How to Play Loo – A Pirate’s Game
Welcome to the fascinating world of Loo, a classic card game that combines strategy, skill, and a bit of luck. You’ll need a deck of cards and some poker chips or other tokens before you start. A traditional trick-taking game, Loo can be a good introduction to this form of card play, and is easy for all ages to master.
In this guide we’ll describe the 3-card version of Loo but at its end we’ll include links to resources that outline other variants. I did find it interesting that Loo is sometimes a choice in Dealer’s Choice poker games. And if you read our earlier articles What Card Games did Pirates Play you’ll know that Loo is thought to be a game played on pirate ships during the Golden Age!
So, gather your deck and get ready to delve into the engaging gameplay of Loo!
In the game of Loo, particularly the 3-card variant, the ideal number of players typically ranges from 5 to 8. However, the game can be played with as few as 3 players and up to about 10 players.
To play Loo, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck, similar to those used in most card games. Additionally, a set of chips or tokens for betting is essential. These tokens represent the stakes of the game and are used to form the pot that players vie to win. It’s important to have enough chips for all players to participate in several rounds of betting. A table or flat surface for playing is also a good idea.
The objective of Loo is to win tricks by playing higher cards than your opponents. There are only three cards in each deal, so the perfect hand wins all three tricks – and the pot but more on that in a bit.
The dealer shuffles the deck and deals three cards to each player, one at a time.
The top card of the deci is then turned up to determine the trump suit, which beats all other suits in tricks.
Playing a card:
The player to the dealer’s left leads the first card. Players have the option to play a card or fold. If you choose to play, you must follow suit if you can. If you can’t follow suit, you may play any card, including a trump.
Know when to Fold ’em:
The option to play a card or fold in the game of Loo applies to each card played during a hand, not just the first card. Here’s how it works for each trick within a hand:
- First Trick: The player to the dealer’s left leads the first card. Each subsequent player, in turn, decides whether to play a card or fold. If playing, they must follow suit if able; if unable, they can play any card, including a trump.
- Subsequent Tricks: For the second and third tricks, the winner of the previous trick leads. Again, each player in turn decides whether to play a card or fold, following the same rules regarding suit and trumps.
This decision-making process at each trick allows players to continuously evaluate their position based on the unfolding game. It’s important to note that once a player folds in a particular round, they are out for the remainder of that round and cannot play in subsequent tricks until the next deal.
And oddly, in a twist unique to Loo, if a player chooses to fold during a particular trick, such as the third trick, they retain any tricks they have won in that round up to that point. Here’s how this works in the context of the game:
- Winning Previous Tricks: If a player has already won one or two tricks in the current hand before the third trick, these victories are secured. Folding later does not negate these earlier successes.
- Folding in a Later Trick: If a player decides to fold during the third trick, this decision only affects their participation in that specific trick. They choose not to contest the third trick, but their earlier winnings remain unaffected.
- Impact on Game Outcome: The tricks won earlier can still contribute to the player’s success in that round, depending on the game’s rules for winning the pot. For example, if a player won one trick and folded in the third, they are safe from being ‘looed’ (penalized for not winning any tricks).
The highest card of the led suit wins the trick unless a trump card is played. The highest trump card wins over any other suit.
If a player wins all three tricks, they win the entire pot. If no one wins all three, those who win at least one trick are safe, while those who win none pay a penalty, contributing to the next pot.
A New Deal:
The deal passes to the left, and a new round begins. The game continues until players decide to stop.
In Loo, understanding the value of your hand and the strategic use of trumps is key to success. As you play more, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of when to play your cards and when to fold. When that trump card is turned over, you’ll be able to assess the value of your hand easily. And then, as the play moves around the table, you’ll be able to reassess and even choose to fold if you think it’s best.
As with other trick-taking games (bridge being the best in the world by the way) a trump card will win over all other cards except a higher trump. You do not have to play a trump on a trick, but you can if you are not able to follow suit. The play of a trump card is guided by the following rules:
- Following Suit: If a player can follow the suit of the card led (the first card played in a trick), they must do so.
