500: Australia’s National Card Game

500 Card GameSimilar to Euchre but with some modifications, 500 is THE card game extraordinaire of antipodeans, even though it was actually invented in the United States in 1904. The game is called 500 because the first players to reach 500 points win.

Ideally you play 500 with four players, with two of the players acting as partners who work together to beat the other two players, who are also partners. You can play with a number of players other than four however, with rule variations for anywhere from two to six players.

The Cards:

500 does not use a standard deck, but one can use the standard 52 card deck by simply removing some cards. Here is how the deck breaks down:

Red suits: A-J and 10-4 (remove all 2’s and 3’s if playing with a 52 card deck)

Black suits: A-J and 10-5 (in addition to the 2’s and 3’s, remove all black 4’s)

One Joker: In Australian card games, you will typically hear the joker referred to as the bird because in special 500 decks consisting of 43 cards, the joker card has a picture of a Kookaburra.


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How to Play 500

500 falls into the class of trick taking card games, which also includes Euchre, and other games such as Hearts, Spades, and Bridge. Like the latter two and Euchre, 500 is also a game involving a trump suit.

A trump suit is a suit you can play when you are out of the suit being played. The trump suit will rank higher than the other suit even if the number in that suit is lower than the highest card in the suit. For example, if spades are the trump suit and someone played the Ace of clubs, if you are out of clubs and play the five of spades, your five of spades beats (trumps) the Ace of clubs.

Unlike Euchre and Spades, but similar to Bridge, the players get to bid on what the trump will be. This divides the game play into three processes that occur for each hand or round of play: the deal of the cards, the bidding on trump and the number of tricks a partnership will play, and the play of the game between the two partnerships.

The Deal

At the beginning of the game, the initial dealer is chosen at random and the deal rotates to the left after each hand. Players sit around a table so that each partner can sit across from the other with their opponents on each side. There are no rules about how to determine who deals at the beginning, but one simple way to do it is have everyone draw a card and the player with the high card deals.

The manner of dealing out the cards is one of the unique features of 500. After the cards are shuffled and cut, the dealer will deal 3 cards at a time to each player, beginning with the player to the left, and one card into the middle to form a fifth group called the kitty. All cards are dealt face down. After the first round of cards have been dealt, three to each player and one to the kitty, the dealer deals out four at a time to each player with one more to the kitty. Finally the dealer will deal out 3 last cards to each player with the one remaining card to the kitty. Each player should then have 10 cards a piece, with a kitty consisting of three cards.

The Bidding

The bidding proceeds in rounds where each player has a chance to bid the number of tricks that partnership will take together and what will be the trump suit. If players do not want to bid, they have the option to pass. Once players pass they cannot bid again in that round. After three of the four players have passed, the bidding ends and whatever the last player bid is what the contract will be.

Players must bid a suit and a number of tricks. Players must bid a minimum of 6 tricks but can bid up to ten tricks. For example, if one player bids 7 hearts, this means that partnership must take 7 of the ten possible tricks and hearts will be the trump card.

Players who have not passed yet can bid more than once and bid something differently if they want then what they did the last time, but the bidding has to constantly move up in level. This means that once someone has bid 7 hearts, no one can subsequently bid 6 hearts.

Each suit has a specific ranking, so that you have to go to a higher level to bid a lower ranking suit. The suit rankings go from lowest to highest: spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts, and a special situation where there are no trumps called No Trump or No-ies. For example if the opponent on your right bids 7 hearts, you can legally bid a minimum of either 7 No-ies or 8 spades, clubs, or diamonds.

In addition to the special bid of No Trump, there are two other special bids you can make: Misere and Open Misere (pronounce miz-air). Mizere can only be bid after someone has bid at the 7 level, but it is lower than the 8 level so you cannot bid Mizere if someone before you has already bid on the 8 level. Bidding Misere means you will not take any tricks at all in a round that will have no trump suit. Your partner does not play but has to lay their hand face up when the game play starts after the bidding, and you play your hand and your partner’s hand.

Open Misere works the same way as Misere in that you do not take any tricks as well, but you can bid Open Misere at any time. It is ranked at the ten level between diamonds and hearts, so that once someone has bid Open Misere, the only other legal bids that can be made are 10 hearts or 10 No-ies. If Open Misere ends up being the winning bid, then both the player who declared Open Misere and that player’s partner have to put their cards down face up during the play portion of the hand. The declarer of Open Misere will play both hands against the opponents who get to hide their cards.

Game play after the bidding

Once the bidding has been completed, the person who last bid, known as the contractor or declarer, picks up the three cards from the kitty and can pull any three cards from their hand and the kitty and put those out of play.

The contractor leads out the first card, which can be of any suit. All players must follow suit if they can, but can play a card of any other suit, including the trump suit, if they are out of the suit that was led. The highest card of the suit played wins unless a trump card is played, in which case that trump card wins. In cases where two trump cards are played, the highest trump card wins.

Play continues until all players are out of cards.

Joker and Jack Play

The joker is considered the highest trump card when there is a trump declared. The next highest trump card is the Jack of the trump suit (known as the Right Bower), followed by the jack of the suit with the same color as the trump suit (known as the Left Bower). The rest of the trumps proceed in the conventional order of ranks from highest to lowest: A, K, Q, and 10-5 or 4.

In No Trump, Misere, and Open Misere play, the jacks revert to their regular rank between the Queen and Ten of their respective suit. The joker can be played in a number of ways, however.

If the contractor has the joker, she or he may declare so at the beginning and assign that joker to a particular suit, at which point it would be considered the highest ranking card of that suit, above the Ace.

