Skruuvi

Introduction

The Finnish game Scruuvi is a descendant of the famous 19th century Russian card game Vint and a distant cousin of Bridge. When Vint was introduced to Finland in the late 19th century it was known as Skruv-Whist in Swedish and Skruuvi in Finnish, both words being translations of 'Vint' which means 'screw', referring to the screw-like tightening of the bidding in the game.

This page describes a modern version of Skruuvi which is the result of an extensive process of reform through the 20th and early 21st century. It is largely based on the rules published by the Helsingin Suomalainen Klubi (Helsinki Finnish Club) in their Handbook of Skruuvi in 2016. For further details of the history of Skruuvi and its realtionship to Vint see the page Screw Whist: Vint in Finland with contributions by Olli Salmi and Prof Olli Meretoja.

Players, Cards and Format

There are four players, and the game is played clockwise.

A standard international 52-card pack is used. It is normal, though not completely necessary to use two such decks with different coloured backs. As in Whist or Bridge, while the dealer is dealing from one pack the player sitting opposite the dealer shuffles the other pack which will be used by the next dealer. The shuffler places the shuffled pack to his or her right. Traditionally it should be placed face up with a middling card (not an A, K, 2 or 3) on top. After the hand has been bid, played and scored, the new dealer takes the shuffled pack which should be to his or her left, passes it across to the opponent to the right to be cut, and then deals while the player across the table shuffles the pack that has just been used.

Most of the time Skruuvi is played as either a Kitty Game or a No-Kitty Game between two partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other. Optionally, some deals may be played as Bolshevik, in which one player plays against the other three as a team.

The standard format consists of 24 deals consisting of three sets of 8. Each set of eight deals consists of four Kitty Games followed by four No-Kitty Games. Between the sets of 8 the players change seats in such a way that by the end of the whole session each player has played one set of 8 deals with each other player as a partner.

Optionally the players may agree to play in addition one or more sets of Bolshevik, for example after each normal set of 8 deals or after the last set only.

For a shorter session, a 12-deal format is possible consisting 4 deals with each pairing of partners. Each set of 4 deals then consists of two Kitty Games followed by two No-Kitty games.

Contract Types

There are three types of contract: Trumps, Grand and Misère.

Trumps
The aim is to win tricks. The trump suit and the level are specified in the bid. The minimum number of tricks that the bidding side undertakes to win is six plus the level of the bid. For example a bid of '5 diamonds' is an undertaking to win at least 11 tricks (6+5) with diamonds as trumps.
Grand
The aim is to win tricks. There is no trump suit and the level of the bid specifies how many tricks in excess of six must be won. For example '7 grand' is an undertaking to win all 13 tricks (6+7) with no trumps.
Misère
The aim is to lose tricks and in particular to avoid winning tricks containing Aces. There are no trumps. The penalty for taking an Ace increases steadily during the play. When Misère is bid, the bidding team undertakes to win at most seven tricks minus the level of the bid. For example '6 misère' is an undertaking to win not more than one trick. Misère is also played if no one bids in the auction: in this case every trick taken (and every Ace won) counts against the team that wins it.

Kitty Game

In this format there is a kitty of four cards to be taken by the highest bidder. The bidder then passes four cards to partner who in turn distributes one card to each of the other three players. It was also known as 'Packet Skruuvi', and was described a Finnish rule book as early as 1895, though without the misère options and doubling.

Deal

The dealer deals 12 cards face down to each player, clockwise, one card at a time. During the deal a kitty of 4 cards is dealt face down to the centre of the table. The kitty may be dealt whenever the dealer chooses provided that it does not include the top card, the bottom card or consist of 4 consecutive cards from the pack.

Auction

The dealer speaks first and the turn to bid passes clockwise. Each player must either pass or bid higher than the previous bidder. A bid consists of a level, which is a whole number from 1 to 7, and a denomination. The possible denominations, in ascending order, are misère, spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts, grand. To be higher, a bid must either be at a higher level than the previous bid, or the same level in a higher denomination.

