Ristikontra is a Finnish game for four players, which is popular in lumber camps. It seems likely that it is the original game of the unusual sedma group of games, in which tricks are won by the last card of equal rank to the card led. These games are played only in a region stretching across Europe from Lapland in the north to Hungary in the south. In the north of Finland, a more elaborate version, sometimes known as Ristiklappi (cross-clap) or Lappi (Lapland) is played. There is also a 2-3 player variant known just as Kontra.

This page is based on information from Veikko Lähdesmäki (passed on by David Parlett), Olli Salmi, Cristian Seres, Raimo Ikonen (passed on by Áron Csathó), Mikko Saari and Markku Jaatinen.

Players and Objective

There are four players in fixed partnerships; partners sit facing each other. The object is to take tricks containing aces, 10s, kings, queens and jacks.

The Cards

A standard 52-card pack is used. The cards have no ranking order and suits are irrelevant. The values of the cards are:

Each ace. . . . . . .  11 points
Each king. . . . . . .   4 points
Each queen. . . . . . .   3 points
Each jack. . . . . . .   2 points
Each ten. . . . . . .  10 points
Other cards (2-9) . . .  no value

There are 120 points in the pack in total.

The Deal

Any player can deal first; the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. The dealer shuffles the deck and deals six cards to each player. The remaining cards are placed face down to form a stock.

The Play

The game is played clockwise. The player to the left of the dealer is first to play. A trick consists of four cards, one by each player. The trick is won by whoever played the last card of the same rank as the first card in the trick.

An example: Player A starts with a seven, then B plays a five, C plays an ace and D plays a three. A wins, because no one else played a seven.
Another example: A leads a king, B plays a three, C plays a ten and D wins the trick by playing a king.

The object of the play is to win tricks containing valuable cards. Only the point cards A, K, Q, J, 10 count; other cards are worthless, the number of taken tricks has no effect on scoring.

After playing a card from hand each player must draw the top card from the stock, so that the players always hold six cards in their hands. The winner of the trick leads to the next trick. When the stock is empty, the last six tricks are played without replenishing the players' hands.

The players are free to play any cards they wish, with one exception. A player is not allowed to lead all four cards of one rank to four successive tricks. After leading the same ranked card to three consecutive tricks, a different ranked card must be led.

When there are still cards in the stock, any time it is a player's turn to lead a card or play to the trick, the player may turn up the top card of the stock and play that. This is known as 'playing in the dark'. Once the stock card is turned over it must be played - the player cannot choose to play a card from hand instead. After playing the top card of the stock, the player will still be holding six cards and therefore does not draw a card from the stock.


At the end of the deal each team counts the value of the cards in the tricks they have won - see above.

The object is to get 61 card points, more that half of the total, and the winning side scores 1 game point. If a side gets 120 card points, they score two game points. If both sides get 60 card points, the game point for this deal is held in abeyance, and awarded to the winners of the next deal, in addition to what they would normally win for that deal. The overall winners are the first team to reach an agreed target, usually 7 points.


Some play with a simpler system of card values as follows:

Each ace. . . . . . .  5 points
Each king. . . . . . .   4 points
Each queen. . . . . . .   3 points
Each jack. . . . . . .   2 points
Each ten. . . . . . .  1 points
Other cards (2-9) . . .  no value

In this version there are only 60 points in the deck. A team needs at least 31 card points to win; if each team takes 30 the game point is held in abeyance.


Some play that if a team does not get any points during a deal, they lose all the points they won in previous games - their cumulative score drops to zero.

Some play that each team scores its card points, and that the first team to reach a cumulative score of 120 points wins the game. Since there are 120 points in the pack, this means that the winners will be the team with the higher total points after two deals, and if each team has 120 it will be the team who did not win the last trick that contained a counting card.

Some play with an alternative schedule of card points: ace=5, king=4, queen=3, jack=2, ten=1, so that there are 60 points in the pack. In this version the first team to score 60 or more card points wins the game.


This variation, which is sometimes known as Lappi (Lapland) makes the play of the game more interesting. Only five cards, rather than six, are dealt to each player. A team which has taken one or more queens in its tricks in the first part of the game, while the stock still exists (in the first 8 tricks) must clean in the second part, when there is no stock (the last 5 tricks). To clean you need to win a trick that contains one or more kings and is not won by a queen. Therefore you cannot clean in a trick to which a queen is led.

It is illegal to play all the kings in the first part of the game, as that would make cleaning impossible. Once three kings have been played, whoever has the fourth king must keep it until after the stock has run out.

