Paston

Introduction

This three-player game is played in Armenia, mainly in the district of Gyumri (formerly Leninakan). The name of the game means ‘spades ’. The rules of the game were contributed by Alexey Lobashev, on the basis of information received from Aram from the city of Gyumri and Aramais Vartanyan from the city of Rostov-on-Don. It is a form of Preference with unusual scoring. We have some uncertainties about the rules, and we would be grateful for any corrections, clarifications or further information from anyone who knows this game well.

Players and Cards

The game is played by three players with a deck of 32 cards. The names of the suits: gupa (hearts), dineri (diamonds), glitch (clubs) and paston (spades) are specific to this game - the usual Armenian names of the suits are given in Ivan Derzhanski's multi-lingual dictionary of card game terms. The cards of each suit rank from high to low: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7.

Deal, bidding and play are clockwise.

Deal

Any player may deal first. The dealer shuffles the cards and the player to dealer's right cuts them. The dealer then takes a look at the bottom card of the deck. If it is the 7 of spades, the cards are not dealt; the dealer re-shuffles the cards and gives the deck to be cut again. If it is any other card, the dealer distributes 10 cards to each player, starting with the player to dealer's left, and places two cards face down on the table to form the prikup ["prikup" is the Russian term - we do not know the Armenian equivalent]. The cards are dealt in batches of two: two to each player, then two to the prikup, then four more rounds of two to each player.

In the unusual case where a player holds the 7-8-9-10-J-Q of spades, but neither the King nor the Ace of spades, he shows his cards, and the cards are reshuffled and dealt again by the same dealer.

In the first deal of a session, the bidding is begun by the holder of the jack of spades or, if the jack of spades is in the prikup, by the holder of the seven of spades. [Probably, if the prikup contains the jack and seven of spades, the cards must be reshuffled and dealt again.] Although our informants did not state this, it seems probable that this player (who begins the bidding in the first deal) should also be the dealer for the second deal. We do know that from the second deal onwards, the first bidder is the player to the left of the dealer, and that this player also becomes the next dealer, so that the turn to deal rotates clockwise.

Bidding

The bidding determines which player will be the declarer. The declarer chooses the trump suit and must try to take at least six of the ten tricks, or else surrender, as described below.

In the first deal the holder of the Jack of spades (or the seven of Spades if the Jack is in the prikup) begins the bidding. In the second and subsequent deals the bidding is begun by the player to dealer's left, and continues clockwise. At his turn, a player either passes or names a trump suit. The ranking of trump suits from lowest to highest is:

  1. Paston (spades).
  2. Glitch (clubs).
  3. Dineri (diamonds).
  4. Gupa (hearts).
  5. Paston grkha (best spades).

If no one has yet named a suit, a player can say "pass" or"paston". If all three players "pass", the holder of the Jack of spades becomes the declarer. If the Jack of spades is in the prikup, the holder of the 7 of spades becomes the declarer, and presumably if both are in the prikup, the cards must be redealt.

If a player says "paston", subsequent players may either say "pass" or name the next higher trump suit in succession. A player who has said "pass" takes no further part in the bidding, which continues until two players have passed or a player says "paston grkha", which cannot be outbid. The player who made the final trump bid, naming the highest trump suit, becomes the declarer.

Contract and Defence

The declarer takes the two cards from the prikup without showing them and discards face down on the table any two cards from his hand. The discards can include cards that were in the prikup. He then names the trump suit, which must be equal to or higher than the suit of his final bid, except that the player can only announce "best spades" (paston grkha) if the final bid was "best spades". For example, if the last bid was diamonds, the player may announce either diamonds or hearts as trump. When all pass, the declarer may announce any suit as trump, but not "best spades".

Note: The only difference between "spades" and "best spades" is in the scoring. In both cases spades are trump, but the penalty for losing is higher when "best spades" was bid - see below.

Having named a trump suit, the declarer must win at least six tricks or suffer a penalty. Instead of naming a trump suit, the declarer may choose to surrender the game without play, paying the penalty as described under scoring below.

After the trump suit has been announced, the player to the left of the declarer says "whist" if he wishes to defend, or "pass" to surrender without playing. Then the declarer's other opponent says "whist" or "pass". ["Whist" is the Russian word - we do not know whether the same term is used in Armenia.]

If both opponents of the declarer have said "pass", the player declarer automatically wins without play. 

If both opponents of the declarer have said "whist", each of them must win at least 2 tricks to avoid a penalty.

If one opponent of the declarer has said "whist", and the other "passed", the one who said whist must win at least 4 tricks to avoid a penalty. The player who said "pass" does not participate in the play. His cards are put on the table face down and are not used.

Play

The declarer leads to the first trick (confusingly, the tricks are often referred to as "hands" in this game). Any card may be led, and the other players must follow suit if possible. A player who cannot follow suit is obliged to play a trump. first to lead is the player who called the trump suit, and he may lead any card. The other players must follow suit. If they do not have cards of a given suit, they are obliged to play trump cards. The trick is won by the player of the highest trump in the trick, or of the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played. The winner of each trick stacks it face down and leads to the next. Players should keep their won tricks stacked neatly, each at right angles to the last, so that the number of tricks won by each player can easily be counted.