Since the final contact has to be at a level of 5 or higher, lower bids are used in the early rounds to convey information about hand strength, potential trump suits and the location of Aces and Kings - see conventions.

If all four players pass at their first turn to speak, the auction ends and an All-pass Misère is played. If anyone bids, the auction continues in rotation until there are eight consecutive passes (two by each player). A player who has passed may bid again on a subsequent turn. Therefore a player who has bid may pass at his or her next turn and bid again the turn after that, even if everyone else passes twice meanwhile.

After eight passes, the last and highest bid is known as the 'kitty bid', and the that player's team are known as the 'main players'. They will have to play the contract and their opponents are the 'defenders'.

Card Exchange

The player who made the kitty bid exposes the four kitty cards for everyone to see, and then adds them to his or her hand. The kitty bidder then selects any four cards from hand, arranges them in a packet, and passes the packet across the table face down to partner.

The kitty bidder's partner takes these four cards, adds them to his or her hand, and selects any three cards from hand to pass face down to the other three players, one to partner and one to each opponent. After this each of the four players should have a hand of 13 cards.

The kitty bidder is allowed to convey information not only by the selection of cards that are passed but also by the order in which these cards are arranged in the packet. See conventions.

Extended Bids

After the card exchange there is a further period of bidding involving only the main players. They bid in turn, beginning with the kitty bidder, and ending when there are four consecutive passes (two by each partner). The final bidder is known as the 'declarer'. (Bridge players should note that the declarer will not necessarily be the first of the main players who bid the denomination of the final contract.)

If the main players are satisfied with the contract reached at the end of the first part of the auction, both players may just pass twice. If they bid, the first bid must be higher than the kitty bid, and each subsequent bid must be higher.

Although the kitty bid can be at any level, the level of the final bid must be at least five (the main players must undertake to win at least 11 tricks in trumps or grand, or at most 2 tricks in misère). Therefore if the kitty bid was at the level of 4 or less, the main players cannot just pass twice but must raise the level of the bid.

Opponents' Card Exchange and Doubles

If the first bid in the auction by the main players was at a level lower than 6, the opponents now have the right to exchange one card. The player to the left of the declarer passes one card face down to the other defender who takes it and returns one card face down.

Next, the defender to declarer's left has the opportunity to double the contract. If this defender passes the other defender may double or pass. If either defender doubles, the main player to the doubler's left may pass or redouble, and if the first main player passes the other main player may pass or redouble. The score for a contract, won or lost, is multiplied by two if it was doubled, or by three (not four) if it was doubled and redoubled. In a misère, the multiplication applies only to the score for the contract and over- or undertricks, not to the penalties for taking Aces.

Kotka (No-Kitty) Game

This style of play is named after the city of Kotka, where it was invented in the early 20th century. The declarer's team passes four cards in each direction, and the bidding begins at the 6-level.

Deal

The dealer deals out all the cards one at a time so that each player has a hand of 13 cards.

Auction

The ranking of the denominations, in ascending order, is spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts, misère, grand. Note that the ranking of misère is higher than in Kitty games. The auction proceeds in the same way as in the Kitty game but the minimum bid level is six. As usual if all four players pass at their first turn an All-pass Misère is played - because of the stricter bidding requirement this happens more often than in the Kitty game.

Card Exchange

The highest bidder selects any four cards and hands them in a packet face down to partner, who adds them to his or her hand and returns any four cards from hand in a packet.

Extended Bids and Doubles

The main players continue bidding, as in the Kitty game, until there are four consecutive passes. The final bidder is the declarer. The defenders do not have any opportunity to exchange cards.

The opponents may double - the player to declarer's left decides first, then the other defender. If either defender doubles, the main player to the doubler's left decides first whether to redouble, then the other main player.

All-Pass Misère

This happens in a Kitty or a Kotka game if all four players pass at their first turn to speak in the auction. If it is a Kitty game the dealer deals the four kitty cards face down to the players, one card each, so that each player has 13 cards.

