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how to play Rook Wanamingo style

A kaddish for all my Norwegian-Minnesotan relatives who played the most cutthroat game of Rook you can imagine.

In my kaddish for my Grampa Vang, I referred to a tricks-and-trump card game called Rook. Here, for the benefit of those who have never played Rook, or who have tried to play Rook by the stupid rules that come printed with the deck of Rook cards, are the rules for playing Rook the way my relatives played it in Wanamingo, Minnesota:

The deck

Rook is played with a special deck of cards in four colors (instead of suits) and numbers up to 14 (instead of A, 2, 3, …, 10, J, Q, K). There is also a special Rook card with a scary-looking bird on it, and this is of no use whatsoever in the Wanamingo version of the game; leave it in the box.

My understanding is that one reason for Rook’s popularity among pious Norwegian-Minnesotans was that since it uses kids’ cards instead of a regular deck of cards, it’s not sinful.

[amazon_image id=”B001VIWAO4″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Rook[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id=”B001VIWAO4″ target=”_blank” ]You can order a Rook deck from Amazon.[/amazon_link] Ignore the rules that come in the box—that’s some other game, and it doesn’t look fun at all.

Bidding and play

  • Remove the Rook card and any other bogus “joker” cards that might have come in your deck
  • Deal four cards to the kitty and all the rest of the cards to the four players
  • First player after dealer (clockwise) opens bidding
  • Grumpy Minnesotans say that any bid under 75 is too wimpy and should not be spoken aloud
  • Bidding continues until all other players have passed (Except Dad thinks everyone just gets a single bid. This point needs confirmation.)
  • Highest bidder takes the four cards in the kitty and discards four cards
    • These are set aside for the rest of the hand
    • You can’t discard any point cards (14s, 10s, or 5s)
  • Highest bidder declares the “trump” suit
  • Player after highest bidder opens the first trick
    • First player “leads” a card (preferably an “invite” suggesting what his/her strongest suit is to his/her partner)
    • The other three players must play a card in the same suit
    • If you don’t have a card in that suit, you may play a card from another suit
    • If you play trump, it automatically ranks higher than any other card played, except if someone else plays a higher trump card
    • Whoever plays the highest card takes the trick and sets it aside
  • Whoever won the previous trick leads the next trick
  • Play continues until all cards are played


After all cards have been played, add up the score for the team that won the bid.

  • The “book” of six tricks is worth 20 points
  • Each 14 taken in a trick is worth 10 points
  • Each 10 taken in a trick is worth 10 points
  • Each 5 taken in a trick is worth 5 points
  • The whole deck is worth 120 points
  • If the bidding team doesn’t make their bid (e.g. bid 75 but only scored 65), they lose the value of the big (e.g. -75) and their opponents get whatever points they earned (e.g. 55)
  • Game is 500
  • After the game is over, everybody gets rearranged into new teams at different card tables


These rules are recorded in amused memory of all those Norwegian relatives in Minnesota who played the most cut-throat version of Rook you can imagine according to the rules above—unless Dad and I remembered something wrong, in which case errata and addenda are very welcome!

I particularly recall raucous nights of Rook-playing after interminable dinners at Reuben and Irma’s house, with Lydia and Grampa, perhaps my uncle Carl, and all those other relatives whose names I can’t even remember.

I’ll never forget the night Irma was going on and on complaining about how she and Lydia had been driving with the windows open and a fly flew into Irma’s mouth. Finally Lydia had had enough—after hearing Irma complain one more time, she called across the room, “Well, Irma! You’re lucky it wasn’t a bird!”

I laughed harder than I think I’d ever laughed before. A few years later, Grampa (widowed since the early 1970s) married Lydia, and I was glad, because it meant that just about the funniest woman in Minnesota was now in our family.

A kaddish for all of them.

By erin

Erin Vang, PMP, BMus, MMus, is Owner and Principal Pragmatist of the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering custom JMP scripting, localization program management, and facilitative leadership services. She is also an orchestral horn player who freelances in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays assorted brass for the celebrated dance bands Midnight Smørgåsbord and contraPtion. More about Erin…

4 replies on “how to play Rook Wanamingo style”

Comments on Facebook:

Kristen Sonneborn My parents were big Rook players, and played with my grandfather (Nels) and great-uncle (Rasmus “Ras”) in our basement. I still have their Rook cards, now antique I’m sure. I haven’t played enough to know if we Danes play it differently than the Norwegians, but I’ll ask my dad.

Erin Vang Please do! Let me know if you see any differences in the rules.

Lauri Trewet Vance This is a walk down memory lane for me. I used to play Rook when I stayed with my Grandparents in the summertime. Too much fun. Thanks for posting this!

Erin Vang Lauri, do you remember when we were all in Cary for JMP meetings that got canceled by a snow day? Katrina Hauser and I went to Target to buy some games to play at the hotel, and that’s when I bought my own Rook deck. I tried to teach a few people how to play that night, but the directions in the box bore no resemblance to the game I’d played as a kid, and I couldn’t quite remember the rules of that game, so we gave up and played one of the other games we’d gotten.

In February, my friend Noel and I visited my folks in Montana, and I made everybody play a few hands of Rook just so I could pick Dad’s brain about the rules and remember how it goes. The rules above are what we could come up with.

wait, which one is the rook? I have a series of numbered cards and ones with A J K and Q. Yes I am serious. Is one of them a rook?

There’s a special Rook deck, Erik! It has cards that come in four colors instead of suits, with numbers up to 14 instead of the usual A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K. The deck also has a lone “Rook” card with a scary looking bird on it (a crow, perhaps?) that is not used in the Wanamingo game.

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