Belote.

It’s a long if occasional tradition at LH, for some reason, to have posts on obscure card and dice games; examples are Galbik, passe-dix, passage (2005), Tintere(t) (2013), and Klabyasch! (2017). Now I’ve run across another such game, apparently wildly popular but hitherto unknown to me: belote. That Wikipedia article begins:

Belote (French pronunciation: ​[bəlɔt]) is a 32-card, trick-taking, Ace-Ten game played primarily in France and certain European countries, namely Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Moldova, North Macedonia and also in Saudi Arabia. It is one of the most popular card games in those countries, and the national card game of France, both casually and in gambling. It was invented around 1920 in France, and is a close relative of both Klaberjass (also known as bela) and Klaverjas. Closely related games are played throughout the world. Definitive rules of the game were first published in 1921.

Klaberjass is referred to in that Klabyasch! thread, where you will also find Alexei K. mentioning белот [belot]. In the Klaberjass Wikipedia article, it says:

According to David Parlett, this “popular and widespread two-hander has so many names, mostly variations on the same one, that it is hard to know which is best for universal recognition. Klaberjass is probably closest to the original.” He lists the alternative names as “Clob, Clobby, Clobiosh, Klob, Kalabrisasz, Bela, Cinq Cents, Zensa”. Other sources also list “Klabberjass, Senserln, Clobyosh, Kalabrias, Klab, Clabber, Clobber, Clubby”. Another common name is Klabrias. This truly international game originates from the Low Countries and is particularly strong in Jewish communities. […] It can be interpreted as a two-handed variant of Belote, and indeed three-handed Belote can be played in exactly the same way.

And in the (very long) Belote article, we find:

Worldwide variants

Quebec: Bœuf
Bulgaria: Бридж-белот, Bridge-Belote
Greece: Βίδα, Vida; Μπουρλότ, Bourlot
Cyprus: Πιλόττα, Pilotta
Croatia: Bela or Belot
Republic of Macedonia: Бељот, Beljot
Armenia: Բազար բլոտ, Bazaar Belote
Saudi Arabia: بلوت, Baloot
Russia: Белот, Belot
Tunisia: Belote
Moldova: Belote
Madagascar: Tsiroanomandidy or Beloty

Tsiroanomandidy! The names of card games are like the names of fish: there are too damn many, and it’s hard to tell them apart. And even the origin of this one is mysterious; OED:

Etymology: < French belote, (also) belotte (1925 or earlier), of uncertain origin.
The French word is often said to be from the name of a certain F. Belot credited with having developed the French version of the game, but this cannot be substantiated.

Comments

  1. David L says:

    I took a look at the Wikipedia article and Good Lord! A couple of representative examples:

    The rank of the cards is different for trump and non-trump suits. The order is (from highest to lowest rank):
    In a trump suit: J 9 A 10 K Q 8 7
    In a non-trump suit: A 10 K Q J 9 8 7

    and:

    Declarations, including belotes, are added to the score. If the contract was no trumps, the result is multiplied by two, as it is for every double bid. If a team is committed to a contract and has less points, all points go to the opponents, and the losing team are said to be “inside” or the French equivalent, “être dedans”. In a doubled contract, both teams are considered committed.

    The result is divided by ten, rounded, and added to the global score. The rounding is somewhat complicated as the sum of points is a multiple of ten only for a “No trumps” contract. It is 258 for “All trumps” and 162 for a suit contract. Therefore, the rounding limit is 5 in a “No trumps” contract, 4 in an “All trumps”, and 6 in a suit contract.

    I think this must be the card-game equivalent of Mornington Crescent.

  2. Yes, my eyes glazed over very quickly; I can’t imagine reading the whole article and trying to understand it, even if I were promised cash money for doing so.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    The French word is often said to be from the name of a certain F. Belot credited with having developed the French version of the game, but this cannot be substantiated.

    Biloute – ch’est le churnom à tout l’monde !

  4. think this must be the card-game equivalent of Mornington Crescent.

