Ferbli

This page was originally based on a contribution by Atilla Ördög of plazaonlinecasino.com, and has been revised with the help of detailed commentary and analysis by Gyula Zsigri.

Introduction

Ferbli is a Hungarian vying game that was fashionable in the 19th and early 20th century. It is now fairly uncommon, though Gyula Zsigri believes that it is still played in some rural parts of Hungary, and Attila Ördög reports that it is played in Transylvania. A version of it was offered until recently in some Austrian casinos under the name 41 or Färbli. The name of the game clearly derives from the German word Farbe which means not only "colour" but also a playing-card suit. The earliest known reference to it (under the name Färbeln) is a prohibition dated 1714.

The goal is to have the highest ranking four-card hand, or alternatively to convince the other players by your betting that your hand is better than theirs, so that they drop out.

Players, Cards and Ranking of Hands

Ferbli is a game for 2 to 7 players. Deal and play are anticlockwise.

The game is played with a 32-card German suited pack of the William Tell design, locally known as "magyar kártya" (Hungarian cards). The suits are acorns (makk), leaves (zöld), gourds (tök) and hearts (piros). The eight cards of each suit are : Ace (ász), King (király), Over (felső), Under (alsó), X (tízes), IX (kilences), VIII (nyolcas), VII (hetes). The Ace is sometimes known as the Pig (disznó).

For the purpose of comparing hands, the cards have point values: Ace = 11, King = 10, Over = 10, Under = 10, X = 10, IX = 9, VIII = 8, VII = 7.

The rank of the possible four-card hands from highest to lowest, is as follows:

  1. Four of a kind: four cards with the same rank: four aces are highest, then four kings, four overs, four unders, four tens, four nines, four eights, four sevens.
  2. Banda (gang): four cards of the same suit. These are ranked according to the total value of the cards, which can be from 41 (highest) to 34 (lowest).
  3. Three of a kind: three cards with the same rank, ranking from high to low: ace, king, over, under, X, IX, VIII, VII.
  4. Three-card ferbli: three cards of the same suit, ranking according to the total value of these suited cards, which can be from 31 (high) to 24 (low).
  5. Two aces: this is the only pair that has any value.
  6. Two-card ferbli: two cards of the same suit. This can have value from 21 down to 15.
  7. One card of each suit, ranking according to the highest valued card, from 11 down to 8 (VIII-VIII-VII-VII in four suits is the worst possible hand).

Note that cards that are not part of the ranking combination are ignored. For example Ace-Ace-VIII-VII (mixed suits) and Ace-Ace-King-King are equal in value, and the winner is determined by the position of the players (see showdown).

Three or four of a kind are also sometimes known as kunszt (from the german Kunst).

Deal and Betting

At the start of the session players must agree on the stakes. They must decide on the amount of the vizi, which is the basic minimum bet, and also on the maximum. At various times during the game, players have an opportunity to raise the stake by placing an additional bet, and whenever this happens the other players must decide whether to match this additional bet or to drop out (fold), abandoning any money they have so far put into the pot. The most usual game is Limited Ferbli (korlátolt ferbli), in which the minimum raise is equal to the vizi, and the maximum raise is twice the amount of the largest previous bet in the current deal. So the first bet can be equal to or twice the vizi. If the first bet is twice the vizi, the second can be from 1x to 4x the vizi. If the second bet was 4x the vizi and the third was only 1x the vizi, the fourth could still be from 1x to 8x the vizi, and so on.

Before the deal, the player to dealer's right (known as the first player) must pay the minimum bet (vizi) to the pot.

The dealer shuffles the cards well and the player to dealer's left must cut. Then the dealer deals a batch of two cards face down to each player, starting with the player to his right. Everyone is entitled to see the bottom card of the pack, which must be shown by the dealer on request.

First round of betting - the vizi and the cukassza

In this first betting round, after everyone has looked at their two cards, anyone other than the first player who wants to play must match the vizi (blind) that the first player put in the pot. The game is played anticlockwise, so starting with the player to the right of the first player, each in turn either puts a vizi in the pot or drops out (folds) by laying his or her two cards crosswise face down on the table. Note that the first player, having already put in a compulsory vizi, never drops out at this stage.

