Vira

The original version of this page was compiled by Anthony Smith from various sources, including demonstration games at the IPCS conferences in Stockholm in 1993 and Leinfelden in 1990. It was revised in 1999 by Anthony Smith and John McLeod, making use of extra information and material contributed by Sten Helmfrid of the Stockhom Vira Society (Stockholms Wirasällskap).

Introduction

Vira, often spelled Wira, is a Swedish three-handed plain trick game using an ordinary 52-card pack. Each player is dealt 13 cards and the undealt stock of 13 cards can be used by the players to improve their hands. Bidding determines who plays alone against the other two. There is a large range of contracts, involving various ways of using the stock and various possible objectives for the lone player, the aim being either to take at least a certain number of tricks or to lose all the tricks. Contracts to lose every trick are called misär contracts, from the French misère (misery).

If there are four players at the table, then the player to the dealer's right is dealt no cards and takes no part in the play of that hand.

Deal

The turn to deal rotates clockwise. Usually two packs are used in alternate hands. The spare pack is shuffled ready for the following hand and also used to indicate the "Preference" suit for the hand. This is achieved as follows.

Before each deal, there should be a shuffled pack lying face up at the new dealer's left. Dealer picks this pack up passes it across, face down, to the player sitting to dealer's right, who cuts it and returns it to the dealer. When there are three players, the player to the dealer's right also shuffles the second pack; when four play the second pack is shuffled by the player opposite the dealer. The shuffled pack is placed face up to the shuffler's right; it will therefore be at the next dealer's left. The suit of the card exposed on top of the face up pack is Preference for that hand, and the other suit of the same colour is Second Preference. The suits of the other colour are Common Suits.

The dealer deals clockwise from the cut pack, a packet of 4 cards to each of the three active players, then three rounds of a packet of 3 to each, so that each player has 13 cards. The 13 cards that remain form a face-down stock (or talon), which is placed in the centre of the table. At the discretion of the dealer, the packets can be dealt in the sequence 3-3-3-4 rather than 4-3-3-3.

Bidding

Forehand (the player to the dealer's left) must open the bidding and may not initially pass. Each bid names a contract, which the bidder will undertake if no one bids higher. In the usual form of the game there are 40 possible contracts. These are listed in ascending order of rank in the Öbergs bid table below. This table comes from "Viraboken", a booklet issued on 1945 by the card manufacturer Öberg. It is probably the most widespread in use at present, but others are given (in Swedish) on the Stockholm Vira Society web pages and in several Swedish text books. Since the Öbergs table contains some anomalies, the Stockholm Vira Society has recently adopted an improved bid table, which is reproduced later on this page.

The turn to bid passes clockwise. Each player must either pass or bid higher than the previous bidder. Jump bids (bids that are higher than the minimum level necessary to overcall the previous bidder) are allowed. A player who passes may not normally reenter the bidding; when two players have passed the third player becomes the declarer and plays the contract named in the final bid.

When the most recent bid is "gök" (in which the declarer tries to lose every trick), players are penalised if they pass without cards which offer a prospect of beating this contract. Specifically, a player who has not previously passed, and passes a bid of "gök" is penalised one bet into the pot (see payments, below) if the "gök" is successful, unless the passer held certain cards. The player immediately following the bidder needs two "low guards" in different suits to pass without penalty. If this player passes, the second player needs at least one "low guard". A "low guard" is a set of up to four cards of a suit which if led in succession would be certain to lose a trick against a player holding the rest of the suit. The following suit holdings therefore count as low guards: any 2, 4-3, 6-5-4, 6-5-3, 8-7-6-5, 8-7-6-4, 8-7-6-3, 8-7-5-4, 8-7-5-3. In some but not all circles five-card low guards are also recognised; these consist of the ten together with four cards lower than the ten in the same suit. A holding such as Q-J-9-8-5-4 which requires six leads to lose a trick does not count as a low guard - the risk is too great in practice that the other player would run out of cards of the suit before being forced to take a trick. Of course a six card holding like Q-10-8-7-6-3 does qualify as a low guard, because the 8-7-6-3 allows the lead to be lost within four tricks.

Exceptionally some circles (for example the Vira club "Göken" in Gothenburg) allow a player who passes over a bid of "gök", having not previously passed, to reenter the bidding if the third player overcalls the "gök".

Bids of "solo", "gask" and "köpmisär" need not be specified numerically. If no level is specified, they can be outbid as if they were at the minimum level needed to overcall the previous bid. If the other players pass, such bids can be played at any level from this minimum upwards which the declarer chooses.

"Turné" and "vingel" can also be bid without stating the number. They can then be outbid as if they were at the minimum level needed to overcall the previous bid. If the other players pass, these bids can be played only at precisely this minimum level.

Among suit bids ("begär", 7-, 8-, 9-"spel", "solo", "vira" and "solo vira") a plain bid (in which the bidder does not disclose his trump suit) can be overbid by one in "colour" (where he commits himself to making either Preference or Second Preference trumps) and this can in turn be overbid by the same bid in Preference.

A plain "gask" bid can also be overbid by one in "colour" (where the bidder commits himself to making either Preference or Second Preference trumps) and this can in turn be overbid by the same bid in Preference. However only the plain version can be converted to misär.

Among exactly equal bids, forehand has precedence over the other two players and can therefore "hold" a bid. The player to forehand's left has similar precedence over the third player once forehand has passed.

Exchange and Surrender

Before the play begins there is the opportunity for some or all players to improve their hands by using the stock. In some contracts the declarer uses the whole stock, in some only part, and in some the declarer is not entitled to use the stock at all.

In the last two cases, when the declarer does not use the whole stock, each opponent in turn has the opportunity to exchange some cards with the part of the undealt stock that the declarer has not used. First the opponent to declarer's left may discard any number of cards, from none at all up to the number left untouched by the declarer, and replace them by drawing an equal number of cards from the top of the stock. If any cards are left, the other opponent may discard any number of cards up to that number and replace them from the stock in the same way. Any cards left in the stock by the second opponent remain unseen, and cannot be looked at until after the play. Players may consult their own discards only until play starts.

