Púkk

This description was contributed by Robert Kissel.

Púkk is the Icelandic reflex of the Poch family of games, which are of some antiquity. It is suitable for a relaxing evening of conversation with friends and family, and is best played by five, six or seven players.

Equipment

A pack of 40 cards is used, consisting of four suits: Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades. The cards in each suit rank: 5 (low), 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace (high). In addition, one needs a Púkk betting layout. This consists of a mat or set of dishes or "pools" to contain bets, and a set of chips, if one prefers not to play for money (the game is really only suitable for very small stakes, anyway). In this description, I will refer to chips, rather than coins, as a scoring medium.

The Púkk layout looks something like this:

diagram of púkk board

It has a large central compartment marked Púkk, surrounded by six compartments marked:
Ás (Ace), Kongur (King), Drottning (Queen), Gosi (Jack), Tía (Ten), Pamfíll (Jack of Clubs).

The term "Pamfíll" is from the earlier "Pamphilius", i.e. "beloved of all." Cf. also "Mighty Pam" as mentioned by Alexander Pope in the game of Ombre played by Belinda in his poem, The Rape of the Lock.)

Dressing the Board

Each play begins with all participating players "dressing the board" (að klæða in Icelandic). Each player is required to place a single chip in each of the seven compartments. The way that players actually perform this ante, in practice, is to place as many chips as there are players in the compartment closest to him, and to place one chip in the central compartment, which is a bit faster. It often happens that one or more compartments have chips left in them from the previous game, in which case, chips are added anyway. Compartments will always contain a multiple of the number of players (6, 12, 18, etc.) at the beginning of a game.

The Deal

The dealer serves five cards, face down, to each player. He first serves three cards all around the table, and then the remaining two cards. Deal and play are to the left, and the deal passes to the left after each game.

When all players have received their five cards, the next card of the pack is turned face up for all to see, and designates a priviledged suit, called "trump" (tromp in Icelandic) even though Púkk is not a trick-taking game.

A player holding the 7 of the "trump" suit (a card called bísefa in Icelandic), may, if he wishes, exchange it for the turned-up "trump" designator.

Collecting the Ante

The player who holds the Ace, King, Queen, Jack or Ten of the "trump" suit now displays it to the others and collects the ante in the corresponding pool. The player holding Pamfíll (the Jack of Clubs) collects the ante placed in that pool. (And, if clubs are "trump" receives both the ante for Pamfíll and that for the Jack of the "trump" suit.

Að Púkka

Next comes a portion of the game which reveals its kinship with the game of Poker.

Each players must decide, in turn, beginning with the player seated to the left of the dealer, if he wishes to participate in a contest for the best "Púkk" or card combination. If he does wish to participate, he adds a single chip to the Púkk compartment and says, "ég púkka", ("I pook!" Gentlemen, even American ones, carefully avoid making this sound vulgar if there are ladies present, and they also bear in mind that since this is a family game, children may be listening, too.)

For the purpose of forming a combination or púkk, the Pamfíll (the Jack of Clubs) is a wild card, and ranks higher than the "natural" card it replaces. It is also possible to have five cards of the same rank, as a púkk, if one holds Pamfíll along with four of a kind.

The possible púkk hands are, from highest to lowest:

  • Five cards of the same rank;
  • Four cards of the same rank;
  • Three cards of the same rank;
  • A pair of the same rank.

    Within each category, Sixes beat Aces, Aces beat Kings, Kings beat Queens, and so on. Note that for the purposes of this portion of the game, a pair of Sixes is better than a pair of Aces, but other than this anomaly, the cards rank in their "usual" order.

    A combination employing Pamfíll beats a "natural" combination. Thus, Pamfíll together with four cards of the same rank cannot be beaten; and a pair of 5's can only win if no one else has a púkk. However, three 5's beat an Ace paired with Pamfíll.

    In turn, each player either puts a chip in the Púkk pool or declines to participate. It is illegal to "bluff;" you must have at least a pair of 5's to púkk. Each of the players who are "in" may then continue wagering, one chip at a time, until either no one wishes to raise the stakes any further, or until there are only two players still participating in the púkk, at which point, either may demand a showdown at any time, whether or not he has matched the other's betting level.

    All players still participating in the púkk now display their combination holdings to all players, and the player holding the highest-ranking one takes the contents of the Púkk compartment.

    Playing out the Hand

    The third and final stage of the game has, as its object, getting rid of all ones cards first. In this stage, Pamfíll enjoys no special properties.

    The player seated to the left of the dealer begins by placing a card face up before him. That player holding a card of the same suit, but one rank higher than the card just played, lays this card down. Players continue laying down cards of this suit, in sequence, until either the ace of the suit is played, or else until the next card is not in any player's hand.

    For example, Uggi plays the 7 of Spades. Ingrid plays the 8 of Spades, and, since she also holds the 9 of Spades, she plays this as well. Þórsteinn holds the 10 of Spades, and plays it, but no one holds the Jack of Spades, since it happens to be one of the cards that wasn't dealt out at all, this time.

    The player who plays the last card of the sequence, whether it is an Ace or a "stop" card which no one can follow, is permitted to play any card in his hand to start the next sequence. In the example above, Þórsteinn could play his 6 of Spades, for instance, and, since the 7 of Spades has already been played on the previous sequence, this too will be a "stop" card, allowing him to play out yet a third card in his hand.

    Play continues in this manner until one player has played out all of his five cards. The other players now each pay him one chip for each of the cards they still hold. A player who has not had an opportunity to play off even one of his cards pays the winner of this portion of the game five chips; a player having only two cards left in his hand pays two chips, and so on.

    Variations

    Some require that a player hold a combination no lower than a pair of 6's to púkk.

    Some players do not permit Pamfíll to substitute for a Six.


    Púkk layouts

    The author obtained his plastic Púkk layout mat (spilaborð) from:

    Frímerkjamiðstöðin
    Skólavörðustíg 21A
    IS-101 Reykjavík
    ICELAND
    Telephone: +354-1-21170

    In 1993, the author of this description purchased it for 450 Icelandic Crowns (at the time, about 6 to 7 U.S. Dollars).


    Póstarnir or Sixes

    This unusual feature of the game comes from the prevalance of two Karnöffel games in Iceland, Alkort and Treikort, q.v. Ultimately, the word póstar comes from the German Pabst, meaning "Pope", the nickname given to these cards in many northern European descendants of this antique game family. The term bísefa for the 7 of "trumps" also comes from German nicknames for the sevens in Karnöffl, in this case, die böse Sieben "the evil seven".