Card Exchange and Doubles

The player to dealer's left and the dealer's partner each pass one card face down across the table to their partners. The dealer and the player to dealer's right take these cards and each pass one card back. Assuming that two packs of cards are being used, the players who pass cards first are those on each side of the newly shuffled pack.

The dealer has the first opportunity to double. If the dealer passes, the opportunity to double passes clockwise. If a player doubles, the player to the left of the doubler has the first opportunity to redouble, and if that player passes the turn passes to the player to doubler's right.

Bolshevik

In Bolshevik, one player plays a level 7 contract (normally 7 misère), playing alone against a team consisting of the other three players. Every player must do this at least once.

A Bolshevik set consists of up to eight deals during which each of the four players must play one and only one contract.

Deal

As in the Kitty game, the dealer deals 12 cards to each player and during the deal creates a face down kitty of four cards in the centre of the table.

Auction

The only possible bid is 'Bolshevik', which is equivalent to 7 misère. The auction begins with the dealer and goes clockwise just once around the table. Players who have already played a contract are skipped and do not get a turn to speak. Those who have not yet played a contract must at their turn either pass or bid Bolshevik. It is possible for two or more players to bid Bolshevik. In this case the bidders choose in turn whether to play their contract or to withdraw and let a later bidder play. If all but one withdraw the last Bolshevik bidder must play.

If all players pass, the hand is not played. The cards are thrown in and it is the next player's turn to deal.

However, if the number of deals out of the set of 8 remaining to be played is equal to the number of players who have not yet played their contract, it is not permitted for all players to pass. If no one else has bid, the player whose turn to speak is last must bid Bolshevik irrespective of whether his or her cards are suitable. This is called a 'forced Bolshevik'.

Card Exchange

The bidder exposes the kitty, picks it up, and passes one card face down to each opponent, so that each player has 13 cards.

Extended Bids and Doubles

After handing out cards, the bidder will usually pass and play 7 misère, undertaking to lose every trick. Alternatively the bidder may raise the bid to 7 in any trump suit or 7 grand and attempt to win every trick. A contract to win all the tricks in this case is known as Dictator.

The player to the bidder's right is known as the 'stalker'. Beginning with the stalker, each opponent in clockwise order may either double or pass. A double counts only for the individual player, not for the team. After all the opponents have spoken, if anyone has doubled, the bidder can either redouble all those who have doubled or pass.

Play

In Kitty or Kotka game when there is a declarer, the player to the declarer's left leads any card to the first trick. In an All-pass Misère the player to the dealer's left leads. In Bolshevik, the player to the bidder's right (the stalker) leads to the first trick.

In Skruuvi, unlike Bridge, there is no exposed dummy hand. All four players play their own cards.

Players must follow suit if possible. A player who has no card of the suit that was led 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 that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

Scoring

In Kitty and Kotka games the scorer records the score for their team, positive or negative, after each hand. So for example a contract made by the scorer's opponents is recorded as negative points for the scorer's team. At the end of each set of 8 deals, the scores are transferred to the individual players. For example if the scorer's team scored -47 points for the set, then the scorer and partner would subtract 47 from their cumulative score while the other two players add 47.

The scores for bid contracts are as follows. Note that the 'contract made' score applies only if the contract is successful. If the contract fails only the undertircks are scored.

Level 5 6 7
Contract made (trump or grand) 25 35 50
Contract made (misère) 10 20 35
Overtricks (each) 2 2 -
First undertrick (trump or grand) 5 10 15
First undertrick (misère) 10 15 20
Subsequent undertricks 5 5 5

In addition, in a misère, for each Ace taken, the winners of the trick are penalised the ordinal number of the trick. For example an Ace taken in the fourth trick costs 4, and Ace taken in the last (13th) trick costs 13.

If the contract was doubled but not redoubled, the scores in the table are multiplied by 2. For a redoubled contract the scores in the table are multiplied by 3. Doubles and redoubles do not affect the penalties for Aces.

