Literature

This page is based on information from Julien Colvin, Javed Mohammed, Brett Stevens, Guy Srinivasan, Vinodh Rajaraman, Shanadas C. and Vinod Poyilath.

Introduction

Literature is a partnership game for six, or sometimes eight players. Each team tries to collect sets of cards by asking for them in a manner similar to the children's game known as Go Fish, Happy Families, Quartet, Authors, etc. The team dimension makes the game considerably more challenging: to be successful it is necessary to pay attention to questions asked by other players, remember them and make appropriate deductions. It is possible that the name was chosen to reflect the relationship between this game and Authors - a game with special cards in which players collect sets consisting of an author and his or her works.

It is uncertain where and when Literature was invented. It is 50 years old at least, and the most likely place of origin on the basis of reports received so far is southern India - there are players in Tamil Nadu and in Kerala. There are also some reports of the game from North America, where some players know it as Fish, Canadian Fish or Russian Fish, presumably because of its relationship to the game Go Fish.

Vinodh Rajaraman tells me that Literature is played in Madurai and Erode, in Tamil Nadu, south India and Shandas C. and Vinod Poyilath report that it is played in several engineering college hostels in Kerala. Vinod Poyilath learned it from a professor named Manjith Kumar, who played it while studying at the Government Engineering College in Thrissur in the years 1986-1990. Brett Stevens learned the game from Ali Salahuddin, who was a masters student in math and MBA student at the University of Toronto from 1993-1995. Ali and his brother Umar learned it from their father who played while at Columbia University in the 1950's. He spent his formative years (1930-1940) in Kerala, India and may well have picked up the game there. If anyone has more information about the history of this game, places where it is played, or why it has the name "literature", please contact and/or john@pagat.com.

Players and Cards

The best game is for six players in two teams of three. It is also possible for eight to play, four against four.

The four 8's are removed from a standard 52-card deck, leaving 48 cards, which form eight half-suits, also known as sets or books. Each suit is divided into a half-suit of low or minor cards: 2-3-4-5-6-7 and a half-suit of high or major cards: 9-10-J-Q-K-A. The objective is, as a team, to collect and claim as many as possible of these half-suits.

Teams can be chosen by drawing cards from the shuffled deck, or by any other method that the players prefer. Members of the two teams sit alternately, each player sitteng between two opponents.

Deal

A dealer is chosen at random, for example by drawing cards. This player thoroughly shuffles the deck and deals out all the cards one at a time face down, so that in a six-player game each player has 8 cards, and in an eight player game 6 cards. If any card is exposed, it is a misdeal, and the dealer re-shuffles and re-deals.

Once all the cards have been dealt, players may look at their cards, but they are not allowed to show any of their cards to anyone else (especially not to their teammates).

Play

Questions

The dealer takes the first turn.

When it is your turn, you must ask any one specific player from the other team a valid question. A question is valid if and only if it meets the following criteria:

  1. You must ask for a specific card (by value and suit).
  2. You must have another card in that half-suit in your hand.
  3. The player you ask must hold at least one card.
  4. You must not ask for a card that is in your own hand

Example: If the only spade in your hand is the Queen of Spades, you may ask for the 9, 10, Jack, King or Ace of Spades. You may not ask for the Queen of Spades, nor may you ask for a low spade.

If the player you ask has the card in question, he or she must pass it to you face-up, and you take the card into your hand. You then keep the turn and must ask another question (though you do not have to ask the same player).

If the player you ask for a card does not have the card requested, it becomes that player's turn and he or she must ask the next question.

You may never ask a teammate if he or she has a certain card.

Claiming

If, at your turn, you have all six cards of a half-suit in your hand, you may claim the half-suit by laying the cards down face-up to show everyone. Your team gets that half-suit.

In addition, if you believe that, between you and your teammates, your team possesses an entire half-suit, you may claim it in your turn by saying "Claim" and then naming exactly who has which cards in the half-suit. If you do so correctly, your team gets the half-suit. If your team has the half suit, but you state the location of one or more cards wrongly, the half-suit is cancelled and neither team gets it. If any member of the opposing team has a card in the half-suit you try to claim, the opposing team gets the half-suit.

After any half-suit has been claimed, the players holding cards of that half-suit show them, to prove whether the claim was correct or not. The six cards are stacked in front of a member of the winning team, and the game continues with the remaining cards.

Example 1: You have the 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 of Hearts, and your teammate, Doug, asks the question, "Christina, do you have the 3 of Hearts?" You know that Doug must have a low heart in order to ask the question, but it is now Christina's turn, because she did not have the 3 of Hearts. When you next get a turn, you say, "Claim. Doug has the 5 of Hearts, and I have the rest". Your team gets the half-suit.