In contracts where the declarer uses the stock, the declarer is allowed after exchanging to surrender the contract without play, accepting a simple loss. If the declarer used only part of the stock, the surrender must be announced before the opponents exchange.

When the declarer uses only part of the stock, he has a third option after exchanging. Instead of continuing or surrendering, the declarer can perform the exchange a second time (omköp). This sometimes involves a small net loss even if the contract after second exchange is successful, but the loss is less than would have been incurred by surrendering after the first exchange. If the second exchange is unsuccessful, the declarer again has the option to surrender rather than inviting the opponents to exchange; the loss is the same as for a simple loss on a second exchange.

Consultation between opponents about exchanging is not allowed, except in the contract "solo grande misär ouverte royale".

The Play

Forehand always leads to the first trick. Thereafter the winner of each trick leads to the next. Play is clockwise. Players must follow suit if they can; a player who cannot follow may trump or discard from another suit at will. The highest trump played wins the trick, or if no trumps are played, the highest card of the suit led.

Normally the cards rank from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 in each suit. However, it is often agreed that in the misär options of "gask", a declarer who holds all four aces at the start of play can announce that aces will for that hand then rank as the lowest card of each suit, below the 2. This option is sometimes extended to all misärs.

In some misär contracts, the declarer plays with only twelve or eleven cards. In these cases the declarer discards one or two cards after exchanging with the stock. If the contract allows the opponents to exchange cards with the stock, the declarer's hand is reduced before the opponents exchange. In these contracts the play ends when the declarer runs out of cards, at which point the other players will have one or two cards left over, which are not played.

Only in the contract "solo grande misär ouverte royale" are the defenders allowed to consult during play.

Payments

The score is traditionally kept using chips. Each player has a supply of these in their own colour. Their values are expressed in betar and pinnar. One bet is equal to eight pinnar. The chip values are distinguished by their shape:

  long rectangle = 1 pinne     round = 2 pinnar     short rectangle = 1 bet = 8 pinnar     triangle = 5 betar  

Each player starts with a number of chips, typically 10 of the long pinnar, 10 round 2-pinnar chips and 5 betar (short rectangles). Not all sets contain the traingular 5-betar chips, but when they are present, each player typically has 5 of these. During the game there is also a common pool of chips kept in a container (called pulla in Swedish). At the start of the game and whenever the pool becomes empty or insufficient, each player contributes one bet to the pool. The initial payments to the pool are called ålar or stambetar.

If real chips are not available, it is possible to keep account of the scores on paper, with an extra column showing the state of the pool.

A successful declarer wins betar from the pool and sometimes also pinnar from the other players. If unsuccessful the declarer has to pay betar to the pool and sometimes also pinnar to the other players. The number of betar won or lost depends on the type of contract and the result. The number of pinnar depends on these and also on the trump suit. The details are shown in the bid table. When there are four players at the table, the pinnar payments take place only between the declarer and the two active opponents. The player who is sitting out neither gives nor receives any pinnar.

When a contract fails, there are two possible levels of failure. If it fails by just one trick, the declarer loses simply. If it fails by two tricks or more, the declarer loses codille, which is more expensive. Note that this concept applies equally to positive contracts and to misärs (where the object is to lose every trick). When the declarer of a misär takes one trick, the contract is lost simply. If the declarer can be made to take a second trick the loss is a codille.

When the declarer plays a contract which involves an exchange using only part of the stock, the declarer can exchange a second time if the first was unsatisfactory. Before the second exchange the declarer must pay the opponents pinnar as though the first contract has been lost simply, but does not pay the pool. When the declarer eventually wins or loses after the second exchange, he receives or pays further pinnar according to the final trump suit, and his payments from or to the pot are altered - see the bid table. Most of these payments result from combining (1) payment for a simple loss for the abandoned first exchange and (2) either ordinary winning or doubled penalties for going simply off or losing codille in the game actually played. The exceptions are "turné 8", "vingel 8" and "tringel 9". Therefore in most cases winning after a second exchange results not in an overall gain, but in a smaller loss than losing after a first exchange.

Hands involving exchange can be surrendered before declarer has invited the defenders to exchange for the cost of a simple loss. If the declarer surrenders after exchanging for a second time, the declarer pays as though the game was lost simply after a second exchange. Contracts in which the declarer does not exchange can only be surrendered for the cost of losing codille. Pinnar are paid in surrendered gask and solo as for a common suit, unless the surrendered game was bid in a higher suit. For games where a trump suit is determined before the exchange the suit announced by the declarer determines the pinnar to be paid.

The word bet is presumably a form of the French "bête" (beast), used to describe the penalty paid by an unsuccessful player in various games, including l'Hombre. Pinne is Swedish, meaning literally a "stick", and is also used of a "chopstick".

If a player runs out of betar, any shape of chip of his own colour can be used to pay into the pool, and once inside the pool it represents one bet, whatever shape of chip it might be. A pinne chip can also be placed under the pool to represent placing 6 betar into the pool. At the end of play the betar in the pool are divided as equally as possible among the players, any odd one or two being converted into pinnar. (During this distribution, any irregular shape of chip used to represent a bet must be returned to the player, identifiable by the chip's colour, who placed it in the pool.) Any odd pinnar left over are given to the player who lost most altogether. Chips are then exchanged so that everyone retrieves as many as possible of his own colour of chips. The chips remaining unredeemed at this stage show the final profit or loss. If monetary stakes are being played for they must now be bought back by their original owners.