Note that taking any king in the last five tricks counts as cleaning, provided that the trick is not won by a queen - it is not necessary to capture an enemy king. A team that does not take any queens in the first part of the game does not need to clean.

Here is an example of play to the last five tricks - both teams took queens in the first part of the game, so need to clean.

Q 10 7 7 510 8 6 6 3K K 6 4 2K 7 5 3 3   These are the cards held by the players.
7627   It is North's lead. He has no winning cards except a queen, but if he leads the queen his team cannot clean in this trick. So he leads one of his sevens.
   3Q34West won the previous trick, and now leads a three, won by his partner East.
 8KK7  East leads the last eight, a winner, E-W clean with this trick. South throws a king in order to keep his six, which will beat East's six. West also throws a king to reduce N-S's chance to clean.
 10K310  If East led the 6, South would win the last two tricks and clean. In fact East leads the 8, but North can win this and N-S clean anyway.
5665   The last trick, taken by West, is irrelevant because it contains no point cards.

Normally each hand counts as a complete game, but there are various degrees of winning and losing.

  • Provided both sides are clean, the side with more points wins, and the other team loses honourably.
  • If either team failed to clean, they lose dishonourably. They are not allowed to touch the cards, and if there is another game, the other team will deal (and will taunt their opposition mercilessly!)

It is theoretically possible, though unlikely, that both teams fail to clean - both took a queen in the first part of the game and the only trick in the second part where a king was played is won by a queen. In this case presumably both teams lose dishonourably.

Apparently there are many versions of Ristiklappi with slightly different house rules. For example the Finnish edition of Cristian Seres' Ristikontra page gives a version in which six cards are dealt to each player, with a more elaborate range of results:

  1. With more than 61 points and a clean game: you win.
  2. If the points divide 60-60 and both teams are clean, it is a tie. Some resolve this by counting cards: the team with more cards wins.
  3. A clean game with 4-59 points is an honorable "point loss".
  4. A team with at least four points and one or more Queens but no King loses a "piss game", which is a shameful result.
  5. A team with less than four points and no Queen loses "lappi" (which apparently means that they are "sent to Lapland").
  6. Taking no tricks is called "kortiton lappi", a "lappi without cards", which is worse than a normal lappi.
  7. A team whose only point card a is Queen suffers a "kusilappi" - a "piss lappi". This is very shameful - the worst possible result.

This version does not have the rule that a trick won by a Queen cannot be used for cleaning. Therefore at least one team is always clean: it is illegal to play the last King while there are still cards in the stock, so at least one King is always be played in the last five tricks. Also, when a team loses a "lappi" the other side must be clean, since to stop them cleaning the losers would have had to take a King, giving them the four points they need to avoid the lappi.

Apparently some play that a team that took less than 10 card points 'goes to Lapland', but then there is the possibility that both sides lose - one by failing to clean and the other by going to Lapland with at least one King.


This 2-3 player game is played by a relative of Cristian Seres who lives in Nokia, near Tampere. Their family has been playing the game with these rules for at least 70 years, and it is said to have been played in Tyrvää, which has now become part of the new municipality Sastamala. It is also possible that the game originated in Helsinki during the Second World War or the Continuation War in 1940s. Because "Ristikontra", in which partners sit across from each other, can be translated as ”cross kontra”, it makes perfect sense that this basic game which is played with no partnerships, is simply called Kontra.

Kontra is very much like Ristikontra, but not played in partnerships. Two ground rules of Kontra: Do not get angry and do not cheat.

Players and Objective

There are two or three players. Deal and play are clockwise.

The object is to take tricks containing aces, tens or court cards. A good memory is required to play well in a long run, but there is also a luck element.

The Cards

A standard 52-card pack is used. There is no ranking order and suits are irrelevant. The card value are the same as in Ristikontra:

  • Each ace 11 points
  • Each ten 10 points
  • Each king 4 points
  • Each queen 3 points
  • Each jack 2 points

Therefore a pack contains 120 points.

The Deal

The first dealer is determined by cutting the pack. The player who gets the highest card deals first. In case of a draw each one cuts again, there is no rank of suits. In this game, unlike many others, aces are counted as highest (and tens second highest) when determining the first dealer.

Cards are dealt in batches of three, six cards to each player. After that the dealer turns the bottom card of the pack face up and slides it under the pack at 90 degrees so that it remains visible. The dealer also turns the top card of the pack face up, leaving it on top of the pack. If these two cards have the same rank, the pack is locked.

