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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66 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).

    1. In the rules that come with a ‘Queen’s Slipper’ 500’s pack, there is no comment concerning what is done with the partner’s hand in a Misere contract. The only form I have ever experienced in 50+ years, is that if you have a Misere contract, your partner’s hand is neither seen nor played from. Think of how impossible it would be to intelligently bid Misere, or play to such a contract, if your partner’s trick mean’t that you lose the contract!

    2. We play, “going out the back door” is -500 (or lower). Also, rightly or wrongly we play the 10 pts per trick caps at 460. So you can only ever win with a winning bid (or the opposition going out the back door). However, if you were on 490 and were dealt the joker and just passed once the opposition bid, this would not get you to 500.

  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.

      1. Why cant you declare what suit the Joker is to be before playing your first card in a misere hand????
        If you have a run of that suit you then play the joker when another suit is played and you do not have a card of that suit to follow.
        No different to declaring what suit the joker is in a no trumps rule.
        Just another local rule . Try it .
        It does make getting misere a little easier to get if you have a long run of a particular suit.
        Personally I don’t like playing misere as cards should be to win not loose and playing misere deprives your partner from participating in the round. But if others want to play it then bring it on. I win most of them anyway.

      2. When going Misere it’s a good idea to have the least amount of suits you can. To keep the Joker means you can play it as an off-suited card.

    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.

    3. In the version we play , in misere the joker is the lowest card in any suit. And in open misere you have no access to the kittie

  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. If you have a deck with the 11s/12s/red 13s, you have the special deck that can be used for 6-handed 500. the cards fall in rank, obviously, right above the 10s.

      Rank of cards in trump suit is:

      Bird/J/J*/A/K/Q/13/12/11/10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2

    1. Use the normal 52 card pack with the Joker. Dealing is similar to 4 handed. The player who makes the contract may call for a partner by naming any particular card he wants, except for a trump card. If No Trumps became the contract, the Joker may be called for. The player holding the nominated card declares so immediately, and becomes the partner for that hand only, andshares in the score, plus, or minus according to the result of play. The other players score 10 points per trick as normal. Misere is not usually an acceptable bid in 5 handed, because it will be too easy to achieve.

    2. Playing with 5 players is awkward and there are no defined rules however realise that it is always 2 versus 3.
      Partners are determined only after the bids are complete and after picking up and discarding the winning bidder announces a certain card. (Usually one he is looking for) The person having that card is the partner to the winning bidder but at that time is unknown to the winning bidder. This is quickly sorted out when the first lead is a small card of that suit resulting in the Ace you called being used.

      Misere calls we never allow when playing 5 handed.

      Our group of 12 to 16 players are in Sydney. Since we have a timed game the winners rotate to the next table. This allows us to have a bye player when numbers are are not even. Two handed is not very satisfying but we play it. At times we play 3 handed basically using the above 5 handed rules.

    3. Sorry but I forgot to include that to play 5 handed our group use the standard 6 handed deck (11’s 12’s & 13’s) and deal a dummy hand which isn’t used.

      Likewise to play 3 handed we use the standard 4 player deck and deal a dummy hand that isn’t used. Naturally in 3 handed you don’t have a partner.

    4. In the five-handed version, the contractor calls for a card; that player is their partner [and contractor does NOT know who their partner is – if the bid is 8 Spades or higher, they can ask for TWO partners].

      In the 5-handed version, even though there is a “partnership” of sorts, each player keeps a separate score.

      NOTE: Rules stated above come directly from the files of the US Playing Card Co., credited with the “creation” of the game of 500.

      The deck to be used is extremely simple to set up — decide which one of the Jokers you don’t like, toss it, and use the rest of the deck.

    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.

    2. No. And No. Your low cards might be trumps that support your partner’s contract. Alternatively they may be led if your opponents are out of trumps or higher cards in that suit. Of course you can also aim for a misere contract, if you are first or second to bid, try a relatively low risk inexpensive 6 call, then chime in with “Misere!” over the top of your opponents or partner’s 7 Call.

    3. That is a rule we use when we play at lunch time at work. We have no misere (as someone is left sitting out), and no picture cards is a redeal.

  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.

    2. My experience is that it can be played at the beginning of the suit or the end. ie if you have 2 hearts, it can be played on the first lead of hearts or the third. If you have discarded on a suit, it cannot be played on that suit.

    3. only if is called no trumps .the joker can be played on a suit that has not been played . if a suit has been made the joker is the highest card .

    4. Hello,

      We play the joker as “First or Last” of a suit. This means if you lead with the Ace of clubs, I could play the joker to win the trick then lead back the King of clubs.

      However, if you lead the Queen of clubs, and I win with the King of clubs – I can not use the joker as a club until all other clubs in my hand are used. If I want it to be a club at that point, it has to be played at the earliest opportunity after I have run out of clubs. Once a hand has been played where you did not play a club or the joker, you have effectively declared that the joker is not a club (otherwise you just reneged).

      With clever play you can turn a long run into a winning no trumps hand without the joker.

      Amongst the Queensland players I usually play with the only argument is whether the joker can only be player the first time a suit is lead OR the first time the suit is played from the hand holding the joker (i.e in the first instance I could not play the joker on your Ace of clubs lead, in the second, I could provided it was the first time anyone had lead a club).

  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?

