Thursday, May 04, 2006

presidents and a**holes

It’s Thursday so that means I was out with the guys. A tradition that dates back to the early GNOs is that after a nice dinner and some tasty beverages we’d play Presidents and A**holes, or P&A as we prefer to call it.

P&A is a card game that traces it origins to an old Chinese game. It has an excellent strategy component and exciting trick play that surpasses Bridge because of its unpredictability. Better still, it offers opportunity for social stratification, drinking and ridicule, making it a perfect pastime.

Proper P&A requires at least 4 players but can be enjoyed by 7 or more with the addition of a second deck of cards. The game starts with a draw to determine positions. High card becomes President, next highest is VP on down to second lowest (Sphincter Boy) and lowest (the A**hole).

With each position come rights and responsibilities. The A**hole must deal, must wear a stupid hat, must “wipe” all cards after each trick and must give the President his best card. The President (or “The Decider” as he is known when this game is played in Washington) must give the A**hole his worst card and can make 3 rules that apply for the hand.

The President can also command any player to drink at any point (or do something similar like fetch beverages or eat 3 pink Mother’s cookies), and each player can do the same to those below them. Interestingly, wikipedia has a great discussion of Presidential Powers.

In P&A, all of the cards are dealt out, and the object of the game is to be the first to get rid of all of your cards. That person becomes the new President. The last player left with cards at the end of the game becomes the new A**hole. A person who is President 3 times in a row gets to make a law, a rule good for the entire evening, and a President 9 times in a row gets to make an über-rule, an edict enforced for all time.

The game starts when the President makes the first lead. A lead can be a card of any suit or rank or it can be 2, 3 or (very rarely) 4 of a kind. The opportunity to play after the lead continues around the table clockwise to the VP on down to the A**hole, and the only play allowed is a higher card (or cards if pairs, trips or quads were lead). If you can’t or don’t want to play on a trick, you pass and the last person to have played a card starts a new trick with a lead of his choosing.

In some versions of the game, a trick “wraps-around” giving people the chance to play multiple times. This source has a comprehensive listing of common variants of the game; however, when we play there is only the initial opportunity. This would be a valid play of pairs:

Pres: 7 7 VP: 10 10 SB: J J AH: Q Q
The AH would then start a new trick, and in the new round the Pres would be the first to play and the SB would be the last

This is also a valid sequence:

Pres: 4 VP: K SB: Pass AH: Pass
The VP (having displayed “crankage”) would have the lead since the players after him passed. In the new round the SB is first to play after the VP's lead and the Pres would be the last to have the chance to play

Invalid play would be putting pairs on top of a single card or vice-versa.

Low cards are dangerous, especially at the end of the game, so the strategy is to try to dump them as early as possible. Winning tricks is the best way to get rid of them, but to win you have to use your ammunition. Deciding when to split Queens is always an interesting call, and like Bridge, card counting is always helpful.

A final twist in our variant: Aces are high and they have magical powers. A single Ace wins any trick at any time. An example with SB leading:

SB: 4 4 4 AH: J J J Pres: Ace, ending the trick before the VP can play.
By playing 3 of a kind he AH has shed 3 cards, but 3 relatively high cards without the opportunity to lead a low card, something likely to hurt him at the end of the game. The Pres could use that Ace at anytime, but he likely took special pleasure in slapping down the AH. The best Presidents are feared and then show occassional kindness to the little people

It is always fun when a novice miscalculates and is left with a single low card. Nothing says, "you're the new AH" faster than that single 2. His only hope is that the player directly ahead of him plays his last card and wins the trick with that play. For example, assume the SB made the rookie mistake and the AH had the lead:

AH: 2 Pres: Q VP: K and out. Since the VP just played his last card (becoming the new President), the SB would get the lead


At 3:26 PM, Blogger lerjia said...

what happens if someone refuses to do as the Decider asks, like eat the 3 mother's cookies?


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