The Play

  1. If the pack is not locked, the dealer (not the player to the left of the dealer) is first to play and may play the first card either from their hand, from the top of the pack or from the bottom of the pack (the two face up cards). No new cards from the pack are turned face up during the play it is not allowed to take the bottom card of the pack after this first turn until the rest of the pack has been used.
  2. If the pack is locked and a player has a card of the same rank as the locking card, i.e. a third card of the same rank as the top and bottom card, this player starts by playing the matching card from their hand, thereby unlocking the pack. If two players including the dealer have matching cards the dealer starts by playing a matching card to unlock the pack; in a three-player game where the two non-dealers have matching cards the player to dealer's left unlocks the pack by playing a matching card.
  3. If the pack is locked and none of players has a suitable card to unlock the pack, it remains locked, the dealer starts by playing from their hand and the game is played as though the pack were empty. The play proceeds directly to the endgame: cards are played only from the players' hands, there is no spicing (see below) and there are only 6 tricks.

A trick consists of one card from each of the players, in clockwise order if there are three players. At their turn a player may play any card from their hand or take the top card from the pack and play it 'in the dark’. A player who plays a card from their hand must immediately draw a card from the pack, restoring their hand to 6 cards. 'Playing in the dark' is only allowed if the pack is not locked and contains at least three cards at the start of the trick. A player is not allowed to add the top card from the pack to their hand and play a different card - if the top card is taken it must be played to the trick.

The trick is won by whoever played the last card of the same rank as the first card in the trick as in Ristikontra. In addition to these cards, one per player, the winner of the trick must play an extra card to ’spice’ or ’flavour’ the trick, ’höystää’ in Finnish. The spice card can be played either from the winner's hand or from the top of the pack, and in either case the card must be shown to all the players. If the card that won the trick came from a player's hand, the winner of the trick should remember to replenish their hand to six cards before thinking about whether to spice the trick from their hand or from the pack. If the trick is spiced from the winner's hand, the winner must immediately replenish their hand to 6 cards by drawing from the pack.

Each player stores the tricks they have won in a face down pile in front of them. Players are not allowed to look through these cards during the game.

The winner of the trick leads to the next one. Unlike Ristikontra, in Kontra, apart from the unlocking of the pack in the first trick, there are no limitations on what may be led. It is legal to lead the same rank to four consecutive tricks.

When a player starts a trick with a card of a same rank that an opponent just threw into the previous trick, this is called ’kintuta’ which is Tyrvää dialect and could be roughly explained as a verb made out of a noun referring to shank or a peg, some colloquial name for human’s shank. Unless an opponent still has another card of the same rank, the person who is ’pegging’ will win the trick.


When the pack is not locked the endgame begins when there is only one card (with two players) or two cards (with three players) remaining in the pack. The last card of the pack may be either face up or down depending on what was led to the first trick. At this point each player should still have six cards in their hand. This last card (or two cards) of the pack must be used to spice the last trick. Players cannot play in the dark or replenish their hands during this trick.

After this first endgame trick has been won and spiced with the final cards of the pack, the players will have five cards each. In the last five tricks there is no spicing and each trick consists of only one card from each player. The winner of each trick leads to the next trick as usual.


The scoring is same than in Ristikontra. Each player adds up the total value of the cards in their tricks: ace=11, ten=10, king=4, queen=3, jack=2, other cards 0.

The player who has fewest points, but not less than 21, deals the next hand. 21 points are known as ’työsilmät’, literally ’work eyes’ or ’deal pips’, the minimum needed to be allowed to deal the next hand, which is an advantage because the dealer normally plays first.

In case of a tie for lowest score of 21 or more, cards are cut as at the start of the game to decide who deals next. Also, if both (all) players are below 21 in a game with a locked pack, the next dealer is chosen by cutting cards.


  • 75-45: the player with 45 points deals next
  • 100-20: the player with 100 points deals next
  • 60-60: cut cards to decide next dealer
  • 54-33-33: the two players with 33 cut to decide which of them will deal next
  • 54-48-18: the player with 48 points deals next (lowest count that is higher than 20)
  • 51-51-18: the players with 51 cut to decide who deals next
  • 22-20 (locked pack): the player with 22 deals next
  • 18-20 (locked pack): cut cards to choose next dealer

Cristian Seres' relatives do not usually keep score, but they do count the exact number of card points taken by each player at the end of each hand. On this basis Cristian suggests that if keeping score a cumulative point total should be kept for each player over a series of deals and used to determine the overall result.

Other web sites

This page is an expanded version of Cristian Seres' former Finnish page about Ristikontra, which was also available in English at http://www.korttipelit.net/ristikontra_en.


You can download a freeware Ristikontra program from Thanos Card Games.

This page is maintained by John McLeod (john@pagat.com).   © John McLeod, 2001, 2003, 2009, 2024. Last updated: 17th June 2024