Alsós

With thanks to Gyula Zsigri for his help and advice.

Introduction

Alsós is an elaborate three-player card game that was fashionable in Hungary from the end of the 19th until the middle of the 20th century. The basic structure, card values and combinations are those typical of Jass games , but what gives Alsós its unique character are the figurák (figures), which are extra feats that players can announce in advance, and may succeed or fail independently of the basic game. The idea of figurák was borrowed from Tarokk, and some of the announcements have the same names and meaning, while others are specific to Alsós.

The name of the game is derived from the Hungarian word 'alsó' (under). The standard Hungarian 32-card pack used for the game has three pictures in each suit: King, the Over Knave (felső) and the Under Knave (alsó), which correspond to the King, Queen and Jack in the international pack. In Hungarian Jass games, generally known as kaláber, the highest trump was either the Over Knave or the Under Knave, followed by the 9, and these two types of game were distinguished by the names alsós kaláber and felsős kaláber, or alsós and felsős for short.

Early in the 20th century Alsós was also played in Austria, where it was known as Vannak, which in Hungarian just means "here they are", and is the word by which a player declares a set of four equal cards.

Alsós evolved over time and there were many variants. The main description on this page is mostly based on the rules published by G. J. Potter in A kártyajáték művészete (Budapest, 1930) and reprinted by Gyula Zsigri in his 21 válogatott kártyajáték (Szeged, 1993), which I am told gives a reliable account of the way the game was generally played in the years before World War II.

Outline of Procedure

Because Alsós is quite complex, it may be useful to start with an outline of the game procedure, taking the three-player game as a model. In each hand the cards are played out in tricks, but before this happens the players bid to determine the trump suit if any, and which player will play alone against the other two in alliance. It is also possible for the players to announce in advance that they will attempt various extra feats known as 'figurák' (figures) which will be paid for independently and to contest figures announced by opponents, doubling the cost by saying kontra. At the start of play players can declare certain combinations of cards (sequences or sets of 4) held in hand. Only the holder of the best combination of each type will be able to score for these. Then the cards are played, the result is determined and scores calculated, and the cards are gathered in and the deal passes to the next player.

The stages of the game are as follows.

  1. First part of the deal. The cards are shuffled and cut. The dealer deals six cards to each player and turns up the next card to show the proposed trump suit, known as the original suit, deals three more cards each, which the players are not allowed to see until step 5, and displays the bottom card of the pack.
  2. First round of bidding. Players may either pass or undertake to play alone, accepting the original suit as trumps.
  3. Second round of bidding. Only if all pass in the first round, players may now bid to play alone with a different suit as trumps or with no trumps.
  4. First round of announcements. Players may announce figures and say kontra to opponents.
  5. Second part of deal. The players pick up their last three cards and add them to their hands, so that each player has nine cards.
  6. Third round of bidding. Only if all passed in the first and second rounds, players may now bid Betli, undertaking to lose every trick.
  7. Trump exchange. If the original suit was accepted as trump in the first round of bidding, the holder of the 7 of trumps can exchange it for the trump indicator card. Further exchanges are sometimes possible.
  8. Play to first trick, with further announcements and declarations. At their turn to play in the first trick, players may declare combinations of cards (melds) held in hand, announce further figures, and kontra opponents' announcements.
  9. Final announcements and validation of melds. At the end of the first trick, there is a final opportunity to increase the score for the game or an opponent's announced figures by saying kontra. Also, if more than one player has declared combinations, these are now compared to decide which is valid. If up to now there have been no announcements of figures players may say 'gyerünk' ('come on') to give opponents the option of giving up or playing on for double score.
  10. Play of the remaining tricks. The remaining eight tricks are played, the winner of each trick leading to the next.
  11. Scoring. Each player separately counts the card points in the tricks they have won. Players check whether the game and figures were won or lost and calculate the scores, which are either converted to money and paid or written down.

Players and Cards

Although Alsós is essentially a three-player game, it is possible for four to take part in a game, taking turns to deal to the other three players and sit out of the hand. The three-player game will be described in detail first. There is also a two-player version, which has a different character but is quite playable if no third player can be found.

The whole game is played counter-clockwise.

A 32-card pack of German suited cards (William Tell pattern) is used. These are locally known as magyar kártya (Hungarian cards) though the characters on the picture cards are Swiss and Austrian. The suits, from highest to lowest, are acorns (makk), hearts (piros), gourds (tök) and leaves (zöld).

Since the cards have no index letters, here is a list of the cards in each suit and how to recognise them.

  • The Ace (ász) is also known in Hungary (as in Austria and Southern Germany) as the Pig (disznó). The suit symbols in the four corners of the Aces are rotated and they show scenes depicting the four seasons of the year.
  • The King (király) is mounted on a horse and has upright suit symbols.
  • The Over Knave (felső) has no horse, and a suit symbol at the top left corner of the card.
  • The Under Knave (alsó) is distinguished from the Over by having its suit symbol lower down the left hand side of the card.
  • The Ten (tízes), Nine (kilences), Eight (nyolcas) and Seven (hetes) have the appropriate number of suit symbols at each end of the card and the corresponding Roman numbers X, IX, VIII, VII.

Here for example are all the acorns in the order Ace, King, Over, Under, Ten, Nine, Eight , Seven.

acekingoverundertennineeightseven

Players in North America can obtain William Tell cards from TaroBear's Lair. Alternatively, in an emergency it would be possible to play with international cards, using Queens for Over Knaves and Jacks for Under Knaves.

The cards within each suit have three different ranking orders:

  1. The order used for making sequences is as above from high to low:
    Ace, King, Over, Under, Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven.
  2. The trick-taking order in trumps from high to low is:
    Under (20), Nine (14), Ace (11), Ten (10), King (4), Over (3), Eight (0), Seven (0).
  3. The trick-taking order in non-trump suits from high to low is:
    Ace (11), Ten (10), King (4), Over (3), Under (2), Nine (0), Eight (0), Seven (0).

Alsós is a point-trick game: the aim (or at least one aim) is to win tricks containing valuable cards. The numbers in brackets in the above lists are the card values. There are a total of 62 card points in the trump suit and 30 card points in each other suit. In addition the last trick is worth an extra 10 card points to the player who wins it. So when there is a trump suit the total number of card points in the deck is 162. If there are no trumps the total is only 130.

