Quitlok

Introduction

Cards known as Quitli or Kvitlech were traditionally used by Central European Jews to avoid religious restrictions on playing with standard cards. Instead they used cards which have no pictures, and are identified only by numbers and in some cases by suit symbols. Several articles about such cards have appeared in The Playing-Card (journal of the International Playing-Card Society), notably those by the late Rudi von Leyden (Vol XI No 4, pp103-106) and by Robert Kissel (Vol XVIII No 3, pp86-100 and Vol XVIII No 4, pp101-116). One type of these cards has continued to be available up to the present day: the Quitli cards by Piatnik (pattern 177), which consist of 24 cards numbered 1 to 12, with two of each card, the twos and elevens being framed.

A very brief outline of a game played with the 24 card Quitli pack was included in von Leyden's article cited above. This page gives a more detailed description of this game, based on a contribution from James Sorhagen, whose grandmother's family moved to the USA from Transylvania during the years 1938 to 1945. They call the game Quitlok and they play it mostly during Hanukkah. It is a form of 21 with a betting mechanism which is somewhat like that of Shoot Pontoon.

The players, the cards and the deal

Quitlok is typically played by at least 5 players, one of whom will be the banker at any time. One pack of 24 Quitli cards is used. On the face of each card is a number - there are two cards of each number from 1 to 12. The two twos and the two elevens have decorative borders - these are the framed cards.

The first banker is chosen by dealing a card to each player (highest banks). When the banker retires or the bank is broken, the turn to bank passes to the right. The banker starts the bank by putting an amount of money onto the table. A minimum is agreed for this - typically $2, but it can be as much as the banker wishes. The banker then deals one card face down to each player. They may look at their cards (and the banker needs to do so if looking for an opportunity to retire - see below) but must not show them to the other players. The first hand with a new bank is played clockwise, the second hand anticlockwise, and so on, alternating direction.

The players' bets

The players other than the banker take turns to ask for cards and place bets. The aim is of course to get a total that is as near as possible to 21 without going over. For this purpose the 12's can count 12 or 9 at the player's choice, and if your first two cards are both framed, your hand counts as 21. Apart from this the cards count face value - in particular the ones always count one (never eleven as in some other forms of 21). When it is your turn your options are as follows:

  • ask for a blot: the dealer gives you one card face up;
  • bet: stake an amount of money to receive a card face down;
  • stay: play with the cards you have.

You can ask for as many cards as you like, provided that your total does not go over 21. As long as you only ask for blots you can neither lose nor win anything, and when you have finished drawing you throw your cards in without showing them. When you bet, you place the money on the table and the banker detaches an equal amount from the bank to match your bet. The total money staked by the players must not be more than what is currently in the bank, but within this limit you can bet any amount you wish. Whenever you place or increase your bet you must at the same time be given another card.

If your total goes over 21 you are bust; you throw in your cards face-down and any money you have bet is added to the bank. If you achieve exactly 21, you "throw it" face-up at the banker and immediately collect your money and the matching amount from the bank. If you choose to stay and you have bet money on your hand, you keep your cards and the turn passes to the next player. There is one special rule that applies during a player's turn. If your cards reach a total of 11 you can call "aluvun" (eleven) which protects you from going bust with the next card. If the next card you are dealt is an 11 you can reject it and take the following card instead. Of course you would not invoke this rule if you had a single (framed) 11, as a second 11 would then give you 21.

If you bet the whole of the remaining money in the bank, you can continue to ask for cards, but cannot bet any more during that turn. If you do not go bust, then at the end of your turn there will be no free money in the bank for the next player to bet against. At this point the dealer must play, to resolve all the outstanding bets before the game can continue.

The dealer's play; settling the bets

Dealer's turn comes after all the other player's have played, or at the end of any player's turn when the players' outstanding bets equal the money in the bank. The dealer already has one card from the deal, and now draws further cards. There is no fixed rule as to when to draw and when to stay - the dealer is free to choose. The dealer's hand may be played exposed or kept concealed until it is time to settle the bets. In either case, when the dealer does not want any more cards, and has a total of 21 or less, the dealer's cards are shown. For those players with bets outstanding, the dealer pays those whose total is greater (nearer to 21) and takes the bets of those whose total is equal (a push) or less. If the dealer goes bust (card total more than 21) the dealer pays all players with outstanding bets.

After the bets have been settled, if there are still people who have not had a turn to play on this hand and there is still money in the bank (the dealer having won at least some of the bets), the dealer takes another card and the next player who has not yet played has their turn. If everyone has played and there is money in the bank, the banker deals a new hand in the opposite direction from the hand that has just ended.

All cards that are thrown in - for example after a player goes bust or makes 21 or after a debt is settled - are collected by the banker and placed face-up on the bottom of the deck. When the last face-down card is reached, that card is not dealt, but is shuffled together with all the face-up cards to make a new stock. Play then continues as before.

Change of bank

The bank can change hands in two ways:

  • The banker retires. After you have completed three hands as banker, from the fourth hand onwards, if the first card you deal to yourself is a seven or a four, you can choose to flip it face-up, take all the money in the bank, and pass on the role of banker to the next player to the right. This can happen at the start of a hand or when taking a new card after settling bets in the middle of a hand, but only immediately after the dealer's card is dealt, and before any more cards are given out or bets placed.
  • The bank is broken ("taken apart"). If at any time there is no money left in the bank after settling all outstanding bets, the current hand ends and the role of banker passes to the right.

Terminology

There are a few more technical terms used in the game.

  • To "loaf" is to forgive part of a player's bet. This is an informal practice - a player who regrets having bet so much can ask the banker to reduce the bet (saying for example: "Loaf for half?" meaning "forgive half the bet?") The banker may agree to this but is under no obligation to do so.
  • "Ink" refers to a large numbered card, as in "I need a lot of ink".
  • To "build a bank" is for the banker to accumulate a large pot of money (as in: "Build me a bank!")

Robert Kissel and I had some discussion of the possible origin of the word "blot" for a single card dealt face-up. Perhaps the most obvious derivation is from the German "Blatt", meaning a card, but Robert proposed a connection with the term "blot" used for a single man in backgammon. The Oxford Dictionary tells us that this usage goes back to the 16th century and suggests that it comes from a Dutch or Scandinavian word meaning exposed or uncovered. If true, this derivation fits the term blot in Quitlok as well.