Setback

The Bear grew up in Connecticut, where Setback is well known. Mention of the game usually draws a blank stare from those outside CT. Setback may be referred to as “Pitch” or “High-Low-Jack” in other places.

Ideally, the game is played with 2 teams of 2 players per team, but can be played with each player acting individually. The game is played in a series of rounds until one team (or player) reaches 21 points.

In each round, there is an auction to determine the trump suit and how many points the team that wins the auction needs to make.

There are 4 possible points in each round:
    The highest trump card played
    The lowest trump card played
    The jack of trump
    Game (most points, as described below)

Note that the jack of trump may not be in play, so the actual number of points in a round may be limited to 3. Also, the 2 of trump may not be in play, so it is the lowest trump played that matters.

To count points for Game, each 10 counts for 10 points, Aces count for 4, Kings for 3, Queens for 2, and Jacks for 1. The team with the most points gets the point for Game. If there is a tie, no one gets the point for Game.

Although the basic play and scoring is the same, there are many variations for the deal and bidding for the trump suit. I will lay out how The Bear’s family plays, then describe variations you may want to use.

How The Bear’s Family Plays
The dealer gives 6 cards to each player, by distributing a batch of 3 cards to each player before distributing a second batch of 3 cards to each player. If a player does not have any cards that are 10 or higher and does not have any twos, he can declare a “coke hand” and receive 6 new cards.

The player to the dealer’s left starts the bidding. Each player has one chance to bid, unless the bid gets to 4. The player can pass or bid 2, 3, or 4, indicating the number of points his team needs to make. The next player then bids, but must either bid higher than the previous bid or pass. This rule also applies to the dealer, but if the first 3 players all pass, the dealer must make a bid of 2. The player who made the highest bid announces the trump suit and leads the first card.

Each player must follow suit, if possible. If the player is void in the suit led, he may play a trump or discard a card of another suit. The highest trump played, or if none, the highest card in the suit led takes the trick.

After all 6 tricks are played, the points are counted. If the team that bid highest makes or exceeds their bid, they score the number of points made. For example, if they bid 3 and had High, Low, and Game, the team receives 3 points. If they also had the jack of trump, they would receive 4 points. If they do not make their bid, they are “set back” by the full amount of their bid, even if they made some points. For example, if they bid 3, but made only 2, they lose 3 points. The defending team also scores points if they have High, Low, Jack, or Game.

The game continues until one team reaches 21, but they must win by at least 2 points and take the bid when they get to 21 or above. Otherwise, the game continues until one team has 21 or more points, a lead of at least 2, and bids to go out.

Variations
•   The dealer can take the bid without overbidding the previous bid. For example, if the highest bid so far is 3, the dealer can bid 3 and win the auction. In the rules above, the dealer would have to bid 4 to win the auction.
•  You can play trump at any time. In the rules above, you can only play trump if you are void in the suit led.
•  A coke hand is all cards are in the 3-9 range. Having a 2 does not disqualify you from a coke hand. The Bear prefers this variation, but his family does not.
•  Draw: After the initial deal, each player can elect to discard up to 4 cards and draw replacements. If you have an ace, you can draw up to 5 replacements. You do not have to show the ace, but you must be able to point it out after the round if asked.


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