Jo-Jotte

Introduction

Jo-Jotte is a two-player Jass game based on Clobyosh and Belote, but incorporating Bridge-like scoring. It was invented in 1937 by Ely Culbertson, the man who single-handedly popularized Contract Bridge in the late 1920’s and early 1930's, and dedicated to and named after his wife Josephine. Jo-Jotte has never achieved wide popularity, but it continues to be played regularly by a number of devotees.

This page is largely based, with the author's permission, on the description written by Howard Fosdick for his former website cardsanddominoes.com.

Goal of the Game

To win a Hand by winning the most points in tricks. Note that tricks, in themselves, are worth nothing. Only specific cards captured in tricks score points.

To win a Game across hands, by being the first player to attain 80 points.

To win a Rubber across games, by being the first player to win two games.

To win the most Rubbers in a sitting, as may be previously agreed upon by the players.

The Deck

Jo-Jotte is played with a standard 32-card deck (a 52-card pack with everything below 7's stripped out). The ranks of cards depends on the context in which they are used—

  high. . .                           . . . low
Trump suit in tricks J 9 A 10 K Q 8 7
Non-trump suit in tricks A 10 K Q J 9 8 7
For honor melds A K Q J 10 9 8 7

To play Jo-Jotte it is indispensable to learning these card rankings which may seem unusual, though to those who have played Clobyosh, Belote, Klaverjassen or other Jass games they will be entirely familiar.

The Deal

The Dealer in the first hand is determined by a single cut of the deck, with the low card being the first Dealer.  Thereafter, the deal alternates between the two players.

Dealer deals 6 cards to each player (3 plus 3).The 13th card is turned face up and placed next to the remainder of the deck.

Bidding

Bidding now commences. The player who "wins" the Bid dictates the trump suit. In return, he is bound to win the bid by scoring the most points in the hand (or else suffer a penalty).

Bidding proceeds as follows until a suit is nominated as trump:

  1. Non-dealer may accept the suit of the turned-up card as the Trump.  Or, he may pass.
  2. Dealer may accept the turned-up card as the Trump Suit. Or, he may pass.
  3. Non-dealer may name any other suit as Trump. Or, he may name No-trump. Or, or he may pass.
  4. Dealer may name any other suit as Trump. Or, he may name No-trump. Or, he may pass.
  5. If neither player names a suit or No-trump, the deal is thrown in and the next deal goes to the non-dealer.

A bid to win at "No-trump" means that there will be no trump suit. The hand will be played without any trumps.

A trump suit once named may be overcalled subsequently by a bid of "No-trump" by the opposing player.

The player who named the trump suit or No-trump is known as the Declarer and his opponent is the Defender. The Declarer's bid (called the contract) can be Doubled by the Defender, and any Double may be Redoubled by the Declarer. These calls double or quadruple (respectively) the final score of the hand.

The Draw

Once the trump suit (or no-trump) has been selected and doubled or passed, the Dealer deals three more cards to each player. Each player now has a hand of nine cards.

The Dealer then turns up the bottom card in the deck face-up and places it on top of the deck. This card is the Information Card. Like the card turned-up previously as a possible trump, this card takes no part in the play of the hand. These two face-up cards together provide both players with information as to what cards are not in either players' hand.

After the draw, the Defender may bid Nullo if he did not double the bid. This supersedes the Declarer's trump or No-trump bid. If Nullo is played there are no trumps and the objective is to win as few tricks as possible, ideally no tricks at all. The Nullo bidder becomes the Declarer and scores a bonus if he succeeds in losing every trick. If not, the Nullo bidder's opponent scores a bonus for each trick won by the Nullo bidder.

The original bidder's opponent next declares his Honor Meld if any, or passes if he has no meld he wishes to declare.

After the his opponent has spoken, the original bidder has the option to bid a Slam, if desired. A Slam is a contract to win every trick with the trump suit (or No-trump) named in the original bid. The Slam bidder is the Declarer and scores a bonus if he succeeds, but loses the contract if he fails. Should the Defender bid Nullo and the Declarer bid Slam, the Slam bid overrides the Nullo bid.

The original bidder now declares his Honor Meld or passes if he has no meld he wishes to declare.