The Contracts

In the form of Vira usually now played, there are 40 possible contracts; some variations may allow more or fewer possibilities. The contracts will first be described in groups, according to the way the stock is used and the objectives of the declarer. The ranking order of the contracts for bidding purposes is shown in the summary scoring tables below: the Öbergs table and the Stockholm Vira Society table.

a) Contracts in which declarer alone uses the stock:

vira
Declarer takes the whole talon, discards 13 cards, announces a trump suit of his choice, and either surrenders or plays. The declarer must take all 13 tricks to win.
gök
Declarer takes the whole talon, discards 13 cards, and either surrenders or plays. He exposes his hand on the table before the lead to the first trick. To succeed he must lose all 13 tricks at no trump.
gask keeping 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 cards
Declarer announces (if he did not do so during the bidding) how many cards he is retaining, discards the rest, picks up the whole stock and discards back down to 13. He now decides whether to play or surrender.
If playing having kept 0, 1 or 2 cards he either names a trump suit and plays to win at least 7, 8 or 9 tricks respectively or else discards 2, 1 or 0 more cards and plays to lose all 11, 12 or 13 tricks at no trump. The defenders do not exchange. If the bid was "gask in colour" or "gask in Preference", however, the alternative to lose all the tricks is not available.
If playing having kept 3 or 4 cards he either names a trump suit and plays to win at least 10 or 11 tricks respectively or else discards 1 or 0 more card, places his hand face-up on the table before leading to the first trick, and plays to lose all 12 or 13 tricks at no trump. The defenders do not discard. If the bid was "gask in colour" or "gask in Preference", however, the alternative to lose all the tricks is not available.
If playing having kept 5 or 6 cards he now names a trump suit and plays to win at least 12 tricks in both cases. Notice that "gask keeping 5" outbids "gask keeping 6".
In Swedish, these contracts are known as gask på 0, gask på 1, etc.

b) Contracts in which declarer uses the stock and the defenders may also do so if cards remain:

begär, 7-spel, 8-spel, 9-spel
Declarer announces a trump suit of his choice, discards any number of cards, replenishes his hand by drawing an equal number of cards from the stock and decides whether to surrender, play or (if cards remain) exchange again. If playing, he invites his opponents to exchange. If exchanging again he must keep the same trump suit and he pays pinnar at the rate for this trump suit, discards at least 1 and replenishes his hand. He then decides whether to surrender or play. If playing (and cards remain in the stock) he invites his opponents to exchange. When playing, the declarer's objective is to take at least 6, 7, 8 or 9 tricks respectively.
turné 6, 7 or 8
Declarer turns the first card of the stock and the suit of this card is trump. He then discards at least one card, replenishes his hand including the turned card and decides whether to surrender, play or turn again. If playing, he invites his opponents to exchange. The declarer is only allowed to turn again if at least two cards remain in the stock. If turning again he pays pinnar at the rate for the first trump suit, turns the top remaining card of the stock for trump, discards at least one card, replenishes his hand including the newly turned card and decides whether to surrender or play. If playing (and cards remain) he invites his opponents to exchange and plays to take at least 6, 7 or 8 tricks respectively.
vingel 6, 7 or 8
Declarer turns the first two cards of the stock and chooses one of their suits as trump, discards at least two cards, replenishes his hand including both turned cards and decides whether to surrender, play or turn again. If playing, he invites his opponents to exchange. The declarer is only allowed to turn again if at least three cards remain in the stock. If turning again he pays pinnar at the rate for the first trump suit, turns the top two remaining cards of the stock for trump, discards at least two cards, replenishes his hand including both newly turned cards and decides whether to surrender or play. If playing (and cards remain) he invites his opponents to exchange and plays to take at least 6, 7 or 8 tricks respectively.
tringel 9
Declarer turns the first three cards of the stock and chooses one of their suits as trump, discards at least three cards, replenishes his hand including all three turned cards and decides whether to surrender, play or turn again. If playing, he invites his opponents to exchange. The declarer is only allowed to turn again if at least four cards remain in the stock. If turning again he pays pinnar at the rate for the first trump suit, turns the top three remaining cards of the stock for trump, discards at least three cards, replenishes his hand including all three newly turned cards and decides whether to surrender or play. If playing (and cards remain) he invites his opponents to exchange and plays to take at least 9 tricks.
köpmisär, exchanging 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6
Declarer announces (if he did not do so during the bidding) how many cards he is exchanging. He discards this number of cards and then draws an equal number from the stock to replenish his hand to 13 cards. He now decides whether to surrender, play or exchange again. If playing, he invites his opponents to exchange. If exchanging again he first pays his opponents the pinnar, then discards the same number of cards as he first discarded and replenishes his hand. He then decides whether to surrender or play. If playing he invites his opponents to exchange.
If playing in "köpmisär" exchanging 4, 5 or 6 the declarer discards one further card before inviting the opponents to exchange, and plays the hand with 12 cards; his opponents play with 13 cards and will have one card left over at the end of the play. The declarer's objective is to lose all 12 or 13 tricks at no trump.
The lower "köpmisär" bids are really too difficult for their ranking among the contracts. An alternative treatment is given in the new bid table of the Stockholms Wirasällskap, whereby the declarer discards 1 or 2 further cards before inviting the opponents to exchange, and plays with 12 or 11 cards.
In Swedish, these contracts are known as köpmisär på 1, köpmisär på 2, etc.

c) Contracts in which only the defenders may use the stock

solo 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, solo vira
Declarer announces (if he did not do so during the bidding) the level of the solo. Declarer announces the trump suit, invites the opponents to exchange and then plays to take at least 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 or 13 tricks respectively.
solo petite misär, solo grande misär
In "petite" declarer discards one card and plays to lose all 12 tricks at no trump. His opponents may exchange but always play with 13 cards, having one left at the end of the play. In "grande" the opponents may exchange and the declarer plays to lose all 13 tricks at no trump.
solo petite misär ouverte, solo grande misär ouverte
In "petite" declarer discards one card and plays with 12; in "grande" he plays with 13 cards. His opponents may exchange but always play with 13 cards. Declarer exposes his hand after the opponents' exchange but before leading to the first trick. The declarer's objective is to lose all 12 or 13 tricks at no trump.
solo petite misär ouverte royale, solo grande misär ouverte royale
In "petite" declarer discards one card and plays with 12; in "grande" he plays with 13 cards. His opponents may exchange but always play with 13 cards. Declarer exposes his hand before the opponents' exchange and plays to lose all 12 or 13 tricks at no trump. In the "grande" contract defenders may discuss their exchange and their play, and may show each other their cards.

