. Some groups prefer to play in "tens" with single numbers for the number of tricks bid, as well as 10 points for exactly making the bid. Scores will often fluctuate for each player as each hand is played.

The Wizard deck has 60 cards. The ideal four-player game will have 15 rounds. Three-player games will have 20 rounds and five-player games will have 12 rounds. (Sixty is a terrific number, as it can be divided by 3, 4, 5 or 6!). A shorter game may be played by starting with a one-card deal for the first round, then three cards for the second round, five cards for the third round and alternating in this manner. Using poker chips or pennies is useful for tracking the number of tricks bid by each player on a given round. The scorer will also have a written record for easy review by any player.

As is the case for any card game, there are variations. The most popular rule is to require that the last bidder cannot bid a number of tricks which will equal the number of cards in the hand. A "Canadian" rule option allows the player with the highest score to be restricted from having his bid equal to the number of tricks available for that hand. There is also a "Hidden Bid" option in which players write their bids (secretly) on a piece of paper and reveal said bids only when the bidding is completed. Finally, there is the REVERSE rule which allows the game to continue by counting down the number of tricks bid for each hand from the maximum number of cards--all the way back to the one trick hand! Other ways to play may be found on the Internet.