Biritch, or Russian Whist

This page gives a transcription of the booklet "Biritch, or Russian Whist" by John Collinson, which is the earliest known document describing a form of bridge. This is the game that the plain word "bridge" originally referred to, before the development of auction bridge and then today's contract bridge. Modern writers usually call it "straight bridge" or "bridge-whist".

Three surviving copies of "Biritch, or Russian Whist" are known, all in the United Kingdom. One is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, one in the Cambridge University Library and one in the Public Record Office, London. A fourth copy, which was in the British Museum Library, was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940 or 1941.

A detailed analysis of the history of this document, the career of its author and its implications for the origins of Bridge in the Russian colony at Constantinople can be found in an article by Thierry Depaulis and Jac Fuchs, "First Steps of Bridge in the West: Collinson's 'Biritch'", The Playing-Card, Vol. 32, no. 2, Sep.-Oct. 2003, pp. 67-76. According to this article, John Collinson (1842-1922) trained as an engineer and in the early 1880's was involved as a consultant in planning and building the Mersina, Tarsus and Adana railway in Turkey. In a letter to The Saturday Review dated 28 May 1906, Collinson wrote: "Between 1880-4 I spent a considerable time in Constantinople and Asia Minor, where I played what was then called 'Biritch or Russian Whist'. I was then living, while in England, at Cromwell Road and introduced the game to many of my English friends, who liked it so much that they asked me to have the rules printed. ... 'Biritch' was attributed to the Russian colony at Constantinople; in my time the dominating social and political element." According to the registration at the Stationers' Hall (whose documents are now kept at the Public Record Office) the booklet containing the promised rules was published on 9th July 1886.

The transcription below, made by Mark Brader, is from the copy in the Bodleian Library. The document does not have any of the physical forms that we would expect today. It is actually a miniature bound book, containing 56 pages (28 sheets) of paper about 3 by 5 inches between fairly hard covers. The covers are plain brown with no writing visible; the spine is covered with the library's tape (on which they have written the title, a catalog number, and the date 1886). No author's name is given, and of the 56 pages, only 4 have anything printed on them -- the first 2 and the last 50 are blank.

Spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and italics are reproduced verbatim. Headings in the original are centered, and below the main title in the original is a decorative line of Maltese crosses. Some tables are reproduced as monospaced text in order to protect the alignment. Ditto marks in the tables in the original take a form resembling a double comma, or a closing double quote moved down to the baseline, and hence are shown as double commas here.


BIRITCH, OR RUSSIAN WHIST.

+ + + + + + + + +

VALUE OF THE CARDS

The value of the cards is the same as at short whist.

Tricks are taken in the same manner, and the odd tricks, over and above six, are counted as at short whist.

METHOD OF PLAYING.

There are four players as at short whist, the cutting for partners, shuffling and dealing is the same, except that no card is turned up for trumps.

The dealer, after the cards have been looked at, has the option of declaring the suit he elects for trumps, or of saying "pass," in which latter case his partner must declare a suit for trumps.

In either case of the dealer or his partner declaring, the one declaring may, instead of declaring trumps, say "biritch," which means that the hands shall be played without trumps.

After the declaration of trumps, or "biritch," either of the adversaries may say "contre," in which case the value of all tricks taken is doubled, the dealer or his partner may however thereupon say "sur contre," in which latter case the value of all the tricks taken is quadrupled, and so on ad infinitum the doubling of the last established value may go on until one side ceases to call a "sur" to the previous "sur contreing."

When the declaration has been made, and the "contreing" and "sur contreing" (if any) have ceased, the person to the left of the dealer leads a card.

Then the partner of the dealer exposes all his cards, on the table, which are played by the dealer as at Dummy Whist.

No suggestions as to play may be made by the one standing out (Dummy) to the dealer.

A revoke counts the same as at Short Whist, but the exposed hand cannot revoke.

A misdeal does not change the deal, but in such cases the cards must be re-shuffled, re-cut, and re-dealt.

After each rubber there is a fresh cut for partners.

GAMES AND RUBBERS.

A game is won by the first side which scores in play 30 points. The honours do not score towards the game.

The Rubber consists, as at Short Whist, of two games out of three.

SCORING.

The odd tricks count as follows:--

      If "Biritch" is declared    .    .    .    . each 10 points.
      ,, "Hearts" are made trumps    .    .    ,,    8    ,,
      ,, "Diamonds"     ,,       ,,    .    .    ,,    6    ,,
      ,, "Clubs"            ,,       ,,    .    .    ,,    4    ,,
      ,, "Spades"          ,,       ,,    .    .    ,,    2    ,,

If all the tricks are taken by one side they add 40 extra points. This is called "Grand Slamm."

If all the tricks but one are taken by one side they add 20 extra points. This is called "Petit Slamm."

The winners of each rubber add 40 points to their score. This is called "Consolation."

There are four honours if "Biritch" is declared, which are the four aces.

Equality in aces counts nothing.

             3 aces  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  = 3 tricks.
             4  ,,      .  .  .  .  .  .  = 4   ,,
             4  ,,  in one hand  .  .  .  = 8   ,,

There are five honours, viz:--Ace, King, Queen, Knave and Ten, if trumps are declared.

             Simple honours (3)  .  .  = 2 tricks.
             4        ,,      .  .  .  = 4   ,,
             4        ,, (in one hand) = 8   ,,
             5        ,,   .  .  .  .  = 1 trick
                 additional to the score for four honours.

The honour points are of equal value to the other points, except that they do not affect the games or rubbers, and are not doubled by a "contre."

If one hand has no trumps (trumps having been declared) his side, in the case of it scoring honours, adds the value of simple honours to its honour score, or, in the case of the other side scoring honours, the value of simple honours is deducted from the latter's score. This is called "Chicane."


The original document and this transcription are in the public domain. Another copy of this transcription is available on Wikisource.