Botifarra

This page is based on contributions by Enric Capo and Sefa Costa (who also drew the cards).

This page is also available in Catalan.

Botifarra is played in Catalonia, the Northeast country of Spain. It has very strict playing rules and a scoring method that makes it very interesting for deductive players and allows usually worthless cards to have an important role in the results. It is closely related to Manilla from which it takes the mechanics, but the rules enforce logical play and minimise the effects of luck.

Contents

The Aim

Botifarra is a point trick game for four players in fixed partnerships; as usual you sit opposite your partner. Only the points in the tricks are important, not the number of tricks, although a trick also has a value by itself.

The game is usually played until one team reaches 101 points or more, and this requires several hands. As in other four-player games, it is a widespread practice to play three games, so that each player partners each of the three others for one game.

The Deck

Botifarra is played with a standard Spanish 48 card deck of four suits: coins (oros), cups (copes), swords (espases) and batons (bastons) running from 1 to 12.

In each suit the 10 sota is called Sota (Jack), the 11 cavallCavall (Horse) and the 12 reiRei (King).

Card values and scoring

The card order from highest to lowest is 9, Ace, King, Horse, Jack, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. In this game the 9 is called Manilla.

manilla 1 rei cavall sota 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

The 9 is worth 5 points, Ace 4 points, King 3 points, Horse 2 points, Jack 1 point. Each trick is worth also 1 point. That makes a total of 72 points in a hand. A team that makes more than 36 points scores the excess towards the game. This score can be doubled in some cases as will be explained later. Example: if you take 45 card points in a hand you would score 9 points towards the game, 18 if doubled, 36 if redoubled, etc.

The deal

The dealer deals the whole deck counterclockwise, four cards at a time, beginning with the player to his right. After each hand the turn to deal passes to the right. Usually the dealer's right hand opponent shuffles and the left hand opponent cuts.

Selecting trumps

The dealer selects trumps simply by choosing the suit he wants, or he selects Botifarra (no trumps), or he passes this right to his partner. If the dealer passes, the partner must choose a suit or No trumps - he cannot pass the right to choose.

After trumps are selected, either of the members of the other team, the defenders, can double (Contrar) the hand if they want to. Either of the members of the dealer's team can, if doubled, redouble (Recontrar) the hand. Again, and last, the defenders can re-redouble (Sant Vicens).

The score for Botifarra (no trump) games is doubled in any case, and Contrar, Recontrar and Sant Vicens can double it further, so there could be up to 4 doubles in total.

When doubling, the players speak in anticlockwise rotation. So the order in which the players have the opportunity to double is:

  1. Contrar: first the player to the right of the one who chose trumps; then the player to the trump maker's left;
  2. Recontrar: first player to the doubler's right; then the player to the doubler's left;
  3. Sant Vicens: first the to the redoubler's right; then the player to the redoubler's left.

Playing

Botifarra is played anticlockwise. The player to the right of the dealer leads to the first trick, and the winner of each trick begins the next one. The completed tricks are stored face down in front of one of the members of each team. Completed tricks cannot be consulted, except for the most recent one.

Each trick is won by the highest trump played to it, or if no trump is played, by the highest card of the suit led.

The rules of play

Any card may be led. When playing to a trick, the rules, in decreasing order of precedence, are:

  1. You must play a card of the suit led if you have one;
  2. If your partner is not already winning the trick, you must play a card that beats the cards already played to the trick, if you can. This includes trumping or overtrumping if you can not follow suit. Obviously, the second player never has a winning partner, so he must always try to win.
  3. If you play a card which does not beat all those already played to the trick, either because you cannot, or because your partner is winning and you do not want to beat your partner's card, your choice of play is restricted as follows:
    • if your partner is winning you must play either a counting card (10, 11, 12, 1 or 9) or the lowest card you have in the suit you play;
    • if the opponents are winning you must play the lowest card you have of the suit you play. Exception: if you are playing second to the trick and you cannot follow suit, you are allowed to play a counting card (in the hope that your partner will win the trick).
Rule 3 is what makes deduction interesting and should be carefully understood. Playing your lowest card when you are not winning the trick or giving points to your partner is natural, but in this game it is also mandatory. You can not "bluff" by playing a different card, and the other players can make deductions about your remaining cards from the fact that you had to play your lowest card.

According to Parlett notation, and with the addition of:

  • x0 meaning the lowest of suit x, and
  • xv meaning a value card (10, 11, 12, 1 or 9) of suit x,
the rules can be formulated as follows:
  • If your partner is winning: Ff0fv , Tt0tvr0rv
  • If your partner is not winning:
    • 2nd player: F , f0 , T , r0rv
    • 3rd & 4th players: F , f0 , T , t0r0

Variants

Eastern and western versions

Two main forms of the game exist, the western one and the eastern one. The version described above is the eastern one, which has stricter rules of play. In the western form, only rules 1 and 2 apply, but not 3. So in the western form, if your partner is currently winning the trick or the opponents are winning and you are unable to beat their cards, you are under no restrictions except that of following suit if possible.