The Öbergs bid table

 

Name Stock exchangeGame objective To or from the pool
in units of Betar
To/from opponents
in units of Pinnar
Simple game 2nd exchange Common
Suits
or Misär
2nd
Pref.
Pref
wonlostcod wonlostcod
1Begär all exchange 6+ tricks 112 035 001
2Turné 6 turn 1 trump,
all exchange
6+ tricks 112 035 001
37-Spel all exchange 7+ tricks 112 035 001
4Vingel 6 turn 2 trumps,
all exchange
6+ tricks 124 -1610 011
5Gask, keeping 0 declarer discards 13,
takes stock
7+ tricks or
11 card closed misär
112 --- 000
6Gök declarer takes
whole stock
13 card open misär 124 --- 0--
7Turné 7 turn 1 trump,
all exchange
7+ tricks 112 035 011
8Köpmisär, exchanging 1 declarer exchanges 1,
opponents exchange
13 card closed misär 112 035 0--
9Gask, keeping 1 declarer discards 12,
takes stock, discards 1
8+ tricks or
12 card closed misär
112 --- 001
108-Spel all exchange 8+ tricks 112 035 011
11Vingel 7 turn 2 trumps,
all exchange
7+ tricks 124 -1610 113
12Turné 8 turn 1 trump,
all exchange
8+ tricks 212 (a)35 113
13Köpmisär, exchanging 2 declarer exchanges 2,
opponents exchange
13 card closed misär 112 035 0--
14Gask, keeping 2 declarer discards 11,
takes stock, discards 2
9+ tricks or
13 card closed misär
112 --- 011
159-Spel all exchange 9+ tricks 112 035 113
16Vingel 8 turn 2 trumps,
all exchange
8+ tricks 224 (b)610 135
17Köpmisär, exchanging 3 declarer exchanges 3,
opponents exchange
13 card closed misär 112 035 0--
18Gask, keeping 3 declarer discards 10,
takes stock, discards 3
10+ tricks or
12 card open misär
112 --- 012
19Solo 6 opponents exchange 6+ tricks 112 --- 001
20Köpmisär, exchanging 4 declarer exchanges 4,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 1--
21Gask, keeping 4 declarer discards 9,
takes stock, discards 4
11+ tricks or
13 card open misär
112 --- 113
22Tringel 9 turn 3 trumps,
all exchange
9+ tricks 336 (c)915 3511
23Solo 7 opponents exchange 7+ tricks 112 --- 011
24Köpmisär, exchanging 5 declarer exchanges 5,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 1--
25Gask, keeping 6 declarer discards 7,
takes stock, discards 6
12+ tricks 112 --- 124
26Solo 8 opponents exchange 8+ tricks 112 --- 113
27Köpmisär, exchanging 6 declarer exchanges 6,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 1--
28Gask, keeping 5 declarer discards 8,
takes stock, discards 5
12+ tricks 112 --- 135
29Solo 9 opponents exchange 9+ tricks 112 --- 135
30Solo petite misär opponents exchange 12 card closed misär 112 --- 2--
31Vira declarer takes
whole stock
13 tricks 112 --- 248
32Solo 10 opponents exchange 10+ tricks 112 --- 3511
33Solo grande misär opponents exchange 13 card closed misär 112 --- 3--
34Solo 11 opponents exchange 11+ tricks 112 --- 51121
35Solo petite misär ouverte opponents exchange
before exposure
12 card open misär 112 --- 7--
36Solo 12 opponents exchange 12+ tricks 112 --- 112143
37Solo grande misär ouverte opponents exchange
before exposure
13 card open misär 112 --- 13--
38Solo Vira opponents exchange 13 tricks 112 --- 214385
39Solo petite misär ouverte royale opponents exchange
after exposure
12 card open misär 112 --- 27--
40Solo grande misär ouverte royale opponents exchange
after exposure
and may consult
13 card open misär 112 --- 53--

Notes on the table

(a) A declarer who succeeds in a Turné 8 on the second exchange normally receives 1 bet for taking 8 tricks and 1 extra bet for each trick above 8. Some however play that the declarer gets nothing extra for overtricks, and some play that the declarer who takes 8 or more tricks wins nothing at all.

(b) A declarer who succeeds in a Vingel 8 on the second exchange normally receives nothing for taking 8 tricks and 1 bet for each trick above 8. However, some play that the declarer who takes 8 or more tricks wins nothing at all.

(c) A declarer who succeeds in a Tringel 9 on the second exchange normally receives 1 bet for taking 9 tricks and 2 betar for each trick above 9. However, some play that the declarer receives nothing extra for overtricks and some play that the declarer who takes 9 or more tricks wins nothing at all.

Some comments on passing conventions in Vira

The holdings that are required for passing the bid of gök were introduced because the contract was regarded as too easy to make. Although this is the only contract to have such a formal requirement there are also rules of thumb about passing other simple contracts.

The first to pass over a low trump contract such as begär, turné 6, 7-spel or vingel 6 ought preferably to have three or four stops to pass and the second two or three stops. (A stop is a holding in a suit that is guaranteed eventually to take a trick if another player leads out the suit from the top down - for example K-x or Q-x-x). Lacking such strength it is usually better to continue the bidding. Even though you run some risk of losing your contract the alternative is a much greater probability that someone else will make his contract.

The large payments in the so-called "gambling contracts" of vingel 8 and tringel 9 mean that it can be cheaper to go off in a contract oneself than to let someone else bring home a gambling contract. It is therefore strongly advisable that the first to pass such a contract should have at least three good stops and the second should have two stops.

