Sometimes, the best intentions aren’t enough to save a card game…or a marriage. The story of Jo-Jotte illustrates both of those facts. It’s a game for two players that functions somewhat as a hybrid of Belote and Contract Bridge.
Noted Bridge expert and personality Ely Culbertson created Jo-Jotte as an effort to create a two-player game as strategic as Bridge. The Jo in Jo-Jotte came from the name of Culbertson’s wife, Josephine. However, Jo-Jotte never took off and quickly faded into obscurity after its 1937 release. Ely and Josephine Culbertson divorced in 1938, for what we can only hope were unrelated reasons.
Object of Jo-Jotte
Jo-Jotte is played with a 32-card deck. To form such a deck, take a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove all the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with just the 7s through aces in each of the four suits.
You’ll also need pencil and paper to keep score with. Jo-Jotte uses the same four-part scoresheet that Contract Bridge uses. To create such a sheet, draw a vertical line down the center of the page, then a horizontal line about midway down the page. Each column contains the points scored by one player. Melds and bonuses are recorded in the top half of the sheet (“above the line”) and points for tricks are scored in the bottom half (“below the line”).
Shuffle and deal six cards to each player. Turn the next card (the thirteenth card of the deck) face-up. This card will be referred to as the upcard. Set the rest of the deck aside; it will be used later.
Jo-Jotte uses the same rank of cards that Klaberjass does. In case you need a refresher: the 10 ranks higher than the face cards, just under the ace, giving a full ranking of (high) A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7 (low). In the trump suit, however, the jack and 9 are elevated to the highest and second-highest trumps. In the trump suit, the cards rank (high) J, 9, A, 10, K, Q, 8, 7 (low).
Although these rankings apply to most aspects of the game, for the purposes of sequences, the “natural” order still applies, with ace high (A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7). So the highest four-card sequence would be A-K-Q-J, not A-10-K-Q or J-9-A-10 in trump.
The non-dealer has the first chance to fix the trump suit. They may either accept the suit of the upcard as trump, or pass. If they pass, then the dealer also has the option to accept the upcard’s suit as trump or pass. If the dealer passes, the non-dealer may then declare any of the other three suits as trump, or declare the hand will be played with no trump. They may also pass again, at which point the dealer has the same options. If the dealer chooses to pass, the hands are thrown out and the same dealer deals new hands.
When a player selects a trump suit, their opponent may increase the stakes by doubling the bid. This doubles the reward if the doubling player wins and doubles their penalty if they fail. The original player may then choose to redouble, increasing the stakes to four times their original amount. (Doubles and redoubles only affect scores below the line, not above.)
The player who ultimately fixes the trump suit becomes the declarer, and the other player the defender. Each player’s goal for the ensuing hand is to collect the most points in tricks. Deal three more cards to each player. Turn the deck stub over so its bottom card is exposed. This card remains out of play, but its identity is revealed to both players for informational purposes.
After the bidding has been resolved and the players have their full hands, they may declare melds. Valid melds are:
- Four of a kind: Each four of a kind scores 100 points. Ties are broken by the rank of the cards. If there is a trump suit, the rank of cards in the trump suit is used; if there is no trump suit, the non-trump ranking takes precedence.
- Sequences: A run of three or more cards of the same suit, in sequence. A run of five or more scores 50 points, a run of four scores 40 points, and a run of three scores 20 points. Longer sequences rank higher than shorter ones. Ties are broken by the rank of the highest card of the sequence. If there are two identical sequences and one is trump, the trump sequence ranks higher.
First, the defender speaks, stating the rank of any four of a kind they have. If the declarer does not have a higher four of a kind, they say “good”. Otherwise, they say “No good, mine is in [rank].” Whoever is established as holding the higher four of a kind scores for all of their four-of-a-kinds above the line.
Then, the defender states the length of their longest sequence. If the declarer has a longer one, they say “No good, mine is x long.” If the declarer has one of the same length, they responds with “How high?”, upon which the defender states the rank of the highest card of their sequence. If the declarer cannot beat a declaration, they say “good”. The holder of the highest sequence may score all of the sequences they hold above the line.
After the highest declaration has been determined, the opponent may request that the combination declared be revealed.
Nullos and slams
Instead of declaring melds, the defender may bid nullo. By doing so, they are committing to lose every trick, with the hand converted to a non-trump hand. The declarer may raise the stakes by bidding a slam instead, committing to take all nine tricks. In either of these cases, neither player scores for melds on that hand.
Play of the hand
The non-dealer leads to the first trick. The dealer then plays a card to the trick. Players must follow suit, if possible. Otherwise, they must play a trump. If they cannot, they may play any card. If a trump was led or played to the trick, players are also required to play a higher trump than the lead, if possible.
When both players have played to the trick, it is awarded to the player that played the highest trump. If no trump was played, the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. The cards making up won tricks are not added to the hand. Instead, they’re added to a face-down won-tricks pile in front of the player. The player who wins each trick leads to the next one.
The king and queen of trumps is a special combination known as Jo-Jotte. If a player holds Jo-Jotte, they may declare “Jo” when playing the king, then declare “Jotte” when playing the queen to a trick after the king. If they do this, they score 20 points above the line.
Play continues until the players run out of cards.
After the hand concludes, each totals the values of the cards they collected in tricks. Cards score:
- The jack of trump: 20 points.
- The 9 of trump: 15 points.
- The 10 of trump: 10 points.
- The king and queen of trump: 5 points each.
- Aces and non-trump kings: 10 points each.
- Non-trump queens and jacks: 5 points each.
Note that 8s and 7s, as well as 9s and 10s in non-trump suits, do not score anything. The player that takes the last trick adds ten points to their trick score. There are 150 possible points available through tricks (60 in trumps and 90 in non-trumps), plus ten for the last trick, for a maximum score of 160. On non-trump hands, the maximum score is 130, because the fourth jack is worth 5 points rather than 20, and the fourth nine scores 0 rather than 15.
The two players then compare their trick scores. If the declarer had the higher score, they record their trick score beneath the line and the defender scores nothing. If the defender had the higher score, they add their trick score to that of the declarer, and record the total beneath the line. When the bid is doubled, these scores are doubled before being entered on the score sheet; when redoubled, the scores are quadrupled.
In the event of a tie, neither player scores. Instead, the trick scores are added together and the total set aside. Whichever player wins the next non-tied, non-nullo hand scores this amount as a bonus above the line.
Scoring nullos and slams
If the defender bid nullo and did not take any trick, they score 200 points above the line. If the defender took at least one trick, the declarer scores above the line 200 for the first trick and 100 for each additional trick. Nothing is scored below the line on a nullo hand.
When the declarer bids a slam and takes all nine tricks, they score 500 above the line. If the defender took one or more tricks, they score the trick scores of themselves and their opponent above the line. The declarer scores nothing when failing to make a slam bid.
If a lucky player manages to make a slam without bidding it, they score 100 points above the line.
Game and rubber
The deal passes to the previous hand’s non-dealer, who deals new hands. This continues until one player reaches or exceeds 80 points below the line. This ends the first game, and the trick scores start again from zero. After the second such game, each player adds up the totals of their points above the line and the below-the-line scores for both games. Whichever player has the higher total score wins the rubber, and scores an additional 300 points for winning.