    Aha! Does that mean you’ve found the secret place where the rules for M C are spelled out in that much detail?

  5. David L says:

    All is revealed. (The pricing is bizarre, appropriately so).

  6. The French word is often said to be from the name of a certain F. Belot credited with having developed the French version of the game, but this cannot be substantiated.
    As everybody knows, all card games are named after their inventors – Don Juan Canasta, Sir Godfrey Bridge, Colonel Tex “Hold’em” Poaker, Jean-Claude de Préférence…

  7. All is revealed.

    Published January 1, 1864 — that was before the Veil of Silence descended — no wonder it costs so much!

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    all card games are named after their inventors

    Jean-Luc Piquet, Georges Bésigue, Grant Snap, Bernard Cribbage, Mae Whist, Clive Pontoon, Mia Faro …

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    Rosa Klob …

    “I see you are a card player, Mr Bond.”

  10. David L says:

    Published January 1, 1864

    Also, several decades before the first part of the London Underground was built. It must be a remarkably prophetic book.

  11. David L says:

    And, of course, the renowned street magician and con artist Terry “52-card” Pickup.

  12. David L says:

    I had another look at the Wikipedia article. I’m beginning to think it must be an elaborate hoax.

    In some parts of Bulgaria, the rules of the game include a kirtik, which is a special −10 match points penalty for not winning when committed or for being valat.

    The first team to reach 151 Match Points in the global score is the winner, but the global game cannot end if a valat takes place. Then another round/deal must be played.

    Except, I presume, in the other parts of Bulgaria.

  13. David Eddyshaw says:

    Burt Baccarat …

  14. SFReader says:

    There is a joke about obscure game rules in Russia.

    “Let’s play a new card game – Montana”
    “But I don’t know the rules”
    “It’s very simple, let’s start and you’ll figure out rules as we play”
    Both players take a card. The teacher announces:
    “Montana! I won!”
    “But… why?”
    “It’s the rules. The first one to take a card and say ‘Montana’ wins”
    “Is it that simple? Let’s play again”
    At the start of the second round, the newbie takes a card quickly and shouts:
    “Montana! I won?”
    The teacher, shaking his head, slowly takes a card and proudly announces:
    “Trump Montana!”

  15. John Cowan says:

    rules for M C

    The rules you learn in five minutes:

    Two players alternate naming the stations of the London Underground. The first to say “Finchley Central” wins. It is clear that the “best” time to say “Finchley Central” is exactly before your opponent does. Failing that, it is good that he should be considering it. You could, of course, say “Finchley Central” on your second turn. In that case, your opponent puffs on his cigarette and says, “Well,…” Shame on you.

    But the strategy takes your whole life to learn.

  16. Persian Monarchs (a.k.a. Blind Hooky), invented by Shahanshah P. G. Wodehouse.

  17. AJP Crown says:

    Van Tea-Urn.

  18. I played belote with a family from Saint Étienne in 1990. I have forgotten the details, but the Wikipedia article makes me suspect theirs was a child-friendly simplification.

  19. I play with the 10 point valat penalty, but I haven’t heard it called kirtik. Usually before beginning a game of Belot there’s a few minutes of negotiation about under what rules you play. The wikipedia article doesn’t go into nearly enough detail. The second rule that David L quoted I also use.

  20. The wikipedia article doesn’t go into nearly enough detail.

    This is why I stay away from card games.

  21. Games are like languages, hard to learn the rules, fun to play.

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is (as everyone probably knows) a real card game in which you make up the rules as you go along:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleusis_(card_game)

  23. David L says:

    I play a lot of bridge, but it seems almost a polar opposite to Belote. The rules for play and scoring in bridge are basically simple. What makes it complicated is the bidding and defensive play–since it’s a partnership game, you have to learn how to play your cards to tell your partner about your hand. Those aspects of bridge rely on partnership agreements rather than systems of rules.

