Belote

Belote is a trick-taking game from the same family as Klaberjass. It is most commonly played with four players in partnerships, although variations for fewer players are out there. In the early 20th century, it knocked Bezique out of its position as the top card game in France, and still remains one of the country’s most popular games.

Belote is traditionally played counter-clockwise, with the deal and turn progressing to the right. This convention is often disregarded in recent years, however, in favor of a progression to the left as in most other card games. Our rules assume the turn passes to the left. If you prefer the turn passing to the right, simply switch “left” and “right” whenever they’re mentioned in the text.

Object of Belote

The object of Belote is to be the first partnership to reach a score of 1,000 points. Points are scored through declaring certain combinations in the hand and by taking points in tricks.

Setup

Belote is played with a 32-card deck. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the cards from 6 down to 2. You’ll be left with aces through 7s in each of the four suits. You should also have something to keep score with, like pencil and paper.

Determine partnerships somehow, such as high-card draw or even just mutual agreement. Partners should sit opposite one another, with their opponents sitting in between. The turn of play should alternate partnerships as it progresses around the table.

Traditionally, the cards are not shuffled in Belote. The player to the dealer’s right simply cuts the cards. Deal a batch of three cards to each player, then another batch of two cards. Turn the next card of the deck, the upcard, face-up in the center of the table. Set the deck aside, it will be used again later.

Card ranking

Belote uses a different card ranking than most other games. The 10 is ranked higher than the king, giving a full card ranking of (high) A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7 (low).

In the trump suit, the jack and 9 are promoted to the top two ranks. That means in the trump suit, the full ranking is (high) J, 9, 10, K, Q, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

Bidding

The player to the dealer’s left gets the first opportunity to take, that is, to accept the suit of the upcard as the trump suit. If they do not wish to, they may pass. When a player takes, there is no more bidding, and that player becomes the taker for the ensuing hand. By taking, a player commits their partnership to take more points than their opponents.

If all four players pass, the player to the dealer’s left may name a trump suit other than that of the upcard. If they do, that player becomes the taker and the bidding ends. Otherwise, they may pass, as before. If all four players pass, the cards are thrown in, the deal passes to the left, and new hands are dealt.

Regardless of whether the upcard’s suit became trump or not, the taker adds the upcard into their hand. The dealer deals three more cards to each player, except for the taker, who only receives two cards from the deck.

Making declarations

After the bidding has been resolved and the players have their full hands, they may make declarations about the contents of their hands. The valid declarations are:

  • Four of a kind (Jacks, 9s, aces, 10s, kings, queens): Four jacks score 200 points, four nines score 150, and four of either aces, 10s, kings, or queens score 100 points. You cannot declare four of a kind in 8s or 7s. Ties are broken by the rank of the cards.
  • Sequences: A run of three or more cards of the same suit, in sequence. For the purposes of sequences, cards rank in the order they do in most games, that is, (high) A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low). A run of five or more scores 100 points, a run of four scores 50 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.
  • Belote and rebelote: The king and queen of trump. Scores 20 points.

Belote and rebelote are always scored. However, only the team holding the highest declaration may score for the other declarations.

First, the player to the dealer’s left speaks, stating the type of the highest declaration they have (e.g. “a run of four”, “four of a kind”, etc.). If the next player has a higher type of declaration, they state its type. If they have one of the same type, the next player responds with “How high?”, upon which the first player states the rank of the highest card of their sequence or the rank of their four-of-a-kind. When a player cannot beat a declaration, they say “good”. This continues until the highest declaration amongst the four players has been determined. The value of the declarations are recorded, but are not immediately added to the score.

After the highest declaration has been determined, the opponents may request that any of the combinations declared be revealed.

Some players choose not to allow declarations, as doing so increases the amount of influence blind luck has on the game. Others allow only belote and rebelote to be declared. This should be established by mutual agreement before the game.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player to the left plays a card to the trick in turn. Players must follow suit, if possible. Otherwise, if one of their opponents is currently winning the trick, they must play a trump. If they cannot, or the player’s partner is winning the trick, 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 others in the trick, if possible, as long as one of their opponents are winning the trick.

When all four 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 one of the partners. The player who wins each trick leads to the next one.

Play continues until the players run out of cards. The partnership that takes the last trick scores ten points for dix de der (ten for the last).

Scoring

After the hand concludes, each partnership totals the values of the cards they collected in tricks. Cards score:

  • The jack of trump: 20 points.
  • The nine of trump: 14 points.
  • Aces: 11 points each.
  • 10s: 10 points each.
  • Kings: 4 points each.
  • Queens: 3 points each.
  • Non-trump jacks: 2 points each.

Note that 8s and 7s, as well as 9s in non-trump suits, do not score anything. There are 152 possible points available through tricks, plus the ten for dix de der, which adds up to a maximum score of 162.

If the taking team scores more in tricks than their opponents, they have made their contract and both teams score all of the points they’ve earned through tricks, plus any points in declarations they may be entitled to. If the taking team fails to make their contract, their opponents score 162 points, plus their declarations, plus the taking team’s declarations!

When one side takes all of the tricks in the game, it is called a capot. If the taking side scores a capot, they score an additional 90 points, giving them a score of 252 for the hand, plus declarations. Likewise, if the taker’s opponents score a capot, they score 252, plus both sides’ declarations. In any case, whenever a team takes no tricks, the only declaration they may score for in that hand is belote and rebelote.

Scores are traditionally rounded to the nearest ten after each hand is scored. Game play ends when one team reaches a score of 1,000 points at the end of a hand. That partnership is the winner. If both teams exceed 1,000 points on the same hand, the game ends as a tie.

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