Melds

There are three types of card combination (meld) in a player's hand which can score points if declared at the appropriate time and not outranked by another player's meld: sequences in a suit, sets of 4 equal cards and the béla, which consists of the King and Over of trumps.

Sequences

A sequence (sorozat) consists of at least three consecutive cards of a suit. The cards have to be consecutive in the sequence order irrespective of whether the suit is trump or not. A sequence of 3 cards (terc) is worth 20 cards points, a sequence of 4 cards (kvart) is worth 50, and a sequence of 5 or more is worth 100. They are called kvint (5 cards), szext (6), szept (7) and okt (8). A hand can contain more than one sequence but they cannot abut or overlap, so a complete suit of eight cards of a suit cannot be declared as a kvint (100) plus a terc (20), but only as an okt for 100 points.

Only one player can score for sequences. If two players have declared sequences, the player with the best single sequence scores for all his or her sequences. A longer sequence beats a shorter sequence. If two sequences are the same length the one with the higher top card (in sequence order) is better. Between two equal length sequences with equally high cards the trump sequence is better. If neither is in trumps they are equal, and if two players tie for best sequence with equal non-trump sequences neither of them scores.

Sets (vannak)

A set of four equal ranked cards in a player's hand is declared by saying 'vannak' which is just a part of the Hungarian verb 'to be' meaning 'they are' or perhaps 'here they are'. A vannak is worth 80 card points, irrespective of the rank of the cards. If more than one player declares vannak, only the player with the higher ranking vannak scores. In trump games they rank in trump suit order. If there are no trumps they rank in the non-trump order. If the player with the highest vannak also has a second vannak (or in the two-player game conceivably even three of them), they are all scored.

Béla

A player who holds the King and Over of trumps scores 20 card points for it. This is not declared at the start of the play like other combinations, and cannot be beaten by any other combination. The player simply claims it at the end of the play when adding up the points. Of course the players may know about it earlier, for example if a player declares a terc from the Ace or from the King in trumps, which automatically includes a béla.

Deal

The first dealer may be chosen by drawing cards from the shuffled deck: whoever draws the lowest card deals first. The turn to deal will then pass to the right after each hand.

The cards are dealt counter-clockwise in batches of three at a time. The first part of the deal goes around the table twice, starting to dealer's right and ending with the dealer, so that each player has a hand of 6 cards, which they pick up and look at. The next card - the 19th - is placed face up in the centre of the table. This is the trump indicator card. Its suit is the proposed (original) trump suit, which can be accepted or not in the first round of bidding.

The dealer deals another batch of 3 cards face down to each player, which they must not look at yet. That should leave 4 undealt cards in the deck. The dealer stacks the top 3 of these cards face down crosswise on top of the trump indicator card, so that its suit and rank can be seen. Then the last card of the deck is placed face up on top of the centre stack, which is known as the talon.

During the initial rounds of bidding and announcements the players have 6 cards in hand and can see two cards in the centre: the trump indicator card and the card that was originally on the bottom of the pack and is now on top of the talon.

Types of Game and Bidding

The bidding determines what type of game will be played, and which player will play alone against the other two in alliance. This lone player is known as the declarer (felvevő). There are four types of game.

  1. Trump game (adus játék). One of the suits is trumps. The declarer plays alone and tries to take more points for cards won in tricks plus declared combinations than either of the other two players. The score is 1 game point.
  2. No trump game (adu nélküli játék). There is no trump suit. The declarer plays alone and tries to take more points for cards won in tricks plus declared combinations than either of the other two players. The score is 2 game points.
  3. Betli. There is no trump suit. The declarer plays alone and tries to lose every trick. If the declarer wins a trick the play ends and the declarer has lost. The score is 5 game points.
  4. Klopitzky. There is no trump suit and everyone plays for themselves. The player who wins most tricks (not points) pays 3 game points to each opponent. It is not clear from the sources how ties are handled. We suggest that if two players tie with 4 tricks each, they each pay 3 game points to the player with one trick and if all three players tie with 3 tricks each there is no score.

Note that in trump and no trump games the opponents of the declarer do not combine their tricks or their points. If either opponent individually has as many or more points than the declarer, the declarer has lost and pays both opponents for the game. Therefore the opponents cooperate to defeat the declarer's game by ensuring that one of them can equal or beat the declarer's total.

The first round of bidding takes place when each player has 6 cards and there are two cards face up on the table: the trump indicator card and the card on top of the talon, which was previously the bottom card of the pack. The player to dealer's right has only two options: to accept the original suit (the suit of the trump indicator) as trumps or to pass. If this player passes the player to dealer's left has the same options, and if this player also passes the dealer has the same options. A player who accepts the original suit becomes the declarer in a trump game with that suit as trumps. In this case the second and third rounds of bidding are skipped - players proceed immediately to the first round of announcements.

The second round of bidding takes place immediately after the first round, only if all three players passed in the first round. In this round the players have one turn to speak, in turn around the table starting to dealer's right and ending with the dealer. The ranking of the bids from lowest to highest is leaves, gourds, hearts, acorns, no trumps. Each bid must be higher than the last. A player who does not wish to bid can pass. The original suit cannot be bid in this round - a player who wants to play with the original suit as trumps must say so in the first round of bidding. For example if the trump indicator is a heart, all pass in the first round, and the first player in the second round bids "gourds", the next player can only bid "acorns" or "no trumps" or pass. If a player bids no trumps no higher bids are possible so the second round of bidding ends at that point. The final bidder in the second round will be the declarer, playing a trump game against the other two with the final bid suit as trumps, or a no trump game if the final bid was no trumps. The game proceeds to the first round of announcements and there will be no third round of bidding after the second part of the deal.

If all pass in the second round of bidding, the first round of announcements is skipped, the players pick up their last three cards and when everyone has nine cards there is a third round of bidding, again beginning with the player to dealer's right. In this third round the only possible bid is Betli; players who do not want to play Betli say "pass". A bid of Betli ends the third round and the declarer plays alone and tries to lose every trick. If all three players pass in the third round, Klopitzky is played.

Announcements and Kontras

Figures

Figurák ('figures') are extra obligations that can be announced by any player in a trump or no trump game, but not in Betli or Klopitzky. They may be won or lost independently of the game. If the declarer announces a figure, the declarer scores for it if it succeeds, but if it fails both opponents score for it. If an opponent of the declarer announces a figure and succeeds, both opponents will score for it. If it fails only the declarer will score it. Therefore if an opponent of the declarer announces a figure, the other opponent should help him or her to make it.

