As the game of Hearts evolved, many modifications were added. The mandatory Deuce of Clubs opening lead, and the passing of three cards, are two adaptations which became standard. Other options such as the use of Jokers, or having another "penalty" card (the Queen of Hearts counting as 13 additional points) soon found the scrap heap! The Jack of Diamonds feature ("Omnibus") was introduced more than 70 years ago, and now has a very loyal following.
Playing with the Jack adds a lot of "zip" to the game! The reward for capturing "His Nibs" is a ten-point deduction from your score for that hand. Thus, the Diamond suit becomes very significant, and another level of strategy is added. The typical omnibus game will take additional time to complete; this can be offset by agreeing on a 50 or 75 point limit. The play of the hand is certainly altered when this variation is played.
The four ways to win the Jack are:
You are on lead. If the Spade Queen was still around, you might be looking at 13 points; however, she is long gone, and the time for grabbing a bonus of ten points has arrived. You cash your Ace of Clubs, and exit with the Heart deuce. Previous plays and counting have determined the situation. Your opponent desperately tries to drop your Jack of Diamonds by taking the A-K-Q, and catches nothing but low Diamonds. Now he is forced to lead his low Diamond and you take the prize and an instant ten-point deduction!
DROPPING THE JACK
This layout is similar, but significantly different than the first example. The Diamond Jack has one less guard, and the big cards are still out there. You (on lead) cash the top Clubs, hoping for a favorable discard. Your opponent tosses his Heart Ace on the second Club (the Deuce of Diamonds also works, but why not save a few points?) Now you play the last Heart (a winner here), and your opponent tosses his low Diamond. Finally, you are forced to concede the Jack to the top Diamonds, and it is dropped in three easy rounds.
DIAMOND JACK LED UP TO
In this scenario, the Spade Queen has already made her royal appearance, and the Hearts have been split and exhausted. One round of Diamonds was previously played and everyone followed as North played a singleton King. We are down to the last few tricks. West is on lead, and plays his Deuce. North, whose hand is immaterial, dumps any Club, and East pauses for thought. He does not want to part with his Ace, and hopes that West has underled the Jack. Thus, he plays low, as well, and Christmas arrives early in the South household! This is an example of winning a free Jack. Often this occurs because someone is greedy. It is usually correct to play third hand high in this situation, especially if you have the chance to win the Jack in another side suit. As the cards lie, East is shafted either way -- and South comes out smelling like a rose.
If East does rise with the Ace, West will benefit, as South must duck. The next Diamond from East "skewers" South, as his Jack will fall to the Queen -- an "X-Ray" attack of sorts. West simply sits there with his Queen, and waits for South to play the Jack now -- or play it on the next trick. Sometimes, it is good strategy (if possible) to force the player who has taken the Spade Queen on a previous trick, to win the Diamond Jack -- rather than have it go to the person with the low score.
In a previous column, we discussed the most difficult way to win the Jack. In summary, if the Spade Queen has been played, and Hearts have been split, and the Diamond Jack is still "kicking around," there will be a very intense effort to win "his Nibs." The above three examples demonstrated the standard techniques. Let us look at another example. You have this holding toward the end of a hand:
A 10 6
We are down to the last four cards. The Diamond Jack has not been played. You have taken 2 points in the hand, and your clubs are winners. There are three Hearts remaining. Finally, you are on lead. Life is easy! You cash your remaining four cards, and "squeeze" the Jack from the unfortunate opponent who has this card in his hand. Yes, you will soak in four more points, and will net a profit of four points (after deducting the six Hearts you won). However, minus four from your score sounds pretty darn good, and you ensure that one of your opponents does not get the ten-point Bonus!
The Jack of Diamonds variation is a wonderful change of pace from the standard game, and a real challenge. Try it -- you will like it!