Sergeant Major (as well as being a rank in the army) is a three player card game. It requires a standard 52 card pack, and the rules are very simple.

Dealing : One person is chosen as dealer for the first hand (drawing the highest card is a good way to decide). He deals the cards out, starting with the player to his left and going round clockwise. Whenever he wants he can stop dealing, place one card to the side, and then continue where he left off. He must do this four times. When he has finished dealing, each player will have 16 cards, and there will be 4 cards on the side, called the box. Each player picks up his hand and arranges it by suit. The dealer then chooses trumps, generally his longest and strongest suit. He then picks up the box, places the cards in his hand, and discards 4 cards of his choice. Then the game begins.

The Play : The person to the left of the dealer leads, and the play goes clockwise. The rules are the same as any whist game – you must follow suit if you can; the person who plays highest (or trumps) wins the trick; whoever wins the trick leads for the next trick. The play continues like this until all 16 tricks have been played. Then each player counts up his tricks. The dealer is trying to make 8 tricks, the player on his left is trying to make 5, the player on his right is trying to make 3 tricks. Each player works out how far over or down he has gone. E.g. if the dealer makes 10 tricks, 5-position makes 2 tricks and 3-position makes 4-tricks, The dealer is 2 tricks up, 5-position is 2 down, and 3-position is 1 up.

The Next Hand : The dealer now moves round, so that the person to the left becomes dealer. The pack is shuffled and dealt in the same way. Before the dealer chooses trumps or picks up the box, cards are exchanged depending on how well people did in the last hand. If you went over, you choose however many cards you went over to give to whoever went down. They must give you their highest card(s) in whichever suit(s) you give them. If both other players went down, you give the respective number of cards to both of them. If two people went over, the person who is going for the higher contract gives cards, and gets the high cards before the other player. Once all this has been settled, the dealer chooses trumps, picks up and discards the box, and the play begins as before.

Winning : After each hand the same settling up process takes – whoever goes over gets high cards off whoever goes down. Clearly if you go over one round, you are more likely to go over the next, but this varies a lot, and you can easily go from being over to going down. The game ends when a player, in any position, goes 6 tricks over.

Tactics : There is clearly not as much skill in this game as in bridge – you cannot finesse easily, and the outcome of the play on any hand can not vary much. But it does have its tactics, particularly in deciding what to put in the box (generally it is a good idea to try and void your weakest suit), and what cards to give other players when you have gone over (often either a card from a weak suit, or what you think will be trumps). But even though it requires less thought than bridge it is just as enjoyable to play.