Nullo and Slam bids are not common as they require unusual hands to be successful, but their existence in Jo-Jotte provides plenty of excitement when a player does make one of these special bids. A Nullo bid may be made not with the expectation of losing every trick, but because the penalty for winning a small number of tricks may be preferable to allowing the bidder to proceed with the contract.

Honor Melds

Honor Melds are special combinations of cards that give points to the person who shows them to his opponent. Honor Melds are declared and scored after the Draw but prior to the play of the hand to tricks.

There are two classes of Honor Melds:

Class A: Four of a Kind - scores 100 points
(Card rank for Trump Contracts:  J,  9,  A, 10, K, Q)
(Card Rank for No-Trump Contracts: A, 10, K,  Q, J)
Class B: Sequences
Run of three (in same suit) 20 points
Run of four (in same suit)   40 points
Run of five (in same suit)    50 points
(Card rank for Sequences is: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7)

In a particular hand, only one player may score for Honor Meld(s) in each Class. The player who has the higher meld in that Class gets to score. For Class A melds, if both players claim this, the player who states the higher cards (as per the above rank) is the one who gets to score. For Sequences, the player who has the longer run gets to score. If both players have the same length of run, the player whose highest card is higher gets to score. If two sequences are of equal length and both have the same high card, the trump sequence, if any, wins. To determine who gets to score for melds, the players interrogate each other concerning the details of their melds in the order described in this paragraph, until it is clear who wins the declaration in each Class. The winner then must display the cards constituting the meld(s) to his opponent.

Although only one player gets to declare in each Class, he may display and score for more than one meld in that Class. For example, if a player has more than one Sequence he could display and score for both of them in the hand.

It is not required that players display and score their melds. Melding has the advantage of scoring points, but the disadvantage of providing information to the opponent. There may be times when a player decides he would rather not show cards to his opponent and therefore passes up the opportunity to score honors.

The Seven of Trumps

If the suit of the turn-up card was accepted as Trump by either player, the player who holds the 7 of trump (sometimes known as the "Dix") in his hand has the option of exchanging it for the turn-up card. He may do this any time after The Draw but before the play of the hand to tricks. He can only do this if he has not used the 7 of trump in an Honors Meld declaration.

Since the 7 is the lowest trump, this rule allows the player holding this card to improve his hand by exchanging it for a known trump. Where the turn-up is a high-ranking trump (like the Jack or the 9), holding the dix can be significant.

The Play

After melds have been declared (if any), and the special bids Nullo and Slam have been declared (or passed), trick play begins.

The Defender (the player who did not win the bid) leads a card to the first trick. The other player then plays a card. The winner of one trick always leads to the next.

The rules of following a card to a lead are as follows:

  • The non-leader must follow suit, if possible
  • If he cannot follow suit, he must trump, if able
  • A trump lead must be beaten by a higher trump, if possible

The rules of winning a trick are as follows:

  • For two non-trump cards, the higher card of the suit led wins
  • For two trump cards, the higher trump wins
  • For a non-trump card and a trump card, the trump card wins

See the section on "The Deck" above for the relative rankings of cards in trump and non-trump suits.

Scoring

Jo-Jotte features a Bridge-like scoring system.

All points are recorded as scored either above the line or below the line. Only points scored Below the Line count towards the Game Score.

Each player's points for Honor Melds (if any) are scored in his own column Above the Line.

After all nine tricks have been played, each player adds his Trick Score and Honor Meld Score together. The Trick Score and the Honor Meld in Score added together are referred to as the player's Total Score.

You determine the Trick Score from cards won tricks, according to their point value in the chart below.

If the Declarer has the higher Total Score, he scores his Trick Score Below the Line (towards the Game total), and the Defender writes his Trick Score Above the Line. If the Defender has the higher Total Score, he adds Declarer's Trick Score to his own, and scores the total Below the Line.  Only one player will score points Below The Line after any given hand.

On any Doubled contract, the player with the higher Total Score receives the two players' combined Trick Score, at twice their regular value, Below the Line. On any contract that was Redoubled, this same procedure is followed, but the combined Trick Score is rated at four times its regular value.

Trick-Score Count

Cards taken in tricks have these values--

  --Points--
Jack of trumps 20
9 of trumps 15
Any Ace 10
Any 10 10
Any King 5
Any Queen 5
Winning the last trick (except at Nullo) 10
Jo-Jotte (see below) 20

These values are doubled in the cased of a Doubled Contract, or quadrupled in the case of a Redoubled Contract.

