Kláber

Introduction

The game of Kláber is also known throughout Hungary as Kaláber, Kalabriász or Felsős Kaláber, and is closely related to Klabberjass and other games of the Jass group. In Doroszló, this small town in Northern Serbia, populated mostly by ethnic Hungarians, Kláber comes with the mother’s milk for many, and is still the most popular card game today. This is the version presented on this page. Similar games are played in other parts of Hungary by a small minority, but in this age, Kláber from Doroszló is most likely the Jass game that has the largest following among the Ulti-dominated serious card player community of ethnic Hungarians.

This page is based on a contribution from Róbert Kovács.

Players and Equipment

The game of Kláber is played by four people with a deck of Hungarian Cards (Magyar Kártya), better known abroad as Seasons Pattern or William Tell deck, see also here. (Players in North America can obtain William Tell cards from TaroBear's Lair.) The game also needs equipment for scoring, which in Doroszló is always done with slate and chalk, not on a mobile phone, and not even using pen and paper. They play at custom made tables with built in slabs of slate. It is a bit unrealistic to expect anyone in the world who would like to try this game to acquire such a table, but chalk and suitable slates are readily available online and in hobby stores.

Whenever a random decision is needed about some element of the game, or even some other issue such as whose duty it will be to go out to get more wine, all the players cut the deck and reveal the bottom card of their cut portion.

Since Kláber is a team game of fixed partnerships, where teammates are sitting across each other, at the beginning of a session, all four players cut the deck and the two players revealing the lower cards play against the team of the other two players with the higher cards.

Cards and their Values

Kláber is played with a 32 card Hungarian deck of cards, which has German suits of Acorns (makk), Leaves (zöld), Hearts (piros) and Gourds (tök) and depicts the four seasons on the Aces and characters from Friedrich Schiller’s William Tell play on the Upper and Lower Knaves.

Since the cards in these William Tell decks 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 Hungarian 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. It is also known as the Foal (csikó), probably because of the horse.
  • The Over Knave (felső) or Over has no horse, and a suit symbol at the top left corner of the card. It is also known as filkó.
  • The Under Knave (alsó) is or Under 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 leaves in the order Ace, King, Over, Under, Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven.

acekingoverundertennineeightseven

Kláber is a point-trick game with trumps. Points are scored for winning valuable cards in tricks and for melding combinations (sequences and sets). The values of the individual cards are given in brackets in the lists below. 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:
    Over (20), Nine (14), Ace (11), Ten (10), King (4), Under (2), 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).

There are a total of 61 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 the total number of card points in the deck is 161.

Melds

Points can also be won from melds: combinations of cards held by a player that are declared at the beginning of the play. In Kláber there are three types of meld: sequences of consecutive cards of a suit (sorozatok) and sets of four equal cards (négy egyforma) and the bella (King and Over of trumps. In ascending order, the melds and their scores are as follows.

Sequences:

Name Definition Points
Terc 3 consecutive cards in a suit 20
Bella King and Over of trumps 40
Kvart 4 consecutive cards in a suit 50
Kvint 5 consecutive cards in a suit 100
Szext 6 consecutive cards in a suit 100
Szept 7 consecutive cards in a suit 100
Okt 8 consecutive cards in a suit 100

Sets:

Definition Points
Four Unders 100
Four Kings 100
Four Tens 100
Four Aces 100
Four Nines 150
Four Overs 200

Note: there is no score for 4 Eights or 4 Sevens and they cannot be declared as a meld. Players joke that “You need five of these!”

Bella:

Definition Points
King and Over of trumps 40

Bella is unusual in that it (nearly) always scores, independently of other meld, unlike other combinations which can be annulled if the opposing team has better meld.

The Deal

The whole direction of play is anti-clockwise, as in most Hungarian card games. The first dealer is one of the players on the team who cut the low cards at the beginning when teams were chosen. After thorough shuffling, the dealer offers the deck to the left-hand opponent, who either cuts it normally or knocks on the deck.

If the cards were cut the dealer deals all the cards in batches of not more than three cards at a time. In each round of the deal the dealer must give the same number of cards to each player, and the last three cards dealt to each player must be kept separate from the first five. For example the dealer could deal 3 each, then 2 each, then 3 each separated from the other 5 cards. If there was a knock, the dealer must deal the cards in a single round of eight at a time, giving five cards and then a separate three cards to each player in turn.

Players pick up their first five cards only and look at them. The other three cards remain face down on the table until after the bidding.

The Bidding

The bidding is used to decide two things: what the trump suit will be for the hand, and which team are the contractors. The team that chooses trumps is bound by a contract to take more card points in tricks and melds than the other team: in Hungarian the word kötő (binding) is used for this obligation.

