Nothing says Newfoundland fun like a good, old-fashioned game of 120’s.
A Bit of History and Background
It’s a game that spans generations, one that untold numbers of Newfoundlanders have learned at the kitchen table with only a well-worn deck of cards and the patient instruction of a parent or grandparent.
It’s something to do for a laugh — throw in a few dollars, build up a little kitty.
The 120s version of choice there is partners, three sets of two. There’s so many different ways of playing the game: there’s call-for-your-partner, partners — you can even play on your own.
The game involves a dash of skill, a pinch of luck — and a healthy dollop of social interaction. There is a bit of skill involved,- even if you’re lucky enough to get the cards, you’ve still got to know how to play.
The card game many Newfoundlanders know as 120s has many different monikers: among them are Auction and Growl. There is also an abbreviated version of the game called 45s, usually just played by two or three people.
It’s also undeniably a part of the rich fabric of Newfoundland and Labrador life. Many a dining room table is scarred by wedding rings slammed down in the joy or frustration of playing a particularly passionate card.
The game’s roots are thought to trace back to Ireland and Scotland in the mid-16th century, when it was called Maw, then Spoil Five. It is believed to have made its way from there to Newfoundland and parts of Nova Scotia.
This card game evolved in rules and name as it travelled from Scotland and Ireland to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and ultimately to the Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts. The general belief is that the game was called Spoil Five or 45's in Ireland and was played the way that 45's is played in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland today with no kitty, only a 5 card draw, and a total score of 45 points and the trump is determined by a cut of the deck. Somewhere along the way, someone invented the variation of 45's that you know as 120's and that we know as 45's that includes the 3 card kitty, the ability to discard and draw up to 4 cards and a total score of 120 points and the winning bidder determines the trump. This version of the game is the most exciting and fun to play especially if you have 4 people to play partners.
The Goal of the Game
One Hundred and Twenties involves an occasionally complex series of bidding. When the bidding is complete, the cards are played to win tricks for points. The target total is 120, the number for which the game is named. It's a game where players wish they had psychic abilities.
Things You'll Need
- Deck of cards
- Pad of paper
- Pen or pencil
- Four players
The game is normally played with 4 or 6 players, in teams of two (those sitting opposite each other are on a team). The teams do not "table talk" or see each other’s hands but their points are kept as a total and strategy develops around that fact.
- the game can be played "cut throat" with 2, 3 or 5 players and no teams.
- an experienced or brave player can play with a dummy partner... there are 5 cards dealt the spot opposite the player, the partner plays a card from this hand without viewing the hand
Each player receives 5 cards, dealt in a group of 3, followed by a group of two. There is also a "kitty" of four cards from which the winning bidder can draw. The dealer deals 3 cards to the person to his left and to each subsequent player (including himself), then 2 to the kitty and 2 more to each player as well as two more to the kitty.
- the kitty is dealt three cards following the first round and gets no subsequent cards (3 total)
- the last card dealt to the kitty is turned face up to give players a "taste" of what is inside
- there is no kitty
The Auction (bidding)
Each "trick" is worth 5 points, except the trick involving the best card in play which is worth 10 points. Thus, with 5 cards each, the total points for each hand is 30. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player bids (or passes) in multiples of 5 starting at a minimum of 15. A player bids the number of points they assume they (and their partner) can win in the hand. A player may pass or bid higher than the bid currently on the table.
When the bid reaches the dealer, he may choose to "hold" it. If the bid stands at 20, and the deal holds it, he is exercising his privilege of bidding 20 as well. The high bidder and the dealer may then auction up until one gives up.
Example: Player 1 bids 15. Player 2 passes. Player 3 bids 20. The dealer holds the bid. Player 3 bids 25. The dealer, not wanting to bid 25, allows Player 3 to take the bid at 25.
The high bidder must now call which suit will be "trump" and then gets to pick through the kitty for any better cards that may be within in.
If someone bids 30, which means they must take all of the tricks; this is called a 30 for 60 bid. This means that if they manage to take all of the tricks, they add 60 points to their score as opposed to 30. If they lose their bid they still only lose 30.
If a player/team is "in the hole" (has less than 0 points), then they may bid up past a 30 bid to a "60 for 120 bid".
Additionally, if a bidder has a poor hand but has won the bid, he may choose to discard his entire hand and then take the kitty before declaring trump.
- there is no 60 for 120 bid
- there is no 30 for 60 bid
- the winning bidder may see the kitty before calling a suit
- the dealer cannot hold but bids just as a normal player
- the winning bidder may look at the kitty before declaring the trump
After the winner of the bid calls the suit, players may discard. A player may discard any, all or none of his cards. Normally a player discards all of their non-trump, but this can vary depending on individual strategy.
Once players have discarded, the dealer fills each hand back up to 5, dealing no more than 3 cards at a time, as above.
- a player can discard no more than 4 cards
- the dealer can deal out as many cards as needed, rather than a maximum of 3
Ordinal Value of Cards
The best card is the five of whatever suit is trump. The ace of hearts is particularly powerful and, some would say, devious; it is always the third-best card no matter what suit is trump.
TRUMP FACE CARDS
Ace of hearts
Note that the ace of hearts is always trump.
NON-TRUMP FACE CARDS
The lower valued cards are worth the same in the hierarchy whether they are trump or non-trump. Though their value varies based on their colour. The "rule of thumb" is "highest in red, lowest in black," that is to say that the 2 of clubs is the best non-face club, and the 10 of diamonds is the best non-face diamond.
- the ace is treated as a one when non-trump, it is the highest non-face card in black and the lowest card in red
- the 10 is treated as a face card, and as such is the best card after the queen (trump) or jack (non-trump) in both red & black suits
Playing a hand
The person to the left of the winning bidder plays the first card and then the person to his left plays until it reaches the winning bidder. The best card laid takes the trick.
- trump beats any other card regardless of value.
- if no trump is played, then the suit of the first card laid is considered trump for determining the winner of that round
The winner of each round leads, then each player lays a card in turn, going clockwise (to the left).
If the player/team who took the bid doesn't get points equal or great to their bid then they are "set". This means that, regardless of the points earned in the hand, the bidding player/team has the value of their bid deducted from their score.
The non bidding player/team gains any points from the tricks they manage in the hand. This is unless they are past 100 points, at which time you have to "take the bid to count", that is to say once you pass 100, you must be the winning bidder in order to increase your score.
- the person who wins the bid leads, not the person to his left
- you only need to make a bid in order to count after 100
- you only must bid 20 (and not necessarily take the bid) to count after 100
- all above rules for reaching 100 points take effect at 90
If trump is the first card laid, all other players must also play trump if they have any trump in their hand. The exception to this is the 5 of trump which can be "reneged" against all other trump cards and the Jack of trump which can be reneged against all other trump except for the 5.
If trump isn't lead, then the suit does not have to be followed. Any player can play the card of their choice. A common strategy is for the person leading in the first hand to play a low value non-trump card but for another player to play trump before the person who has taken the bid in order to force him or her to play trump to take the trick.
- there is no reneging
- only the 5 can be reneged
- the 5 and Jack of trump, and the Ace of hearts can be reneged
Winning or Losing
The first player/team to 120 wins the game. If a player/team falls below -200 they automatically lose the game.
- a player/team must reach 125 to win, I personally enjoy this rule as it prevents the possibility of a win after just two hands (two successful 30 for 60 bids)
- a player/team loses after falling below -120
- a player team/loses after being set 3 times
- a player team/loses after being set 3 consecutive times