The Basic Rules
As stated before, the object is to win tricks and, therefore, the points associated with the cards you won. The game may be played with 3, 4, or 5 players (referred to as "3 handed", "4 handed", or "5 handed"). Five handed may also be played with 6 players with the dealer sitting out (which rotates clockwise for the next game). If you happen to have 7 players at the table, the dealer and the person to their right sit out and the next game the dealer shifts two positions clockwise.
The dealer shuffles the cards and then offers them to be cut by the player to his/her right. The cards are dealt out clockwise to each player (never fewer than two at a time ... see the table below). At some point before the cards are all dealt out, 2 cards from the deck (4 cards in 4 handed play) are put (face down) in the center of the table and referred to as the blind. Note: To help avoid having any player see which cards are in the blind, it is customary never to deal the last cards of the deck into the blind.
The usual deal is:
3 Handed 10 cards each dealt 3 - 4 - 3 2 in the blind
4 Handed 7 cards each dealt 2 - 3 - 2 4 in the blind*
5 Handed 6 cards each dealt 2-2-2 or 3-3 2 in the blind
*Note: In 4 handed play, the 4 blind cards are never dealt out all at once. Rather, the deal is staggered so that there are only 2 cards placed in the blind at a time.
After the deal has been completed, each player, starting with the person to the dealer's left, is given the option of picking the blind. If you do feel your hand is not strong enough (not so many Trump), you declare "pass" (or you can rap your knuckles on the table to signify a "pass") and the option moves to the player to the left. If you have a powerful hand (lots of Trump and/or some very high Trump), you pick up the blind and are known as the picker. To win the game, the picker must accumulate at least 61 points.
If someone picks the blind, that person then analyzes his/her hand and buries the same number of cards that were in the blind. That is, he/she places those cards face down in front of him/her. The points associated with the cards buried count toward the picker's total at the end of the game ... unless he/she fails to take a trick. In 5 handed play, the picker then usually calls a partner to improve the chances of winning. This procedure is covered in detail later.
Once the picker buries (and, in 5 handed play, declares a partner or declares that they are "playing alone"), play starts with the person to the dealer's left. A card is lead (i.e. placed face up in the center of the table), usually a Trump if the person is the picker or the partner, and usually a Fail card if the person on the lead is not the picker or the partner. Then, each player, in turn (clockwise), plays a card, face up, in the center of the table.
YOU MUST FOLLOW SUIT!
Each player is obligated to follow suit. That is, if a Trump has been led, each player MUST play a Trump card if he/she has one in his/her hand. If a Fail suit has been led (say a card from the Fail Hearts suit), each player MUST play a card from that Fail suit, if possible.
Note: If a card from a Fail suit is led and it does not get trumped (see below), the person with the highest power card in the Fail suit which was led wins (takes) the trick and the suit is said to have walked.
What if you cannot "follow suit"?
If Trump has been led and you have none, you must play a Fail card and, therefore, your card will have no chance of winning (taking) the trick. This may, however, give you an opportunity to give points to your team if you know (or feel sure) that your team will win (take) the trick. Adding points to a trick is called schmearing.
If a Fail suit has been led, and you have no card from that Fail suit, you may do one of two things:
Play a Trump card (we say the Fail suit has been trumped). Any Trump is more powerful than any Fail, so you will win (take) the trick (unless someone else plays a higher Trump card!) .... OR
Play a Fail card of a different fail suit (we call this failing off). If you fail off, you have no chance of taking the trick, but it may give you the opportunity to schmear (add points to the trick) or clear your hand of a fail suit (in which case, if that fail suit is led later in the game, you could then trump it).
The person taking the trick collects all the cards of the trick, and places them face down in front of him/her. That person also earns the lead for the next trick.