This page is based on information from Nicolas Morlino.
Vitou is a traditional card game from Nice, France. It is also played in Piedmont, in the Provence Alps and under various guises in Lombardy, in Friuli, and in Suisse Romande.
Vitou is closely related to the Catalan game Truc, but has been adapted to be played with the French 32-card deck used for Belote. Since this deck has no 3's or 2's the 10's and 9's have been substituted, resulting in a rather unusual ranking order of the cards.
Players and cards
Vitou is essentially a 4-player partnership game but can be played as a 2-player game. A 32-card short French deck is used. The rank of the cards from high to low is: 10, 9, Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 8, 7
By tradition, the first to deal is determined by each player drawing a card: the player with the lowest ranked card is the first to deal. The dealer then deals three cards at a time to each player in a clockwise direction.
Good players strive to shuffle the cards so as to ensure that good cards will be dealt to their team while lower-ranked cards will be dealt to the opposing team. The deck is then cut by a player from the opposing team, this player must follow the shuffle attentively to thwart this attempt and to ensure that good cards are given to their team instead.
Play of the hand
The player to the left of the dealer is the first to play. In clockwise order each player plays a card and the player of the highest card wins the trick and leads to the next trick. Suits are ignored: any card can be played to any trick.
Before playing a card to the current trick each player, except the last one to play to a trick, has the option to open the bidding with a bid of 3 points. None of the players is obliged to open the bidding at any time during the game. Once the bidding has started the only players allowed to raise the bids are the players from the opposing team (you cannot raise your partner). The last player to play to a trick is also never allowed to raise. The following initial bid and raises are allowed: 3 (always the initial bid), 6, 12 and “baraque” (game). Jump bids are not allowed, e.g. 6 is the only raise allowed on an opening bid of 3.
The team that wins two out of the three tricks win the points that were at stake. If the bidding was never opened during any of the tricks the winning team scores a single point. The third trick is only played in case the first and second trick were not won by the same partnership.
An example of a round follows:
- 1st trick: Player 1 plays a card, Player 2 plays a card, Player 3 plays a card, Player 4 plays a card (This player did not have the option to bid). This first trick was played with no bid – We’ll assume player 1 won this trick.
- 2nd trick: Player 1 plays a card, Player 2 plays a card, Player 3 opens the bidding with a bid of 3 and then plays a card, Player 4 plays a card (this player does not have the option to raise). Whoever has the highest card wins the trick. We’ll assume player 2 won this trick.
- 3rd (and final) trick: Player 2 raises the bid to 6 and then play a card, Player 3 plays a card, Player 4 plays a card, player 1 plays a card (This player cannot raise). We’ll assume that player 1 won this final trick.
Since the partnership (Player 1 and Player 3) has won 2 out of 3 tricks they have won the 6 points that were bid. If the other partnership had won this final trick they would have scored the 6 points.
Note that once a player has bid (or raised) and then played a card, the following player has three options:
- Play a card without raising
- Raise, then play a card (You cannot raise your partner and you cannot raise if you are the last one to play to the trick)
- Refuse the bid and forfeit the round. In this case, the winning team wins the point that were in play prior to the last raise. (e.g. Player 1 opens the bidding with the initial bid of 3 points and plays a card, Player 2 refuses the bid, and player 1 and player 3 score 1 point for the partnership). The option to refuse the bid and forfeit is only available to the player that immediately follows the person who last raised. Conversing with the partner to determine whether one should forfeit or not is not allowed and the decision must be made by the player alone.
To illustrate forfeiting, another example of a round follows:
- 1st trick: Player 1 plays a card, Player 2 plays a card, Player 3 plays a card, Player 4 plays a card and whoever played the highest card wins the trick. This first trick was played with no bid – we’ll assume player 1 won this trick.
- 2nd trick: Player 1 plays a card, Player 2 plays a card, Player 3 opens the bidding with a bid of 3 and then plays a card, Player 4 plays a card. Whoever has the highest card wins the trick. We’ll assume player 2 won this trick.
- 3rd (and final) trick: Player 2 raises the bid to 6 and then play a card, Player 3 raises to 12 and then plays a card. Player 4 forfeits. Players 1 and 3 wins this round and score 6 points (the last bid before the refused 12) for their team.
