This page is based on information from Tuomas Korppi, Mikko Saari, Esko Heimonen and Frank Sven Nestel.
- Players, cards and deal
- Card Exchange and Setting the Contract
- Declaring trumps
- Notes on Tactics
- Three-player Huutopussi
Huutopussi is a four-player point-trick game played in southern Finland. It is based on Marjapussi, but with the extra feature that the players bid for the right to exchange some cards with their partner. Huutopussi means something like "bidding bag", while Marjapussi means "bag of berries". The main description on this page is of a version played by maths students at the University of Helsinki, as recorded by Tuomas Korppi. This is followed by other variations, including one which was described under the name Marjapussi in an anonymous account from the mathematics department at Erlangen, Germany, which was passed on to me by Frank Sven Nestel.
Players, cards and deal
There are four players in two fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other.
A 36-card pack is used, the cards ranking from highest to lowest A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7, 6 in each of the four suits hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The values of the cards are as follows:
- Aces and tens: 10 points each
- Kings, queens and jacks: 5 points each
- 9, 8, 7, 6: no value
In addition, winning the last trick is worth an extra 20 points, for a total of 160 points in the pack. Extra points are awarded for declaring marriages - see below.
Deal, bidding and play are clockwise. The first dealer is chosen at random. The dealer shuffles the cards and the player to dealer's right cuts. The cards are dealt one at a time, nine cards to each player. The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.
All bids are numbers that are multiples of five. The first player (the one left to the dealer) must bid at least 50. After that players in turn can either bid or pass. Each bid must be higher than the preceding one. A player who has passed cannot bid at a later turn. The bidding continues for as many circuits of the table as necessary until three players have passed. The person who made the final bid becomes the declarer.
A player who has at least three sixes, or who has no card higher than a jack is allowed to (but is not required to) demand a redeal. This demand can only be made at the player's first opportunity to bid. In this case the hand is not played. The cards are thrown in and there is a new deal by the next dealer.
The highest bid allowed is 440, since this is the highest attainable score (160 + 40 + 60 + 80 + 100 as explained below).
Card Exchange and Setting the Contract
The partner of the declarer chooses three cards and passes them face down across the table to the declarer. The declarer adds these cards to his or her hand, and then sets the contract by announcing a number which must be at least as high as the declarer's final bid (and must be a multiple of 5). This commits the declarer's team to try to take at least this number of points. Then the declarer passes three cards face down to partner, which may include some of the cards the partner originally passed. These are added to partner's hand so that everyone has nine cards again.
The declarer leads to the first trick. At the start of the play there are no trumps, but a trump suit may be declared (or changed) during the course of play.
Players must always follow suit if able to. If there are trumps, a player who does not have any cards of the suit that was led must play a trump. Subject always to the requirement to follow suit, a player who is able to beat the highest card already played to the trick must do so (even if the card to be beaten belongs to the player's partner). A player who does not have the led suit nor any trumps can play any card. The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if no trumps were played, by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of the trick leads to the next trick.
A player who leads to a trick and wins it (no one beats the card that was led) is allowed to try to declare trumps before leading to the next trick. The declarer can therefore attempt a trump declaration if he or she wins the first trick. Other players need to win two successive tricks - one trick to obtain the lead and the following trick to qualify for a trump declaration. Only one attempt to declare trumps can be made after each trick won. There are three ways to declare trumps:
- If you have a marriage - the king and queen of the same suit - in your hand, you may declare that suit as trumps.
- You may ask your partner for a marriage. If your partner has a marriage, he or she must announce what suit it is in (if there are more than one eligible suits, partner chooses one), and that suit becomes trumps. Any undeclared marriages in your own hand are now "broken": you no longer can declare them as trumps nor can your partner ask you for a marriage (but your partner can still declare and you can still ask your partner for subsequent marriages, and both can ask for any "half marriage").
- If you have a "half marriage" (a king or a queen) in some suit, you may ask your partner for the other half (e.g. "do you have a half marriage in clubs?"). If partner has the other card (responding "yes" is sufficient proof), that suit becomes trumps. Any undeclared marriages in your hand and your partner's hand are now "broken": neither of you can declare any marriages as trumps nor ask each other for a marriage (but both of you can ask for subsequent "half marriages").