Players bid using numbers. No suit is mentioned at this point, although the numbers ultimately correspond to suits. The possible bids in ascending order are:

  • 1 (egy) corresponds to acorns
  • 2 (kettő) corresponds to leaves
  • 3 (három) corresponds to gourds
  • 4 (négy) corresponds to hearts

At the end of the auction, the final bidder chooses the trump suit, which must be higher than or equal to the final bid.

To start the bidding, the player to dealer's right must bid '1' - there is no option and this player is therefore known as the kényszeres (compulsory) player. The next player (dealer's partner) must either pass (passz or mehet) or bid a higher number: 2, 3 or 4. If dealer's partner passes the third player, to dealer's left, must bid or pass, and if this player also passes the dealer must bid or pass.

As soon as two different players have bid, the competition between them must be resolved before the next player can speak. The earlier bidder always has priority. When a later player bids the earlier player must respond either by saying 'here' (itt) to equal the later player's bid and retain the right to choose the trump suit, or yield the right to the later player by saying 'go on', 'pass' or 'take it' (passz, mehet, vigyed). If the earlier player says 'here', the later player must either pass or raise their bid to a higher number, and the earlier player responds again, either equalling the bid or passing. This continues until one of them passes or until the earlier player has responded to a bid of 4 (the highest bid).

After a competition between two bidders is resolved, if the bidding level is below 4 and there are any players who have not yet had a chance to speak, the bidding continues with the next player in anticlockwise rotation either passing or bidding a higher number than the highest bid so far.

When all four players have spoken and three of them have passed, or when a competition is resolved at level 4 so that no higher bids are possible, the final bidder becomes the contractor and must name the trump suit, which must correspond to at least the level of the final bid.

Example of bidding: the players in anticlockwise order are A (compulsory), B, C and D (dealer).

A B C D   notes
1 2        
pass   3     B won the competition between A and B; now C must speak.
  here pass pass   B is the final bidder and the level is 3.

B must now choose the trump suit, which must be gourds or hearts - acorns (1) and leaves (2) are not possible because the final bid was 3.

After the trump suit has been chosen, all players pick up their last three cards, so that everyone has a hand of 8 cards.

Notes on bidding.

  1. While the compulsory player must start with 1 and can only say 'here' or 'pass' to other players' bids, other players are allowed to jump if there is space. For example the second player, wishing to play with gourds trump, could bid 2 and then raise to 3 if the compulsory player said here, or could jump to 3 immediately without first bidding 2.
  2. If the other three players all pass, the compulsory player becomes the contractor and is forced to choose a trump suit, even with an unsuitable hand.
  3. It is possible and often wise to overcall your partner if you wish to choose a particular suit as trump.
  4. It is legal for anyone except the compulsory player to pick up their last three cards any time after they have been dealt. However, anyone who has picked up their last three cards is not allowed to take part in the bidding - when their turn comes they must pass. In fact the gesture of picking up your last three cards can be used as a way to indicate that you are passing.

Throw-in melds and the Contra round

After the bidding, when the contractor has announced the trump suit and everyone has 8 cards, the first player to the dealer’s right asks “Ready?” (Mehet?).

Throw-In melds

At this point, if any player has a single meld that is worth 100 points or more - either four of a kind (not 8's or 7's) or a sequence of five or more cards in a suit (in sequence order) - they must declare it. In this case the cards are thrown in and the hand is not played. If a player keeps quiet about such a meld and the opposing team discovers before the scores are written down at the end of the hand, the opposing team scores 161 points and the offending team that concealed the meld scores nothing for the hand.

If only the contractor's team has a meld worth 100+ points then both teams score for all their meld (including any 'small' melds of less than 100). If only the contractor's opponents have a 100+meld then they score all their meld and the contractor's team scores nothing except for bella if they have it.

If players from both teams have a 100+ meld then these are compared to find out which player has the best combination. The team with the better combination scores all their meld and the other team scores nothing except for bella if they have it.

When comparing 100+ melds:

  • a single hand containing two fours of a kind beats all other combinations
  • a higher scoring combination beats a lower scoring one
  • any set of 4 of a kind beats any sequence
  • between equal scoring sets of 4 of a kind, Aces are highest, then Tens, then Kings, then Unders
  • a longer sequence beats a shorter sequence
  • between sequences of equal length the winner is the one with the highest top card in sequence order (A>K>O>U>10>9>8>7)

There is no priority among suits. If two opponents have equal sequences of 5 or more cards in different suits it is a tie and neither team scores anything except for bella if they have it.

Contra

In answer to the first player's question "Ready?" and before the play begins, either of the contractor's opponents (including the first player if the dealer's team are the contractor) may say kontra to double the score for the hand. If kontra has been said, either member of the contractors team can double the score again by saying rekontra, and either opponent of the contractor can reply to the rekontra by saying szubkontra, doubling the score again so that everything is worth 8 times as much as in a hand with no kontra.

Kontras do not affect the score in case of a Throw-In. Players do not need to wait to find out whether there is a Throw-In before saying kontra, and if a throw-in meld is declared after a player has said kontra, the kontra is simply ignored.

