Sidi Barrani Jass

Introduction

Sidi Barrani is a Swiss Jass game for four players in fixed partnerships. It is based on the well-known game Schieber Jass but each deal begins with an auction to decide the contract for each deal: the trump suit or Obenabe or Undenufe and the minimum number of card points that the final bidder will try to take in tricks. A player who thinks the opponent's contract will fail can double a bid: a double immediately ends the auction and the doubled contract has to be played.

The game originated in the Swiss armed forces in the mid 20th century and became fashionable in Central Switzerland, and also among some Swiss overseas communitites, for example in South America.

Players and Cards

There are four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other.

Traditionally, Sidi Barrani is played with a Swiss-German 36-card pack with suits of bells, shields, acorns and roses, but it could also be played with a French suited pack with hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs.

In North America, Jass cards and equipment can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.

If there is a trump suit, the rank of the trumps from high to low and their point values are Under (Puur) (20), Nine (Näll) (14), Ace (11), King (4), Ober (3), Banner (10), Eight (0), Seven (0), Six (0) , and the cards in the other three suits from high to low are Ace (11), King (4), Ober (3), Under (2), Banner (10), Nine (0) Eight (0), Seven (0), Six (0). There are 5 extra points for the last trick, for a total of 157 points in the pack.

There are also two types of no-trump contract, in which, to make up for the lack of the trump Under and Nine, the Eights count 8 points each. In Obenabe every suit ranks from high to low A(11)-K(4)-O(3)-U(2)-B(10)-9(0)-8(8)-7(0)-6(0). In Undenufe the ranking is reversed, with the 6 highest and the Ace lowest while the point values remain the same: from high to low the cards are 6(0)-7(0)-8(8)-9(0)-B(10)-U(2)-O(3)-K(4)-A(11). So the total, including the 5 points for the last trick is still 157.

If one team wins all the tricks they score a 100-point bonus for Match, making a total of 257.

If French-suited cards are used, the correspondences are Jack=Under, Queen=Ober, 10=Banner.

Deal and play are anti-clockwise.

Weis and Stöck

Extra points can sometimes be scored for combinations in a player's hand. These extra points do not count towards fulfilling a contract.

Some combinations, known as Weis, can be declared during the first trick, and score as follows:

  • 200 points for 4 Unders;
  • 100 points for a sequence of 5 or more cards, 4 Aces, 4 Kings, 4 Obers or 4 Banners;
  • 50 points for a sequence of 4 cards;
  • 20 points for a sequence of 3 cards.

'Sequence' means a sequence of consecutive cards of one suit, always using the no-trump order AKOUB9876 even when the suit is trumps. So for example O-U-B of a suit is always a sequence and U-9-A never is.

The above combinations are known as 'Weis'. It is not possible to use the same card in more than one Weis combination at the same time. A player who wishes to score Weis must declare their highest instance of Weis when playing to the first trick.

The team that has the best single item of Weis scores all their Weis, and the other team scores none of theirs. When comparing items of Weis a higher scoring combination beats a lower one, if the values are equal a combination with more cards beats one with fewer, if the value and the number of cards are both equal the combination with the highest card wins, between equal sequences in different suits the trump sequence wins, and finally between equal non-trump sequences the one declared first wins. 'Highest' means highest in the no-trump order in trump contracts and in Obenabe, but in the reversed no-trump order in Undenufe.

If there is a trump suit, a player who holds the King and Ober of trumps in hand can score 20 points for Stöck. This is independent of the Weis and can only be claimed after both the cards have been seen by all players, having either been played to tricks or shown as part of a Weis combination.

There is a more detailed discussion of Weis and Stöck on the Swiss Jass page.

Deal

The first dealer is chosen by any convenient random method. The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's left cuts, and the dealer deals out all the cards anticlockwise in batches of 3 at a time, so that each player has a hand of 9 cards.

Bidding

After the deal there is an auction to decide the contract that will be played. Players speak in turn beginning with the player to dealer's right and continuing anticlockwise. At their turn, a player must either pass or bid. A bid consists of a number and a denomination.

  • The number is the minimum number of card points that the bidder's team must take in tricks for the contract to succeed. The 5 points for the last trick and the 100-point Match bonus for winning all nine tricks count towards fulfilling the bid, but points for Weis and Stöck do not. The possible bid numbers are 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, 157 and 257. Each bid must be for a higher number of points than the previous bid.
  • The denomination is either the proposed trump suit (bells, shields, acorns or roses) or Obenabe or Undenufe. There is no hierachy of denominations - in this game (unlike Schieber Jass) all suits, Obenabe and Undenufe have equal status. For example to overcall any bid of 60 a subsequent player must bid at least 70 of some denomination.

For example a bid of "70 acorns" is an undertaking that the bidder's team will take at least 70 card points playing with acorns as trumps. "110 Undenufe" is an undertaking that the team will take at least 110 card points with no trumps and reversed suit ranking.

