This is one of a group of South Asian trick-taking games in which the Jack and the Nine are the highest cards in every suit. It is almost certain that they are related to the European family of Jass games, which originated in the Netherlands. Possibly they were brought to the Indian subcontinent from South Africa, by Asians who had been influenced by the Afrikaans game of Klawerjas.
28 (Irupathiyettu) is played in India in the southern province of Kerala. It is closely related to the similar north Indian game 29, and both are probably descended from 304, which is still played in Sri Lanka.
28 is usually played by four players in fixed partnerships, partners facing each other.
32 cards from a standard 52-card pack are used for play. There are eight cards in each of the usual "French" suits: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The cards in every suit rank from high to low: J-9-A-10-K-Q-8-7. The aim of the game is to win tricks containing valuable cards. The values of the cards are:
|Jacks||3 points each|
|Nines||2 points each|
|Aces||1 point each|
|Tens||1 point each|
|Other cards (K, Q, 8, 7)||no points|
This gives a total of 28 points for cards, hence the name of the game.
Deal and play are counter-clockwise; the cards are shuffled by the dealer and cut by the player to dealer's left. Four cards are then dealt to each player, one at a time.
Based on these four cards, players bid for the right to choose trumps. Each bid is a number, and the highest bidder undertakes that his or her side will win in tricks at least the number of points bid. The player to dealer's right speaks first, and must bid at least 14. Subsequent players, in counter-clockwise order, may either bid higher or pass. The auction continues for as many rounds as necessary until three players pass in succession. There is one restriction during the bidding: if you wish to bid over your partner's bid, your left hand opponent having passed, you must bid at least 20.
The final bidder chooses a trump suit on the basis of his or her four cards, and places a card of this suit face down. The card is not shown to the other players, who therefore will not know at first what suit is trumps: it remains face down in front of the bidder until at some point during the play someone calls for the trump suit to be exposed.
The dealer then completes the deal, giving four more cards to each player, so that everyone has eight. After everyone has seen their eight cards, the final bidder or the bidder's partner may increase the bid if they wish, but if they do so the new bid must be at least 24.
The play can be divided into two phases: before and after the bidder's face down trump card is exposed.
The player to the dealer's right leads to the first trick; players must follow suit if possible, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick, and the winner of each trick leads to the next. During this first phase it is illegal for the bidder to lead a card of the trump suit, unless he or she has no cards of other suits. If you have no card of the suit led you have two options:
During the first phase, the face down trump is not considered as belonging to the bidder's hand. If the bidder holds no card of the suit that was led, the bidder has essentially the same options as the other players: to discard any card without declaring trumps, or to expose the face down trump card and play a trump to the trick (not necessarily the one that was face down).
During the first phase, cards of the (concealed) trump suit have no special effect: each trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, even if it also contains cards of the suit that is subsequently revealed as trumps.
Beginning with the trick in which the trump card is exposed, each trick is won by the highest trump in it. Tricks that contain no trumps are won by the highest card of the suit led. Players must follow suit if possible: if unable to follow, they may play a trump or discard a card of another suit, as they like. As before, the winner of each trick leads to the next. The bidder is now free to lead any suit, including trumps.
When all eight tricks have been played, each side counts the card points in the tricks it has won. The bidding team needs at least as many card points as the bid to win; otherwise they lose.
The cumulative scores of the two teams are recorded on a piece of paper. The number of game points scored depends on the bid, not on the exact number of points taken in tricks.
Bids from 20 to 24 are known as 'Honours'.
Some play a variation called 'Cot': if the winning team wins all the tricks they score twice the usual number of game points. To prevent this, their opponents can offer to surrender before the end of the play. If the winning side accepts the surrender, play ends and they just score the single amount for the bid; if the winning side insists on playing on and wins all the tricks, they win a double game, but if they lose any tricks at all, they lose a double game.
John Hanson reports a different form of Cot: in this version it is bid after only four cards each have been dealt. The remaining cards are not dealt and the Cot bidder has to win all four tricks. The cards of the Cot bidder's partner are placed face up on the table. I am not sure how this form of Cot is scored.
Some play that the bidder can announce "Thani" (or "Adi") after all eight cards have been dealt. This is an undertaking that the bidder win every trick alone without help from partner. The bidder leads to the first trick. If the bidder wins every trick, the bidder's team scores 4 points; if not they lose 5 points. (Presumably the Thani is lost if the bidder's partner wins a trick.)
John Hanson reports a version in which "Thani" can be announced before the seventh trick by a player who has won the first six tricks. I am not sure how this form of Thani is scored.
It is possible for three players to play 28. In this case the Sevens and Eights are removed from the pack, leaving 24 cards. The compulsory minimum bid for the first player is 12, and the highest bidder plays alone against the other two in temporary partnership.
28 can also be played by six players, using a pack expanded to 36 cards by adding the sixes, which are the lowest cards of the suits, and like other low cards have no point value. The game is played between three teams of two, partners sitting opposite, and all the cards are dealt out, three at a time, before the bidding. The minimum bid is 12. The team that bids highest plays against the other four players as opponents.
56 is a more sophisticated variant of 28, also played in Kerala, using a double pack.
Here is an archive copy of Raj Nair's 28 page.
From GamesOnlineCorner you can download the Windows program Playsoft, which allows you to play 56 or 28 (or chess) online against live opponents.