La Coinche

Introduction

La Coinche, also known as La Coinchée or La Belote Coinchée or La Belote aux Enchères, or sometimes La Belote Contrée is a version of the French game Belote for four players in fixed partnerships with an auction, in which the team that undertakes to win the higher number of card points chooses the trump suit. There is a huge number of variations of this game, differing between regions of France and between groups of players. These variations affect every part of the game: the deal, the bidding, the play and the scoring. On this page a basic form of the La Coinche will be described first, followed by a selection of common variations, and some references to sources where further variations can be found.

Belote belongs to the Jass family of games, which originated in the Netherlands in the early 18th century or earlier. They spread across Europe, reaching Switzerland by the late 18th century, but surprisingly did not reach France until the First World War. In Jass games and other games where the King and Queen of trumps is a scoring combination, the King-Queen pair was often known as "belle", "bela" or a similar term, and this is probably the origin of the French name Belote. The name "La Coinche" comes from "coincher", which is a form of "contrer", meaning to contra or double, an action open to player who believes that the opponents' latest bid will fail, and therefore decides to double the score. The basic game of Belote in which a card is turned during the deal to propose a trump suit is still popular, especially in some rural areas of France. It is sometimes known as "La Tourne", to distinguish it from La Coinche, in which trumps are chosen by bidding. Since the Second World War, versions of La Coinche have become increasingly popular and have supplanted the original game in many places.

Players and Cards

La Coinche is played between two teams of two players (North/South versus East/West) using a 32-card pack. Deal and play are anticlockwise. The first team that reaches a score of 2000 points or more wins the match.

The suits are cœur (hearts), carreau (diamonds), trèfle (clubs) and pique (spades). In a French pack the aces and picture have indices: 1 = As (Ace), R = Roi (King), D = Dame (Queen), V = Valet (Jack). The ranks and point values of the cards are different in the trump suit from the other suits. In descending order, they are:

TRUMPS

Valet

>

9

>

As

>

10

>

Roi

>

Dame

>

8

>

7

Point value

20

 

14

 

11

 

10

 

4

 

3

 

0

 

0

OTHER SUITS

As

>

10

>

Roi

>

Dame

>

Valet

>

9

>

8

>

7

Point value

11

 

10

 

4

 

3

 

2

 

0

 

0

 

0

The objective is to win tricks containing valuable cards. Additional points are available for winning the last trick (10 points for dix de der) and for holding the king and queen of trumps together in hand (20 points for belote). In each deal there is a total of 152 for the cards, plus 10 for the last trick, plus a possible 20 if a Belote is declared, for a grand total of 162 or 182 points.

The Deal

At the start of a match the dealer is chosen by lot: thereafter the turn to deal passes to the right after each hand. The dealer may shuffle the cards (they must be shuffled before the first deal) and the player to dealer’s left cuts.  The dealer deals all the cards: a batch of 3 cards to each player beginning with the player to his right, then two cards each, then three again (or the cards can be dealt 3-3-2 or 2-3-3).

The Bidding

The players speak in turn, beginning with the player to dealer’s right. Each player may:

  • Pass, which does not prevent the player from bidding in future if some other player has bid meanwhile. If all four players pass, the cards are thrown in and the next dealer deals a new hand.
  • Bid, by announcing the number of points his team will try to take in tricks, and the suit he would like as trumps. The bid must be for at least 82 points (by convention, 82 is bid by saying “80”), must be a multiple of 10 and must be higher than the previous bid. (Example of a bid: “90 pique” = “90 spades”).
  • Double the opponent’s bid if he thinks the contract will fail: the word for this is “coincher”. In reply, the opponents can redouble (“surcoincher”) if confident of succeeding. It is not necessary to wait for your turn to say coinche, but you can only double if the most recent bid was by an opponent. A coinche ends the bidding, except that either the bidder or his partner can surcoincher.
  • Bid a “capot” (slam), that is, undertake to win all the tricks, which earns a bonus. A capot bid ends the bidding and cannot be doubled.