Since any card can be played at any time (no need to follow suits, no trumps etc…) a trick can be tied (two or more cards of the same rank are the highest). If a trick is tied and another trick needs to be played (see below), the person that led to the previous trick leads again. If any trick is tied, the round is won by the first team that won a trick. As soon as the winners of the round are determined, no further tricks need to be played. In practice this leads to the following rules:
- If the 1st trick is tied, the partnership that wins the 2nd trick scores the point(s) for the round and the 3rd trick is not played.
- If the 1st trick is not tied, but the 2nd trick is tied, the partnership that won the 1st trick scores the point(s) for the round and the 3rd trick is not played
- If the 1st and 2nd trick are both tied, the third trick decides the overall round winner.
- If all three tricks are tied, no one scores for the round, irrespective of any bidding that took place. The next player deals a new round.
Each team keeps a cumulative score, starting at zero. At the end of each round the winning team adds the points they scored (1, 3, 6 or 12) to their total. Rounds are played until one team reaches a total score of 21 points or more and wins the game. If baraque (game) was bid and the other team decided not to forfeit for 12 points, the winners of the round win the whole game.
If one of the teams reaches 20 points exactly (not unlikely), special rules apply:
- Bidding (and obviously raising) is no longer allowed until one team wins the game
- The team with 20 points can show their cards to each other before the play begins and decide whether to play the round (the losing team does not have this privilege):
- If they decide not to play their opponents score a point and another round is played with these rules.
- If they decide to play the round and win they earn 1 point and win the game
- If they decide to play the round and lose the opponents score 3 points – which could win them the game, or another round is played with these special rules until one of the team wins.
With the above rules, it is not unlikely that the losing team catches up to the team that had a score of 20 and each team has now 20 points. In case of a 20-20 tie, the following rules apply:
- Bidding (and obviously raising) is no longer allowed until one team wins the game
- As in the normal game, the partnerships do not show each other their cards
- Gestures are no longer allowed
- The dealer deals 3 cards to the player to his left and waits for a response from this player. The allowed responses are "I pass" or "I play".
- If the player passed, 3 more cards are dealt to the next player who also has the option to pass or to play. If any player decides to play, all remaining cards for the round are dealt and the game is played normally (except with no bidding and raising) and the winning team wins the game. If all four players (including the dealer) pass, a new hand is dealt by the next dealer, and this continues until some player decides to play.
Customs and sayings
Open communication with the partner is considered cheating during the game except for the games that are played once one of the teams reaches 20, in which the team with 20 points are allowed to show each other their hands before deciding whether to play on.
Stacking the deck whilst shuffling publicly is not considered cheating as a cut is understood to mitigate this. Signs and gestures are not considered cheating at any points during the game except in a 20-20 situation. The following signs are common:
- Wink with the right eye to indicate a 10
- Wink with the left eye to indicate a 9
- Purse the lips to indicate an ace
- Both eyes to the sky to indicate a hand with no 10, 9 or aces.
Here are some expressions associated with this game:
- "La plus petite fait".
- Literally "The smallest does/makes", this means that the first person to deal is determined by the random draw of cards (one per player) with the person having drawn the least valuable cards is the first to deal. This expression is only used in Nice. This is usually said at the beginning of a game if someone does not know how to play.
- "Faire les cartes".
- Literally "To do/make the cards" this means to deal the cards. Note that the standard French term for dealing cards is "Donner les cartes" and not "Faire les cartes"
- "Aller a son/mon homme".
- Literally "To go to his/my man" This means to play a small card on purpose during a trick knowing that the partner will win the trick (either because there has been some communication through signals or because of a hunch)
- "Se faire beau".
- Literally "to make oneself handsome/beautiful" This means to lead with a strong card to the trick (10 , 9 or ace)
- "Un Jeu franc".
- Literally "A frank/honest game" This means a hand containing two 10s and a 9. This hand cannot be beaten. The idea then is to try to win as many points as possible by tricking the opposing team into bidding heavily, possibly by bidding early and playing a 10 to the first trick but to act like one is bluffing to induce a bid from the next player.
- "Cartes Maitresses".
- Literally "Master Cards". 10s, 9s and aces are called "master cards". This is just a name for the three highest rank of cards. They have no special ability beyond being the three highest ranked cards.
- "Se coucher".
- To lie down. This means to not accept the most recent bid announced.