If there are four or fewer players at the table, the game only goes ahead if there are at least two active players, i.e. if at least one player other than the first player has put in a vizi. If there are five or more players there need to be at least three active players for the game to proceed.

If there are not enough players for the game to proceed, the cards are thrown in and all those players who did not pay a vizi to the pot must now do so. The pot then contains one vizi for each player, and this is known as a cukassza. The turn to deal passes to the right, and the player to the right of the new dealer must add another vizi (blind) to the pot. The new dealer deals two cards to each player, and the other players decide whether to pay a vizi to play. Again, if there are insufficient players, the cards are thrown in, all those who did not pay a vizi must do so, the turn to deal passes to the right, and the new first player adds another vizi. The more money is added to the pot the more attractive it becomes to play, so eventually there will be enough players for the game to go ahead.

Second round of betting - besszerelés, kóstáltatás

After the first betting round is complete, if there are sufficient players to continue, the first player, who has had no decision to make up to this point, has the opportunity to raise the stake. This is announced by saying besszer (from the German besser = better) or beljebb. If the first player does not want to raise the stake on the basis of his or her first two cards, no one else can raise in this betting round either. In practice, the dealer asks the first player "mehet?", meaning "should the deal continue?" If the first player does not want to raise he or she answers yes, the dealer deals another batch of two cards to each player, and the third betting round begins - see below.

If the first player does raise, then instead of allowing the deal to go on, he or she puts an additional stake in the pot, which can be up to twice the amount of the vizi. The other players who have not folded must decide in turn whether to match the first player's raise, putting in the same additional amount, or to fold, abandoning their vizi and any chance to win the pot. If everyone else folds, the first player simply wins the pot, but if one or more other players stay in, the game continues.

If the first player has raised, the last player has the opportunity to respond by raising the stake further. This "last" player is either the dealer or, if the dealer has folded, the next player in clockwise order to the dealer's left who is still in the game, in other words the last player who matched the first player's raise. This action by the last player is a special kind of raise known as kóstáltatás (charging) or veretés, which effectively allows this player to raise several times consecutively, the maximum number of raises being equal to the number of active players in the game.

The last player may kóstáltat (charge) the first player, placing a bet which may be up to twice the amount of the besszer bet. The dealer gives the first player his next two cards, which the first player may look at. The first player must either pay the kósta (charge) by matching the amount staked by the last player, or fold. Irrespective of which he does, all other active players in turn must decide, without looking at any more cards, whether to fold or to pay the charge. At this point the first player has four cards but all the other players still only have two cards.

Having charged the first player, then irrespective of whether or not the charge was paid, the last player can then charge the next active player, then the next and so on around the table, and each charge can be up to twice the previous largest bet. For example if the vizi was 1 unit and the first player bet 2 units for the besszer, the last player could charge the first three active players 4, 8 and 16 units respectively. If at any point the last player decides not to charge an active player, then two cards are dealt to all remaining active players without charge. In particular if the last player does not charge the first player then the dealer simply completes the deal, dealing a second batch of two cards to every player.

The second to last player - the nearest active player counting clockwise from the last player, is known as the ostorhegyes (trace-horse). If only one player matched the first player's raise, so that there are only two active players, then the first player will be the trace-horse. The last player may charge the trace horse twice, once for each card. That is:

  • The last player may charge the trace horse for the third card, and if the trace-horse pays for it, then demand another charge for the fourth card.
  • The last player may charge the trace horse for the third card, but when the trace-horse has paid for it decide to deal the fourth card free.
  • As always, the last player may decide not to charge at all, and allow the trace-horse's last two cards to be dealt free.

The procedure for charging for one card is similar to that for two cards. The last player stakes the amount of the charge, and the dealer deals the card to the trace-horse, who may look at it before deciding whether to pay. Whether ot not the charge is paid, any other players who have not dropped out must in turn either match this extra stake or drop out.