End of the Bidding

The bidding ends if all four players pass, or if the other three players pass after a bid, or if there is a capot bid or a coinche.  

The bidding is won by the team that bid last and highest, and their contract is to take at least as many points in tricks as they bid (exception: at least 82 if they bid 80), with the named suit as trumps.

The Play

The team that won the bidding now try to make their contract. The cards are played out in eight tricks, and the object is to win tricks containing valuable cards.

The player to dealer’s right leads any card of his choice to the first trick. The suit of the first card played to a trick card fixes the suit to be followed. The other players, in anticlockwise, order must each play a card in turn.

  • Players must follow suit if they can. If the card led is not a trump, they may play any card of the suit led, without any obligation to beat the previous cards. However, if a trump is led each player must if possible beat the highest trump in the trick, even if that card was played by their partner.
  • If a player is unable to follow suit, and if the highest card in the trick was played by an opponent, he must play a trump. If an opponent is already winning the trick with a trump, he must play a higher trump if possible; if he does not have a higher trump he must play a lower trump.  However, if the highest card in the trick so far was played by his partner, he is allowed to discard even if he has a trump.  A player who has no card of the suit led and no trumps may discard any card.

Whoever played the highest trump, or, if no trumps were played, the highest card of the suit that was led wins the trick, and leads a card of his choice to the next trick. Each team stores the tricks it has won in a pile face down in front of one of the players.

Dix de Der

The last trick is worth 10 points to the team that wins it, known as “dix de der” (“ten for last”).

Belote

If a player in the team that won the bidding holds the king and queen of trumps, he may declare them for 20 points by saying “belote” as he plays the first of the two cards and “rebelote” as he plays the second card. The 20 points for Belote count towards making the contract and are scored by the bidding team, even if the contract fails.

The Scoring

When all eight tricks have been played, each team counts the points it has won: the cards in its tricks, the last trick and the Belote if declared.

In order to succeed, the team that bid the contract must take at least as many points as they bid (at least 82 if they bid 80). (They do not need to take more points than their opponents.)

Successful contract
If the contract succeeds, the bidding team scores the number of points they took plus the number they bid, and their opponents score the points they took. Scores are rounded to the nearest 10, with scores ending in 5 rounded upwards. If the bidding team wins all the tricks (capot) they score 250 points plus the amount of the bid. If they bid and make capot they score 500, plus 20 for Belote if declared.
Failed contract
If the contract fails, the bidding team scores nothing (except 20 points for Belote if they declared it). Their opponents score 160 plus the amount of the bid. If a bid of capot is lost, the opponents score 500.
Coinche and surcoinche
A coinche doubles the score for the bid only, and a surcoinche doubles it again. For example if we bid 100, they say coinche, we declare a Belote, and the contract fails, we score 20 and our opponents score 160 + (100 × 2) = 360.

The game ends when one or both teams achieve a score of 2000 points or more, and the team with the higher score wins. In case of a tie, the winners of the latest deal win the game.

Notes on Bidding

As a rough guide one can reckon on about 20 points for each trick won, plus an extra 20 if holding a Belote, so for example one can bid 100 if confident of winning at least 5 tricks. As a refinement, a trick taken with the valet (jack) of trumps is clearly more valuable on average, since the valet is worth 20 points in itself, while tricks in non-trump suits are on average worth less.

Regular players develop bidding systems, through which they can convey more precise information to their partner. For example an opening bid of 80 may show the jack or nine of trumps, 90 may show both, and 100 the top three trumps V-9-A. There are many possible systems, but note that the opponents can end the auction at any time with a coinche, so in contrast to Bridge, it is unwise to bid a contract that one is not prepared to play.

Variations

Deal

Practice varies as to whether the cards are shuffled before each deal. Some require the dealer to shuffle; in other groups it is optional or even discouraged. In any case it is obligatory for the dealer's left-hand opponent to cut the cards. If the cards are not shuffled, players may use their observation of the order in which cards were played in the previous deal and the way the cards were gathered to estimate the likely distribution of cards in the current deal.

Some allow or require the cards to be dealt in batches of four, instead of in threes and twos.

