501

Introduction

This Russian three-player game was described to me by Michael Latash, who learned it from his father while growing up in Moscow. It is a sort of hybrid of the Russian game 1000, which has a similar way of dealing and bidding, and the German game 66, with which it shares the marriage scores and the fixed trump suit, and which presumably influenced the rule on the minimum bid. Maybe it represents an intermediate stage of development between the older game 66 and the newer game 1000.

Players and Cards

There are three active players, but it is possible for four to play, in which case each player in turn deals cards to the other three players only and takes no further part in the hand.

A 24-card French suited pack is used. The cards of each suit rank from high to low: A, 10, K, Q, J, 9.

The cards have point values:

    Ace 11 points
    Ten 10 points
    King 4 points
    Queen 3 points
    Jack 2 points
    Nine 0 points

for a basic total of 120 points in the pack. Extra points can be scored for marriages, consisting of the king and queen of a suit held and declared by one player. A marriage in trumps is worth 40 points extra, and a marriage in a non-trump suit is worth 20, making a theoretical maximum of 220 points if all four marriages were declared.

The deal, bidding and play are clockwise.

The Deal

Any player may deal first. The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

The dealer shuffles the cards, the player to dealer's right cuts, and the dealer deals the cards one at a time. In the first three rounds of the deal, a card is set aside face down, and these three face-down cards form a talon - known in Russian as the 'prikup' (прикуп) - which will belong to the winner of the bidding. At the end of the deal, each player has a hand of seven cards.

Bidding

The player to dealer's left bids first. Bids are numbers, committing the player to try to take at least that number of points in tricks. At their turn to speak, players may either pass or bid. The lowest bid allowed is 66, and each subsequent bid must be higher than the last. The bidding continues until the last bid is followed by two passes. The final bidder will play alone against the other two players.

A player may choose to bid 'blindly'. The blind bidder's cards remain face down on the table. If the auction is won by a player who was bidding blind, the bidder's score (positive or negative) is doubled for that hand. A player who begins by bidding blind may look at his or her cards at any stage to decide whether to continue, but in this case the player's score is no longer doubled.

It is unlikely that all three players will pass, because a bid of 66 is rather easy to make. If it does happen, the cards are thrown in without play and the next player shuffles and deals.

Taking the Talon and Making Trumps

The three talon cards are turned face up on the table for all to see and then added to the hand of the winner of the bidding. This player, who now has 10 cards, sets the final contract by choosing a trump suit or "no trump" and the minimum number of points that he will try to take, which must be greater than or equal to the final bid. Having announced the contract, the bidder passes one card face down to each opponent, so that everyone has a hand of 8 cards.

The bidder is of course not allowed to play a contract for fewer points than the final bid, but if the bidder decides, when the talon is exposed, that there is no realistic chance of success, the bidder may decide instead on a distribution of points. In this case the cards are not played. The bidder is penalised the amount of the bid, and the other two players score as though they had taken 25 points each in tricks.

The Play

Irrespective of who won the bidding, it is always the player to dealer's left who leads to the first trick.

Any card may be led to a trick. Players must follow suit if they can. A player who cannot follow suit must play a trump (even if the trump is not large enough to win the trick). A player who has no card of the suit led and no trumps may play any card. The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trump by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of the trick leads to the next.

When leading to a trick, a player who holds the king and queen of a suit may declare them as a marriage for 40 points if they are trumps or 20 points otherwise. The player simply says "40" or "20" while leading the king or queen from the marriage. It is not necessary for the king or queen to win the trick for the 40 or 20 to be scored, but it is necessary for the player to win at least one trick during the hand. Therefore if the player to dealer's left declares a marriage on the lead to the first trick and fails to win any tricks at all, he scores zero points and the marriage does not count.

If the bidder chose "no trump", all marriages are worth 20, and every trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. A player who has no card of the suit led may play any card.

Since a marriage can only be declared by leading one of its cards to a trick while the other is still in the player's hand, it quite often happens that a player who has a marriage in hand is unable to declare it, because he is forced to play one of the cards of the marriage before he has managed to obtain the lead.

Scoring

All players begin with a score of 501 and a running total of each player's score is kept. The object is to reduce your score to zero points or less, winning the game.

When all eight tricks have been played, the players count the points in the tricks they have taken, adding any points for marriages. If the high bidder took at least as many points as the contract, the amount of the contract is subtracted from the bidder's current score. If not, the amount of the contract is added to the player's score. Irrespective of whether the bidder succeeds or fails, the other two players each subtract the points they took in tricks from their scores.

If the bidder gave up when the talon was exposed, the amount bid is added to the bidder's score and each opponent of the bidder subtracts 25 points.

If the last bid before the talon was exposed was a blind bid, the amount added to or subtracted from the bidder's score is twice the amount of the final contract (including any increase after seeing the talon). If you bid blind and give up when you see your cards and the talon, you add twice the bid to your score and each opponent subtracts 25.

As an exception to the above, an opponent of the bidder whose score is 100 or less cannot subtract any points for tricks won or if the bidder gives up. When your score is 100 or less the only way to win or to reduce your score is by means of a successful bid.