  24. David L: I actually like playing Bridge more than Belote, but most people prefer Belote.

  25. Another game with mysterious origins you could explore: Mancala.

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    The oware version is very popular in Ghana and surrounding countries. It’s quite enjoyable.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oware

    I’ve got a couple of very beautiful sets that I bought there.

  27. OED says “< colloquial Arabic manqala (in literary Arabic minqala) ‘(device designed for) transfer (of board-game pieces from one position to another)’, ‘the game of mancala’ < naqala to transfer, remove, relocate.”

  28. I used to play the Kalah version of the game with my younger brothers. I was never very good at it, and I didn’t really try to improve, since I thought that it was good to have a game that I could pretty reliably lose to my brothers, despite playing my best. Apparently, it is one if the many simple games that have been completely solved by computer analysis in recent years, and the first player has a winning strategy.

  29. Brett: that’s the point of improvising rules. I solved tic-tac-toe when I was hm, I think seven, on a sidewalk, with nothing more than chalk, just because I was bored.

    That’s why I like games like Go. Go’s rules are really simple but result in complex situations. I guess the same reasom David L likes Bridge.

    I guess I like both improvising rules, and beginning from simple rules and ending up in complex situations equally. And in the case of Bridge, you really also need to know the psychology of your teammate.

  30. John Cowan says:

    My favorite games are ones that are entirely tactical, in the general style of snakes and ladders or parcheesi, with a large element of chance.

  31. Rodger C says:

    The oware version is very popular in Ghana and surrounding countries.

    Reading this, I remembered that in my youth this game was marketed by a board game company under the name Oh-Wah-Ree. There’s a link to a discussion of it in the Wiki article. I went there and was amused to be reminded of how cagey the manufacturers (Avalon Hill) were (in 1964) about the fact that it’s basically an African game.

  32. John Cowan: the element of chance in Belote comes from where the winning team cuts the combined discard stacks for the next deal, and nothing more. All else is strategy and counting cards. Cards are not shuffled between deals and there are rules about in what order you place them in the discard stacks after takes, and how you combine the discard stacks.

  33. EDIT: of course, except for the initial dealing of cards in the first round. And I’m sure an experienced Belote player will contradict me, saying that there are rules for shuffling before the first round also. EDIT2: oh God, I vaguely remember that something like this actually exists, the teams taking turns cutting the deck before the first round. How deep does the rabbit hole go?

  34. Yes, Belote seems more and more to be an extended card trick.

  35. @D.O.: This naturally made me wonder where the meaning of trick, meaning the four cards taken together in a whist-like game such as belote, came from. The OED says:

    IV. Senses relating to card-play.
    12. Cards. The cards (usually four) played, and won or ‘taken’ in one round, collectively; hence to take a or the trick. odd trick
    In quots. 16071, a1627, a hand of cards (obsolete): in other early quots. with a play upon other senses.
    1607 T. Heywood Woman Kilde with Kindnesse sig. E Many a deale I haue lost, the mores your shame, you haue seru’d me a bad tricke.
    1607 T. Middleton Revengers Trag. iii. sig. E4v Weele get thee out by a trick… You know a Trick is commonly foure Cardes.
    1611 R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues Mornifle,..a tricke at Cards.
    1622 J. Mabbe tr. M. Alemán Rogue i. 1 Leauing..to others..to play out that tricke of Cards for mee.
    a1627 T. Middleton & W. Rowley Old Law (1656) iii. 31 Heer’s a trick of discarded Cards of us.
    1647 J. Cleveland Poems in Char. London-diurnall (new ed.) 25 A Murnivall of Knaves Packt in a Trick.
    1688 R. Holme Acad. Armory (1905) iii. xvi. 73/2 A Trick, is as many cards as is won at one laying downe either at the game of Whisk or Picket.
    1778 T. Jones Hoyle’s Games Improved 51 [article Whist] The Odds then is 2 to 1 in Favour of B’s winning of a Trick.
    1836 C. Dickens Pickwick Papers (1837) vi. 53 Impossible to have made another trick.
    a1839 W. M. Praed Poems (1864) II. 63 Well—four by honours, and the trick!

