The pepper card game is closely related to euchre, spades and other trick-taking card games. The game is also known as Hasenpfeffer, or “peppered hare.” Pepper is played primarily in the United States, and can accommodate two, three or four players. Playing with four players constitutes a partner game.
Pepper is not played with an ordinary deck of playing cards. Instead, players use only the nines, 10s, jacks, queens, kings and aces.
The trump suit varies for each hand of pepper; some hands will be played with no trump. In the regular suits, the ace is the highest card and the nine is the lowest card.
In a trump suit, the jack of that suit is the highest card, followed by the jack of the other suit of the same color. For example, if hearts are the trump suit, the jack of hearts is the highest card in the game, followed by the jack of diamonds. These are followed by the ace (high), king, queen, 10 and nine of hearts. The rest of the suits follow the regular suit ranking, with the exception of the jack of the same color as the trump.
One player deals out six cards to each player, one at a time, starting with the player to the dealer’s left and working clockwise. After each hand, the deal passes to the player on the former dealer’s left.
Bidding begins with the player on the dealer’s left and moves clockwise to each player. Players take turns bidding the number of tricks that a single player or team can take. Each consecutive bidder must exceed the previous player’s bid, or pass. When a bid has been made and all other players pass, the winning bidder decides which suit will be the trump suit, or if no trump will be used in this hand.
In general, the possible number of bids is five, since each player only has six cards. Bidding for six tricks is called a “little pepper.” Basically, the bidder is indicating that he will win all tricks in the hand. A player can also bid a “big pepper,” which is a bid to take all six tricks and to double the number of points available to gain or lose during play.
The winning bidder can lead any card to begin the hand. Play continues clockwise, with each player following the suit. If a player cannot follow suit, he plays any card in the hand.
The winner of the trick is the player who plays the highest trump card or the highest card of the suit that was led. The trick winner starts the next round.
After all tricks are played, the winning bidder receives one point for each trick taken if he makes his bid, but loses six points if he failed to make the bid. A player or team can have a negative score. If the player bid the big pepper, he gains or loses 12 points. All other players receive one point for each trick taken.
Game play continues until one team reaches 30 points; that team is the winner.
Two or Three Handed Variations
When only three players participate in pepper, each player receives eight cards. Bids range from one to seven, with the “little pepper” and “big pepper” being bids for eight tricks. The winning bidder loses eight points if he fails to take his bid number of tricks, or gains or loses 16 points for the big pepper.
In two-player pepper, three hands are dealt, but the third remains face down and is not played. The points are same as for three-handed pepper.
Samantha Volz has been involved in journalistic and informative writing for over eight years. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a minor in European history. In college she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and completed a professional internship with the "Williamsport Sun-Gazette," serving as a full-time reporter. She resides in Horsham, Pennsylvania.