A player who has passed is allowed to bid on a subsequent turn, and a player can bid over their parter's bid even if the intervening opponent has passed, at a higher level in the same or a different denomination.

A player who believes that an opponent's bid will not succeed can call 'double' to double the score for that bid. A double is only valid if called before the next player in turn bids or passes. Double can be called by either opponent of the bidder, but they are not allowed to discuss whether to double. A double immediately ends the auction forcing the doubled contract to be played.

The auction continues for as many circuits as necessary until it is ended by one of the following events:

  1. After a bid, the other three players all pass in succession. In this case the final bid becomes the contract - the final bidder is not allowed to change it.
  2. A bid is doubled by an opponent. The auction ends immediately and the doubled bid becomes the contract.
  3. A player bids 257. Au usual this may be doubled by either opponent, but in any case no higher bid is possible, so the auction must end at this point and the 257-bid becomes the contract.
  4. All four players pass at their first turn to speak. This is very unusual, as a contract of 40 is rather easy to make given a choice of trump suit. If it does happen the cards are thrown in and the next player deals.

Notes.

Since it is possible to double out of turn, after a bid the next player should not thoughtlessly bid or pass too quickly, as partner may wish to double. Indeed, to pass rapidly in order to prevent partner from doubling would be unethical.

The bid of 157 is included to allow for the case where the team wins all the points and the last trick, but loses a trick consisting of zero-value cards and is thus not entitled to the 100-point Match bonus.

See also the tactics section below.

Play

The final bidder, also known as the declarer, leads to the first trick. Any card may be led.

When a trump is led, the other players must follow suit with a trump unless they hold no trumps or only the trump Under (Puur) and no others. A player with no trumps or only the Under (Puur) may play any card.

When a non-trump is led, players who can either follow suit or play a trump. Players who cannot follow suit may play any card. If a previous player has played a trump on a non-trump lead, subsquent players are not allowed to undertrump (play a trump that is not the highest card in the trick) unless their hand contains nothing but trumps.

The winner of each trick leads to the next.

A player who wishes to declare Weis must do so by announcing the value of their highest single item of Weis (20, 50, 100 or 200) when playing their card to the first trick. After the next card has been played it is too late to declare Weis. An item of Weis may only be declared if it is potentially higher than any Weis declared by earlier players to the trick. For example if a previous player has declared 50 you may not declare 20, but you may declare 50 even if the previous 50 was declared by your partner.

At the end of the first trick, if there is a tie for highest scoring Weis item between the two teams, there is a further discussion to determine whose Weis is highest. The player who declared first speaks first revealing first the number of cards (in the case of a 100-value Weis), then the highest card, and finally if necessary whether it is in trumps. At each stage the other players respond in turn either by conceding or by stating their own number of cards, highest card, etc. if better or equal. THis continues only until enough information is revealed to determine whose Weis is best.

The team what holds the highest item of Weis that was declared is now entitled to score all items of Weis held by both partners. The other team scores nothing for Weis, even if some of the Weis they held is better than some items that are being scored by their opponents.

Before the second trick, any player may demand to see any item of Weis that is being scored by any other player, and the holder must display the cards of that Weis. A player is not allowed to spontaneously display or give details of their own Weis. They can only give the minimum information needed to establish whether their declared Weis item is the highest, and can only show it if they have scored for it and another player demands to see it.

Scoring

At the end of the play each team counts the total value of the cards in the tricks they have won and the winners of the last trick add 5 points for it. The total should always be 157, and iff one team has won all the tricks they add 100 making 257. If the declarer's team has won at least as many card points as promised in the final bid, the contract has succeeded. If not it has failed.

Each team scores the points they made in tricks plus Weis plus Stöck. In addition, the amount of the final bid, multiplied by 2 if the bid was doubled, is added to the score of the declarer's team if the contract succeeded, or to the opponents' score if it failed.
Example: final bid 120 Undenufe by South, doubled by West. South declares 50 for a sequence of 4 cards. N-S take 113 card points. Result: contract fails, N-S score 163 points (113+50), E-W score 284 points (44+2×120).

Each team's cumulative score is recorded. When one or both teams' score reaches 2000 points or more, the team with the higher score are the winners. In the rare case where the teams have equal scores of 2000 or more, one more deal is played, which will break the tie because the sum of the points scored in a deal by the two teams is always an odd number.

If the losing team has less than 1000 points then the winning team with 2000 or more points win a double game.

In Sidi Barrani, unlike Scheiber Jass, there is no possibility for a team to end the game in the middle of the play, claiming to have reached the target score. The last deal of the game must be played out to the end and scored.

Tactics and Conventions

Bridge players will notice parallels between Sidi Barrani and Bridge. Partnership co-operation is important in both games and some of the resulting tactics are similar. However, there are notable differences both in the play and in the bidding. The unequal values of the cards in Jass and the option to trump when able to follow suit lead to different playing techniques. Although Sidi Barrani clearly has scope for some bidding conventions, artificial and forcing bids do not work because the bidder's opponents are able to terminate the auction by doubling.