This 'small' difference leads in fact to two different styles of playing. The eastern version allows greater scope for deduction, so it could be called more scientific. The western one has greater freedom, so it allows more imaginative playing.

Each version has passionate advocates, and both versions have their own attraction. It is only important that the players should agree which version of the rules is in force before starting a game.

For beginners we would suggest the eastern version, because if you start by learning the more restrictives rule it will be relatively easy to relax them later if desired. It would be more difficult to introduce the restrictions later, having first learned the game without them.

Variations within the eastern rules of play

There is a widespread variation of of the eastern version in which the exception to rule 3.2 applies also when following suit. So as second player you can play a counting card of the suit led in the hope that your partner in fourth position will win. The Parlett notation for the second player would then be F , f0fv , T , r0rv.

Another variant of the eastern rules is occasionally played. If you are the third player and your partner is winning, you may play a counting card instead of your lowest one, provided that your partner's card is "safe" - that is, all the higher cards should have been played previously or you must hold them. This version is played only in a small area, and tends to cause disputes with players familiar with other versions. Also players of this version do not entirely agree when a lead can be counted as "safe". Therefore this variant is not recommended.

Doubling variations

The double score for Botifarra seems to be widely used, but the multiples used for the other "doubles" (Contrar, Recontrar, Sant Vicens) can be almost any reasonable combination. Instead of the 2-4-8 scheme, 2-3-5 or 2-4-10 can be used. The values you use should be agreed before playing. They do not modify the way to play, they just change how good your cards need to be to double as it can be more or less dangerous than in the normal scheme.

Scoring variation

When playing a series of games against the same opponents, some players carry over any points in excess of 101 to begin the following game. This discourages a losing team from doubling without good cards just because their opponents are very near to 101 and likely to win in any case.

Example. The score is 95-40. The second team double because they are unlikely to overtake the first team before the first team reach 101 unless a lucky hand occurs. In fact they lose by 10 points (46-36), so under this variation the game score becomes (95+10*2) 115-40 and the game ends. The new game will begin with a score 14-0. Without the double the new game would have begun at 4-0.

Championships

In official championships in Catalonia a duplicate mode of play is used, in which the same hands are played in all the tables, each team playing 4 hands against each other team.

Each hand is therefore played several times over, with a different pairs holding the same North-South cards and East-West cards on each occasion. The overall score is worked out by comparing the results of all the teams who held the N-S cards, and separately comparing the results obtained with the E-W cards. The pair who achieved the best result as N-S with that particular deal scores 2 points and the pair who achieved the worst result scores 1 point. All the other pairs who played the same cards as N-S receive a score between 1 and 2, in proportion to their result. The formula for scoring is 1 + (points - minimum) / (maximum - minimum). The E-W results are also compared and scored in the same way.

A team that breaks the rules of play is penalised with a score of 0 for that hand. The opposing team receives the average of score of the other teams that played that hand with the same cards.

Doubles are only scored by the team that announces them, so a Botifarra or Double only scores double to the team that makes it, and a doubled Botifarra scores double - not quadruple - to both sides. Redouble is only informational and does not affect the score. Re-redouble is not allowed.

The following table is an example from a championship with 6 tables. It shows the results for one particular deal in which E-W made trumps. It can be seen than team K chose Botifarra, and that teams C and F doubled.

N-SE-WHand score BotifarraDoubleN/SE/W Final score
N-S
Final score
E-W
Team ATeam H37-35 ..+1-1 1.771.44
Team BTeam I35-37 ..-1+1 1.681.56
Team CTeam J28-44 .X-16+8 1.002.00
Team DTeam K40-32 B.+4-8 1.911.00
Team ETeam L42-30 ..+6-6 2.001.13
Team FTeam M30-42 .X-12+6 1.181.88

Example of computing final score. The best result for N-S is +6 and the worst is -16. Team A achieved +1 so their score is 1 + (1 - (-16)) / (6 - (-16)) = 1 + 17/22 = 1.77

The computer program

The file buti.zip contains buti.exe, a Visual Basic v3.0 program which plays using the oriental rules. You will need to obtain from elsewhere the file vbrun300.dll, if you do not already have one. The program is written in Catalan, but you should not have any difficulty as the few messages are clear enough.

We have also a LAN version for up to four human players.

Other web sites

At butinet.org you can play Botifarra on line.

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