In Handbok i Vira (Göran B Nilsson, 1973) the author suggested that these rules of thumb be crystallised into strict conventions and that they be expanded to cover all the contracts up to gask keeping 5, so that a pass would be a guarantee to one's eventual partner of certain holdings. The holdings proposed have proved much too tough. They are difficult to enforce and make the bidding inflexible. However these passing conventions or modifications of them are used in some circles and players should enquire about local practice. The original conventions from Handbok i Vira are listed below.

Begär ... Stops in all 4 suits
7-Spel ... First: Stops in Preference, 2nd Preference and one Common suit
Second: Stops in both Common suits
8,9-Spel ... First: Stops in Preference and Second Preference
Second: Stops in both Common suits
Turné 6 ... Stops in 3 suits
Turné 7 ... Stops in any two suits
Turné 8 ... Stops in any two suits
Vingel 6 ... Two double stops
Vingel 7 ... First: two double stops
Second: One double stop and two stops
Vingel 8 ... First: two double stops
Second: One double stop and one stop
Tringel 9 ... First: Stops in any three suits
Second: Stops in any two suits
Köpmisär ... A low guard, or two "half low guards"
Solo 6-8 ... Should not be passed
Gask, keeping 0-4 ... A stop and "half a low guard"
Gask, keeping 6,5 ... A stop in one suit

Historical note on the payments

The payments of pinnar in Vira may seem somewhat irregular, but they are derived from a straightforward system. In the early forms of the game the lowest unit of payment was a so-called poäng (a Swedish spelling of the French word "point"). The payments for a game with Second Preference for trump were always twice the rate for a Common trump Suit and for Preference they were four times. During the course of the 19th century the use of the chips changed. The following exchange rate is given in the Illustrerad spelbok of 1888: one pinne represented 1 point, one round chip 12 points and one bet 48 points. To avoid having too many unnecessary exchanges, bronze one and two öre coins were often used as extra chips for 6 points.

About the turn of the century Vira players began to tire of the points, which were in any case more or less worthless in comparison with the bet. The pinne was given a value of six points and became the lowest unit of payment, while the round chips and betar retained their values.

The payments for the contracts were rounded to the nearest number of pinnar. For example the payment for begär in a Common trump suit (1 point) rounded to 0 pinnar, that in Second Preference (2 points) also to 0 pinnar and that for Preference (4 points) to 1 pinne.

The original use of the number 48 reflects the fact that before decimalisation in 1855 Sweden reckoned 48 skilling to the Riksdaler, and denominations down to 1/12 skilling were being issued at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Note on the evolution of Vira bid-tables

(information from Sten Helmfrid)

Vira evolved from an earlier game "Lomber Boston or improved Exchange-Boston", described in 1809 in Reglor för Kort-Spelare, the alterations perhaps being made in the foundry settlement named Vira Bruk (Vira Works) on the Vira stream. The earliest known bid-table for Vira was published in 1818 in the book Lyckans Talisman. Solo Vira was the highest bid, just as in the most recent bid-tables, while Vira was next, greatly overvaluing the difficulty of this contract. Contracts such as gök, vingel, tringel and gask keeping 0 had not yet seen the light of day. Nor were any köpmisär contracts to be found, but there were two contracts called little and great misär with exchange, where the player could exchange any number of cards he chose. This bid-table survived with some minor variations until about 1880, when a new and greatly revised bid-table began to spread. Gök, vingel 6 and vingel 7 had now begun to be accepted in most circles, the modern köpmisär contracts were devised and solo grande misär ouverte royale was placed (somewhat unmathematically) highest in the bid-table. This version must be regarded as the truly classical bid-table.

At the beginning of the 20th century a new series of contracts was devised: gask keeping 0, turné 8, vingel 8 and tringel 9, bringing with them the additional novelty that declarer could take more than one bet from the pot for a single contract. The reformist variations of Vira which included the new contracts are usually called norrlandsvira as opposed to the more traditional variants.

At the beginning of the 1920s the so-called hasardvira began to spread. A series of contracts of dubious character was introduced: kvadruppel, pingel, karusell and gök 15, unlimited further exchanges were introduced and the payments to the pot for all the hazard-bids went sky high. During this period Vira began to lose ground in favour of bridge, especially contract bridge. After the second world war the card-makers Öberg published their booklet"Viraboken: Fullständiga viraregler" which became a standardising influence in the following decades. Öbergsvira is based on norrlandsvira, i.e. the reformist variations from the beginning of the century. Most of the hazard-bids had been cleaned out, and the payments for those that were retained were drastically reduced.

Many Vira societies had realised the illogicality of putting solo grande misär ouverte royale above solo Vira in the bid-table. It is easier to lose all the tricks than to win all the tricks, since winning a trick requires that one has played the highest card in it, whereas playing either the lowest or the next lowest card is enough to lose a trick. In the mid 1950s the Falu Vira club therefore arranged to rank solo in accordance with the statistics of games made which had been being compiled for a long time at Falun and Sundsvall. Unfortunately they did not make this reform starting from Öbergsvira, but from an older table with a less logical ordering of the lower contracts in the bid-table. In the most recent decades the Falutabell has, along with Öbergs', been the table most widely used. The Stockholm Vira Society (Stockholms Wirasällskap)'s new bid-table, which was test-played during 1998 and was accepted at the annual meeting in January 1999 is a fusing of these two tables.

