I know in a four player game the standard terms for the players are:

  • North
  • South
  • East
  • West

Now that I think about it I can just drop South for three handed games:

  • North
  • East
  • West

Five handed games have that pesky extra player so I have:

  • Top
  • Middle Left
  • Middle Right
  • Bottom Left
  • Bottom Right

Those terms work, but they don't have the pizazz of the cardinal directions and feel slightly awkward. What are the usual terms for five handed matches? If there aren't any usual terms, what words can I use that clearly convey the location without sounding awkward?

If it helps the three handed players are positioned like points on an equilateral triangle, and five handed players are positioned like points on a pentagon. Four handed players are positioned like points on a + (plus sign) or diamond.

I've realized that I was ambiguous about the context of the question. What I'm looking for is generic terms used when diagramming play on paper. For an example of what I'm talking about from Bridge:

example of paper description

  • The problem you are going to run into is that with the names for a 5 player game is that they are all relative to where the player is sitting. At least with the terms in a 4 player game they do have some standard relation to the real world, even if the player in the south position may not be sitting on the south side. For a position like Top you have to have a constant defined starting position to mark from unless the positions just change based on conditions like who is the dealer.
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 17:34
  • @JoeW I disagree with that view. Typically N/S/E/W are used when describing game play on paper. A prominent example of that can be found in any newspaper bridge column. When you're actually playing a hand you don't need to have the external reference point so you would just use the players name, and relative position would matter. Even if you are describing the game/hand later you would give yourself an arbitrary position. For example you diagram the hands/play and say "I was playing North...."
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 17:44

5 Answers 5


I don't know of an "usual" way of calling players in that case, but wouldn't a clock analogy do the trick, here?

You could have:

  • 12 o'clock
  • 2 o'clock
  • 5 o'clock
  • 7 o'clock
  • 10 o'clock
  • 1
    +1 If you replace "noon" with "12 o'clock" for consistency this does work better than what I came up with. I'm going to wait a bit before accepting to see if anything better comes along.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 15:04
  • OK I will update my post (English is not my mother tongue and I wasn't sure if it's usual to say 12 o'clock instead of Noon/Midnight)
    – beewee
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 17:05
  • Typically in conversation I would say noon/midnight when discussing time, but 12 o'clock when using a clock for position (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade parodies this). Its a minor thing that didn't stop me from accepting the answer. I want to allow time someone to put forth a different suggestion. I definitely like the clock analogy, and think it fits well.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 17:09
  • Also you shouldn't apologize that English isn't your native language. English is my native language and I make gaffs regularly. Also if your English here is any indication you've mastered English to a greater degree than I've mastered any of the additional languages I've learned. I'm married to a native Spanish speaker, and while I'm very good conversationally I don't think my Spanish could compete with your English. :)
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 17:24

Bouncing on @rainbolt's answer, if spatial position is not important in the game you describe but you fear confusion by using A,B,C,D,E or 1,2,3,4,5, you could maybe also go with the Greek alphabet : alpha, beta, gamma, delta or epsilon (or the symbols if you think people are familiar enough with them)...

An alternative I sometimes use when I need to describe players around a table in a rule or an example are first-names. I then tend to use the first letters of the alphabet as their initials to convey the idea of people in a given order. For instance : Alan, Bridget, Carl, Dan and Ellen.

  • Spatial/relative positioning do play an element in pinochle. There is an order to the play kind of like Hearts. Using names like you suggested would lend itself well to written descriptions of play which is a big bonus.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 19:31

I don't think there are any usual terms. This is not as fancy as cardinal directions, but it is simple:

  • One
  • Two
  • Three
  • Four
  • Five

The beauty of this approach is that, like cardinal directions, as soon as you know one position, you can easily identify the remaining positions. Granted, you have to know whether the numbering is clockwise or counter-clockwise (people generally expect clockwise, the same way that they expect West to be on the left).

I do not see much confusion stemming from numbering the players. Consider the sentence "Two leads with a two." It is easy to identify that the first "two" is a player, while the second "two" is a rank. In the rare situations where additional clarification is required, simply provide the full qualification, "player two", instead of just "two".

  • I thought of this and the analog of "A, B, C, D, E". Neither of these systems give the amount of contextual reference I was hoping for. Granted numbers don't suffer from the "D" position vs "D" suit (diamonds) confusion, but they do suffer from the "2" position vs "2" rank confusion. The rank/position confusion is mitigated in pinochle because 2-5 aren't in the deck, but it isn't as clean as I would like.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:04
  • @Erik I updated the answer since you updated your question, but the general idea remains the same. I also addressed your comment about how rank versus player might caught confusion if they are numbered the same. I don't think it will cause much confusion, but it really depends on your abilities as a writer. Any word used in poor context can be made confusing.
    – Rainbolt
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:34
  • You do have a valid point about the confusion being mitigated with unambiguous writing/tables. Adding the "Player" prefix is completely logical as well.
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:37

Card games often use cardinal seat naming; probably for the intuitive/spatial advantage. When the number of players forces a decision to be made about how to name a seat using cardinal points, I'd like to offer a few principles that I have long considered and now adopted in my Pinochle Notation (viewable @ http://www.powerpinochle.com/forum/PN.php#Seat# )

Cardinal Naming Principles:

  1. North is always used.
  2. Always use the simpler/shorter cardinal name (versus using the mathematically closer cardinal point) when the degrees from North lands between two compass points.

For pinochle, which may include 2 - 8 players, this is what I would recommend:

  • 2 Seats: N, S
  • 3 Seats: N, SE, SW
  • 4 Seats: N, E, S, W
  • 5 Seats: N, E, SE, SW, W
  • 6 Seats: N, NE, SE, S, SW, NW
  • 7 Seats: N, NE, E, SE, SW, W, NW
  • 8 Seats: N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW

The above successfully avoids using "secondary-intercardinal direction" or 3-part compass directions.

That said, from a programmatical standpoint numerical seat naming is best, but for human comprehension there is usually something to gain from referencing compass points.


In chemistry, a five-memeber ring molecule has positions named by distance from a given reference point.

Call this reference North. Positions adjacent to North are called alpha, and positions adjacent to alpha are called beta (hence these words in the name of some drugs). The distinction is further made by North's handedness: alpha-left is the player immediately to North's left, while beta-right is the player two places to their right, and so on.

In a six-member ring, the positions relative to North by increasing distance are ortho, meta, para. That last is the position opposite North, and so it can be dropped from a five-member ring naming system. Similar differentiation is done using left/right again.

If you want to be particularly fancy, you could also use levo- and dextrorotary or L and D, for left/right respectively.

All of these combinations also happen to use unique letters for any given position or direction: A and B or the symbols alpha and beta; L and R or L and D; and O, M, P. It is therefore clear which position is referred to, regardless of whether distance or direction is given first in any shorthand.

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