In All-pass Misère each trick counts one negative point for the team that wins it, and there is a penalty for each Ace taken as in a bid misère. Double and redouble affect only the trick points, not the Aces.

In Bolshevik a separate score is kept for each player. A 7 misère contract scores 20 if made. If it fails the first undertrick costs 15 and each subsequent undertrick 5 points. A dictator contract scores the same as in normal games: 50 if the contract is made, if it fails 15 for the first undertrick and 5 for each subsequent undertrick. These scores apply to each opponent of the bidder: for opponents who doubled they are doubled, or trebled if the bidder redoubled. In a misère Aces score penalty points as usual. Aces taken by the bidder's opponents count against all members of the team, but as usual are not affected by doubles and redoubles. The bidder's score is calculated so that the sum of the players' scores are zero.

For example if player A plays 7 misère and wins one trick while the opponents take Aces on the 2nd, 5th, 9th and 10th tricks, players C and D doubled but B did not. So the Aces are worth 26 (=2+5+9+10) and the contract with its undertrick is worth 15. player B will score -11 (=15-26) and players C and D will each score +4 (=15×2-26) and therefore player A will score +3 (=+11-4-4).

Conventions

Here is a brief summary of bidding and passing conventions. The handbook gives further details and examples.

Auction

In the Kitty game, players use the early rounds of the auction and the bid levels below 5 to explore possible trump suits and exchange information about honours held, especially Aces and Kings.

It is legal for players to devise and agree their own bidding systems. These must be disclosed to the opponents, and partner's bids explained on request, as in Bridge. However in Skruuvi, unlike Bridge, players do not form long-term partnerships with the same partners always playing together. Since a Skruuvi match between 4 players consists of three sets of deals, one set with each possible pairing of partners, it is usual and convenient for all players at the table to play the same bidding system and a commonly agreed standard system has evolved.

Some typical conventions are as follows.

In the first round,

  • 1 of a suit shows a 5-card suit headed by 3 honours or a 6-card suit headed by two high honours, plus an ace in another suit
  • 1 grand shows three aces
  • 2 of a suit shows a stronger suit than a bid of 1
  • 2 grand shows 4 aces
  • 3 of a suit shows a good hand (about 7 honours) with no good suit, but the suit bid is the best one.
  • 3 grand shows a strong hand with no good suit and not more than two aces
  • 5 or 6 misère (or any other denomination) - preemptive, to hinder the opponents from exchanging information

In response to partner's opening

  • new suit - similar quality suit to an opening bid of 1 but no side ace is needed
  • 2 grand in response to 1 grand shows the fourth ace
  • 2 misère in response to a suit opening shows a void or low singleton in opener's suit
  • immediate raise of partner's suit - 4 card support to an honour
  • grand at the lowest level or a single jump - shows 3 or 4 aces respectively

Second round bids:

  • opener can bid a second suit, request partner to pass cards of this suit if unable to pass four trumps - this second suit can be one card weaker than required for a first round bid
  • opener can jump in a new suit to show a second suit of first round opening quality
  • misère can be bid to show a hand suitable for misère

Third and fourth round

  • suits are bid in upward order to show aces, or kings if the ace has already been shown

Encouragement

  • It is usually desirable for the partner with weaker trumps to be the kitty bidder, so that all trumps can passed to one hand. A bid of 5 in the denomination immediately below the prospective trump suit is a request to partner to make the kitty bid.

In a Kotka game a strong hand is needed to open the bidding - for example a 7-card suit to 3 honours with a side ace, or 9 cards in two suits with 3 good honours in each. The player will normally bid 6 spades, leaving the trump suit to be set after card exchange. 6 clubs shows a natural void (in any suit) and a dislike of spades.

Passing Cards

The arrangement of the packet of four cards passed by the final bidder after the first part of the auction can be used to show which suits have been voided, whether the hand is suitable for misère, and in a Kotka game to indicate the perferred trump suit (or safest suit in case of misère). If the four-card packet contains two suits then the card closest to the table normally indicates a suit in which the passer has made a void. A suitable hand for misère is indicated by arranging a suit so that its lowest card is nearest to the table.