The new bid table of the Stockholms Wirasällskap

 

Name Stock exchangeGame objective To or from the pool
in units of Betar
To/from opponents
in units of Pinnar
Simple game 2nd exchange Common
Suits
or Misär
2nd
Pref.
Pref
wonlostcod wonlostcod
1Begär all exchange 6+ tricks 112 035 001
2Turné 6 turn 1 trump,
all exchange
6+ tricks 112 035 001
37-Spel all exchange 7+ tricks 112 035 001
4Vingel 6 turn 2 trumps,
all exchange
6+ tricks 124 0610 011
5Gask, keeping 0 declarer discards 13,
takes stock
7+ tricks or
11 card closed misär
112 --- 001
6Gök declarer takes
whole stock
13 card open misär 124 --- 0--
7Turné 7 turn 1 trump,
all exchange
7+ tricks 112 035 011
8Köpmisär, exchanging 1 declarer exchanges 1,
opponents exchange
11 card closed misär 112 035 0--
9Gask, keeping 1 declarer discards 12,
takes stock, discards 1
8+ tricks or
12 card closed misär
112 --- 001
108-Spel all exchange 8+ tricks 112 035 011
11Vingel 7 turn 2 trumps,
all exchange
7+ tricks 124 0610 113
12Turné 8 turn 1 trump,
all exchange
8+ tricks 212 035 113
13Köpmisär, exchanging 2 declarer exchanges 2,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 0--
14Gask, keeping 2 declarer discards 11,
takes stock, discards 2
9+ tricks or
13 card closed misär
112 --- 011
15Solo 6 opponents exchange 6+ tricks 112 --- 011
16Vingel 8 turn 2 trumps,
all exchange
8+ tricks 224 0610 135
17Köpmisär, exchanging 3 declarer exchanges 3,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 0--
18Gask, keeping 3 declarer discards 10,
takes stock, discards 3
10+ tricks or
12 card open misär
112 --- 012
199-Spel all exchange 9+ tricks 112 035 113
20Köpmisär, exchanging 4 declarer exchanges 4,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 1--
21Gask, keeping 4 declarer discards 9,
takes stock, discards 4
11+ tricks or
13 card open misär
112 --- 113
22Tringel 9 turn 3 trumps,
all exchange
9+ tricks 336 1915 3511
23Köpmisär, exchanging 5 declarer exchanges 5,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 1--
24Gask, keeping 6 declarer discards 7,
takes stock, discards 6
12+ tricks 112 --- 124
25Solo 7 opponents exchange 7+ tricks 112 --- 012
26Köpmisär, exchanging 6 declarer exchanges 6,
opponents exchange
12 card closed misär 112 035 1--
27Gask, keeping 5 declarer discards 8,
takes stock, discards 5
12+ tricks 112 --- 135
28Solo 8 opponents exchange 8+ tricks 112 --- 124
29Vira declarer takes
whole stock
13 tricks 112 --- 248
30Solo petite misär opponents exchange 12 card closed misär 112 --- 2--
31Solo 9 opponents exchange 9+ tricks 112 --- 248
32Solo grande misär opponents exchange 13 card closed misär 112 --- 4--
33Solo 10 opponents exchange 10+ tricks 112 --- 4816
34Solo petite
misär ouverte
opponents exchange
before exposure
12 card open misär 112 --- 8--
35Solo petite misär
ouverte royale
opponents exchange
after exposure
12 card open misär 112 --- 16--
36Solo 11 opponents exchange 11+ tricks 112 --- 81632
37Solo grande
misär ouverte
opponents exchange
before exposure
13 card open misär 112 --- 24--
38Solo grande misär
ouverte royale
opponents exchange
after exposure
13 card open misär 112 --- 32--
39Solo 12 opponents exchange 12+ tricks 112 --- 163264
40Solo Vira opponents exchange 13 tricks 112 --- 3264128

Some advice on bidding

There are two ways of making profit in vira. Either you win contracts of your own or you force your opponents to become declarer in contracts that they cannot win. There is no general rule for when to apply which strategy, but a surprisingly large part of your profits will come from the latter method. Therefore, the defensive value of your hand is just as important as the offensive value in the bidding. Here are some basic pieces of advice.

Don't pass too early with weak defensive cards.
Below 7-spel, you should not pass without good passing cards. You should not pass a 7-spel either without some defensive strength, if you are in a position to hold it because you are forehand or bid it in colour.
Vingel 6 and gök are rather easy for the declarer to win unless the opponents have strong defensive cards for a trump game and a misär, respectively. On the other hand, the declarer will be penalised by two bets to the pot for losing these contracts, and there are no really easy contracts left that outbid them.
The decision whether to pass or bid over vingel 6 is a difficult balance between your chances to make your own contract and the risk that the vingel 6 bidder will make his contract if you let him.
Because of the restrictions on passing over gök without low guards, it is cheaper to go off in a contract of your own than to let the declarer make his contract and at the same time pay a bet as penalty for not following the convention. Therefore, you should always continue the bidding after gök when you have weak defensive cards for misär play.
For higher contracts, always keep the defensive value of your hand in mind when you bid, but don't continue the bidding unless you have at least fairly good cards for a contract of your own.
Beware of passing contracts that are easy to make or have a large payment.
Solo 6 and all other low solo contracts that still can be outbid by gask and köpmisär should be outbid, if there is some chance to make a contract of your own. The declarer is completely independent of the talon, and such solo contracts will in general be made easily if left in.
Take the payment for the bid into account when you pass vingel 8 and tringel 9. In general, it is cheaper to lose a contract of your own than to let someone else make one of these contracts, particularly if you play one of the versions in which the declarer gets extra betar for overtricks after a second exchange. For instance, at a table for three, it will cost you 19 pinnar if the declarer makes tringel 9 in preference (after the first exchange), 13 pinnar in second preference and 11 pinnar in a common suit. This should be compared to the cost of surrendering a gask or köpmisär yourself, which is only 7 pinnar. Therefore, avoid passing these bids without good defensive cards.
Do pass when you believe that the declarer will not make his contract (unless you have really good cards for a contract of your own).
This way you make a small but a comparatively safe profit.
When bidding trump games with exchange, bid at the lowest possible level
Games such as begär, 7-, 8- and 9-spel, turné and vingel should always be bid at the lowest legal level. The extra profit in payment of pinnar is too small to motivate the risk of playing these contracts at a higher level than necessary. In vingel 8 and tringel 9, on the other hand, the reward is worthwhile.
Pay attention to the bids of other players
This will help you to evaluate how the cards are distributed around the table and what cards are left in the talon. Bids such as turné or vingel require strength in many suits and usually imply that there are weak cards in the talon, and that you can expect little support for trump contracts of your own. When your opponents bid köpmisär and gask, on the other hand, it is a sign of that they are weak. You may find that little extra help in the talon that you need for a successful trump contract.
Make bids that give away as little information as possible about your hand.
This is especially important at the start of the bidding when the chance that you will become declarer is not that large. Begin your bidding with begär if you are forehand, even if you have cards that are suitable for turné or vingel.
Adapt to the skill level of the other players.
If your opponents are good players, bid carefully; if they are poor players, bid aggressively. Adapt your evaluation of their bids to their habits. Vingel 6 may mean something completely different from an optimistic player than from a careful one.
Take the payments of pinnar into account if you are considering bidding vira, gask på 6 or 5 or tringel 9.
A vira that you aim to make in preference can be bid with less good cards than a vira in simple suits. If the talon is good and the vira succeeds you receive the extra pinnar for preference, but if you pick up a bad talon you can reduce your loss by announcing a simple suit and surrendering.