- Playing Trumps: If a player cannot follow suit (i.e., they do not have a card of the same suit as the card led), they may play a trump card or any other card from their hand.
- Winning Tricks with Trumps: A trump card beats any card of a non-trump suit. Therefore, if a trump card is played in a trick, the highest trump card played in that trick wins, regardless of the order in which it was played.
In summary, there’s no requirement in Loo for the first or second card to be a trump. The decision to play a trump card hinges on whether the player can follow suit and their strategic considerations for winning the trick.
Make your bet!
The betting in Loo adds an exciting dimension to the game, blending chance with strategy. Here’s how it works:
- The Ante: Before the cards are dealt, each player places an initial bet, known as the ‘ante,’ into the pot. This ensures that there’s always something to play for in each round. As players, you can decide as a group what the minimum ante will be.
- Deciding to Play or Fold: After receiving and assessing their cards, players decide whether to continue in the round or fold. Folding means you’re out for that round, but it also means you avoid the risk of losing more than your bet. You won’t be able to recover your bet however, it stays in the pot!
- Raising the Stakes: Players who choose to stay in the game can ‘raise’ the bet, increasing the stakes. Others must either match this new bet (known as ‘calling’) or fold. Once all players have received their cards, they assess their hands to determine their likelihood of success in the round. The first opportunity to raise the stakes usually begins with the player sitting to the left of the dealer. This player can choose to raise the bet, call (match the current bet), or fold and then the next player gets that option. In some variants of Loo, there may be additional rounds of betting, allowing for further raises and calls. However, the most common format involves a single round of betting before play to the first round begins.
- Winning the Pot: The pot is won by the player who successfully wins all three tricks or, if no one accomplishes this, by those who win at least one trick in variants where the pot is split. How the pot will be split is up for negotiation. It could be divided equally between all who won at least 1 trick.
- Penalties for Losing: Players who don’t win any tricks (known as being ‘looed’) must pay a penalty, typically an amount equal to the original pot’s ante, which goes into the pot for the next round. So an example might be, if one white chip is required from each player as the ante, then the person Looed pays 3 white chips to the pot before the start of the next round.
Some Tips & Strategies
As you play a few rounds, you’ll notice that mastering Loo involves more than just understanding the rules; it’s about developing strategies and honing your skills – as with all games! Easy to learn, challenging to master. Here are some tips to improve your game:
- Evaluate Your Hand Carefully: The decision to play or fold should be based on the strength of your hand. High cards and trumps are valuable, but also consider the suit distribution and potential combinations.
- Remember the Trump Suit: Keep track of which suit is trump and how many trump cards have been played. This knowledge can guide your decisions on when to play your trumps. Remember there are only 13 cards in each suit, so if after two rounds you’ve seen 8 or 9 trumps, you know there’s not many left to be played.
- Balancing Risk and Reward: If you have a strong hand, consider playing aggressively to win all three tricks. However, if your hand is weak, it might be wiser to fold early and save your chips for a better round.
- Bluffing and Deception: Like in many card games, bluffing can be an effective strategy in Loo. A well-timed bluff can convince opponents to fold, even if you have a weak hand. In games where you are able to bet before each round, this will work better than in games with just one betting round.
- Reading Your Opponents: Pay attention to how your opponents play. Over time, you’ll start to recognize their patterns and strategies, which can give you an edge.
- Adapting to the Game Flow: Each round of Loo can unfold differently. Adapt your strategy based on the flow of the game, the actions of your opponents, and the size of the pot.
- Practice Makes Perfect: The more you play, the better you’ll understand the nuances of the game. Regular practice will help you develop an instinct for when to play, fold, or bluff.
By applying these strategies and tips, you’ll enhance your Loo playing experience. Remember, each game is an opportunity to learn and improve!
There are many varieties of Loo, differences in play to each trick, betting differences, and dealing differences. Who knew such a simple game could lead to such variety! Here are a couple of good resources:
PAGAT – this is an amazing website for card games and card lovers. They have a great page on Loo that includes variations and resources.
Historic Card Games by David Parlett – Loo A Mild or Bitter Game of Scant Reknown