Scoring for Jo-Jotte

The scoring declaration called Jo-Jotte is the King and Queen of Trumps. It is scored as part of the Trick Score.  This only happens if--

  • One player has both these cards
  • There is a trump suit
  • These two cards are both members of the trump suit
  • The announcement of "Jo" - "Jotte" is properly made

The player who holds the King and Queen of trump must do the following to receive the 20 points for them. He must play the King before he plays the Queen. When playing the King, he must announce "Jo." When playing the Queen, he must say "Jotte." If these announcements are not made, no points are awarded. The player does not have to win the tricks to which these cards are made in order to score the 20 points.

The Role of Honor Melds in Scoring

What role do Honors Melds play in scoring? First, when a player wins the right to display a meld to his opponent, the points for those meld(s) are immediately scored to him Above the Line. Regardless of who wins the hand, these points remain in his column Above the Line and cannot be lost.

Second, remember that a player's Total Score consists of his Trick Score added to any points he scored as a result of Honor Melds prior to trick play. So melds play a key role in determining who has the higher Total Score and thus who wins the hand.

Scoring for Nullo and Slam Bids

Nullo and Slam are special bids with their own unique scoring. Nullo is a bid to lose every trick at no-trump. Slam is a bid to win every trick using a suit nominated by the Declarer. If both Nullo and Slam are bid, the Slam contract takes precedence.

Special scoring applies to the case of a Nullo contract. All cards used in play are counted at their no-trump value (and the 10 points otherwise awarded for winning the last trick is not counted). These points are then put in prison (typically designated by writing them on the scoring pad in a circle). Points put in prison are won by whoever wins the next hand. This player must score them Above the Line.

The exact same procedure is followed in the event of a tie Total Score when a regular bid is made. Points are put in prison and won by the winner of the next hand, who scores them Above the Line.

Bonus(es) are also scored as a result of a Nullo contract. If the Declarer is successful and manages to lose every trick, he scores a bonus of 200 points. This goes in his column Above the Line. If he is unsuccessful in his bid, his opponent scores 200 points Above the Line for the first trick he forces the Declarer to win, and a further Above the Line bonus of 100 points for each additional trick won by the Declarer.

When a player wins a Slam (all tricks) but has not bid it, he scores an extra 100 point bonus. When a player bids a Slam and wins all tricks, he scores a 500 point bonus. If a player bids a Slam and loses one trick (or more), he has lost his bid regardless of the actual Total Scores. In this case, the Defender scores the combined Trick Scores of both players Above The Line. The Defender can only score points Below the Line if he actually attained a higher Total Score than the Declarer (very rare when the Declarer has bid a Slam).

Bonus points for both unbid and bid Slams are scored Above the Line.

Scoring Game and Rubber

The first player to achieve 80 points below the line across hand(s) wins Game. The first player to win two Games wins the Rubber. The winner of the Rubber scores a 300 point bonus.

Players typically play until one of them wins some previously-agreed-upon number of Rubbers.

More Information

In contrast to Mr. Culbertson's tremendous success in popularizing Contract Bridge, Jo-Jotte died stillborn. The game is sophisticated and great fun, but its creator did not put the same effort into popularizing it as he did Contract Bridge.

Culbertson led a fascinating life, encompassing everything from participation in the Russian Revolution, to single-handedly popularizing Contract Bridge, to testifying before Congress with a world peace plan.

Jo-Jotte is rarely included in card game anthologies. This forces you to go to the original source for further information-- Jo-Jotte by Ely Culbertson (Winston: Chicago, 1937). This 160-page book contains a general description of the game, chapters on strategy and special bids, a tutorial including sample hands, and the Official Rules to the game. You can often find an original copy very inexpensively at any used bookstore on the web.

Although Jo-Jotte was designed as a two-player game, Culbertson's book also includes chapters describing adaptations of the game for three or four players.

Three-Player Game

Two versions are given in Culbertson's book.

In the recommended version all three players take part in the deal, draw and bidding and scoring but only two players, the Declarer and the Active Defender play their hands while the third player's hand is set aside.

