Translated by Anthony Smith from pages 140-142 of "Spilabók AB" by Þ. Guðmundsson, 1989, Reykjavík. Clarification of "friðufær" from "Islandsk-Dansk Ordbog", Reykjavík 1920-24.
The name "Alkort" has a foreign ring, yet it must have been among the oldest games on Iceland. Eggert Ólafsson (1726-1768) said it was native. Here is Ólaf Davíðsson's work describing the game, from his writings on Icelandic amusements (Íslenzkar gátur, skemmtanir, vikavikar og þulur", Ólafur Davíðsson, 1887-1903, Copenhagen). Two sorts of Alkort were played, 4-man Alkort and 2-man Alkort. They are very similar and we describe here the basic game, 4-man Alkort.
Number of Players and the Pack
As the name 4-man Alkort implies, this is a game for four, who play in two partnerships of two. An ordinary pack of cards is needed but the 10s and 5s are taken out (leaving 44 cards).
The Ranking of the Cards
The ranking of cards in Alkort is very different from the usual ranking. The KD is highest (except when a 7 is led); then in order 2H, 4C, 8S, 9H, 9D. Next come the Aces, then the Jacks, the Sixes (póstarnir) and the Eights (friðurnar) except 8S.
The other cards are all useless rubbish which are not worth having, except that a player who leads a rubbish card wins the trick if the other three cards played are also rubbish. The Kings (except KD) and the Queens are however the lowest of all these, because you may take a King with a Two or a Queen with a Two or a Three, provided no valuable card is played to the trick.
The Sevens (bísefarnir) have special status. When they are led no card can beat them, but on the other hand they are utterly useless when following because they cannot beat any other card. You may not lead out a Seven until you have taken a trick.
Cut for partners and for deal. After shuffling and cutting each player is dealt 9 cards in batches of 3, clockwise. The stock which is left over is placed face down on the table and no one may see it. It contains 8 cards.
A player who is dealt no card which would be capable of beating one of the three low Eights (friðurnar) if a low Eight were led is said to be not friðufær (not 8-capable). Such a player may show all his cards, discard them all except one, and take up instead the 8 cards which form the stock.
The Course of the Game
Before play begins, partners show each other their highest card. Forehand leads first and the others follow in clockwise order. The highest card played takes the trick. If two or more equally high cards are played (e.g. two jacks or two aces or two rubbish) then the one played earliest to the trick counts as highest.
The goal of the game is to take as many tricks as possible - 5 or more to win. If a partnership takes 5 before the others take a trick then they "múk" or make them "múk". If they take more than 5 tricks before their opponents win any they are said to have made a stroke. The stroke is called a 6-card, 7-card, 8-card or 9-card stroke according to the number of tricks taken by the winners before the opponents take one.
For a simple win, i.e. 5 or more tricks, but not the first 5 tricks, one point is scored.
For "múk", i.e. winning the first 5 tricks, five points are scored.
For a stroke, the winners score as many points as there are tricks in the stroke.