Bid Whist has been the card game of choice of iconic, transformational figures like Justice Thurgood Marshall, Magic Johnson, and President Barack Obama, as well as myriad other strivers and achievers. It is one of the world’s most swift, complex and fun card games, and it is poised to become America’s Next Great Card Game. Bid Whist has been a cultural touchstone in African-American communities for generations.
During the early part of the twentieth century, this complex brew of a game was originated and passionately embraced by Black Americans, especially by military men and members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The Pullman Porters not only helped popularize the game throughout the country, but also contributed the game’s geography-related phrases from their train journeys. Now, terms like “uptown,” “downtown” and “Boston”—which in Bid Whist parlance means winning all the tricks in a given hand—are integral to the game.
Spirited Bid Whist games have animated not only the everyday gatherings of friendly card competitors, but also family reunions, fight parties, class reunions, fraternity galas and the conventions of major organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Black Congressional Caucus and the National Association of Black Journalists.
Stories of individuals who “almost flunked out of college” because of time spent playing Bid Whist rather than attending or studying for class are part of the game’s lore.
But Bid Whist’s popularity has declined in recent decades. Now, younger people regard the game as a Civil Rights-era relic enjoyed only by older people. This decline is at least partially attributable to the fact that much of Bid Whist has been shrouded in mystery.
Bid Whist players often—perhaps inadvertently—make the capacity to play seem unexplainable and almost mystical. Instead of cogent explanations, a beginner’s questions about scoring and other fundamental aspects of the game are often met with a dizzying cacophony of rules, examples, tips, nuances, exceptions and tangentially-related anecdotes—all of which, taken together, obscure more than they illuminate.
There is no reason why Bid Whist—even for a beginner—should be a punishing or confusing experience. The defining characteristic of the best bid whist gatherings is fun.