Deal, play and bidding proceed clockwise. As in normal Jo-Jotte six cards each are dealt and there are two rounds of bidding, one in which players can accept the turned up card as trump and if all pass in the first round, a second in which another suit can be named. No-trump can be named and outranks a suit bid. When the Declarer has been determined, the other two players in turn have the opportunity to double. If one of them doubles the doubler becomes the Defender and the third player must decide whether to side with the Declarer or the Defender. The declarer then decides whether to redouble.

After this, as usual three more cards are dealt to each player. Then there is a process to determine who will be the Active Defender.

When all players have nine cards, if there was no double the player to the left of the Declarer decides whether to defend against the Declarer’s contract, bid Nullo, or withdraw.

  • If the player to Declarer's left withdraws, the player to Declarer's right must either defend or bid Nullo.
  • If the player to Declarer's left defends, the player to Declarer's right must either withdraw or bid Nullo.

If there was a double, the player who doubled automatically becomes the Active Defender and the Declarer's other opponent is allowed to bid Nullo if siding with the Declarer, but not if siding with the Defender who doubled.

Whatever the other players do, the original bidder may bid a Slam, which outranks a bid of Nullo if there was one.

If a player bid Nullo and there was no Slam bid, the player to the left of the Nullo bidder must choose whether to defend or withdraw. If this player withdraws, the Nullo bidder's other opponent must defend.

If the original bidder bids a Slam and there was no double before the draw there is a similar process to decide who will be the Active Defender against the Slam. Either player may defend against the Slam even if that player withdrew before. If there was a double before the draw the doubler automatically becomes the Active Defender against the Slam.

No player is allowed to show any meld until the Active Defender has been determined.

The hand is then played out between the Declarer and the Active Defender in the same way as two-player Jo-Jotte.

On an undoubled hand, the Declarer scores trick points below the line if she wins. If the Defender wins, both defenders score the combined trick points above the line.

In a doubled contract, the doubled (or redoubled) trick points are scored below the line by the winning active player. The inactive player, if siding with the winning player, scores the same number of points above the line.

Honor melds, Slam bonuses, rubber bonuses, etc. are scored the same above the line in the same way as in the two-player game, the inactive player scoring the same as the Active Defender unless siding with the Declarer in a doubled contract. There is one exception: the score for a lost Nullo is 100 points for the first trick plus 50 for each subsequent trick to each opponent.

The second version of the three-player game, which is not recommended by Culbertson, is organised in a similar way to Backgammon Chouette, with one player in the box playing against a captain who plays the cards and a partner who advises and scores with the captain.

Four-Player Game

Again there are two versions: partnership and cutthroat.

When playing with partners, partners sit facing each other. Six cards each are dealt and the bottom card from the stack (as opposed to the top) is shown as a potential trump. 

Players bid as in the two-player version in clockwise order, starting with the player to the dealer’s left. A player may overcall partner's or opponent's trump bid with No-trump. Either opponent of the bidder may double and the Declarer or Declarer's partner may redouble. The bidding ends when three players in succession have passed a bid, double or redouble.

The remaining cards are dealt, with the dealer receiving the turned-up trump. After this, either defender can bid Nullo, and either member of the declaring team can bid a Slam. The original Declarer is the "official declarer" in the event of a Slam, regardless of whether he or his partner bid the Slam. Slam and Nullo bids apply to both partners on the team collectively. For example, a Nullo bid by one player means that their opponents will score for all tricks won by either member of the partnership.

Players declare their meld in turn, beginning with the player to Declarer's left. The team of the player holding the highest Honor Meld in each class scores all their meld in that class.

The player to dealer's left leads to the first trick. As in the two-player game, players must follow suit when able, trump when void of the suit led, and when a trump is led, beat the highest trump previously played to the trick if they can. So for example if two partners are void of a plain suit that is led, they must both trump if able to, though the second is not forced to overtrump the first.

If the face up suit is trump, the holder of the 7 of trumps may exchange it for the dealer's face up trump at any time before the second player plays to the first trick, provided that the 7 of trumps was not used in a meld.

Scoring is the same as in the two-player game except that the number of points below the line required for game is 125 rather than 80.

In the four-player cutthroat game, the dealer deals to the other three players who play the recommended three-player game described above. In an undoubled contract the dealer scores the same as the two defenders. In a doubled contract the dealer scores the same as the player who chose to side with the Declarer or Defender.