Setback Rules

(Pun Intended.)

Created and Maintained by Umesh Shankar

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Please Note: These rules are not those found in Hoyle's. However, after much experimentation we have settled on rules (and variations thereupon) which essentially make the game as great as it is. (Hoyle does not include the idea of partners, for example.)

We highly recommend that you read the Variations Page, for what some consider more interesting forms of setback. You definitely want to read the section on different numbers of players.

The Official Rules are divided into these sections:


The Object and the Gameplay

Points to be Won
Who wins a Trick?
High, Low, Jack, and Game

The Bidding/Dealing

Basic Bidding Strategy

Basic Strategy

The Setup of the Game

Setback is a versatile game played with a standard deck of 52 cards. Aces are high, twos low, and the order of the cards is as follows: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. It can be played with anywhere from two to six players. Technically it can be played with up to eight, but the game really degrades at that point.

The game starts with bidding for trump suit, proceeds with the play of all six tricks, and then tallying of the four possible points and scoring at the end.

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The Object and the Gameplay

Points to be Won

There are four points to be won in each setback hand, and which should always be in your mind as you learn and play:

[Note: Game, the official term, is also often called "Most" for reasons which will be made clear, and thinking of it as Most rather than Game (because the latter does not in fact determine who wins the game) will likely help you learn more quickly.]

If you know bridge, the gameplay is identical except that you may trump at any time, not just when you can't follow suit. You can skip the next sub-section if you understand the concept of trump, following suit, etc. as in bridge.


The way play proceeds is as follows:

  1. One person plays a card from her hand. (The first lead is made by the high bidder, and must be a trump).
  2. The play continues with the person to her left, and so on until all players have played a card. This is called a "trick."
  3. Each person must do one of the following:
    - Play a card of the same suit as the first card that was played
    - Play a card of the designated trump suit (see Who wins a Trick? below to understand this concept)
    - Only if she do not have any cards of the suit that was led, play any other card
  4. After each person has played, one person has won the trick by the rules in the section below. That person (or perhaps, if playing with partners, his partner) takes the cards played for tallying at the end of the game
  5. The person who won initiates another trick by leading a card.
  6. This continues until all the players have no more cards.

Who wins a trick?

(One important concept to understand is that of a trump suit. At the start of the game, in a manner to be described below, a particular suit is chosen to be the trump suit. This suit is more powerful than all the others: even the lowliest card (a two, for example) of the trump suit can beat an Ace of a non-trump suit.)

A person wins a trick if he

  1. Played the highest trump
  2. If no trumps were played, played the highest card in the suit that was led

So what are high, low, jack, and game (most) anyway?

Now that you know how to play the game, it would help to know what you're trying to achieve in doing so! These four points are calculated from among the cards you (or you and your partner) win. For each of these cards you possess, you get a point:

Is Worth
10 game points
4 game points
3 game points
2 game points
1 game point


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The Bidding/Dealing

Before the bidding begins, the cards must be dealt. At the start of the game, a dealer is designated, and the deal rotates to the left. The dealer deals six cards to each person, starting with the player to his left, three at a time. The exact number of cards depends on the variation being played. See the Variations Page for more information.

Bidding proceeds clockwise from the person to the left of the dealer. The bid goes around only once; if nobody else bids, the dealer must bid. Each person bids one of the following:

Basic Bidding Strategy

(x=a card from 3-9)

If nobody has bid:

Bid this
if you hold this (or equivalent) in one suit

  • A, K/Q, reasonable other cards or x
  • K, J, x
  • Q, J, x, 2/3 (it is risky to bid here unless you hold low; your opponents may hold A/K, 2 between them, leading to a quick set)
  • J, x, x, 2; high cards in other suits

  • A/K, J, x(/10 if K), x
  • A, K/Q, x, x; high cards in other suits
  • A, K/Q, J; reasonable other cards
  • 5 trump including J, 2 and a decent sixth card

  • A, K and/or Q, J, 1 10; and high cards (A/K) in other suits.
  • A, K, Q, J, reasonable cards in other suits
  • 5 trump including A, K/Q, J and a reasonable sixth card

If your partner has bid, generally you let him have the bid unless:

These are only general guidelines. Exceptional circumstances may require bids in different situations. As you get more familiar with the game, feel free to experiment. Everyone gets set once in a while.

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Some Basic Strategies

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