Note that marriages can never include cards that have already been played - the cards must be in the players' hands at the time of the declaration.
It is possible for several trump declarations to occur in the course of one hand. The conditions for subsequent declarations are the same as for the first one: you must win a trick to which you yourself have led. You can then attempt a declaration by any of the three methods above. If the declaration is successful the newly declared suit becomes trumps and the previous trump suit is cancelled and reverts to being just an ordinary non-trump suit for the rest of the hand.
Each suit can be declared trumps only once during a hand - it is not possible to redeclare a marriage that was declared previously in order to restore an old trump suit.
At the end of the hand, each side counts the value of the cards it took in tricks, and the winners of the last trick add 20 points. The two sides' totals should add up to 160. To this amount each side adds further points for any trump declarations they made during the hand as follows:
- Marriage in spades: 40 points
- Marriage in clubs: 60 points
- Marriage in diamonds: 80 points
- Marriage in hearts: 100 points
If the declarer's team's total is at least as high as the contract, then they score the amount of the contract. Otherwise they score minus the amount of the contract. In either case the opposing team scores however many points they took for cards and declarations.
Note that the declarer's team cannot score more than the contract value that the declarer set - points taken in excess of the contract are not scored.
If the declarer's opponents take no tricks at all, then instead of scoring zero they score minus the amount of the final bid. This is known as "läpäri".
A team whose cumulative score reaches 500 or more points wins the game. If both teams reach 500 or more on the same hand, the team with the higher score wins. [If both teams have over 500 and the scores are equal, the game could be considered a draw or a further hand could be played to decide the result.]
A team that has a negative score of -500 points or worse is not allowed to bid, except for the compulsory initial bid of 50 if a member of that team is first to bid. This situation is known as "huutokielto".
Notes on Tactics
Since the declarer's partnership scores only for points contracted and made, and nothing for points in excess of the contract, after receiving cards the declarer should set the contract as high as is safely possible.
The basic strategy is to collect good cards in the declarer's hand. If you're the declarer's partner, it's often best to give the declarer your best three cards (aces, tens, kings, queens).
Usually the declarer's side is in a very advantageous position because their hands are improved hands by the exchange of cards, and also because of the control of the game given by the right to lead to the first trick.
Normally the game is played simply to win. The margin of victory makes no difference. This often leads to special strategies when either side is close to the 500 point target. The losing side may desperately try for läpäri. Note that in case of läpäri, the amount lost by the opponents is only the amount of the final bid, not the amount of the contract. Sometimes it becomes clear only after the exchange of cards that a high contract with läpäri is possible, but raising the contract at this stage only increases the amount the declaring side can win: it does not cause the opponents to lose more if the läpäri succeeds. The partnership close to 500 may bid very conservatively and try to pass the 500 target with the points collected while defending against the opponents' contract.
Bidding conventions are normally not used. When they are used, however, players do not reveal their conventions to their opponents.
High contracts (210 points or more) are made by declaring red trumps and/or declaring trumps several times during the same hand. However, because of the "läpäri"-rule, a partnership with the possibility of winning all the tricks may deliberately bid a contract that they cannot make, and hope that both sides get a score of minus the contract value (the declarer's team wins every trick but do not have enough points for the contract).
Some play with the original card values: ace=11, ten=10, king=4, queen=3, jack=2, other cards zero. Some value the last trick at 10 points rather than 20. Both variations of course change the total number of points available without marriages.
The values of marriages vary. Nowadays some players rank the suits in Bridge order - spades: 100, hearts: 80, diamonds: 60 and clubs: 40.
Instead of the "läpäri rule, some play that a side that takes no tricks is "sent to Porvoo" and loses the amount of the contract. If the contract fails, and the opponents take no tricks, they score nothing.
There are probably many different versions of Huutopussi. An anonymous text left by a Finnish visitor to the maths department at Erlangen, Germany, describes a variant which differs from the above game as follows.