    1. Once you’ve passed, you’ve passed and cannot bid again. But that says that the misére rule as expressed here is wrong to me, because basically it kills anyone’s ability to bid misére. If you have a misére hand, then you’re not going to bid 6- or 7- anything to stay in the bidding, and so you’re out.

      So to bid misére under the rules here, you (1) cannot be the first bidder and (2) you have to rely on the luck of your position relative to the dealer and hence the likelihood someone else will make a 7 bid before you are required to make your bid. Such a constraint is frankly ridiculous. Especially when the rules here say no such constraint applies to an open misére bid. That makes no sense. Why one and not the other?

      I’ve always played the rule that you can bid misére and open misére at any time, otherwise you may as well not have those bids in the game at all. Ignore the rule described here.

    2. The cards 11,12,13 are only included in a 500 pack to allow for more than 5 players to participate. Each player starts with 10 cards and for 6 players that requires 60 cards plus the “kitty”. you would never use such a pack for less than 6 players.
      regards,
      Neville

    3. I’ve seen it done twice where an opponent stopped my misere with his joker…trying to work out how they did this please..thankyou

    4. I am also interested in knowing this. It seems that the rule differs with masere and open masere. There are more restrictions on Masere, but I am not sure if you can bid or pass. Anyone know? Also, anyone from Victoria with any local/state rules. I lasr played as a kid in NSW!

    5. In most sets of rules it is not stated but it is interpreted as once you ‘pass’ you can no longer bid. But some house rules allow you to bid again so it depends on the group.
      I always try to make a bid on the first call as an indication of the Joker or an Ace. Calling just on the most cards of that suit can be dangerous unless you have many.
      Just remember that if you pass on the first round your partner could interpret that as an indication that you have a close misere call, but not good enough to call it yourself. He may choose to call misere himself gambling that your lowish cards will assist his call by being out of play if he happens to win that contract.

    6. I have played a variant where it had to be the first or last card played in a suit
      The more common one is that you can’t reneg on a suit in no trumps then play the joker

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. I call aces and joker at 6 then the suit I want to call (strength) at 7. When calling aces call lowest first except if you have the joker then call that as it’s the most important and versatile card in the game.

    2. No. In your first round of bidding, make a low risk inexpensive 6 call. Then chime in later with misere after a 7 call. If the bidding is at the 8 level, you could consider calling open misere.

    3. This is a good idea, and my normal policy also. However if you a really going for a misere, you might confuse your partner. But that is probably an acceptable risk.

    4. I’ll let you know after I play a few games soon. I haven’t played for over 25 years, but keen to start again…and teach my flatmate!
      \

  9. We have always played that when a team reaches 460 they must bid to go out and cannot take 10 points for any tricks taken when the opposition has made their call, and that call has been accepted. Is this the correct way to play?

  10. Hi,
    I live in Mordialloc and was wondering if there were any local 500 card nights locally. I have been playing for 40 years and would welcome the challenge.

  11. No. In your first round of bidding, make a low risk inexpensive 6 call. Then chime in later with misere after a 7 call. If the bidding is at the 8 level, you could consider calling open misere.

  12. If I call misere in a 4 hand game do have to just “not win”each trick or must I lose outright(lowest card on the table) every trick,?

  13. When playing misere, if the bidder plays the lowest card in a suit but the opponents cannot follow the suit and have to play another suit, does the bidder then win that hand (when they actually are trying to lose that hand), thereby meaning they lose? Who takes the hand?

  14. “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”. There’s a typo here. It should read “than what they did the last time”.

  15. If someone opens the bidding with 6 of a suit, then pass, pass, pass, can that opening bidder increase his bid or must he stay on his original bid?

  16. When playing with six players ( 2 x 3 players) what are the rule variations and how many cards does each player receive?

  17. We play 3, 4, 5, & 6 handed 500 with a club and score normally; but is there a means of scoring by which one can determine a yearly Club champion? Obviously not all members can attend every game event, can that be built in to the above?

  18. Question: Lets say you want to win on the trick (if possible).
    (Say) Trumps are diamonds and the lead player plays the Ace of diamonds. You, the following player have in your hand the 10 of diamonds and the left bower of diamonds ie the Jack of hearts. Can you play the left bower now or are you obliged to play the 10 of diamonds. (I have been taught that the left bower shoud be played as if it is a member of the trump suit and at any time when it follows a trump lead!)
    Can you help?

  19. During the bidding process I have always played in the following way.
    I make a 6 call at the start each player following do not make a bib
    and it is back to me. I have always played it in the following way. I can throw my hand in, sit on the 6 call or increase it or make a 7 call in another suit, which then allows the other players to make another bid should they wish too. If the first bidder is stuck with their 6 call which generally is an Ace or the Joker and that may be all they have. You could go for 4 rounds or so before you get a game in

  20. Rules:
    After running a 500 group in Sydney for over 5 years now I have come across so many variations to the Rules it isn’t funny. Some folk insist that the rules on the slip of paper which is included in our common brand of 500 playing cards as being the real rules which is a fair comment but then I find that they themselves have other little House Rules/changes to go by so that comment has never held water for me. When you finally get searching for a full set of rules you find that every set of rules for 500 is different. Even within our own group we are adapting the rules to smooth out our indifference’s.
    As for me, when I’m playing elsewhere with friends I simply adapt to their set of rules. It’s never worth discussing different rules so just get in and play.

  21. If 3 players have passed in a bidding round and I want to call misere- can I call 7 something first then bid misere straight after before picking up the kitty?

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