For a contract in a trump suit, possession of the Puur (Under of trumps) is especially important. Not only is it the most valuable card in the pack and unbeatable, but also it cannot be drawn by leading trumps. If an opponent of the declarer has the Puur, they cannot be prevented from holding it back until they can win an expensive trick with it. Therefore it is generally more useful to bid a shorter suit with the Under than a longer suit without it. A popular convention is that an opening bid of 40, 60, 80 or 100 of a suit guarantees that the bidder holds the Under. The bidder's partner can then raise the suit with confidence, even with only two or three small trumps. An opening of 50, 70 or 90 shows a (long) suit lacking the Under but headed by the Nine, which partner can raise if holding the Under.

It is clear that Aces are useful for Obenabe as well as for suit contracts. Lacking an obvious trump suit, a player can bid Obenabe to encourage partner either to continue in Obenabe or to choose a trump suit. In the same way Sixes are useful in Undenufe, but an Undenufe bid is more unilateral. Competing in Undenufe can be a good tactic when the other team has most of the high cards.

Sacrifice bids can often be profitable, especially if you can form a good idea of who can make what. Suppose we think we can take over 110 points in Undenufe but not much more. We bid 110 Undenufe and the opponents bid 120 shields. If we think they will make it, we should now bid 130 Undenufe expecting our contract to fail. Suppose that they double us and we in fact take 115 points. The score will be 115 to us and 302 to them, a net gain of 187 to them. But it would have been worse for us to let them play their 120 shields. If they had taken (say) 125 points, the score would have been 32 to us and 245 to them, a net gain of 213 to them.

Towards the end of a game, the situation may become even clearer. Suppose we are losing by 1710 points to 1790 and the opponents bid 110 bells. If they make it they are going to win the game. Therefore we must either double them or bid higher ourselves.

If your partner declares and scores Weis, it is often important to ask to see it, especially in Obenable or Undenufe. North opens 100 Undenufe, West overcalls 110 acorns, South, having a Six, bids 120 Undenufe and all pass. North clearly has a good Undenufe hand but may not have control of all suits. So South begins by leading the Six and waiting for more information. North declares 20 when playing to the first trick. South should now ask to see the 20. Quite likely it is a 6-7-8 sequence, and now South knows what suit to lead next.

Cross-ruffing is an important technique in trump contracts, especially when trying to make Match. The freedom to trump when holding the suit led often allows a team to establish a long suit that they both hold by alternately trumping it until the opponents' top cards have fallen. Suppose that after we have drawn the enemy trumps we still have a trump each, I hold K-B-9-7 of another suit and my partner has 8-6 of that suit. We can probably establish this suit without losaing a trick. I lead the 7 which partner trumps, both opponents following suit. Partner returns the 6 which I trump and the Ace falls. Now my last there cards in this suit are winners.

When a player is drawing trumps or winning a series of tricks in a non-trump suit, it is useful for partner to suggest what suit to lead next. For this purpose, a discarded card shows a suit that the discarder does not want their partner to lead. Usually it is more important to give these signals than to rush to throw valuable cards on partner's tricks. The weakest suit should be discarded first, so it is especially important to watch for your partner's first discard, and avoid leading that suit unless of course your holding in it is so strong that you need no help from partner.

Variations

Several variants of Sidi Barrani are described in the Jass literature.

  • Some players do not allow Weis or Stöck to be announced or scored.
  • In the past some played without the option of Obenabe and Undenufe, though nowadays these denominations are nearly always allowed.
  • Some play that the lowest bid allowed is 50 or even 60. Some allow the bidding to increase in multiples of 5 - for example 60, 65, 70, 75, ... are all allowed.
  • It is of course possible to play to a different overall target, for example 1500 or 2500 instead of 2000.
  • Some play without the possibility of doubling, while others allow the declarer's team that has been doubled to redouble.
  • There are various alternative systems of bidding conventions. These should be discussed in advance and disclosed to all players. A more elaborate system of exchanging information through the bidding may not necessarily lead to better results: good judgement by the players is more important.
  • Apparently, some groups allow additional information to be conveyed by extra remarks during the auction. For example the book Puur Näll As by Göpf Egg and Albert Hagenbucher gives a long list of sayings than can sometimes be used instead of or in addition to the normal bids to give information about a player's card holding. Unfortunately the book does not explain clearly to what extent this extra communication is allowed, when it occurs or or what exactly it means. I would strongly suggest that unless you find yourself playing with a group that routinely employs and understands these extra hints, the game will be more enjoyable if you stick to the straightforward style of auctiuon in which a bid is just a number and a denomination, a pass is just a pass, and no other words are allowed.

Other Sites, Software and Online Games

The Swiss Jassonkel site has Sidi Barrani rules and advice in German. The 'Jass uncle' is presumably Gottlieb Rüttimann since the text is the same as in his book Stöck Wis Stich (Luzern, 1969).

At Jürg von Burg's Jass site you can play a version of Sidi Barrani online against computer opponents.

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2019. Last updated: 11th November 2019

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