Example 2: You have the 9 and Jack of Diamonds, and you think that you've figured out who has which of the other high diamonds on your team. At your turn, you say, "Claim. I have the 9 and Jack of Diamonds, Helen has the King of Diamonds, and Ben has the rest." However, it turns out that Helen also had the Queen of Diamonds, so your claim fails. The high diamonds are thrown in and count for neither side.

Example 3: You are thoroughy convinced that your team has all the low clubs, so at your turn you say, "Claim. I have the 3 of Clubs," whereupon Laura, on the opposing team, interrupts you and shows everyone that she has the 5 of Clubs. Thus, you automatically lose the low clubs to Laura's team.

A player may make a claim at any turn, even without holding any cards in the half-suit he or she is claiming. After the claim is resolved, the player's turn continues.

Public information

Any player may ask at any time what the last question was, who asked it, and what the answer was. Any question prior to that is called "History," and may not be discussed.

Any player may ask at any time how many cards another player, including a teammate, has in his or her hand and the player must answer truthfully.

Paper, writing implements, or other devices used to record information about the state of the game aside from one's own brain and memory skills are not allowed.

Endgame

As the game progresses players will run out of cards, either because an opponent successfully asks for their last card or because all their remaining cards belong to a half-suit that is claimed. A player who has no cards cannot be asked for a card, so the turn cannot be given to them.

It is possible to lose all your remaining cards while it is your turn as a result of a claim. In this case you pass the turn to another member of your team who still has cards. In the event that more than one player in your team has cards, you choose which of your teammates gets the turn.

When one team runs out of cards entirely, no more questions may be asked. The team with all the remaining cards must then try to claim out all remaining half-suits. If the turn is with the team that has cards, the player whose turn it is must claim all the remaining sets, without consulting his partners. If the turn is with the team that has run out of cards, the player whose turn it is chooses which member of the other team must make the final claims; the player chosen must have at least one card.

Irregularities and Procedure

If a player discovers that he or she has asked an invalid question or failed to hand over a card he or she was asked for, he or she should alert all players, who, as a group, will determine how best to resolve the situation (either by throwing in that half-suit, giving the card to someone on the other team, etc.).

The penalty for claiming when it is not your turn is that the half-suit is cancelled if the claimer's team has it all, or awarded to the opponents if they have any of the cards.

Similarly, if you see a card in a teammate's hand, try to play as if you did not, but, if the information you inadvertantly gained cannot help but affect your play, alert the other players to come to a fair solution.

If a player needs time to process information or to work out a potential claim, he or she may call "Wait" or "Stop" at any time. Play should pause until that player indicates that he or she is ready to continue. However, this courtesy should not be abused or used solely to break the pace of play or as an attempt to make others forget information.

Scoring

The game is over when all half-suits are claimed, and the team that won more half-suits are the winners. Ties, in which each team has 4 half-suits, are fairly frequent. Some of the variations described below reduce the likelihood of a tie.

Tactics

If you are sure that the cards of a set are all held by your team, they cannot be stolen back by the other team since they have no card of the set as a base to ask from. Don't rush to claim this set if you're not 100% sure where all the cards are. On the other hand, once you are absolutely positive of a claim, it's often best to make it quickly so that your teammates don't waste turns and brainpower trying to find the location of the cards.

Sometimes it is correct to ask questions to which you already know that the answer is no in order to give your teammates more information.

Sometimes, a player on the other team might have a dangerous mix of cards and knowledge that will allow him or her to clean your team out of a half-suit and make an easy claim. In that case, it's best not to ask that person any questions, because then he or she may get control of the turn. This technique is known as locking someone out.

If you aren't dealt any cards in a certain half-suit (or all your cards from a half-suit are taken from your hand), you're never going to get another card from that half-suit, so save your brain cells for information about half-suits that you do have cards in.

If you are searching for minor hearts, for example, and you fail to get the 2 from player D, when you next get a turn if you ask player D for the 3 you are giving everyone (teammates AND opponents) a lot of information: they know that you have neither the 2 nor the 3, but you do have a minor heart. Player D may know more about the location of the minor hearts than you. It might be better to exhaust calling for the 2 from all opponents before seeking another card in the set. On the other hand if you do get the 2 of hearts it may be advantageous to ask the same opponent for other minor hearts in the hope of making that opponent void in minor hearts and unable to take them back.

Suppose player A gets the heart9 from D and asks for the Jack, but D does not have it. If D still has a major heart she now can recover the heart9, and knows that A does not have the heartJ but does have some other major heart. Suppose D he now asks A for the heartQ and A does have it. Trying to void A of major hearts, D now asks A for the heartK, but A does not have it. If A still does have one major heart (either the 10 or the Ace) and D has the other, A can now recover three major hearts: the 9, Q and Ace or 10 and D is now void. At this point in time is is very likely that one of her other opponents is "dangerous" since so much information has been revealed by this "back and forth" between A and D. Who will win a "back and forth" is not certain at the outset and it broadcasts a lot of information. Think carefully before starting or continuing a "back and forth".