There are 10 figures that were commonly allowed. Some people played with additional figures, and these will be mentioned in the Variations section.

  1. Kassza. The declarer can announce this if holding the King and Over of trumps (béla), and it succeeds if the declarer wins the game - i.e. takes more points in cards, melds and last trick than either opponent. If announced by either opponent it means that one opponent holds the King and Over of trumps (béla) and that the declarer will not win the game. Score: 1 game point.
  2. Abszolút. The player who announces this in a trump game has to take at least 82 points counting only the cards taken in tricks and the last trick score, and not including meld points for sequences, vannak or béla. (There are 162 points in the pack so the announcement is to take more than half of these points.) In a no trump game, a player who announces Abszolút has to take at least 66 points in cards and the last trick to succeed (i.e. more than half of the available total of 130). Score: 1 game point.
  3. Százas (100). The player who announces this in a trump game has to take at least 100 points counting only the cards taken in tricks and the last trick score, and not including meld points for sequences, vannak or béla. In a no trump game the equivalent announcement requires only 80 points in tricks to succeed, and is therefore sometimes announced as Nyolcvanas (80) instead. Score: 2 game points.
  4. Kétszázas (200). The player who announces this in a trump game has to take at least 200 points in tricks and melds for the announcement to succeed. In a no trump game the announcer needs at least 180 points in tricks plus melds, so the announcement is really Száznyolcvanas (180). Because meld points can be included, this announcement is easier to make than 100, and the score for it is only 1 game point.
  5. Negyvennégyes (44). The player undertakes to win all four Aces in tricks. The announcement is called 44 because that happens to be the total card point value of the Aces, but the score for it is 1 game point.
  6. Tulétroá (tous les trois). The player undertakes to win the Under, 9 and 7 of trumps in tricks - that is the top two trumps and the lowest trump. Score: 1 game point.
  7. Ultimó. The player undertakes to win the last trick with the 7 of trumps. Score: 2 game points.
  8. Család (family). The player undertakes to win the Ace, King and Over of trumps in tricks. Score: 1 game point.
  9. Összes adu (all trumps). The player undertakes to win the top six trumps in tricks - that is the Under, 9, Ace, 10, King and Over. Score: 2 game points.
  10. Volát. The player undertakes to win all nine tricks. Score: 5 game points.

There are two opportunities to announce figures: "from the front" (elölről) in the first round of announcements, when players have 6 cards each, and "from the back" (hátulról), in the course of the first trick, when the players have seen all 9 of their cards. The scores given above are for figures announced from the back. For figures announced from the front, with only 6 cards in hand, all these scores are doubled.

Note that figures can only be scored if they are announced, either from the front or from the back. Unlike Tarokk, Alsós has no scores for unannounced (silent) figures.

Any of the above figures can be announced in trump games. In no trump games only abszolút, 100 (80), 200 (180), 44 (4 Aces) and Volát can be announced.

Any player may announce a figure. In most cases if a figure is announced by an opponent of the declarer, that opponent has to satisfy the requirements in his or her own tricks for the figure to succeed. For example an opponent who announces tulétroá must take all three cards: it is not sufficient for the three cards to be split between the two opponents. The only exception to this principle is an announcement of kassza by an opponent. For this to succeed it does not matter which opponent equals or exceeds the declarer's card point total, or which opponent holds the béla so long as the trump King and Over are both in the same opponent's hand.

A player is not allowed to announce both abszolút and 100 (or 80) in the same round of announcements. Also a player who has announced 100 (80) cannot subsequently announce abszolút. It follows that 100 should never be announced from the front. In theory this would score 4 points, but it will always be better to announce abszolút with 6 cards for 2 points, and then 100 (80) from the back for another 2 points, achieving the same score with less risk.

Volát can only be announced from the back for 5 points. To announce volát from the front would make no sense, because there is always the likelihood of picking up one or more losing cards in the second part of the deal.

To win an ultimó the player who announced it must win the last trick with the 7 of trumps. It fails if either the player is forced to play the 7 earlier, or if any player (even the partner of the announcer) plays a higher trump in the last trick. A player who has announced ultimó is not allowed to play the 7 prematurely unless forced to by the rules of play (following suit and trumping when void). Even if it becomes clear that the ultimó is impossible, the holder of the 7 is not allowed to play it earlier than necessary, for example in order to make an announced tulétroá.

Kontras

An opponent of the declarer can increase the score for the game by saying kontra to the game, and in the same way an opponent of a player who has announced a figure can increase the score of it by saying kontra to that figure. An opponent of a player who has said kontra to the game or a figure can reply to it with a rekontra, increasing the score again. An opponent of a player who has said rekontra can reply with szubkontra and an opponent of a player who has said szubkontra can reply with hirskontra, each time further increasing the score.

The game and figures are each scored independently, and kontra, rekontra, etc. can be said separately to each. Therefore any player saying kontra, rekontra, etc. must specify exactly what the kontra, rekontra, etc. applies to, saying for example 'kontra the game and the abszolút', 'rekontra the család', and so on.

Kontra, rekontra, szubkontra and hirskontra can be said from the front (with 6 cards) or from the back (with 9 cards). From the front they each multiply the score by 4; from the back they only double the score. If a figure is announced from the front, an opponent can kontra it from the front, or wait for the last 3 cards and kontra it from the back. A figure that has been kontra'd from the front can be rekontra'd from the front or later from the back, and so on.

It should be clear that for the game and each figure, these increases are announced alternately by the two opposing sides. For example if an opponent of the declarer announces a figure, only the declarer can say kontra and szubkontra, and only the declarer's opponents can say rekontra and hirskontra to that figure. Also it is not possible to say rekontra unless the other side has said kontra, szubkontra can only be said in reply to rekontra, and so on. If an opponent announces a figure and the declarer says kontra to it, it is possible for either opponent to reply with rekontra on behalf of the announcer, not only the player who announced the figure.