If the last player charges the trace-horse for the third and then the fourth card, and the trace-horse pays both charges, then the trace-horse has the right to charge the last player in the same way, for the third card and then for the fourth card. Again each charge can be up to twice the largest previous bet or charge. The trace-horse stakes the desired amount, the dealer gives the card to the last player who may look at it and then decide whether to pay the charge, and any other active players who do not wish to drop out must also pay the same.

Although a player who is charged may look at the cards being charged for before deciding whether to pay, he or she also has the option to pay without looking at the new cards. The point of this is to preserve the option to bet blind in the third betting round - see below.

Tactical note

Although the second round of betting theoretically allows the stakes to become quite high, in most deals there will be no besszer bet by the first player, and therefore no opportunity for charging. Even when the first player does call for besszer, in most cases the last player will not charge and the deal will be completed with only the vizi and besszer stakes in the pot. Charging is quite unattractive for the last player because the player who is charged can see four cards before deciding whether to stay in, and will probably pay the charge only with a 3-card ferbli or better. The odds are against the last player, who has seen only two cards, being able to beat this, so if the first player pays the charge it would be reckless of the last player to go on and charge other players as well. The only case where there is likely to be a series of charges is when players fold upon seeing their last two cards. So the last player is only likely to charge the trace-horse when these are the only active two players left in the game.

The situation could be rather different should the first player decide to pay the charge without looking at his or her third and fourth cards. Since the outcome is now a matter of chance the last player might decide to charge other players as well, and a huge pot could develop, especially since the first player will probably bet blind in the third round.

Third betting round - hívás and visszahívás

By this stage, every player who has not folded should have four cards. Players may look at all four cards, or may choose to look only at their first two cards if they wish to bet blind. The term "first player" now refers to the first player counting anticlockwise from the dealer who has not yet folded. This will be the original first player unless that player asked for besszer but then folded when last player tried to charge.

The first player may bet (hív) by placing any amount from one vizi up to twice the amount of the previous largest bet into the pot. If the first player does not wish to bet, he or she may check, reserving the right to respond to bets by other players, in which case the next active player in anticlockwise order has the same options, and so on around the table. The announcements if one wishes to check are "fórpassz" for the first player, "cupassz" for the second player, and according to one source (Szomaházi) "dru" for the third player, and "undpassz" or "und" for later players. If everyone checks, no one wins the pot: the cards are thrown in, all players who did not put in a vizi now have to do so, and the money in the pot remains as a cukassza for the next deal.

If a player bets, each of the other active players in anticlockwise order (those who have not yet spoken in this round and those who checked) must either fold, abandoning the money they have so far paid in the pot, or call by adding to the pot the same amount as the player who bet. If at any point all but one players have dropped out, the last surviving player wins the pot without having to show any cards. If more than one player remains in, then after everyone has responded, the last player who matched the bet (and this player only) has the option to raise the bet (visszahív - bet back) by again adding any amount from one vizi up to twice the largest previous bet. Once again the other active players can stay in by matching the bet or drop out, and after this the last player who matches it can visszahív again, and this continues until someone places a bet that is not raised. At that point if there is more than one active player the cards are shown and the holder of the best hand wins the pot - see showdown.

Blind betting - vakon hívás

In the third round, players who have only looked at their first two cards have the option to bet blind (blindel or vakol). The advantage of betting blind is that a blind bet must be raised unless all the other players drop out. This works as follows. Active players respond to the bet in turn as usual. A player who has seen all four cards has the usual options to drop out or match the bet. A blind player responding to a blind bet has the extra option of raising the bet, thereby starting a new round in which all the other players must either drop out or respond to this new blind bet. After everyone has responded to the most recent blind bet or raise, so that the stakes of the active players are all equal, the last player who matched the blind bet (who may or may not be blind) must raise it. As usual this compulsory raise may be any amount from one vizi to twice the previous highest bet.