  36. Brett: interesting, people I’ve played Belote with seem to prefer “take” (noun) in English, not “trick”, although I’ve encountered both.

  37. In Russian, trick in that sense is взятка, a nominalized form of verb взять (take, in it’s perfect meaning, to be precise) and exactly the same word is used for bribe. The English analogy that springs to mind is “on the take”.

  38. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Stik in Danish, because you sting the lower cards with your higher one and take them all.

  39. German is the same as Danish, Stich and stechen for playing the higher card.

  40. Trond Engen says:

    Stikk in Norwegian too, obviously. I think this is essentially the same image (and maybe a calque of) “point”. A purist I used to know used stikk for poeng both in the meaning “gag in a joke” and “essehtial message”.

  41. @Trond Engen: In English, stinger (or less commonly, sting) has those latter two meanings as well. In fact, the stinger does not need to be the punchline of a set up joke; it can be any gag coming at the end of something. For example, (almost) every Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode ended with a stinger, which was a very brief clip (just a second or two) from the episode’s film, usually something that was just funny on its own, without riffing.

    When my friends and I watched thevshiw in college, it was the social highlight of our week. In the summer, when my wife was away at an internship, we would call her up and have her on speaker phone while she watched in her apartment, so she could participate in our own impromptu mocking of the films. As the credits rolled on each episode, we would compete to guess what scene would be the stinger, and the winner got bragging rights until the next week.

  42. PlasticPaddy says:

    I was trying to look this up in the older German corpus. The two things I found were the Stich with the lance in the knightly joust ( and the later version with two burghers in boats holding pikes and trying to push each other in the water) and the phrase “den Stich halten”.

  43. Lars Mathiesen says:

    holde stik ~ ‘hold water’ (of a statement) is listed under another sense in ODS, with two etymological hypotheses: Being able to tolerate a lance hit in jousting, or (of fabric) being sound enough that it won’t rip at the seams (et stik also = ‘stitch’).

  44. David Marjanović says:

    with the lance in the knightly joust

    Stich is any instance of stinging, including one passage of the needle in sewing; and if you’re stung by a bee, you have a Bienenstich.

    (…which is also a cake.)

  45. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Actually I was imprecise there, a stitch is now et sting and et stik is obsolete in that sense.

  46. Stitch in English only really has one current sense related to a painful sticking. Per the OED:

    A sharp sudden local pain, like that produced by the thrust of a pointed weapon; esp. (now only) an acute spasmodic pain in the intercostal muscles, called more fully a stitch in the side. Also in generalized or collective sense.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    Seitenstechen (neuter singular uncountable).

  48. Trond Engen says:

    Sting (i siden) is Bergen dialect (and probably western in general), In the east we say hold. This is an old word for “flesh”, but synchronically I think it’s associated with the verb ‘holde’ and a meaning “grip”.

  49. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Danes have sting i siden and hold i ryggen. ODS says “surely (vist nok) from the verb” for the latter.

  50. David Marjanović : You invoked Viennese pastries. Your argument is now void, whatever it might have been originally. That is a joke. Have your ten minutes.

  51. David Marjanović says:



    …Oh, Bienenstichkuchen? Not Viennese at all.

  52. In Ostfriesland, it’s the standard cake served with tea after funerals.

  53. wp a legend of German bakers from the 15th century who lobbed beehives at raiders from a neighboring village

    Huh? lobbed beehives? How is that a thing? Are there bucolic beehive-lobbing competitions, like cheese-rolling races or Wellington-boot throwing?

    Don’t the beehives tend to disintegrate mid-air, with the bees as likely to sting the lobbers as the lobbed-at?

    You can only ‘lob’ a custard pie/Bienenstich providing the target is within arm’s reach. I would expect beehives suffer the same limitation.

  54. Huh? lobbed beehives?

    Yes, I thought that was a particularly silly origin myth.