Announcement procedure

In the first round of announcements the declarer speaks first, and may announce any figures he or she wishes to. Following this the other players speak in turn, in counter-clockwise order around the table. They may kontra anything said by the declarer and also announce figures of their own. A player who has nothing more to say says 'pass': this does not prevent them from acting if the turn to speak comes round to them again. If either of the declarer's opponents says anything, then declarer gets another turn to speak and may say kontra to figures announced by the opponents, respond to any kontra with a rekontra or announce additional figures. The round of announcements continues like this until two consecutive players say pass, at which point the players receive their last 3 cards from the dealer.

The second round of announcements is similar except that it is begun by the player to dealer's right, and is combined with the play of the first trick. During this trick, before playing their card, each player may not only announce additional figures, kontras, rekontras and so on, but also declare combinations (sequence or vannak) held in hand. If there are announcements of figures or kontras, this second round of announcements continues after the end of the first trick going counterclockwise around the table until there are two consecutive passes. Only then can the second trick begin.

Note that it is possible for two players to announce the same figure. For example player A, the declarer in a trump game, announces "abszolút" from the front with a promising 6-card hand. Player B picks up three good cards in the second part of the deal, and announces from the back "kontra the abszolút, abszolút". That is, player B not only doubts that A can take 82 points, but undertakes to take at least 82 points herself. So there are now three items: the game is worth 1 point, A's abszolút announced from the front and kontra'd from the back is worth 4 points and B's abszolút, announced from the back, is worth 1 point. These will each be resolved and paid for independently. It is impossible for both abszolúts to succeed as there are not enough card points in the pack, but either might succeed or both might fail, especially if there are a lot of card points buried in the talon. Independently of this the game might be won or lost, maybe with the help of a sequence or vannak declared by some player.

Trump Exchange

Trump exchange is only possible if the original suit was accepted as trump in the first round of bidding. In this case, it takes place after the second part of the deal, when everyone has nine cards, and before the lead to the first trick.

The old rule was simply that (as in many similar games) a player holding the 7 of trumps could place it under the talon in exchange for the trump indicator card. In Alsós this right has been extended by a process variously known as síber or síbelés. This term is derived from the criminal slang verb síbol meaning 'to smuggle', and not as some people have assumed from meaning 'ski'. The process in the three-player game is as follows:

  1. If the original suit is trump, the holder of the 7 can exchange it for the trump indicator card.
  2. If the card displayed on top of the talon is another trump or an Ace, the player who exchanges the 7 of trumps can take this top card as well.
  3. If the 7 of trumps is the original trump indicator card or is displayed on top of the talon, the holder of the 8 of trumps has the right to exchange it for the trump indicator card, and also to take the card on top of the talon if this is a trump or an Ace.
  4. A player who is able to take both face up cards then exposes the rest of the talon and takes any further trumps or Aces that are in it.

A player who has exchanged the 7 or 8 of trumps and taken more than one card will now have more than 9 cards in hand. This player must now discard cards face down to reduce his or her hand to 9 cards. Trumps cannot be discarded. These discarded cards are set aside: they do not count as tricks taken: the discarded cards do not count for any player and cannot be used in declared melds.

Exchanging is not compulsory, and of course a player who wants to announce ultimó or tulétroá will need to keep the 7 rather than exchange it, otherwise the announcement will fail. On the other hand an opponent of the declarer, by exchanging the 7, can prevent the declarer from capturing this card to make tulétroá.

Play

General rules of play

The cards are played out in nine tricks. Play is counter-clockwise. Any card may be led, and the other two players must follow suit if they can. In trump games a player who has no card of the suit led must play a trump if possible. A player who has no card of the suit led and no trumps may play any card. If any trumps are played the highest trump wins the trick; otherwise it is won by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of the trick leads to the next trick.

Subject always to the rules of following suit and trumping if void, there is no obligation to beat cards previously played to the trick. A player is free to follow suit with a higher or a lower card, and when playing a trump to a trick that already contains one, to play a higher or a lower trump.

First Trick

  • In trump games, Betli and Klopitzky, the player to dealer's right leads to the first trick, no matter which player is the declarer.
  • In no trump games, the player to declarer's left leads to the first trick, so that the declarer plays second to the trick.

In a trump game or no trump game, each player, immediately before playing a card to the first trick, has the opportunity to declare melds, announce figures, and say kontra, rekontra, etc. to the game and previously announced figures. In a Betli there are no melds or figures, but it is still possible to say kontra, etc. to the game. In Klopitzky no declarations or announcements are possible.

When declaring sequences a player only mentions his or her longest sequence, and does not at this stage name the suit or say how high it is. So the declaration is simply 'terc', 'kvart', 'kvint', 'szext', 'szept' or 'okt'. To declare a vannak the player simply says 'vannak' without mentioning the rank. It is not compulsory to declare a sequence or vannak when able to - one might prefer not to mention it for tactical reasons. However a player who does declare a sequence must state its full length: it is not legal to conceal part of a sequence, for example by announcing A-K-O-U as a terc when one really has a kvart.

After the First Trick: Completion of Announcements

Immediately after the first trick the second round of announcements must be completed if necessary. Like the first round it continues until two players pass in succession. So if either the second or third player to the first trick announced any figures or said kontra, rekontra, etc. to anything, the other players must have a chance to react, so the players continue to speak in strict counter-clockwise order around the table until two players pass in succession.

Example. The players in order around the table are A, B, C. Player C is the dealer. Player B is playing a trump game in acorns, and has announced abszolút and tulétroá from the front. The last three cards are dealt. Player A says 'kontra the tulétroá' and leads a card. Player B, the declarer, announces '100' and plays a card. Player C has a 5-card sequence and says 'kvint, kontra the game, kontra the 100' and plays a card, ending the first trick. The round of announcements continues. A passes, B says 'rekontra the 100', C passes, A passes. That ends the second round of announcements. The game is now worth 2 game points, the tulétroá 4, the abszolút 2 and the 100 is worth 8 game points.

Validation of Meld

When the announcements are finished, the meld declarations are validated. To do this, it must be established who has the best sequence and who has the best vannak.

First, if more than one player has declared the same length of sequence, then in the order in which they declared, they now say what is the highest card of this sequence (using sequence ranking A K O U 10 9 8 7). Alternatively a player who can see that their sequence is outranked or decides that they do not want to compete can simply concede by saying "kicsi" (small) without revealing any further information. If there is a tie for highest rank, then if either of the tied sequences is in trumps the holder can say so. In this way it is established whose declaration is valid - namely the player who declared the longest sequence, the highest in case of a tie for longest and the trump sequence in case of a tie for length and rank. This player then declares all their sequences, stating the length, suit and rank of the top card. For example "kvart to the Over in leaves and terc to the King in hearts" (70 card points).

