Teamwork, focus, and good judgment are keys to success in Back Alley, a card game for four players. This Back Alley card game rules guide explains how it’s played.
Back Alley is a team-based trick-taking card game suitable for players with a certain level of experience because it’s rather complex and time-consuming.
You may also know it as a Back Alley Bridge or Back Alley Spades since it shares similarities with Bridge, Spades (see Spades card game rules), or even Euchre (Euchre rules).
Key highlights of this Back Alley card game rules guide:
- What is the Back Alley card game
- Back Alley rules
- Back Alley scoring
- Back Alley rules in pictures
- Back Alley card game (Video tutorial)
Learn how to play the Back Alley card game by following the instructions below.
What is the Back Alley Card Game?
In Back Alley, players in two opposing teams place bids on the number of tricks they estimate to win. Next, they try to win as many tricks as possible to earn points.
Number of Players: 4
Length of Play: 45 – 120 minutes
Type of Game: Trick-taking card game
Similar to: Spades, Bridge, Euchre
Main Objective: Cooperate with your teammate to win as many tricks as you bid initially.
Our Take: Experienced players will appreciate Back Alley’s complexity. This game truly allows you to show off your skills.
What You’ll Need to Play Back Alley
To play Back Alley, you’ll need the following:
- Decks: 1
- Number of Cards: 54
- Cards Omitted: None (use all 52 cards + 2 Jokers)
Back Alley Card Game Rules
Divide the players into two competing teams. The teammates sit across from each other.
Cards Set Up
Prepare the entire deck of cards, including the Jokers. Jokers should be visually distinguished as “High” and “Low” – e.g., with an erasable marker or a small sticker.
Appoint a dealer (this role moves clockwise with each round). The dealer shuffles the cards and flips the topmost to reveal the trump suit for the round.
If the card is Joker, the upcoming deal will have no trump suit.
Back Alley is played in 25 deals, also called hands. The number of cards dealt among the players differs in each of them and goes as follows:
- 1st deal: 13 cards each
- 2nd to 13th deal: -1 card each until everyone gets only 1 card
- 14th to 25th deal: +1 card each until everyone gets 13 cards again
Tip: Back Alley can also be played over 26 deals: The players get one card each in two subsequent deals (13th & 14th) before the number of cards ascends back to 13.
How to Play Back Alley
First, each player makes an individual bid on the number of tricks they believe in winning during the upcoming round. The bids are added together for each team.
If a player thinks they can win all the tricks (corresponding to the number of dealt cards), they can call “board” (or “Run the Hand”). Their partner’s bid is then irrelevant.
If more players call “board,” it’s called double, triple, or even quadruple board.
The player who bid on the highest number of tricks starts the round:
- The first player can lead with any card EXCEPT for trump.
Tip: It is wise to lead with the higher cards (see card ranks in the Scoring section below).
- Other players follow with one of their cards. If possible, they must match the leading suit. If they can’t, they play any other card, including trump.
- Once a trump was used for the first time in the round out of necessity, players can also use it as a leading card of the tricks.
- Whoever plays the highest-ranking card wins the trick.
- Trump cards always beat any other cards in the game. If there are more trumps in one trick, the higher-ranking one wins.
- The winner leads a new trick.
Remember that as teammates, you should cooperate rather than compete with each other!
Example: If your partner leads with King and you have Ace of the same suit, save it for another opportunity and play a smaller card instead to help your partner secure the trick.
Let’s reveal the function of Jokers in the game:
- High Joker: Everyone must play their highest trump when someone leads with High Joker.
- Low Joker: When someone leads with Low Joker, all the players must play any trump cards.
Tip: Alternatively, everyone must play their lowest-ranking trump after leading with the Low Joker card.
After each deal, the teams count their scores (see scoring below). After the final deal, the teams calculate their total scores.
Back Alley Card Game Scoring
There are two different card rankings depending on the suit. They go from the highest to the lowest as follows:
- Trump suit (including Jokers): High Joker, Low Joker, Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
- Ordinary suits: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
Remember that a trump card of any ranking beats any ordinary card.
Example: Player 1 plays King of Hearts; Player 2 plays 10 of Hearts; Player 3 plays Jack of Clubs; Player 4 plays 2 of Spades. Spades is a trump suit, so Player 4 wins the trick.
Teams receive points based on the accuracy of their bids:
- Exact match: 5 points per each trick won
- Bid exceeded: 1 point per each exceeding trick
- Fails to match the bid: – 5 points per each trick bid
- Successful ‘board’ bid: 10 points per each trick
- Fail to achieve ‘board: – 10 points per each trick bid
Note: In the case of double, triple, and quadruple boards, the points won or lost are multiplied by the respective number.
The team with the highest total score wins the game.
Back Alley Rules in Pictures
Use all 52 cards plus Jokers. If your Jokers are identical, mark them to distinguish them as ‘High’ and ‘Low’ Joker.
Shuffle the deck and flip its top card over to reveal the trump suit (Clubs, in this case). If you reveal Joker, there’s no trump in this deal.
Players form two teams with partners sitting across from each other. They start with 13 cards each.
Decrease the number of cards by 1 in every new deal until players have 1 card each. Then add cards by 1 until everyone has 13 cards again in the final 25th deal.
After bidding on the tricks players expect to win, they play cards following the leading suit. The highest-ranking card wins the trick (Queen in this case).
You can only lead with trump (Clubs) once someone uses it out of necessity when they cannot follow the leading suit.
Everyone must play their highest trump card when someone leads with High Joker. When someone leads with Low Joker, players must play any trump card.
Each deal ends when the players use up all their cards. Count the tricks you won as a team and compare them to your bids to know your score.
Back Alley Card Game – Video Tutorial
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you play the Back Alley game with two people?
Yes, you can play Back Alley with two players, but with slightly different rules. The variation is known as Individual Back Alley, and there are only 14 deals in the game.
What is ‘breaking trump’ in the Back Alley card game?
Breaking trump refers to when someone plays the first trump of the deal. Once the trump is ‘broken,’ players can use it more freely, including as a leading card.
Can you beat your teammate in Back Alley?
You can theoretically beat your teammate in Back Alley, winning ‘his’ tricks and thus getting closer to your initial bid. But in the end, the score is always counted per team.
Other Similar Games to Back Alley (Our Guides)
If you like Back Alley, check our guides to a few similar card games below:
- Spades card game rules
- Oh Hell card game rules
- Sheepshead rules
- Joker rules
- Pitch card game rules
- Euchre rules
- 99 card game rules
- Bridge game (guide coming soon)