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3-5-8, also known as Sergeant Major for its popularity among members of Britain's Royal Air Force, is a trick taking card game for 3 players, using a standard 52 card deck. 3-5-8 may be played as a gambling game, or not, and there are many variations with names like "8-5-3" and "9-5-2" played throughout the world. The version "9-5-3 variation with no kitty" was played in the Royal Navy over fifty years ago, when fellow crew would sit around to continue their game from the previous night.


3 players use a 52-card deck. The object is to win as many tricks as possible, ultimately 12 in a single deal to win the game. When a player wins 12 or more tricks in one hand, he or she wins the game.

First deal and exchange

Draw cards to determine the first dealer and deal 16 cards to each player, the 4 remaining cards are placed on the table to form a kitty. Dealer names a suit as trump and discards 4 cards from his or her hand before replacing them with the kitty. Some groups allow the dealer to pick up the kitty and add it to his or her hand before discarding any 4 cards of the 20 he or she now has.


Eldest hand leads any card to the first trick and play moves clockwise with each player following suit, or playing any card if unable to follow suit. Each trick is won by the highest trump, or by the highest card of the suit led if no trump card was played to the trick. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

Targets and scoring

Each player has a minimum number of tricks called a target. Targets are determined by each player's seat for that hand as follows:

After all 16 tricks have been played, scores and targets are compared and players who won more tricks than their target are UP by the number of excess tricks, while players who fell short of their target are DOWN by a number of tricks. If players are gambling, up players receive one stake per excess trick won, paid by down player who will have lost by the same number of tricks.

Subsequent deals and exchanges

Deal and targets are passed to the left and the new dealer deals the cards out as before, only now there is an exchange of cards before dealer names trump:

Play and scoring continues as above. As the game proceeds, a players target moves up, i.e., 3, 5 then 8 and back to three and so on.


Optional 5-3-8 rules

Any of the following rules may be incorporated in a normal game of 5-3-8:

Optional Woburn rules

Two optional rules were created to try to balance the game. These rules were used at Woburn Collegiate Institute in the early 90s.

Sergeant Major alternate

Played as previous with 3-5-8 hands and a 4 card pot but with the exception that no cards are swapped should a player be down a set at the end of each round. Instead a running total is kept, so if you are on a 3 hand and win 6 sets then you have scored +3, if you are on a 5 hand and get 4 then you have scored -1.

Anything over your minimum is a plus score and everything under your minimum is a minus score; 1 point per set. However, there is an additional change in that you can only make one call of each type. The calls that the 8 hand can make are Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades, No Trumps (NT) and Miz.

No Trumps, like the name suggests, the highest card wins providing it follows suite as the first card laid. So if 5 of Hearts is laid first followed by King of Clubs and then 10 of Hearts, the 10 of Hearts wins.

In a Miz call, the aim is to lose all your hands in this round and the amount you must win is now the maximum you can win without losing points.

Changes to positions for a Miz:

If a player wins under their maximum then this is a plus score and if they win over it is a minus score; 1 point per set. So, their allowed to win 3 sets and they actually win 5 then the scores is -2, if they wins 1 set in the same position then the scores is +2. The 5 hand is allowed to win 5 hands maximum, so if they have won 4 then they have a scored of +1.

The game is played until all three parties have played all five calls that can be made.


6-3-8 is a good game for 3 people whose deck is one card short. It is played the same as 5-3-8 except for the following:


A Canadian variant whose rules are the same as in 5-3-8 except for the following:

9-5-2 Variation

This variation of a variation plays 9-5-2 with the following changes:

  1. Dealer picks up the four kitty cards and then discards four
  2. Players with positive scores on the previous hand pass cards
  3. Dealer names trump
  4. Players with negative scores pass back their highest cards in the suits they were given

3-5-9 University High School

This variation was played in the 70s and 80s at University High School in Urbana, Ill.

9-5-3 variation using single card kitty

Play is as before with each aiming for 9, 5 and 3 respectively, except:

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