Naturally if only one player declared a sequence, that is valid, and that player now declares all their sequences and count their card points towards game. If there is a tie between two players declaring non-trump sequences of equal length and rank, neither player scores for sequences.

Next, if two or more players have declared vannak there is a similar process. In the order they declared them they now either state the rank of their vannak or concede. Note that the ranking order for comparing vannak is U 9 A 10 K O 8 7 in trump games but A 10 K O U 9 8 7 in no trump games. No tie is possible. The player who declared the best (or only) vannak states its rank and counts 80 card points towards game. In the rare case where this player also has a second, lower vannak this can also be declared for another 80 points.

A player is allowed to concede even if they know that their meld ranks higher than that of another player. This commonly happens when both opponents of the declarer have meld. If one of them believes that the other has a better chance to take more card points than the declarer, the opponent with the weaker hand but higher meld may concede the meld to give the opponent with the stronger hand a better chance to defeat the game with the help of the meld points.

Calling

Before the play continues in a game other than Klopitzky, if no figures have been announced or only kassza, there is a final opportunity to try to increase the stake for the game (and also the kassza if announced). Any player can call "gyerünk", which means "let's go!" or "come on!", which is a proposal to double the game point score.

When a gyerünk call is allowable, the winner of the first trick must pause before leading to the second trick to give players an opportunity to call gyerünk if they wish to. If gyerünk is called, there are three options for the opponent(s) of the player who called.

  1. Concede the game. The remaining cards are not played and the side that called gyerünk scores as though they had won the game.
  2. Accept the call. Play continues and the score for the game (including kassza if announced and any kontras) is doubled.
  3. Kontra the gyerünk. This accepts the double and proposes to double the score again. Now the side that called gyerünk has to decide whether to concede for double score, accept and play for quadruple score, or rekontra the gyerünk.

Doubling can continue with szubkontra and hirskontra. At each stage the side responding to the kontra can give up for the previous stake, play on for the new stake, or try to double back.

The literature is not clear about the procedure to be followed by the declarer's opponents when replying to a gyerünk or to a kontra. We suggest that they should speak in turn without consultation, beginning with the opponent to the right of the declarer. If they say different things, the more aggressive response prevails - so the game is only conceded if both opponents concede, and if the first opponent accepts, the second opponent's only options are to accept or to kontra.

It is possible to call "gyerünk" even if the game has already been kontra'd. For example a no trump game, originally worth 2, is kontra'd from the front, increasing the score to 8. After picking up good cards in the second part of the deal, the declarer says rekontra from the back, increasing the score to 16. Before the second trick the declarer could also call "gyerünk", requiring the opponents to choose whether to give up the game for 16 or continue for 32. If the players were sufficiently reckless this could even continue with a battle in which an opponents says kontra to the gyerünk, potentially propelling the score into the stratosphere. If the declarer replies with rekontra. an opponent with szubkontra and the declarer with hirskontra, the opponents would now have to choose whether to give up for 256 (game: 2, kontra with 6 cards: 8, rekontra with 9 cards:16, gyerünk: 32, kontra gyerünk: 64, rekontra gyerünk: 128, szubkontra gyerünk: 256) or to accept the hirskontra and play on for 512.

Subsequent Tricks

After the above steps have been completed, and if neither team has given up as a result of a call, the winner of the first trick leads to the second trick and play continues according to the general rules until all nine tricks have been played. Each of the three players keeps the tricks they have won in a separate face down pile in front of them.

Scoring

In a trump or no trump game, each of the players adds up the point values of the cards in their tricks and the winner of the last trick adds 10 points for that. Any player who has announced abszolút or százas (100) checks to see whether the announcement was successful.

If there was a valid sequence or vannak declaration, the players who declared those melds add their value to their card points. Any player who had béla in their hand declares it now and adds 20 points for that. Any player who announced kétszázas (200) checks to see whether that announcement was successful.

The declarer's points are compared with those of each of the opponents. If the declarer has more points than either opponent separately, the game succeeded. If any other player has an equal or greater number of points than the declarer, the game failed.

The payments for the game and each of the announcements can be made immediately in cash. The stake should be agreed in advance.

  • For the declarer's successful game or announcement, each opponent pays the appropriate number of points. For a failed game or announcement the declarer pays that amount to each opponent.
  • For a successful announcement by an opponent the declarer pays the value of the announcement to each opponent. For a failed announcement by an opponent, both opponent have to pay the declarer the value of the announcement.

So the declarer's opponents always pay or receive the same amount as each other. If one opponent announces something, both opponents benefit if it succeeds and both pay if it fails. If the declarer loses the game it does not matter which opponent took more points: both are paid equally.

It is also possible to keep score on paper or on a slate. In this case it is traditional not to net off the wins and losses against each other, but to score the game and all announcements as positive numbers, either for the declarer or for both opponents, depending whether they are won or lost. For example if a declarer in a trump game announces tulétroá from the front and ultimó from the back, wins both announcements but loses the game with kontra from the back, the declarer scores 4 points while the opponents score 2 points each.

When the scores are written down like this, the game is often played in rubbers. The first player who reaches a score of 20 or more points has a rubber bonus of 2 points (known as a renner or rádli) added to his or her score and the rubber ends. If two or all three players reach 20 or more points on the same deal, the rubber continues to 40 points with a bonus of 4 for the winner. If more than one player reaches 40 it goes on to 60 with a bonus of 6 and so on. When the rubber ends a new rubber is started with all players on zero. At the end of a session all scores are totalled and each pair of players settles up in proportion to the difference between their scores.

In a betli the game succeeds if the declarer wins no tricks at all. If the declarer wins any trick the game fails and the play can be ended at that point, since there are no figures. The cost is 5 game points so if a betli without kontra succeeds the declarer scores 5 game points and if it fails each opponent scores 5.

In a klopitzky the player with most tricks pays 3 game points to each opponent. If writing down the score each of the other players therefore scores 3 game points. We suggest that if the tricks split 4-4-1 the player with 1 trick should receive 3 game points from each opponent or score 3 game points if writing the score. If the players win three tricks each there is no score.