- The values of the cards are: ace=11, ten=10, king=4, queen=3, jack=2, other cards zero. The last trick is still worth 20 for a total of 140 points without marriages. This is almost certainly the original schedule: it is found in many other European card games.
- The minimum bid is 120. The player to dealer's left is not obliged to bid. If all four players pass, the game is played without a contract: there is no card exchange, the player to dealer's left leads to the first trick, and each team scores whatever points it makes.
- The declarer's partner passes four cards, not three, to the declarer, and the declarer returns four cards.
- There are some restrictions on the play applying to the first trick only. An ace must be led if possible, and if the leader has no ace a spade must be led if possible. If an ace is not led, the holder of the ace of the suit led must play it. Despite these restrictions, there is no obligation on the declarer to keep aces or spades to lead to the first trick - these can be passed to partner if the declarer so wishes.
- In order to attempt to declare trumps it is only necessary to win a trick. It does not matter who led to the trick.
- It is legal to ask for a half-marriage in a suit where you hold neither the king nor the queen. If your partner has a half or whole marriage in this suit, the answer will be "yes", but then you have to admit that you do not have a half yourself and the suit is not made trumps (even if partner in fact had a whole marriage). The purpose of this manoeuvre is to deceive the opponents: if the answer is "no", they may believe that you hold the king or queen and fail to declare their own marriage in that suit.
- When scoring points at the end of the hand, the points taken by the opponents are rounded to the nearest 5 (for example 112 becomes 110; 113 becomes 115). The declarer's side does not round their point total - for example if they set the contract at 150 and take only 149 points, the contract is lost.
- A side that makes no tricks is "sent to Porvoo". It is traditional to tease them by asking them how much a kilo of salted herrings costs in Porvoo market. A side that is sent to Porvoo normally loses twice the amount of the contract. However, if the declarer's side wins every trick but does not have enough points for their contract, they lose the value of the contract while the opponents lose nothing. If all four players passed, there is no contract and therefore no Porvoo penalty.
- An opponent of the declarer who thinks that the contract will fail can say "Kontra", which doubles the declarer's side's score for that hand, whether they win or lose. You can only say the first Kontra while you have nine cards in your hand - once you have played a card it is too late. If an opponent has said Kontra, then either member of the declarer's side may say "Re", doubling their score for the hand again. To say Re you must have at least eight cards in your hand. If that happens, an opponent can say Kontra again, provided they still have at least seven cards, and further Kontras and Res are allowed, each with one card fewer than the previous one, up to a theoretical maximum of nine. It is only the declarer's side's score that is affected by Kontras and Res: the opponents just score what they make as usual. The Porvoo penalty is not affected by Kontras. If the declarer's side wins all the tricks but fails in their contract, then the first Kontra by the opponents does not count. If all four players passed, then no one can say Kontra. This system of Kontras and Res may not be an original Finnish feature but could well have been added in Germany - it is slightly reminiscent of the system of announcements in popular German game Doppelkopf.
When played by three people, Huutopussi becomes strikingly similar to the Russian, Polish and Baltic game 1000. Indeed it is possible that Huutopussi was originally derived from 1000, and that the three-player form was the earlier version, which was later expanded to four players. In three-player Huutopussi each player is dealt 11 cards and there are three undealt cards known as the "devils pack". The highest bidder takes these three cards and discards any three. I am told that the remaining rules are the same as in 4-player Huutopussi, which I take to mean that:
- The bidding starts with the player to dealer's left, who is required to bid at least 50.
- The highest bidder, after taking the "devil's pack" and discarding three cards, sets the level of the contract and leads to the first trick and plays alone against the other two players, who form a temporary partnership.
- If the contract is fulfilled, the bidder scores plus the amount of the contract, otherwise minus that amount. The other two players keep their tricks separately and each scores the number of points taken in tricks, whether the contract succeeds or not. A player who takes no tricks is "sent to Porvoo" and loses the amount of the final bid, if it succeeds. If the contract fails, an opponent of the bidder with no tricks just scores zero.
- The game ends when one or more players reach a score of 500 or more and the player with the highest score wins. If there is a tie for most points a further deal is played to decide the winner.