Spar

I am grateful to Eric Aboagye for explaining one version of Spar to me, and to Alexey Lobashev for contributing several other variants.

Introduction

Spar is the most popular card game in Ghana. Sometimes it is played for money, but often simply for the enjoyment the winner gets from boasting of having played better than the others. It is a trick-taking game without trumps, in which the object is to win the last trick.

Similar games are played in Benin under the name Jeu de Carte, in Togo under the name Sipa, and in Niger and northern Mali under the name Agram and in Cameroon as Fapfap.

Spar

Players and Cards

Spar is usually played by 2, 3 or 4 players, but it is possible for up to 7 to play. The game uses 35 cards from a standard international 52-card pack, the cards of each suit ranking from high to low: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, but the Ace of Spades is normally not used, so the highest card in that suit is the King. I am told it can be played in either direction: clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Deal

The first dealer is chosen at random; thereafter the winner of each hand deals the next. The dealer shuffles and deals five cards to each player: a batch of three cards to each player, starting with the player to dealer's left if playing clockwise, and then a batch of two cards each, ending with the dealer. In some serious games the cards are dealt one at a time; in informal games they may be dealt by other methods - for example the first five cards to the first player, the next five to the next and so on.

Play

The next player after the dealer (i.e. to dealer's left if play is clockwise, or to dealer's right if it is counter-clockwise) leads any card, playing it face up in the middle of the playing area. The other players in turn must play a card of the same suit if they can; those who have no card of the suit led play any card they choose.

When all have played one card, the first trick is complete. Whoever played the highest card of the suit that the first player led is the winner of the trick. The cards played are not gathered in but remain in a face up pile. The winner of the trick leads any card from hand to begin the next trick, playing it face up on top of the pile, and once again the other players must each play a card: this must be the same suit as the card that was led if possible, otherwise any card.

This continues until five tricks have been played.

Scoring

Whoever wins the fifth and last trick wins the hand and scores:

  • 3 points if the winning card is a 6 (NB. this is only possible if the winner of the second to last trick leads a 6 to the last trick and no one else has managed to keep a card of the same suit);
  • 2 points if the winning card is a 7;
  • 1 point for winning with any other card - 8 or higher.

If the game is played for money, the winner is immediately paid 1, 2 or 3 stakes by each of the other players. If not, each player keeps a cumulative total of points scored during the session.

The winner of the hand deals the next hand, and therefore plays last to the first trick of the next hand. The session continues for as long as the players wish - there is no fixed number of deals or target score that ends the session.

Variations

Some deal seven cards to each player rather than five, in which case the maximum number of players is 5. The scores are then for winning the seventh and last trick.

Some players include the Ace of Spades in the pack, so that it contains 36 cards.

Some play with the "under ten" rule, that a player who is dealt no card higher than a 9 can trade in all five cards before play begins and is given a new hand of five cards dealt from the undealt part of the pack.

Some play that during the penalutimate trick, a player can ask for the bottom card of the undealt part of the pack to be shown.

In a version explained to Alexey Lobashev by Joseph Essilfy from Ghana, if a player wins the last two tricks with sixes, sevens or one of each, both tricks are scored for: 6 points for two sixes; 5 points for a 6 and a 7 in either order; 4 points for two sevens. In this version, the winner adds the amount won to his cumulative score, written on paper. Multiples of three points are preceded by a "c", followed by the odd one or two points if present. So for example 9 points are written as c9, 14 points are written as c12 2. The game is played until a player wins by reaching an agreed number, such as c30.

Some players keep score using stones. A number of stones - for example 10 for a short game or 30 for a longer one - are placed in the middle. Players take a stone for each point scored, and when all the stones have been taken the player with most stones is the winner. In case of a tie, the tieing players play another deal to decide the winner.

Jeu de Carte in Benin

A similar game, known simply as "Jeu de Carte" (French for "card game") was described to Alexy Lobashev by Abdullai Atipo and Abderman Tagiru from Benin. It is played as follows:

  1. It is played with 31 cards (all the cards from Ace down to Seven except the Ace of Spades).
  2. The cards are cut, the cutting player putting the upper part of the deck on the table. The dealer deals from the top of the lower part, five cards to each player, normally in batches of three followed by two. Instead of cutting one can tap with a pointing finger on the top of the deck. In this case, cards are dealt without cutting.
  3. Players play their cards in front of them, rather than in a single pile in the centre. A player who is unable to follow suit to a trick plays his card face down.
  4. The score is 1 point for winning the last trick, or 2 if it is won with a Seven.
  5. The game is played until an agreed number of points is gained, often till 24.
  6. When it is played for money, the stakes vary from 100 to 1000 Benin francs, i.e. from about 0.15 cents to 1.50 US dollars.

Sipa in Togo

Alexey Lobashev learned the Togolese card game Sipa from his guide Kiki K. Kewou in Lome, Togo. This game is very popular in rural areas during the dry season when there is no farm work to do. Sometimes it is played for money, sometimes for tokens of some kind.

Sipa is a game for 2 or more players, using 31 cards from a standard international 52-card pack. The cards of each suit rank from high to low: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, without the Ace of Spades. It is played counter-clockwise.

The first dealer is any player chosen by agreement; thereafter the winner of each hand deals the next. The dealer shuffles. The player on his right cuts the cards, the removed part of the deck being placed next to the remaining part. The dealer deals cards from the remaining part of the deck and after dealing puts it on the removed part. If there are not enough cards in the remaining part for dealing, after this part has been all dealt, the dealer takes additional cards from the remaining part.

Instead of cutting, one can tap with the index finger on the top card of the deck, and the cards are dealt from the deck as it is.

The dealer deals five cards to each player (first three to each player, then two). The player to dealer's right if play is counter-clockwise) leads any card, playing it face up in the middle of the playing area. The other players in turn must play a card of the same suit if they can; those who have no card of the suit led play any card they choose. In so doing, if the player does not beat the cards of the previous players, he puts his card face down next to himself without showing it.

An experienced player, when playing a two-player game, if a trick is won by him, would often put two cards at once, one of them being a response to the lead of the first player, the other being his lead for the next trick.

When all have played one card, the trick is complete. Whoever played the highest card of the suit that the first player led is the winner of the trick. The cards played are not gathered in but remain in a face up pile. The winner of the trick leads any card from hand to begin the next trick, playing it face up on top of the pile, and once again the other players must each play a card: this must be the same suit as the card that was led if possible, otherwise any card.

This continues until five tricks have been played. Whoever wins the fifth and last trick wins the hand and scores:

  • 6 points if the winning player wins the last three tricks with 7’s (almost imnpossible)
  • 4 points if the winning player wins the last two tricks with 7’s
  • 2 points if the winning card is a 7;
  • 1 point for winning the last trick with any other card - 8 or higher.

The winner is the player who is the first to score 10 or more points - or the players may agree on some other target score, such as 6, 12 or 24 points.

Software

A Sipa computer program for Windows or Android is available from ILab - Mcom Multicartes.