Ali Salahuddin's convention: There is an advantage in being able to signal what cards you have to your team mates (although this also gives information to the opponents). Suupose that the teams are A,B and C versus D, E and F. Suppose A calls unsuccessfully for the heart2 (which means she must hold a minor heart but not the heart2). If A's partner B has the heart2, he can signal this on his next turn by calling for a different minor heart. If he has minor hearts, but not the two, he should continue the call for the heart2 of Hearts. If he does not have minor Hearts he will call for some other set in which he is interested.

Variations

Some play that the player to dealer's left (or right), rather than the dealer, takes the first turn to ask for a card. Again this makes no practical difference to the game, other than that the team that asks the first question has a very slight advantage.

Six or eight are the usual numbers of players. It is possible for 12 to play (two teams of 6, each player starting with 4 cards) or even 16 (teams of 8, three cards each), but these games are clearly much more difficult. On the other hand a four-player game (two against two with 12 cards each) would be too easy - as soon as your team collected a set it would be easy to make a claim, knowing that your one partner must have all the missing cards.

Some play that you may claim at any time, whether it is your turn or not. Once a player says the word "Claim," he or she must attempt to claim some half-suit. The game is considered paused while the claim is being made, and, after it is resolved, it is still the same player's turn as it was before the claim. In the endgame, a player without cards may still make claims on behalf of his or her team, so long as he or she does not look at any teammate's hand. When one team runs out of cards, the remaining sets may be claimed by any player(s) on the other team, but of course they are not allowed to consult.

Some play that if your claim of a half-suit is incorrect in any way, the half-suit counts for your opponents, even if the half-suit is in fact entirely held by your team, and the only mistake is in stating wrongly which member of your team has which cards.

Some prefer to remove the 7's from the deck rather than the 8's and play with A-2-3-4-5-6 as low cards and 8-9-10-J-Q-K as high cards. Whatever system you prefer to use to divide each suit into a high and low half of six cards, this clearly makes no difference to the operation of the game.

Some play that a high (major) half-suit scores 2 points while a low (minor) half-suit scores only 1 point. This also helps to avoid ties, and affects strategy in that players will obviously prefer to collect high half-suits. Some who use this scoring play with 52 cards, major half-suits having 7 cards intsead of 6 to justify their greater value. In this case presumably some players receive an extra card in the initial deal.

Some play that if it is your turn and you have no cards, you do not choose which member of your team will play next. Instead, the last person on the opposing team who asked you a question chooses which of your teammates gets the turn.

Some play that the penalty for asking for a card that is in your hand is simply to surrender the card you asked for to the player you asked, and it then becomes that player's turn. There is then scope for the following play. It is your turn and you have the last card held by your team. You do not know where the cards of this set are, but you are fairly sure that the opponents do not know either. So you select the opponent who you judge has least information and ask this player for the card you hold yourself. You then surrender your card to this player, forcing him or her to guess the location of all the remaining sets. This play would of course not be legal under standard rules.

Some allow players to "bluff" by asking for a card they hold themselves, without penalty. Of course this makes it much harder to deduce the locations of cards.

Some play that players must reveal if asked whether they have cards or not, but do not have to reveal how many cards they have.

Guy Srinivasan recommends the following additional rules to improve the game:

  1. Forced Claims: Whenever a team is forced to declare a suit, such as at the end of the game, play proceeds as follows. Starting with the member of that team whose turn it last was, either declare a suit or pass. Moving to the left, each player on that team has the same chance. If no one declares a suit after each person has had a number of chances equal to twice the number of forced suits, then they are all forfeit to the other team. Once a suit is declared, if there are still forced suits, start this step over.
  2. No Probabilistic Information: During a forced claim, players are not allowed to communicate information about what they think their chances are of correctly declaring a suit except by declaring or passing.
  3. Challenge: At any time, a player may challenge the opposing team on a suit. The opposing team now acts as if that suit is a forced claim, except if everyone passes twice, the challenging player must attempt to name the locations of all cards in that suit, in the opposing team's hands. If he is successful, his team scores the suit, otherwise the opposing team scores the suit. Note that if not all cards are in the opposing team's hands, the challenger will fail unless the opposing team does not call the bluff.

The challenge was introduced to a) give incentive to keep some track of cards solely in the other team's hands, and b) introduce the possibility of stealing suits through bluffing or brazen probability. The forced claims rule came up because players were giving each other information by talking about who should declare what suit, and the no information was the natural extension.

Other web sites

Another description of the card game Literature can be found on Wikipedia.