Sergeant Major, or 9-5-2 as it’s commonly known in Canada, is a trick-catching card game that’s especially popular in many parts of the Great White North. The game’s formal title comes from its immense popularity among the British Royal Air Force. However, their version goes by 8-5-3 rules. Today, we’ll discuss how to play 9-5-2 in Canada.
Canadian Sergeant Major Rules (9-5-2)
This game is meant for exactly 3 players (no partnerships). It uses a full deck of 52 cards (no joker). An initial dealer is chosen at random, who will shuffle the deck. Cutting, by the player right of the dealer, is optional.
The Deal (First Hand)
When ready, the dealer will deal out 16 cards, one at a time, to each player. The remaining four cards are set face down to form a kitty.
Each player will then look at their cards. The dealer will choose the trump suit (clubs, diamonds, hearts or spades). After calling trump, he may pick up the 4 cards in the kitty, rearrange his hand as desired, then discard 4 cards back to the kitty.
Note that calling “no trump” is not allowed.
The player left of the dealer will go first by leading a trick (playing a card). In clockwise fashion, all other players must follow suit. If a player does not have any cards of that suit, he/she may play any other suit, including (but not limited to) a trump.
The player who plays the highest trump, or, if no trump is played, the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick. The player who wins the trick will lead the next trick. Game play continues in this fashion until all cards are played, and all tricks are caught.
As the Canadian name implies, 9-5-2 rules require particular players to catch at least 9 tricks, 5 tricks and 2 tricks. Like so…
Dealer must catch 9+ tricks
Player Left of Dealer must catch 5+ tricks
Player Right of Dealer must catch 2+ tricks
If any player fails to meet their target score, they are said to be Down by the number of tricks they missed. A player who catches more than the target is Up by the number of extra tricks captured. This is important in scoring, and in all proceeding hands of play, when an exchange of cards takes place.
The Deal / Exchange of Cards (Hand 2+)
After the initial deal, things get a bit sticky. The next player (clockwise) will be the dealer, passing out 16 cards to each player, just as before. This time, however, once players look at their cards, the players who were Up in the previous round will pass the number of cards they were up by to the players who were Down.
The Down players must return their highest card of the same suit to the Up player. If only one player was Up, they will pass cards to each Down player. If two players were up, the player with the highest Up number passes cards to the Down player first. The other Up player will pass cards to the Down player second.
The dealer will then call trump, pick up the kitty, rearrange their hand as desired, and discard four cards.
If the dealer was a Down player, and the kitty contains a same-suit card that is higher than the one they passed back to an Up player, they must secretly reveal the card to that Up player. Afterwards, the dealer keeps the card, and play resumes.
Objective – How to Win 9-5-2
By traditional European rules, the first player to catch 12+ tricks in a single hand is declared the winner. However, Canadian Sergeant Major rules call for a total score count to be kept for each player. The target score to win is agreed upon before starting, usually set at 10 or 20.
Score is calculated by the Up and Down numbers after each hand, resulting in + and – scores. For example, if a dealer catches 10 tricks, his score would be +1. If a dealer catches just 5 tricks, his score would be -4.
The closest (and most popular) variation to Canadian Sergeant Major is 8-5-3. As the name implies, the most prominent difference is that the three players must catch 8, 5 and 3 tricks respectively (instead of 9, 5 and 2).
Two other similar games are 9-5-3 and 8-6-3. In these variations, there is no kitty. All 52 cards are dealt, resulting in one additional trick to be captured.
Simply agree on a friendly amount to wager prior to the game. Winner takes all.
Betting on 9-5-2 is not complicated. Simply choose a stake, preferably something small to keep it friendly. Everyone puts this amount in the pot, and at the end of the game, the winners takes the pot.
Perhaps the better question is not how to bet on 952, but whether you should? Unfortunately, it’s an easy game to cheat at, depending on how observant you are. you may need to watch your opponents and cards like a hawk.
52 cards – 48 to the players (16 each) and 4 to the kitty.
The entire deck of 52 cards is dealt in a hand of 952. Starting with the player left of the dealer, each player receives one card at a time until all three players have 16 cards each (48 total). The remaining 4 cards are placed in the kitty.
Most trick-based card games are for 2 or 4 players. There aren’t many card games for exactly 3 players. Along with the list above that details only 3-person card games, we offer a longer list of popular games that can optionally accommodate 3 players, if not more or less.
Know when to be aggressive and conservative, never forget what cards you’ve exchanged, and never give up. The more you play, the better you’ll get.
They key to winning 9-5-2 is, ultimately, experience. The most important lesson is knowing when to play aggressively, conservatively, or somewhere in between. Those generally align with trick-catching requirements of 9, 2 and 5, respectively, but that can change when you’re down in the count. No matter what, never panic, because there’s always a chance you can come back, especially from the 2-spot.
9-5-2 originated in the British Royal Air Force, dating it back no earlier than 1918, but its roots as a trick-catching game can be traced as far back as the 15th century.
The actual history of Canadian Sergeant Major is more theoretical than anything else. We know that the current rules got their start in the British Royal Air Force, which was organized until 1918. So, at most, it could be about a century old. Its roots, however, could branch out into several directions and depths. It shares similarities with Ombre (Spanish, 16th century), Reversis (French, 1601), Triomphe (French, 1659), and others.
With each new hand, the deal is passed to the next player on the left. After shuffling and dealing the cards, the dealer will call trump, collect cards from the kitty, then return cards back to the kitty. The player left of the dealer will then lead the first trick.
Adalene Lucas: is our jack of all trades here at DBC. She is a skilled coder, gambler, writer and webmaster. She lives in Manitoba where she enjoys the lush landscapes and camping near Tulabi Falls. Nature gives her inspiration to write. When she's not immersed in nature, her favorite words are "game theory". She lives with her husband and their two Labradors, Kophy and Whisper.