Sergeant Major, also known as 3-5-8, is a trick-taking card game that is played by three players. It is even played at casinos from all around the world, but it’s most popular in Europe, India, and the Middle East. Also, this was a very popular game among Britain’s Royal Air Force.
As we said, the game is designed for three players and is played with a deck of 52 cards, which are ordered by strength (from strongest to weakest – from Aces to 2). The main objective of each round is to win a certain number of tricks. The dealer’s goal is to win 8 tricks, the player that is sat left of the dealer has to win five tricks, and the player sat right of the dealer has to win three tricks. The player that wins 12 or more tricks in a single round, wins the game.
After the first dealer has been chosen randomly, the playing cards are shuffled, cut, and delt at each of the players. They get a total of 16 cards, receiving four cards at a time, while the remaining 4 cards are placed face down in the middle (this pile of cards is known as the “kitty”).
The dealer then names a suit as trumps (clubs, spades, hearts, or diamonds), discards any four of his/her cards, and takes the four cards from the kitty in their place.
The players will try to take 3, 5, or 8 tricks at every deal, and if the players don’t take enough tricks, they’ll receive negative points. On the other hand, they’ll receive positive points if they get more tricks than is required.
Out of the 18 deals, there are 3 deals where the player’s aim is achieving the opposite from what we’ve written above, which is taking the least number of tricks as possible. The points are also twisted, which now means that negative points will be given to those players that will take too many tricks, and positive points will be given to the players that take the least number of tricks. The player that has the highest score at the end of the game will the granted the winner.
Playing the Game
The game starts with the player left of the dealer (also known as eldest hand), which leads any card to the first trick, while the players are required to follow the lead suit, or play any card if they are unable to follow the suit. It’s important to note that the gameplay moves clockwise.
The winner of the trick is the player that has won the highest trump suited card, or the highest card of the lead suit if no trump card was played to the trick. The player that will win the trick gets to lead the next trick.
Each of the players has a minimum number of tricks called target, which is decided by each of the player’s seats for that round, and it looks like follows:
- Eldest hand: 5
- Middle hand: 3
- Dealer: 8
After all of the 16 tricks have been played, the players will compare their scores and targets. Players that have won more than their target are up by the number of excess tricks, while the players that didn’t reach their target are down by the number of tricks. For the players that are gambling, the up players receive one stake per every won trick, which are paid by the down players that have lost by the same number of tricks.
The players that were up in the previous round will exchange a certain amount of cards with the players that were down in the previous round. They exchanged cards that must be equal to the number of up and down that a player was in the previous round.
Every player that up gets the chance to give any card to a player that is down. On the other hand, the player that is down must return the highest-ranking card that they hold in the same suit from where the card was received.
A received card is passed back if the player that down receives a card in a suit that they don’t have or they doesn’t have a higher card in that suit.
When a dealer is down and is exchanging a card with a player that is up, it is possible for the dealer to pick up a higher-ranking card in the middle of the card exchange. If this happens, then the dealer must show the higher ranking card to the other player that was involved in the pass.
If two players were up in the previous round then the player with the higher target for the hand that is about to be played gets the chance to exchange cards first. And if the player that up got to exchange cards with two players that were down in the previous hand, then they will exchange with the player that had the lowest target first.