  55. Rodger C says:

    Lobbed wasp nests? A lot of people seem to confuse bees and wasps.

  56. The point about being as likely to sting the lobbers as the lobbed-at applies with redoubled force in that case.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Europe’s default wasps are much, much less aggressive than North America’s. If you’re careful, you can wave them away with your hands. They sting painfully when cornered, but they don’t come after you; and they don’t nest in the ground, so you can take a nest off your roof and, I guess, drop it in a container with a lid, instead of having to dig it out (or stepping in it).

  58. Lars Mathiesen says:

    (Honey)bees will make their hives in hollow trees vel sim unless you seduce them to live in those little wooden hutches — often installed on roofs in cities. And those would probably be lobbable from a city wall and disintegrate satisfyingly on hitting the ground, making the bees look for somebody else to make unhappy.

    If we’re talking about the paper nests of European wasps (I was thinking of those at first too) — those I would not undertake to lob anywhere. But even in 1474 Germans would have known the difference. Actually I think moderns are more likely to confuse bees and wasps.

    (Wasp nests will hang down from branches or the eaves of your roof, or even the rafters inside. The exteminator will gas them, spraying the nest with petrol and setting it alight is impolite and risky in several ways).

  59. John Cowan says:

    My country house has a peaked roof that goes up about 25 feet and hangs partly over the deck attached to one side of the house, and paper wasps like to build nests there; when they see you coming they zoom down and attack.

    Fortunately I was able to find a brand of insect spray that can blast a nest from 30-40 feet away almost straight up.

  60. I have some experience with European wasps and Swallows from my village house. They tend to build their nests in the same places but do not compete for food, as far as I have noticed.

    EDIT: John Cowan : why would you want to get the wasps away? They’re a valuable part of the ecosystem. I’ve only been bitten by a wasp once in my life. They’re really not that aggressive.

  61. @DavidM please take all the German Wasps back home. There must be something in New Zealand’s beech forests makes them aggressive in late Summer: I seldom manage a day’s tramp in the Nelson Lakes forests without getting stung, and nearly everybody in the tramping group stung too. We now have to include large amounts of antihistamine in our medical kits against anaphylaxis; some people need to inject steroids.

    Where they nest is exactly under the ground (must be the lack of peaked roofs), particularly under the upturned roots of fallen trees; the sort of trees conveniently low for trampers to rest on.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    I seldom manage a day’s tramp in the Nelson Lakes forests without getting stung

    That’s stunning.

  63. John Cowan says:

    And I had to simply avoid that exit from the house all summer long until the nests were poisoned and then physically destroyed with a long pole. Those wasp stings hurt. Adults can handle that kind of pain, but children shouldn’t have to.

    I am not in favor of exterminating wasps, far from it. I simply can’t live with them so close to my own dwelling, given how aggressive they are.

  64. Something you might enjoy: “осарник” (wasp hive) in Bulgarian is a metonym for a place of intrigue and plotting.

  65. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The most common paper wasps here are not aggressive, but they like to sit on your open sandwiches and juice glasses and they will sting if you try to eat them. (A sting at the back of your throat can be fatal even if you aren’t allergic). So lots of people have had bad experiences and having a nest near your porch will put a damper on the hygge. (Food and drink being important for hygge in Denmark).

  66. Huh? lobbed beehives?
    Yes, I thought that was a particularly silly origin myth.

    It may or may not be true in this case, but beehives were certainly used in warfare. This site https://thijsporck.com/2016/07/02/beer-and-bees/ quotes a description of the Viking siege of Chester; more detail here https://www.theapiarist.org/bee-bombs/ in a summary of “Six-legged Soldiers: using insects as weapons of war” by Jeffrey Lockwood.

    Bees have been kept in robust hives, either wicker or pottery, for thousands of years; simply bung up the entrance, transport the hive to the walls, and drop it carefully off onto the besieging army below, or fire it in their direction from a catapult. Simple.