A player who was betting blind can choose to look at his or her other two cards at any point in the betting. As soon as any player who has looked at all four cards bets or raises, blind betting is ended. It is no longer compulsory for anyone to re-raise, and any remaining blind players may as well look at all four of their cards, since they can no longer force a re-raise.

The Showdown

If after the betting, there is still more than one player in contention for the pot, the players show their cards in anticlockwise order, beginning with the player to dealer's right. The player with the best hand wins the pot. If two players have equal ranking combinations of cards, the one who wins is the player who is nearer to the dealer's right hand - in other words the one whose cards were shown first. There is no splitting of the pot.

Remember that if everyone checks in the third betting round, there is no showdown. The cards are thrown in, the money in the pot remains there, the next dealer deals, and the player to the new dealer's right places a new vizi.

Variations

Some play that in the case of a cukassza - a deal that begins with money in the pot because the previous hand was not played - the dealer may announce "call or discard" (megadás vagy eldobás). In this case players decide in clockwise order, beginning with the dealer, whether to match the first player's vizi or pass. If any player matches the vizi, the game continues, even if there are only these two players in a game of five or more players.

Apparently some play that when there is a besszerelés, everyone must show two of their four cards during the four-card betting round. A player who bet (besszerel) or raised (kóstáltat) must show either the first two cards they were dealt or the second two, but other players may show any two cards.

Grigáré is an additional hand type recognised by some players. It is a sequence of four consecutive cards in four different suits, ranking below banda but above three of a kind.

Some play only with the kis grigáré (acorn VII - leaf VIII - gourd IX - heart X) and the nagy grigáré (acorn under - leaf over - gourd king - heart ace). In this case the kis grigáré is the highest hand of all, the nagy grigáré is second, then four of a kind and so on in order.

Sánta: some play that the "makk felső" (over of acorns) is a wild card, that can be used as a substitute for any needed card. In a set of cards of the same suit the sánta will be worth 11 points, so it is possible to have a banda with a value of 42. Some play with four wild cards (all the tens), or even when there are five or more players with five wild cards: the tens and the makk felső. Some play with one or more wild sevens when there are more than four players - for example just the heart seven with 5 players, heart and leaf sevens with 6 players, and heart, leaf and acorn sevens with 7 players.

When playing Limited Ferbli with a sánta, the maximum limit for betting is sometimes increased to three times the largest previous bet. It is also possible, though dangerous, to play Unlimited Ferbli, in which there is no upper limit to the bets.

Majzli. In this variation, before the players look at their cards, the player to dealer's right decides on the size of the vizi and holds it in a closed fist. In the first betting round, the other players decide whether to stay in or drop out without knowing the size of the bet. After all have decided the bet is revealed and those that stayed in have to place that amount in the pot.

Some play that if there are two successive deals in which insufficient players put in a vizi to allow the game to proceed, then on the third deal, everyone must put in a vizi and the game automatically goes ahead.

Apparently some play a version of the game in which the second and third betting rounds are combined. In this case the first player can bet blind while placing a besszer bet and the last player can raise blind before the veretés, the first player can raise after paying the kósta, and so on. The exact details of this version, which is described by Szőnyei, are not clear to us.

Cuhhol. In the version described by Szőnyei, there is no checking on the third round of betting. The first active player must either bet or "cuhhol" by showing his cards and announcing their value. Proceding anticlockwise, active players whose hands are not higher than this must fold. If there is at least one player with a higher hand then the first of them must bet, unless he or she is the last active player, who will just show his or her hand and win the pool immediately. If all fold, they play a cuhhkassza. The cuhhol'ed hand remains face up, all those who dropped out without paying a vizi not pay it, and the dealer deals a new set of four cards to each player face up. The highest hand wins the pot provided that it is higher than the cuhhol'ed hand. Otherwise, everyone pays another vizi, there is another face up deal, and this process is repeated until the pot is won.

Sources

Other Web Sites

Here is the German Wikipedia page on the Styrian game Einundvierzig (41). In this version each player displays two of his four cards face up on the table before the second betting round.