Russian Preference

Russian Ace of Diamonds

My mother and Ismo were visiting to see Nooa. Well, Nooa didn’t want to sleep before they arrived and we had to put him to bed while they were here, so we entertained ourselves with games while Nooa was napping. I got to clear one game from my “I need to play this list, that is Russian Preference. I even had Russian cards to play it with.

Preference is a three-player card game where one player is a declarer and the other two play against him. The defenders also have a trick quota to make. In most variations of the game the declarer’s quota is six tricks (out of ten) and the declarer only chooses the trumps, but in Russian Preference the number of tricks to make is a part of the bidding. If declarer bids more than six tricks, the quote for the defenders is smaller.

That’s simple enough. Everybody who has ever played a trick-taking game with bidding will understand Russian Preference right away, and even if bidding is a strange concept, it still is fairly easy. The scoring is slightly complicated, though: in three-player game every player has four different scores. Pulja (bullet) points are scored for making declared games, heap points are scored when player fails to make a contract (or a defender’s quota) and whist points are scored when defending. Whist points are counted separately against both opponents.

So, if you make a contract, you score 2-10 pulja points depending on the contract. Number of tricks made doesn’t matter once you make the limit, so one needs to choose a high enough contract to ensure the maximum number of points. If you fail, you gain the same number of heap points for each missing trick. That’s very painful, if you miss more than one trick in a valuable contract.

Russian Jack of Hearts

If the defenders make their trick quota, they get whist points against the declarer, once again the same amount as the declarer would get pulja points for each trick made. If declarer is missing tricks, the defenders get more points for those. If defenders fail, they too score heap points — but only the defender who made less tricks.

The defenders don’t have to play — they can pass. If both pass, the declarer wins automatically. If one passes, the other can either play alone against the declarer or request the other player to play too. In that case the forced player has no risk, he or she won’t get any heap points if they fail — but no whist points either, if there’s a success.

The game is over when everybody has ten pulja points. That’s the maximum one can have. If the points flow over, the extra points are given to the player with the second most pulja points. In exchange, the giver gets ten whist points against that player for each pulja point given. This is a nice mechanism, as it makes sure the game actually ends, even when someone can’t play. The game can be as short as three deals (if each deal is bid to ten and made), but if the players can’t make contracts, the game can take longer. In practise our game took something between 60 and 90 minutes.

In the end the points are counted. Pulja points don’t count, because everybody has ten anyway. Heap points are converted to whist points. They’re each worth ten whist points (as are pulja points). If someone has lots of heap points, everybody else will get plenty of whist points against him, that’s the basic idea.

Russian Queen of Spades

Then you just compare the whist points. In our game Ismo had 209 whist points against me, while I had 68 whist points against him. The difference is 141, so Ismo scored 141 whist points while I lost the same amount. This is done for each pair of players and finally the scores are summed. It’s a complicated process, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not that hard, and it works pretty well.

In our game Ismo dominated, he made many contracts, one at nine tricks, even. Of the 30 pulja points in the game, I think he made about 25. This meant, of course, plenty of whist points. Unfortunately I experiented with collecting heap points: I made a whopping 34 them, giving both my mother and Ismo 93 whist points against me in the end. My mother didn’t make any contracts, but she didn’t fail many, either.

So, in the end, Ismo scored 193 points, my mother got 87 and I paid it all by scoring -280. I think I need some practise…

But I liked the game. It’s simple, challenging and fun. It’s no Skat, but then again, it’s much easier to learn and enjoy. There’s enough challenge in the bidding and the play to keep things interesting.

(The pictures for this entry are from Piatnik’s Great Russia Standard Playing Cards pack, catalog number 1133. Pretty standard pack, just with Russian indices.)

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