Some comments on the offensive value of a hand

Trump games
A general rule of thumb says that for trump games with exchange from the stock, which are the most frequently bid contracts, you have a good chance of winning at the 6- or 7-trick level if your original hand is not more than three "safe" tricks short of the number you require. At the 8- or 9-trick level, you usually exchange fewer cards with the talon and your original hand should be only two tricks short. As "safe" tricks, you can count winning trump cards, aces, and kings accompanied by the ace of the same suit. Subtract one trick each if you don't have the ace, king, queen or jack of your intended trump suit. According this rule of thumb, you need three safe tricks in your original hand for begär, four for 7-spel, six for 8-spel and seven for 9-spel.
Turné, Vingel, Tringel
If you are going to play turné, you need at least three or four potential trump suits to keep the risk in the selection of trumps at a reasonable level. You should have the minimum number of safe tricks no matter which one of these suits is turned as trumps. In vingel 6 or 7, you need two or three possible trump suits, and in vingel 8 two of them. In tringel 9 you need either two strong suits, in which case no competent player will ever pass your bid, or one strong suit, which is really risky. This is truly a gambling contract!
Notice that although vingel is easier to win than turné for the same number of tricks, vingel ranks higher in the bidding because you incur a larger penalty if you lose.
Gask
In gask, you need at least the number of top cards corresponding to the level of the gask. For instance, the best hand for bidding gask keeping 3 is ace, king, and queen in one suit. However, remember that there is really no good hand for gask unless you believe that you will get help from the talon. It is difficult to bid gask with the intention of playing it in misär, but it could sometimes happen if you want to outbid a trump bid or if your opponents don't have the strength to pass misär bids such as gök. You should in that case have twos and cards in suit from the 2.
Vira
Typical hands for a bid of vira would be two good five-card suits to the A-K-Q, or a single six-card suit to the A-K-Q-J with three other aces. However, as in gask contracts, the strength required strongly depends on the expected support from the talon. Don't expect to find your missing aces in the talon. If you have a long suit headed by a king, the chance is only one out of three that the ace will be in the talon.
Gök
To bid gök with a good prospect of winning, you need two 2's in your original hand, and at least two more low cards (3's, 4's, 5's or 6's) in each of these suits. Note, however, that 2-5-6 is not a solid basis for a suit, as the whole lowguard 3-4 is missing. Don't expect to find missing twos in the talon.
Köpmisär
Köpmisär can be bid offensively at the level 1, 2 and perhaps also 3 if you have really good cards for misär play (except for the cards that you want to exchange). One bad card from the talon may be enough to ruin your hand! The higher köpmisär contracts are mostly bid when you have bad defensive cards for a trump contract and at least reasonably good cards for misär play, except for the cards that you intend to exchange.

Some comments on the defensive value of a hand

The defensive value of your hand against a trump contract first and foremost depends on the number of stops. A stop is a card which will eventually take a trick if another player repeatedly leads the suit from the top down - for example an ace, a king and one other card, or a queen and two other cards. A stop in the trump suit may make it possible for one or both defenders to win some important tricks before the declarer has finished drawing trumps. A strong trump holding by itself will usually not be enough for the declarer to win, he needs additional tricks in side suits. It is primarily aces and kings that will win tricks for the declarer in these suits; cards of lower ranks will be beaten by higher ones if the opponents are playing their cards correctly. A good defensive hand against a low level trump contract should contain at least one or a few aces and kings. Finally, it is important to at least have some length in suits where strength is lacking. If you have a singleton or void suit, you take a big risk that the declarer will find lots of cards of this suit in the talon when he exchanges, and your partner's stop in the suit might not be enough to beat the contract. A hand with more than one short suit (less than two cards) must be regarded as defensively weak, even if its long suits have significant strength.

You always need stronger cards if you are the first player to pass than if you are second. As soon as one player has indicated strength with a pass, the other players will usually lose all incentive to continue the bidding and make compromises when they pass.

For begär and vingel 6, you should have three or four strong stops to have a fair chance to beat the declarer. In 7-spel and turné 6, you need about three to four stops if you are first to pass and two to three stops if you are second.

It is hard to give rules of thumb for higher contracts. In some sense, you need less strength than in lower contracts, but it is not so easy as to say that you need one stop less for each extra trick that the declarer has to make. The bidding has provided you with more information about your opponents' strength and about the talon, and you must take this into account. If a careful and miserly player outbids your turné 7 with 8-spel, and you have three stops and a singleton on your hand, you may have reason to believe that the latter player has a significant strength in your short suit, and that he has a fair chance to win his contract in spite of the formal defensive strength of your hand. If the other player bids 8-spel after gök, you may evaluate the risk of your singleton quite differently.