The Play

Having asked "Ready?" and given players the opportunity to declare a throw-in or to kontra, the player to dealer's right leads to the first trick.

The objective in the play to take the majority of the card points, which consist of the value of the cards a team takes in tricks that they win, plus the 10 card points for the winners of the last trick, plus the value of any small meld that a team is allowed to count.

Small melds

During the first trick, small melds worth less than 100 (kvart, terc, bella) can be announced. Just before playing their first card, each player may announce any small meld they have. At this stage they state the type of meld - for example 'I have a kvart', 'I have a terc and bella', 'I have two terces' - and they may but need not also state the rank - for example 'I have an ace-terc'. Any meld that a player does not announce before playing their card to the first trick cannot be scored.

At the end of the first trick, if both teams have announced meld, the team that has announced the highest single instance of meld (excluding bella) can count all their meld and the other team count nothing for meld, except for bella if they have it. When comparing small meld:

  • any kvart beats any terc;
  • between two kvarts or two terces, the one with the higher top card in sequence order wins;
  • between kvarts or terces of equal height in different suits, a trump sequence beats a non-trump sequence;
  • if there is a tie for highest meld between equal sequences in two non-trump suits there is no winner and neither team can count points for kvarts or terces.

If there is a competition between kvarts or between terces held by opposing teams, the players reveal as only as much information as needed to determine which team has the highest meld. First they announce the top card of the meld (king-terc, under-terc, etc.), then in case of equality the player whose meld is in trumps will declare this.

After the meld competition (if any) has been resolved, the winning team specifies exactly what the combinations are that they announced during the first trick (e.g. over-kvart in bells, ten-terc in acorns) and can count these towards their card point score.

Bella is independent of this process: a team that announces bella can always count it irrespective of who wins the contest for highest kvart or terc.

Rules of Play

Any card can be led. The other players must follow suit if possible. A player who cannot follow suit must play a trump (even if their partner has already trumped and even if their trump is too low to beat a trump previously played to the trick. A player who has no card of the suit led and no trumps may play any card in their hand. There is never any obligation to beat cards previously played to the trick.

Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trumps by the highest card of the suit that was led. Whoever wins the trick takes the four cards, stores them face down in their team's trick pile, and leads to the next trick.

Players are not allowed to look back at previous tricks until the end of the play.

Scoring

After all eight tricks have been played the scores are determined.

  • Each team adds up the card points in their tricks, plus 10 points for the team that won the last trick.
  • A team that announced small melds and did not lose them in a meld competition adds their value to their trick points.
  • If either team announced bella, they add the 40 points for that.

The team with the higher point total are the winners of the hand. There can never be a tie because the total number of card points is odd and all the other possible scores are even numbers.

  • If there was no kontra and the contractor's team wins, both teams score the number of points they counted.
  • If there was no kontra and the contractor's team loses, the contractor's team score nothing and their opponents score the points they counted.
  • If there was a kontra, then only the winning team scores the points they counted multiplied by 2, 4 or 8 depending whether the final kontra level was kontra, rekontra or szubkontra.

For completeness, here again are the other possibilities, which occur when any player has a meld worth 100 or more. In these cases kontras have no effect.

  • If there was an uncontested throw-in meld by the contractor's team, both teams score all their meld points: the 100+meld that caused the throw-in plus any kvarts and terces and the bella.
  • If there was an uncontested throw-in meld by the contractor's opponents, they score score all their meld points but the contractor's team cannot score anything except the bella.
  • If both teams had a throw-in meld, the team that won the contest scores all their meld and their opponents score nothing except for the bella if they held it. If the contest was a tie, there is no score for either team except for the bella.
  • If a player is discovered to have a 100+ meld that they failed to declare, their team scores nothing and their opponents score 161 points.

After the scores has been settled and written down, the role of the dealer shifts to the right and a new deal begins.

A session consists of a series of games. Each game (parti) lasts until one of the teams reaches 501 or more points. If both teams reach 501 or more points after a hand, the contractor's team wins even if the other team has more points than them. If a team reaches 501 points and wins the parti when the opponents have less than 251 points, the winners score a double game (maccs).

The score is recorded on the slate at the end of each hand. There are special signs for 20, 30, 50, 80 and 100 as follows.

tartli scoring

It is easy to convert a 30 to a 50 or an 80 to 100 by adding a stroke when an additional 20 is scored. Odd card points (usually 10 or less) are written as negative or positive numbers on the slate. The separate strokes for 20 points are usually grouped into fives as they accumulate, so that each group will represent 100 points.

The number of games won by each team is recorded on a separate part of the slate. At the end of each game the points scored during the game are erased and the winners of the game mark | for winning an ordinary parti or X for winning a maccs.

References

Lajos Pusztai, Zoltán Tőzsér: A Kláber története és szabályai a doroszlói hagyományok szerint (2009)

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2021. Last updated: 8th January 2021

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