The contractor does not have to declare the joker initially and if he or she does not, joker play will follow the rules listed below. These rules also apply when someone other than the contractor holds the joker.

1) The Joker is the highest card in the deck and wins in whatever suit it is played.

2) The Joker can only be led out and declared to belong to a certain suit if that suit has not yet been played in that hand or if it is the last trick played, in which case it wins automatically.

3) The Joker can only be played after someone has led another suit if the person with the joker has no other cards in that suit.

4) In Misere and Open Misere, the player with the joker MUST play the joker if they have no cards of the suit that was led; however, if the contract is No Trump, the player with the joker can hold onto the joker and play a card from another suit if that player is out of the suit that was led.

Scoring

The game of 500 continues until one of the partnerships reaches 500 points when they are the contractors. You cannot win on a hand in which you are not the contractors even if you score over 500.

When players make a contract they bid, they get the appropriate point levels for that contract. There are extra points for taking excessive tricks unless you take all of the tricks, which is called a slam. If your bid was worth less than 250 points, you get 250 points instead. If you make a slam and your initial bid was higher than 250 points, you receive whatever the points were for that level bid. If you opposed the contract, you receive 10 points for each trick you take, except for in Misere and Open Misere contracts. Points for each hand are added together to reach a cumulative total.

All points at the 6 level are based on what the suit was: Spades = 40 points, Clubs = 60, Diamonds = 80, Hearts = 100, and No Trumps = 120. For each level above 6 you add 100 points. For example if you bid 8 hearts and made 9 total tricks, you would get a total of 300 points (100 points for hearts plus 200 points for winning at the 8 level, and no additional points for the extra trick).

Bidding and making Misere will get you 250 points and bidding and making Open Misere will get you 500 points. Also if the partnership makes their Misere or Open Misere contract, the opponents do not get any points at all. If a partnership fails to make a Misere or Open Misere contract, they lose the appropriate number of points they would have won for that contract, but the opponents still do not get any additional points.

Sometimes, a partnership will reach 500 points or more upon winning a contract but their opponents will still have more than 500 points and will win. The partnership who wins their contract and gets to 500 or more points but still loses is referred to as “going out backwards.”


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23 thoughts on “500: Australia’s National Card Game”

  1. Hi,

    Nice explanation, has some succinct explanations that I will use when teaching others.

    However you only cover the negative scoring for misere and not other contract.

    Also you don’t explain that teaching -500 means you lose.

    And your last paragraph about “going out backwards” is wrong – firstly because that term applies to reaching or exceeding -500 points; and secondly because you seem to be saying that you can lose when you successfully make avid and get it that results in you score equalling or exceeding 500 point – this is not so (even if the ppposing team has more than 500 points through winning 10 point tricks).

  2. Hi,
    I’m still not clear on the use of the joker in a misere hand.
    I’ve always played that if you get the joker when calling misere you discard it as it is the highest card in the pack .
    Someone I know says you can keep it & call it whatever suit you want
    Can someone help.
    Thanks

    1. Heavens above! There’s no place for a Joker in a misere hand. What’s stopping you discarding it when you pick up the kitty? But, of course, there’s always local or house rules.

    2. The play for misere follows the no-trumps play so anyone who won the bid should discard the joker. If a defender has the joker they might play it and call a suit perhaps to allow their partner to discard from that suit before playing their low card.

    1. Hi Mary, a misere is when a player is that confident they won’t win a trick that they put their cards face up. A “lay down misere” is slang in Australia for a predicted easy victory, usually with gambling in mind.

  3. Hi all, I was wondering the cards that are included in each deck of 500 cards, I have been given two decks and not sure if some are missing or not. Help would be great TY

  4. Like card game author David Parlett I have never seen 500 played with special Aussie pack incl. 13s/12s/11s but I would love to. Our family like to play Euchre and Gin Rummy also. Please state the correct rank of Aussie 500 incl. 2 red 13s etc as above. I have a few ideas of how to adapt these three and a few other card games to my family preferences.
    Erin from Bdale

    1. I think this is a house rule and I don’t like it because misere gives a person the ability to win with a ‘bad” deal.

  5. Hi Guys,
    I have been playing 500 all my life in N.S.W. I have recently moved to Tassie & am having an interesting discussion about use of the joker when no trumps are called.
    My fellow combatants agree that the joker is the highest card & that it can be lead & named a suit that has not already been played.But hear we run into differing opinions.
    I have always played that the joker can only be played after you have run out of a suit that is being lead but you do have a choice when to play it. In other words if you have run out of the suit that is being lead you may play the joker but do not have to.
    Some of my opponents are playing a rule which says that you can play the joker at any time even when you still have cards of the suit that is being lead, & also, you may, after taking a trick with the joker in that particular suit lead back the same suit that you have just trumped with the joker.
    Just wondering if anyone knows of any conflicting rules on this issue?

    Regards

    Justin

    1. This seems contradictory. If as you propose the joker can be played once you have run-out of a suit, then you are playing it after the first lead of the suit and so would be breaking the Tassie rules. I guess if you had managed to run-out of a suit by discarding in off-suit play then lead the joker as a first lead of that suit then that would probably be alright, but that seems unlikely.

    1. It’s the same as with a no-trumps call, the lead is the highest card of the led suit and so wins, all others are off-suit. The only exception would be if a joker was played which would win.

  6. I have a question about bidding a misere. In most versions of 500, you can’t continue bidding after you’ve passed. When you have a misere-hand, it could be that you have already had to pass before you were allowed to bid misere. So my question is: can you bid misere after you’ve passed?

  7. When bidding to my partner, I always bid an ace or Joker on a six call or a bower on a 7 call is that a fairly normal way to call.

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