To pass bids such as vingel 8 and tringel 9 you typically need three stops in first hand and two stops in second hand. Watch out for voids and singletons - the declarer will have a good chance of finding these suits among the turned cards. If the declarer gets an extra bonus for overtricks after a second exchange, you may need even stronger cards to pass.

The only misär contract that is really simple to win is gök, for which there are formal requirements to pass. The köpmisär contracts are difficult to win, and although it is good to have a lowguard when you pass, or at least some low cards in different suits, players with poor passing cards rarely take any great risks to outbid them.

Gask contracts are intrinsically risky, as the declarer depends on the entire unknown talon. Quite often, these bids are used to outbid other contracts, such as solo 6, vingel 8 and tringel 9. They are usually passed also with poor cards, unless there are offensive possibilities.

Some advice on exchanging cards

For trump games in which the declarer exchanges some cards, there is an important rule of thumb that is used in almost all vira societies: the first defender to exchange takes all remaining cards if he either has at least three trumps or can complete a stop or a double stop in trumps with any low trump card. He should, for example, exchange if he has a singleton king of trumps, or Q-x, K-Q, K-J, or A-J of trumps. Otherwise, he takes no cards and lets his partner exchange. In contracts on the six trick level, the defenders may share the talon to try to create void suits. This is often very useful in cases when the declarer plays with short trumps and tries to make the contract with help of aces and kings in side suits.

In solo trump contracts all 13 talon cards are available to the defenders and it will always be best to share them. If the first player decides that his hand will benefit more from any trumps in the talon, he takes as many cards as possible without significantly weakening his hand. If he believes that the trumps will be more useful in his partner's hand, he exchanges five cards and leaves eight for his partner.

In misär contracts, the defenders usually share the talon. The first defender may sometimes take less than half of the talon to create void suits, but should never take more than half as his partner may have an urgent need to improve his hand.

Some advice on the play of the cards

In trump contracts, the defenders should first and foremost avoid letting the declarer win tricks with kings and queens in short suits. For instance, if the declarer is sitting with K-x and has to play from the suit himself, he will in general not be able to make a trick with the king. If the ace is sitting to the left of him, he will also lose both tricks in the suit if it is led by the defender to his right. Therefore, when leading through the declarer, lead a middle high card from your weakest suit. If you get the lead again later, try other suits as well, but avoid suits headed by the ace and lacking the king or suits headed by the king and lacking the queen. If you have to lead up to the declarer, play from your strongest suit; lead the top card if it is headed by a sequence; otherwise lead the second or third highest card. If you have to lead from a suit in which you have the ace but not the king, always start with the ace - otherwise the declarer may win a trick with a singleton king. If it turns out during play that the declarer has a void suit, this is an excellent suit to play when leading up to the declarer.

If the defenders let the declarer win a trick with a card that could never win a trick if the declarer had to lead the cards of that suit himself, the defenders are in Swedish said to have given him a favör.

It is to the defenders' advantage if the declarer has to play second to a trick. The first player can then choose the suit to lead and the third player is in a good position to beat the declarer's cards. When the declarer leads to a trick, the defender to the left of the declarer should generally play low, and the defender to the right of the declarer should normally win the trick, overtaking the other defender's card when necessary, so as to put the declarer in second position for the next trick.

If the defenders shared the talon, the first defender may try to find his partner's void (or short) suit by leading from his longest suit. This is especially advantageous when the declarer is playing second to the trick.

If the declarer is playing the contract vira and one of the defenders has the lead to the first trick, he should always start with an ace if possible. The declarer will most likely play a trump, otherwise the contract is immediately lost. In this way, the partner that plays second or third to the trick will know that the declarer is void in this suit. The defenders now only have to keep cards in the other two side suits. If the declarer is playing gask på 6 or gask på 5, defenders should always lead ace from A-K, but otherwise be careful about leading aces. If the delarer is sitting with K-x, he may get exactly the "favör" he is waiting for.

In misär contracts, the defender to the right of the declarer should try to take the lead, so that the declarer plays second to the tricks. For this reason, the defender to the left should avoid playing his highest card in the suit led when playing second to a trick, but rather play middle high cards that his partner can overtake. When the defender to the right leads, he should play from long suits with low cards in the bottom, in which his partner is likely to be short or void. He should lead the lowest cards first. Be wary suits that have very good misär cards, like 2-3-4 etc. in the bottom. The declarer is probably void in such suits. If the defender to declarer's right has a single low card in a suit, he should try to lead it before the suit is opened by his partner. If the suit is opened by the partner instead, the defenders will either have to waste two low cards in the trick to force out one low card from the declarer or, if a high card is led, they will not be able to force out any low card from the declarer.

Card signalling during the play

It is useful for the two opponents of the declarer to exchange information about their card holdings. When playing against a trump contract this can be achieved by a simple system of discard signals. The most commonly used system is called ågren and originates from the 'Handbok i vira'. In trump games, each opponent of the declarer may use the first two tricks in which he is not able to follow suit to signal strength or weakness in other suits. Discarding a high card followed by a low card shows strength. If the cards are of the same suit, it shows strength only in this suit, if they are of different suits, they show strength in both suits. Discarding a low card followed by a higher one shows weakness in the suit(s) discarded in a similar manner. These discards do not necessarily promise anything about the other suits, but your partner will often assume that if you indicated weakness in one or two suits you are strong in the others (and vice versa).

The ågren system is mostly used in contracts like vira, gask på 6 and gask på 5, where the declarer has to take 12 or 13 tricks. In these contracts the declarer often begins by playing trumps. The opponents signal to each other as soon as they run out of trumps in order to know which are the correct suits to have a chance of defeating the contract by winning tricks at the end. In lower contracts, the opponents will be able to show their strengths and weaknesses in other ways by their tactical behaviour. However, there are occasions where discard signals can also be useful in lower contracts.

Other Vira websites

Sten Helmfrid's comprehensive Vira site in Swedish.

The website of the Stockholm Vira Club.

Jürgen Weißauer's eBook, which includes rules of Vira in German, is available from his Spiele Okular website.