  67. Huh. OK, I’ve learned something today, and it’s only 8 AM.

  68. languagehat: “The point about being as likely to sting the lobbers as the lobbed-at applies with redoubled force in that case.”
    I read that as “lobsters” initially and was confused.

  69. That would be confusing, especially for the lobsters!

  70. Rodger C : You’re telling me Avalon Hill were selling a version of Mancala in 1964 and hiding its origin? What the … thing? Actually not surprised at all, really.

  71. I seldom manage a day’s tramp in the Nelson Lakes forests without getting stung

    @DavidM That’s stunning.

    Yes stinging! Don’t just take my word for it

    https://www.doc.govt.nz/news/media-releases/2013/taking-the-sting-out-of-wasps/
    https://web.archive.org/web/20120803073040/http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/conservation/threats-and-impacts/animal-pests/fact-sheet175-vespula-wasp.pdf
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honeydew_(secretion)

    Apparently amongst the many things the Almighty omitted to set up in New Zealand is any social insects. So wasps filled a niche (would you believe German Wasps first arrived as stowaways in imported aircraft machinery 1945 — I presume not from Germany).

    The beech trees suffer a scale insect, which secretes honeydew, which the wasps ‘milk’, in competition with native insects and birds (and apiarists’ bees); which so interferes with the tree-bark ecology that it gets covered in sooty mold (which eventually kills the trees, as if it wasn’t enough that the introduced possums are busy stripping the foliage).

    So the trees remain as standing dead rather than the cyclical process of falling and making space in the canopy for new growth; and the birds (and pests) move out. The Department of Conservation can’t keep up, effectively abandoning the D’Urville valley as a lifeless tree-cemetery, despite it being slap next door to the popular (and heavily promoted) Travers-Sabine circuit. The wasps have now spread over several catchments to the Leslie-Karamea circuit, which is where I suffered them most recently.

  72. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Wasps can get aggressive here as well when summer turns to fall and the workers are basically dying from hunger, with the queens safely hibernating. But by then we’re moving indoors as well. That NZ ecology sounds precarious for all the involved species, perhaps that’s why they are grumpy.

  73. languagehat: “The point about being as likely to sting the lobbers as the lobbed-at applies with redoubled force in that case.”
    I read that as “lobsters” initially and was confused.

    Heh heh Yes I mused over what was the form of words: lobbees, lobbyists, … ?

  74. OK, I’ve learned something today, and it’s only 8 AM.

    And knowing is half the battle!

    (The other half is, as you now know, bees.)

  75. You can’t spell “battle” without “bee.”

  76. Rodger C says:

    @V: Well, I know only the box cover, which looks vaguely Egyptian and doesn’t show any people of color.

    And so much for my wasp conjecture. It was a fun ride.

  77. I remembered this discussion because I read an article you linked to on Atlas Obscura, and read an article there (not the one you linked to) saying that a [7 8 9 10 J Q K A] deck is a German thing. I vaguely remember that, although in Bulgaria we play Belote with a French-style deck. Except when we don’t, I guess, I’ve seen some German decks around too.

    Anyway, I read the discussion here again, and realized I didn’t actually explain the -10 match point rule. Valat is where you don’t get any takes that give points. Not when you lose when you’re committed, those are different things. So it motivates you, when you see you’re losing, when committed, to get at least one point-making take — that excludes takes comprised exclusively of 7s, 8s, and 9s (9s of a non-trump suite). Deducing 10 match points away when you’re committed, but still get some point-making takes is pointless, since you don’t get any points at all anyway, and would needlessly prolong the game.

    So I guess the Wikipedia article is slightly wrong, or at least, as I said in a previous comment, incomplete.

  78. Thanks for the clarification!

  79. John Cowan says:

    I read that as “lobsters” initially and was confused.

    Well, for example, when they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea. Which is very bad indeed, because sea wasps are far worse than land wasps.

  80. David Eddyshaw says:

    the most venomous jellyfish in the world (to laboratory mice)

    says Wikipedia. It’s not easy, being a laboratory mouse.

  81. Well, they feed you regular.

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