Specifically, if the packet contains two suits A(a) and B(b) then it can be arranged from top to bottom in the following ways: aaBB, ABAB, baab, aaaB, AABA, abaa. These arrangements indicate that suit(s) in upper case (A, B) have been voided, but that the passer still holds at least one card in the lower case suit(s) (a, b). The hand is suitable for misère if the card in bold is lower in rank than the other cards of the same suit. In a Kotka game the preferred trump suit (or safest suit in case of misère) is indicated by the rank of the card of the A(a)-suit that is topmost in the packet. Using the rank spades < clubs < diamonds < hearts, if the top card of the A(a)-suit is higher than the next card of that suit the preference is for the higher of the suits not present, otherwise it is for the lower suit.

If a single suit packet is passed in a Kitty game then cards in ascending or descending sequence indicate that the passer still holds at least one card of the suit; if the cards are not in sequence the passer has voided that suit. In a Kotka game the rank order of the top three cards indicates preference among the other three suits, the suit of the top card is preferred, and the suit of the second card is the second choice. In either type of game, the bottom card indicates that the hand is suitable for misère if it is the lowest ranked card, and unsuitable otherwise.

Sometimes three suits are passed in the packet, especially in a Kotka game when the bidder has two short suits. The same principles are followed: the voided suit(s) are nearest to the table, and the arrangement of the two-card suit indicates suitability or not for misère.

In a Kotka game, the bidder's partner will usually return four trumps, or three trumps with a low card on top, the low card indicating a suit in which the passer has an ace which can be used as an entry. Holding only one or two cards of the bidder's preferred suit, the partner may instead return cards in the bidder's second preference suit, suggesting this as the trump suit.

Variants

The version of Skruuvi described on this page is quite recent, and it is likely that older versions are still played in some places. The previous scoring schedule was as follows:

Level 5 6 7
Contract made (trump or grand) 25 36 49
Contract made (misère) 10 20 30
Overtricks (each) 5 6 -
First undertrick (all contracts) 5 11 17
Subsequent undertricks 5 6 7

Doubling affected the scoring for aces in misère and redoubling multiplied basic scores by 4 rather than 3.

In the 20th century, 4-level contracts were permitted in Kitty games. However, these contracts were only played out if the defenders doubled. If there was no double, the contract was simply scored as though it had been made with no overtricks, the cards were thrown in and the next hand was dealt. The score for a 4-level contract, consistent with the new scoring schedule, should be 10 points for trump or grand, 5 points for misère, 2 points for each overtrick and 5 for each undertrick. Using the older schedule it should perhaps be 16 points for trump or grand, 5 points for misère and 4 for each overtrick or undertrick.

For earlier versions of the game, see the page Screw Whist: Vint in Finland in which Olli Salmi traces the evolution of the game and scoring through the 20th century and Prof Olli Meretoja explains the genesis of the new scoring schedule.

Bolshevik can be played as an option within the game rather than as a separate set of deals. In that case, each set consists of 12 deals rather than 8 and each player must play one and only one Bolshevik during the set. The auction begins with an extra round of bidding in which the only possible bids are Bolshevik (for players who have not played their Bolshevik) or pass. If all four players pass in this first round the normal auction follows, and if all four pass a second time an All-pass Misère is played. If Bolshevik is bid the auction ends after the first round and a Bolshevik is played. The next deal should then be dealt by the same dealer so as not to disturb the sequence of deals for the Kitty and Kotka games. After four Kitty games have been played, the style changes to Kotka as usual but the cards are dealt as for a Kitty game. If no one bids Bolshevik, the kitty cards are dealt to the four players and the Kotka bidding continues, each player having a 13-card hand. If any of the players have not played their Bolshevik after the four Kotka games have been played, those players must each in turn play a forced Bolshevik.