Variations

There were numerous variants of Alsós, and many different figures, scoring schedules and procedures for making announcements were tried out. All forms of Alsós provide opportunities for brilliant deceptive play and the literature contains tales of various remarkable deals. Some players valued the opportunities for bluff and counter bluff, were excited by the possibility of astronomical scores that could be achieved by luring the other players into a series of kontras, and enjoyed devising new figures and variants that added yet more possibilities. Others players considered that some of the more exotic options introduced too much luck and threatened to undermine the skill of the game. They found that a more conservative and traditional rule set already provided ample variety and colour and opportunities for players to exercise their individual playing styles and talents.

Below I will summarise some of the variants found in the literature.

Scoring schedules

There have been many different scoring schedules for the contracts and figures over the history of the game. Until the early years of the 20th century the contract score usually depended on the trump suit, sometimes with an enhanced score for choosing the original suit, while the scores for the figures were usually independent of the trump suit.

Even after the the score for a trump game was made independent of the suit, it was often set at 4, 5, 8 or 10 rather than 1, and the scores for the figures and the rubber bonus were correspondingly higher. For example in a version where a trump game was worth 4, the rubber bonus was set at 20 points for the first player to reach 80 - equivalent to a bonus of 5 for a rubber of 20 when a trump game is worth 1.

Figures

Sometimes there were extra rules about abszolút. Some only allowed it to be announced from the front (with 6 cards). Some required a player of a trump game in the original suit who took more than one card from the talon in exchange for the trump 7 or 8 to announce abszolút.

Some players allowed additional figures, believing that they added to the beauty of the game. One author writes that in the old days new figures would appear periodically 'like annual flowers'.

Some played with figures of 111 and 120 which were similar to 100, requiring the player to take at least that number of points in cards plus last trick. When 111 and 120 were included a player could only announce, abszolút, 100, 111 and 120 in ascending order: a smaller figure in this group could not be announced after a larger one. On the scale where abszolút scored 1 game points and 100 scored 2, 111 would typically score 3 and 120 would score 4. Note that announcing 200 would not prevent a player from later announcing abszolút, 100, etc., since 200 is a different kind of figure, in which meld points can be counted. In a no trump game, because of the lower points total, the 111 figure becomes 91 and 120 becomes 100.

Early in the 20th century, an additional figure uhu was often played. This was an undertaking to win the penultimate trick with the Ace of gourds if gourds were not trumps, or with the Ace of hearts if gourds were trumps. It was only allowed in trump games and the score for it was the same as for an ultimó.

Bidding and Announcements

Some players combine the beginning of the first round of announcements with the second round of bidding. When bidding a suit a player can at the same time announce figures from the front (with the exception of Kassza, which cannot be announced until the trump suit has been definitely established). In this variant a lower suit can overcall a higher one (or no trump) if the total score including announced figures is greater. For example if the turned up suit is hearts, all pass in the first round of bidding, and the first player then bids 'gourd abszolút', this can be overcalled by 'acorn abszolút' or by 'no trump abszolút' but also by for example 'leaves 100'.

Any figure announcements associated with a bid that is overcalled are of course cancelled. Only the announcements of the player who wins the bidding and becomes declarer remain in place, and the round of announcements then continues as usual until there are two consecutive passes.

Kontras

There was some variation in the number of levels of kontra permitted. For example some allowed an addition double 'mordkontra' in reply to hirskontra.

Card Ranking in Betli and Klopitzky

Most sources say nothing explicit about the card ranking in these games, the implication being that it was the same as in other games without trumps: A-10-K-O-U-9-8-7. This is a little surprising, given that the card order for Betli in the game of Preferansz, from which it was transferred to Alsós, and also in the newer game Ulti the card ranking in Betli was like the Alsós sequence order: A-K-O-U-10-9-8-7. However, if this sequence order was really used for Betli in Alsós, we might expect it to be mentioned for example by Potter (1930), whose description is otherwise quite careful. Gyula Zsigri has found just one book Bevezetés az alsósjáték rejtelmeibe by 'Alsósjátékos' (Budapest, 1942) which explicitly confirms the order A-10-K-O-U-9-8-7. However, there are also a couple of later books that give the sequence order: one is the Kártya-kézikönyv by MIKLÓS István (Budapest 1957) and the other is A Kártya Kéznél Van by CSIBOR Zoltán (Szeged, 2001). Csibor's description is a modern reconstruction of the game combining several historic versions with some innovations by the author, of which this could be one. However, the description by Miklós indicates that the sequence order probably was used for Betli (and presumably also for Klopitzky) at least by some players in the 1950's, maybe by analogy with Ulti.

Trump exchange (síbelés)

There were many options and players needed to agree before playing which version to use. There was a perception by more conservative players that the more liberal versions gave too much advantage to the exchanger and thereby upset the balance of the game. Some only allowed the 7 to be exchanged with the trump indicator. Some allowed the 8 to be exchanged if the 7 was the trump indicator or on top of the talon. A few allowed the 9 to be exchanged if the 7 and 8 were both visible. Some allowed the top card to be taken along with the trump indicator if it was a trump or ace. Some allowed a player taking the top card as well as the trump indicator to expose the top unknown card of the talon and then take that too if it was a trump or ace, repeating this until a card that was neither a trump nor an Ace was found. Some allowed the same procedure starting with the bottom unknown card. Some allowed both - síbelés from the top and from the bottom. Ultimately in the three-player game, since there were only three concealed cards anyway, a player who could exchange both face up cards was allowed to look at the whole talon and extract any further trumps and aces.

When more than one card was taken from the talon, so that the declarer had more than 9 cards and needed to discard the excess, some allowed any cards to be discarded, while others did not allow the player to discard trumps.

Calling

Some did not allow calling (gyerünk) at all.

On the other hand some allowed a player to call the game or any announced figure. When an announcement was called and conceded, the announcer was released from all obligations related to that figure, which was scored as if won. For example if a player announced and then called an ultimó would no longer be obliged to try to keep the 7 until the end if the ultimó was conceded. This flexibility might enable more announcements to be made. For example a player who had announced both ultimó and család could call the ultimó, and if the opponents conceded it the extra flexibility in the play might enable the család to succeed.