Scoring

Each player has a column on the score sheet in which the cumulative score is recorded. The scoring will first be explained for the case where spades (paston) are trumps.

If the declarer wins six or more tricks, he scores +10 points. If he wins five or fewer tricks, he scores -10 points. The declarer gets no extra score for winning more than six tricks, nor extra penalty for fewer than five, but the opponents' scores are affected.

If both opponents said "whist", they each score as follows, depending on the number of tricks they individually win:

no tricks -10 points
1 trick -9 points
2 tricks no score
3 tricks +10 points
4 tricks +20 points
more than 4 tricks +10 points more for each extra trick

If only one opponent said "whist", that opponent scores as follows:

no tricks -10 points
1 trick -9 points *
2 tricks -8 points *
3 tricks -7 points *
4 tricks no score
5 tricks +10 points
6 tricks +20 points
more than 6 tricks +10 points more for each extra trick

* Note: we are not certain of these scores. Possibly the opponent loses the same 9 points for winning 1, 2 or 3 tricks.

If both opponents passed, there is no play, the declarer scores +10 points for winning, and the opponents score nothing.

If the declarer surrendered, the declarer scores -10 points and each opponent scores +2 points.

For trump suits other than spades, all the above scores are multiplied by a factor:

  • When clubs are trumps, multiply all scores by 2.
  • When diamonds are trumps, multiply all scores by 3.
  • When hearts are trumps, multiply all scores by 4.
  • When "best spades" are trumps, multiply all scores by 4 except that the declarer only scores +10 points (not +40) if he takes 6 or more tricks.

However, if a declarer surrenders, the scores of -10, +2, +2 are not multiplied, even if the declarer bid a higher suit than spades.

The game ends when a player achieves a total of 121 points or more and wins.

Unusually, a player who has a negative score of exactly 121 points has his score reset to zero.

Variations, Uncertainties and Comments

Score when declarer surrenders. Since the cost of surrendering is not multiplied according to the bid, it will often be worthwhile to make a sacrifice bid when you suspect that an opponent is going to play in an expensive suit (diamonds or hearts) and win. Surrendering after you see the prikup, since surrendering effectively costs you only 12 points relative to the other players. This should be better in the long run than allowing another player to score 30 or 40 while you score nothing. Note: In Aram's rules, the opponents do not score 2 points when the declarer surrenders. This makes a sacrifice against a diamond or heart game slightly more attractive, but we are not sure whether this is just an accidental omission.

Best spades. Note that it is quite hard to get into this contract when spades is your only possible trump suit. For example if you begin by bidding paston and an opponent bids clubs, your next bid, if you want to compete, will have to be diamonds. If your opponent passes now, you are forced to play with a red suit as trumps (or surrender). Only if your opponent co-operates by bidding hearts will you be allowed to play your best spades.

Alexey Lobashev has identified several other details that are uncertain, which we would like to check.

  1. We have used the Russian terms "prikup" for the two-card talon and "whist" when an opponent chooses to play. We do not know whether different terms are used in Armenia.
  2. If the Jack and Seven of spades are in the prikup on the first deal, we have assumed that the cards must be redealt. This should be checked.
  3. If all pass in the first deal, the player whose turn to bid was first (because he has the Jack or Seven of spades) has to play. In subsequent deals, Alexey Lobashev's notes imply that it if all pass, again the player with the Jack or Seven of spades has to play, but this might perhaps be a misunderstanding. It would seem more logical if it is always the player who spoke first who has to play when all pass: in the second and subsequent deals this will be the player to dealer's left.
  4. We have assumed that after all pass, the player who is forced to be declarer can play any suit except "best spades". In fact there would be no reason for him to choose "best spades" if ordinary "spades" is available, but this rule should be checked.
  5. It seems that an opponent of the declarer who says "pass" drops out of the play completely and irrevocably. He cannot be invited to help in the defence, nor can the other defender use his cards in any way, as is the practice in some other Preference games. This should be checked.
  6. We should check how to score when only one opponent says whist and that player wins 1, 2 or 3 tricks.
  7. We have partial information about what happens when a player revokes - for example failing to follow suit when able to. If the declarer does this, the contract is scored as lost. Probably the opponents do not score anything but this should be checked. We are not sure what happens when an opponent revokes. Perhaps the declarer wins and this opponent scores as though he had taken no tricks, the other opponent scoring nothing?
  8. We do not know what happens if two players simultaneously pass 121 points and have equal scores - for example 125 each. This is quite an unusual case, because normally only one player gets a positive score, but it could happen for example if both opponents said "whist" and they took three tricks each.
  9. There is also a game called Gupa. We should check whether this is a different version, or just another name for the same game.