How to play Sergeant Major by its original, UK-preferred 8-5-3 card game rules and others.
If you already know how to play the immensely popular Canadian card game of 9-5-2 (aka Canadian Sergeant Major), you should have no trouble picking up on its variant 8-5-3 rules. There are only a couple of differences between the two—most notably the number of tricks each player must catch.
In 9-5-2, the three players must catch 9, 5 or 2 tricks per hand, depending on their current seating position. In this variant—the original, British version of the game—players must catch 8, 5 or 3 tricks per hand to score.
We’ll talk about this and other rule variations to 9-5-2 in the following text. To avoid redundancy, I won’t bother teaching the game all over again. For the complete rules, please refer to our previous segment, How to Play 9-5-2. Then return here to learn about 8-5-3 and other variations.
How to Play 9-5-2 by 8-5-3 Rules
8-5-3 is the traditional rules by which Sergeant Major was played in the British Royal Navy nearly a century ago. The rules mirror 9-5-2, except for the following variations.
The target score (tricks to catch) for each player, per hand, is as follows:
Dealer must catch 8 tricks.
Player left of Dealer must catch 5 tricks.
Player right of dealer must catch 3 tricks.
After players pass cards, the dealer will perform the following actions in this order:
Proclaim the trump.
Discard four cards.
Pick up the kitty.
Score is taken by golf-like scoring rules. A player who catches the required number of tricks will score 0. Anything above that is scored +#, anything less is -#. For example, if a player needs 5, but catches 7, his score is +2. If he only catches 3, the score is -2.
The target score to win is chosen prior to the start, usually +10 to +20 points depending on desired length of game.
Other 9-5-2 Rule Variations
Whether you’re playing Sergeant Major by traditional 8-5-3 rules or Canadian 9-5-2 rules, these other deviations may also be used.
Kitty after Discard: In some groups, the dealer won’t get to see the kitty before discarding. Instead, he will abide by traditional 8-5-3 rules, wherein four cards must be discarded before this player can pick up the kitty, forcing him to keep those cards as replacements.
8-6-3 w/ No Kitty: In this version, there is no kitty. The 2 of clubs is removed from the deck prior to the start of play, and each player is dealt 17 cards instead of 16. The target score is changed to:
Dealer must catch 8
Player left of dealer must catch 6
Player right of dealer must catch 3
9-5-3 w/ No Kitty: Similar to the version described above, this variant also has no kitty, and the 2 of spades is removed from the deck prior to the start of play. Again, each player is dealt 17 cards instead of 16. This time, the target score is changed to:
Dealer must catch 9
Player left of dealer must catch 5
Player right of dealer must catch 3
Winner Takes All: This isn’t a variant you come across often. I’ve never known anyone to play it myself, but I’ve heard it really does exist. Score is irrelevant. The game continues indefinitely until one player successfully catches all 16 tricks. That player is declared the winner (hence the term, “winner takes all”). The problem is that the game can last a very, very long time, and is just as likely to end without a winner when everyone grows tired of trying.
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