Some players allowed 'calling back' (visszahivás), which could result in even more inflated scores. When responding to a call, a player could concede, accept or kontra, but the kontra was not a proposal, it simply doubled the stake again. A player on the team that had kontra'd the call could then 'call back' which was a proposal to double the stake again unless the original caller conceded. So in this variant if the game is worth 2 and you call it, the opponents might give you your 2, or they might play on for 4, or they might kontra the call for 8. Moreover, having said kontra to your call they could then call back, giving you the choice of conceding or playing on for 16 - or of course saying kontra to the call back for 32, and then potentially even calling back again, proposing to raise the stake to 64.

Alsós with four players

The rules are just the same as for three-player Alsós except that the dealer deals cards to the other players and takes no part in the bidding, announcements and play. The dealer always scores as a third member of the team playing against the declarer. So the declarer pays to or receives from three players, or if the score is written down, anything scored by the declarer's opponents is scored by the dealer as well. In the case of a Klopitzky, the dealer will score 3 points along with the player(s) who took fewer tricks, except in the case where all three players tie and there is no score.

As usual the turn to deal passes to the right after each hand, so that the players take turns to sit out.

Two-Player Game

Although the three-player (or four-player) game was mostly preferred, the two-player version is also worth playing and some authors pay quite a lot of attention to it. The rules are the same as for three players with the following exceptions.

The deal is in packets of four cards, 8 cards each, then the trump indicator, then 4 more cards each to be kept face down until after the bidding, then the bottom card displayed on top of the talon, so that 6 cards remain unknown.

When performing an extended trump exchange (síbelés), the exchanger is not allowed to look at the whole talon, but normally only to take additional cards from the bottom. So in a trump game with the original suit as trump, if the card on top of the talon is also a trump or an Ace, the holder of the 7 of trumps, or the 8 if the 7 is on display, takes both cards, replacing the trump indicator by the 7 or 8 and the top card by the bottom card of the unknown part of the talon, turned face up. If this is also a trump or Ace, the exchanger takes this too and repeats the process until a card that is neither a trump nor an Ace is face up on top (or the whole talon is taken).

In a trump game the non-dealer leads to the first trick. In a no trump game the declarer's opponent leads.

Abszolút becomes much easier to make when there are only two players rather than three, since it only requires the player to take more than half the card points. Since announcing it from the back would be almost trivial, in the two-player game abszolút can only be announced from the front, when the players have just 8 cards in their hands.

Like the three-player game, two-player Alsós had many variants. Below is a set of rules of a particular version compiled by Martin Tompa, whose family brought it to the USA and the UK when they emigrated from Hungary shortly before World War II. This is a rather conservative form of the game: the main differences from the version described above are:

  • Only trump games are allowed.
  • Doubles can only go as high as rekontra, not further.
  • 'Calling' (hivás / gyerünk) to make the opponent choose whether to concede or play on for double score is not allowed.
  • There is no volát announcement.
  • Announcements, kontra and rekontra must all be completed before the lead to the first trick.
  • Surprisingly, the declarer leads to the first trick, irrespective of which player dealt.

Rules of Alsós

Compiled by Martin Tompa and John Tompa, September 18, 2011

A. General

Alsós is a Hungarian game for 2 players, although sometimes it can be played by 3 players. The 2 player game is described here. It is similar to Belote, Bela, and Clobyosh.

B. The cards

  1. A deck of 32 Doppeldeutsche (Preference) cards is used. A normal bridge deck can be used, removing the 2 through 6 in each suit.  These rules refer to cards by their bridge deck names, i.e., Queen (Upper) and Jack (Lower).
  2. The (descending) order of suits is Acorns, Hearts, Bells, Leaves.  (If using a bridge deck, it is Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds, Spades.)
  3. The (descending) order of cards in a nontrump suit is Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack, 9, 8, 7.
  4. The (descending) order of cards in a trump suit is Jack, 9, Ace, 10, King, Queen, 8, 7.

C. The deal

  1. The deal alternates between players.
  2. The cards are shuffled by dealer, cut by opponent, and then dealt by dealer.
  3. 4 cards are dealt to opponent, to dealer, to opponent, and again to dealer.
  4. 1 card is dealt face up in the middle (“Talon”).
  5. 4 more cards are dealt to opponent and dealer, separately from the first 8.      
  6. The next 6 cards are placed face down across the card in the Talon.
  7. The final card is placed face up on top of the Talon.

D. The bidding

  1. Nondealer says if he wants to play with the bottom face-up card as trumps.  If yes, the trump suit is decided and he is declarer.
  2. Otherwise, dealer says if he wants to play with the bottom face-up card as trumps.  If yes, the trump suit is decided and he is declarer.
  3. Otherwise, if nondealer wants to play, he declares the suit that he wants as trumps.  The players may now alternate bidding higher trump suits (see suit order in B2 above) until either player passes.
  4. If nondealer does not want to play, dealer can select a trump suit, or pass.  If neither player selects a trump suit, the hands are thrown in.

E. Scoring

1. Card-points

Card points are added up in tricks at the end of the hand. They are:

20 Jack of trumps
14 9 of trumps
11 Ace
10 10
4 King
3 Queen
2 Other Jacks
10 Utolsó ütés (last trick)

There is a total of 162 card points.

2. Extra points

Extra points refer to what is held in the player’s final hand at the time when the first lead to a trick occurs, not what is held in tricks.  All runs in this section must be within a single suit, and the descending order for runs is A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 in all suits.

The possible extra point categories, and their values, are as follows:

  • Terc. A run of three. 20 points.
  • Kvart.  A run of four. Beats any Terc. 50 points.
  • Kvint, Szekszt, Szept, and Okt are similarly runs of 5, 6, 7, and 8, the longest beating all others and all worth 100 points.
  • Vannak. Four of a kind (except that four 7s or four 8s do not qualify). The order for deciding the winning Vannak is that of the cards in trumps. 80 points.
  • Béla. King and Queen of trumps. Need not be announced at all, except implicitly in Kassza (see F5 below).  20 points.