Some use a two-stage deal, as in Belote without bidding. Initially just six cards are dealt to each player, in batches of three; then the bidding takes place. After the bidding the dealer deals the last batch of two cards to each player.

Bidding

Some play that a player may only say "coinche" in turn. In this version, if for example South bids "110 Diamonds" and West believes this will fail, West is not allowed to say anything or give any indication that he or she wishes to coincher until East and North have had their turns to speak. If East decides, for example, to compete with 120 Clubs, then it is no longer possible for West to double South's bid.

Some play that a coinche can only be said in turn and does not end the bidding. So if South bids 100 Hearts and East says "coinche", North can escape by bidding a different suit - say 110 Spades, or West may bid, or South may try a different bid, for example 110 Clubs, at his next turn. The bidding will only end after three consecutive passes. This makes the game more Bridge-like, and opens up the possibility of artificial bids whose purpose is just to convey information.

Some allow a capot bid to be doubled and redoubled.

Another Bridge-like modification is the no trump (sans atout) bid, which proposes a contract in which there is no trump suit and all suits rank from high to low A-10-K-Q-J-9-8-7. When this is used, there is also usually an "all trump" (tout atout) bid in which every suit ranks like the trumps is a normal game: J-9-A-10-K-Q-8-7. Bids still name a number of points, and each must be higher than the last: for example if the previous player said 90 Hearts, this can be outbid by 100 of anything, for example 100 Tout Atout. Usually some adjustments are made to ensure that the number of points in the pack remains 162 including the dix de der. There are various systems, none of them particularly elegant. For example in sans atout the value of an ace may be increased to 19, while in tout atout the card values are reduced to J=14, 9=9, A=6, 10=5, K=3, Q=1. In sans atout there is no belote and no obligation to overtake in the play. In tout atout a belote can be declared in any suit, and players must always beat the highest card in the trick when able to. In both sans atout and tout atout, a player who is unable to follow suit is free to play any card.

Some introduce a ranking order of suits (and sans atout and tout atout if played) - from lowest to highest: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, sans atout, tout atout. A bid can be overcalled by an equal bid in a higher denomination, or a higher number in any denomination. For example 100 clubs is higher than 90 sans atout, which is higher than 90 hearts. This variant leads to lengthier auctions and potentially more elaborate bidding systems by which partners can exchange information.

Some allow an additional (highest) bid of générale, in which the bidder has to win all eight tricks alone, without help from partner. The bidder of a générale may have the right to lead to the first trick.

Play of the cards

In the rules given above, if a non-trump is led and trumped, a subsequent player who is an opponent of the player whose trump is currently winning the trick, and who also has no card of the suit led, is obliged to trump, even if unable to beat the winning trump. For example, if hearts are trumps, my partner leads the club10, the next player plays the heart9, and I have no clubs and my only trump is the heart10, I am forced to play it, even though the opponents are certain to win the trick. Undertrumping like this is called "pisser". However, some players, especially in the south of France, do not require this. If a non-trump lead is trumped, then a subsequent player who cannot follow suit is obliged to overtrump if an opponent is currently winning the trick, but is not obliged to play a trump if unable to beat the winning trump. So in the example, if I have no clubs and do not have the heartV to beat the 9, I am not obliged to play a trump at all, but may discard any card I wish.

Some also relax the rules when a trump is led, and allow a player whose partner is winning the trick to follow suit with any trump. So under this rule, if I lead the nine of trumps and my partner has the jack (valet), he is not obliged to play it, but can follow with a low trump instead if he has one.

Announcements

Many allow belote to be announced by any player, not only by a member of the team that won the bidding.

Traditionally, further announcements are allowed, as in ordinary Belote. These are as follows.

  • 4 cards of the same rank ("carré")
    • 4 jacks: 200 points
    • 4 nines: 150 points
    • 4 Aces, 4 tens, 4 Ks, 4 Qs: 100 points
  • Sequences from 3 to 5 consecutive cards of the same suit. For this purpose the cards of all suits rank in the order: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7
    • 5 cards: 100 points
    • 4 cards: 50 points
    • 3 cards: 20 points

Combinations of 4 eights or 4 sevens have no value, and sequences longer than 5 cards are declared and counted as any of the 5-card sequences which they include.