Extra points are announced at the first possible opportunity as cards are played (see G below),  giving away as little information about the particular holding as possible. For example, the lead player might announce a Kvart (always announcing only the longest run at first) while leading his first card. Opponent at his first play might say, “I also have a Kvart” or “That’s good” (if opponent has no better than a Terc) or “No good, I have a Kvint”. If both have the same length run, on the next trick, the lead would say, “Mine's to the x.” Opponent at his play would say, “Mine's to the y” (if higher than x) or “That’s good” if his is lower or “Mine’s also to the x”.  In the latter case, on the next trick the lead might say, “Mine’s in Bells”.  Opponent at his play would say “Mine’s in z” (if a higher suit than Bells) or “That’s good” if lower. The person winning the announcements then defines all runs of shorter length (for instance, “I also have a Terc”).  Only one run of each length can be announced. Vannaks are also announced at the first trick (together with announcing the longest run), and argued in the same way as runs.  Vannaks do not compete with runs; for example, one player might have a Vannak and the other a Terc.  Runs and Vannaks must describe what is in the hand at the point of playing to trick 1, that is, after exchanging the trump 7 and discarding (see G4 below).

F. The announcements

There are two different sorts of points.  The points in this section refer to what is recorded on the score sheet at the end of the hand.  The card and extra points in Section E above are used to determine some of the scoring points in this section.

  1. The declared game (“Parti”) is worth 1 point. This point is won by the player with the most number of card-points in tricks plus extra points announced (see E above).
  2. There is a series of other announcements (see F5 below), worth 1 or 2 points.  Any that are bid before picking up the last 4 cards are doubled in worth.
  3. Game or the other announcements may be doubled by opponent and redoubled by declarer.  A double before picking up the last 4 cards quadruples what the announcement was otherwise worth, since a double after picking up these cards doubles its worth.
  4. Both before and after picking up their last 4 cards, starting with declarer, players alternate making announcements, doubling, and redoubling, each at their earliest opportunity.  This all occurs before leading to the first trick.
  5. Announcements.
    • Abszolút.   Will have strictly more than 81 (50%) card-points in tricks. Must be announced before picking up last 4 cards. 1 point.
    • 100 (Száz). Will have more than 100 card-points in tricks. 2 points.
    • 200 (Kétszáz). Will have more than 200 points by adding card-points in tricks (E1) and extra points announced (E2). 1 point.
    • Tous les trois. Will have Jack, 9, and 7 of trumps in tricks. 1 point.
    • Ultimó. Will take last trick with 7 of trumps. 2 points.
    • Család (Family). Will have Ace, King, and Queen of trumps in tricks. 1 point.
    • Összes adout (All trumps). Will have all trumps (7 & 8 not necessary) in tricks. 2 points.
    • Kassza. Has Béla in hand and will make game. 1 point.
    • 44 (Negyvennégy).  Will have all four aces in tricks.  2 points.

    Note: Abszolút is an exception to the double value of early announcements. Even though it can only be announced before picking up the last 4 cards, when announced then Abszolút scores only 1 point, not 2.

G. The play

  1. After completing all the announcements, doubles, and redoubles of  Section F above, and having each picked up their additional 4 cards, declarer leads to the first trick, announcing runs and Vannaks as in Section E.2 above.
  2. Thereafter, the player who wins a trick leads to the next.
  3. Players must follow suit if possible. If not they must trump if possible. If they cannot do either, they may discard.
  4. If the trumps declared are those of the bottom displayed card in the Talon, before playing to the first trick the player with the 7 of trumps may replace the displayed trump card with the 7 of trumps (or if the displayed trump is the 7, it may be replaced with the 8 of trumps). If the top card is a trump or an Ace he may take it also. If he has done both, the lowest hidden card in the Talon is turned face up on top of the Talon. If it is a trump or an Ace he may take it and display the next lowest, continuing until no more cards are picked. When he has picked up all those cards, he must discard cards to bring his hand back down to 12 cards, without showing them to his opponent. His final hand is that for extra point announcements of E.2.

H. Summary of the order of events

  • Trump auction (see D).
  • Announcements, doubles, and redoubles (see F).
  • Pick up 4 additional cards.
  • Announcements, doubles, and redoubles (see F).
  • On trick 1:
    • Exchange trump 7 or trump 8, if applicable (see G4).
    • Announce highest run and Vannak (see E2).
    • Play to trick 1.
  • On subsequent tricks:
    • Contest runs and Vannaks (see E2).
    • Play to trick.

I. Appendix: Other Hungarian Alsós words

ász ace makk acorns
király king piros red (i.e., hearts)
felső upper (i.e., queen)    tök bells
alsó lower (i.e., jack) zöld leaves
tíz 10    
kilenc 9    
nyolc 8    
hét  7    

J. Appendix: Guide to Hungarian pronunciation

  • All words in Hungarian are accented on the first syllable, always. 
  • a is pronounced something like the short o in god.
  • e is pronounced something like the short a in ant.
  • é is pronounced something like ai in pail.  So béla is something like bai'-lo (short o as in god).
  • i is pronounced like ee in seed.
  • o is pronounced like oa in toad.
  • u is pronounced like oo in fool.
  • s is pronounced like the English sh.  So alsós is something like oll'-shoash.
  • sz and ssz are pronounced like the English ss.  So kassza is something like koss'-o (short o's).
  • cs is pronounced like the English ch.  So család is something like cho'-lod (short o's). 
  • c is pronounced ts.  So terc is something like tairts, kilenc is something like kee'-lants.
  • z is pronounced like the English z.  So tíz is something like teez.
  • ö and ü are pronounced as in German.  So utolsó ütés is something like oo'-toal-shoa ü'-taish, and összes adout is something like öss'-ash adoo. 

References

Szomahazy, István: Kártya Codex (Budapest, 1898) pp 71-77

Ulmann, Sigmund Illustriertes Wiener Vannakbuch (Vienna, 1905) pp 1-69

'Egy játékos, aki nyer': Kártyajátékok Kézikönyve (Budapest, ?1907) pp 17-41

Potter, G. J.: A kártyajáték művészete (Budapest, 1930), reprinted by Zsigri Gyula in 21 válogatott kártyajáték (Szeged, 1993) pp 44-59

Widder, Lajos: Az ultitól a bridzsig (Budapest, 1957) pp 28-46

Kovács, Endre in Kártyások könyve (Budapest, 1984) pp 82-91

Csibor Zoltán in A kártya kéznél van (Szeged, 2001) pp 59-93. This describes a new variant constructed by the author in the 1990's by combining rules from various sources together with some of the author's own innovations. Csibor's variant is the basis of the Hungarian Wikipedia page on Alsós.