Any player who holds any of these combinations in hand may announce them just before playing to the first trick. However, only one team can score for announcements: the team that announced the highest single combination scores for all its announcements, and the other team scores none of theirs. The highest announcement is determined as follows:

  1. Any carré beats any sequence
  2. A higher scoring combination beats a lower scoring one
  3. Among equal scoring combinations of the same type, one with higher cards beats one with lower cards
  4. Among equal sequences consisting of the same cards in different suits, a trump sequence is better than a non-trump one
  5. Among equal non-trump sequences, some play that the first to be announced is best; others play that they annul each other and neither team scores.

Note that sequences longer than 5 cards have no special significance. So for example K-Q-J-10-9 is better than Q-J-10-9-8-7, since both count as 5-card sequences and the king is higher than the queen.

Some allow players to announce combinations even if it is clear that they cannot be scored because the opponents have the best announcement. Others allow announcements only of combinations that are potentially the best, in which case the team with the best announcement can announce and score additional combinations at the end of the first trick.

The declaration of belote is separate from this process. It is declared by saying "belote" and "rebelote" as the two cards are played, and is always scored if declared, irrespective of any other announcements by either team.

Playing with announcements makes it possible to bid much higher than in the game without announcements. For example a player who has four jacks can clearly make at least 220 with any suit as trumps.

Some players, on the other hand, do not allow any announcements at all, not even belote, so that there are always just 162 points in the game. Since the late 20th century, versions without announcements have become more popular, as this is thought to reduce the element of luck. Some reserve the name Belote Contrée for variants with few or no announcements, in which a coinche (or contre) is only annouced in turn and does not end the auction.

Scoring

Some play the game without announcements to a target of 1000 or 1500 rather than 2000. When playing with announcements, it is usual to set a higher target score for winning the game, for example 3000.

Some play that for a contract to be successful, the bidding team must not only take at least the number of points that they bid: they must also take more points than the opponents. (It is a vestige of this rule that requres a score of at least 82 to win a bid of 80, since at least 82 points are needed to have more than the opponents.) On the other hand, some play that it is only necessary to take as many points as were bid, even in the case of a bid of 80. A few groups require an extra 2 points for every bid - for example at least 112 poionts to win a bid of 110.

When a contract fails, the opponents score not only the bid and the card points, but also the points for announcements if any. Many also award the points for belote to the opponents in this case, even if it was declared by the bidding team. In this case it can be in the bidding team's interest to suppress the belote announcement when their contract is likely to fail. They can do this by not saying "rebelote" when playing the second card, in which case the 20 points are not scored.

There are various different ways to score capot. Some score it only if it is bid. Some give only 410 points (160+250) to the opponents if it is bid and fails. If a bid of générale is allowed, the score for it must be agreed - for example 1000.

Some score only the points for the bid, not for the cards taken in play. For example if the bid is 100, then either the bidders or their opponents score just 100 (or 200 in case of a coinche) depending only on whether the bidders succeeded in their contract.

When coinche is said, some apply the double not just to the bid but to the entire score, so that for example whena team loses a 100 bid with coinche and there are no announcements, the opponent score 520 = 2 × (100 + 160).

Some play that a surcoinche does not double the score again, but only increases the multiplier from 2× to 3×.

References and Other Coinche Web Sites

Rules in French can be found on Jean-François Bustarret's Coinche page.

The French Wikipedia page on La Coinche has a large collection of variants.

Dominique Hazael-Massieux's site has rules and examples of Contrée in French and also in English.

Coinche Online Servers and Software

You can download Laurent Pellenc's Belote Bridgée program from his page. There is also an English version of this program, which he has called 32 Card Bridge.

At the Ludiclub site you can play Belote and Coinche on line.

At Pierre-Marie Petit's Jeubelote site you can play Belote tournament deals on line.