Balot

The game has its origin in france and has recently found great popularity in the middle east, especially in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The game is played by 4 players using a normal deck of cards. All the cards of rank 6 and lower from all suits are removed and not used in play. The jokers are also removed, which leaves 32 cards in the game with each player getting 8 cards in his hand.

The two players facing each other work as a team to win as many high ranking cards as possible. While the goal of games like kout and spades is to win as many rounds in a single hand, Balot differs slightly in that the goal is not to win as many rounds as possible, but to win the rounds in which high ranking cards are played in. As such, cards are associated with point value, and winning as many cards with high values by winning the rounds they are played in would win you the game.

  • Round: When each player plays a single card, winning the round follows rules similar to spades and kout which are detailed in this document, but the points won in each round depend on the cards that are played during the round. This is also referred to as a "Trick"
  • Hand: A hand is complete when 12 rounds are played (i.e., all cards held by all players are played), the team with the highest number of collected points wins the hand and scoring is determined based on rules that we will explain in the document.
  • Game: A game is completed when a team accumulates 151 points in total, beating the other team.
  • San: When the bidding team chooses to play the current hand with no trump suit.
  • Hokom: When the bidding team chooses a suit to be played as a trump for the current hand. Hokom literally means suit.
  • Ashkal: Is a special kind of non-trump bid (San), in which the card the players are bidding on goes to the team mate instead of the bidding player.

How does the game start

The game starts by distributing 5 cards to each player then placing a single card on the playing area for players to bid on. Whoever wins the bid picks up the card and places it in his hand and can play with it. Then, 2 cards are dealt to the player that won the bid, and 3 cards for all other players. This brings the total to 8 cards in each players' hand.

Bidding starts with the player to the right of the dealer and goes counter clockwise. Dealer is also rotated counter clockwise at the end of each game. When it is a player's turn to bid, he/she can choose to pass, play a trump game, or play a non-trump game. Its not as simple as that however, because there are rules to bidding and players get two chances to make a bid, players can use the bidding process to send signals to one another based on the bidding pattern that they follow and the card they are bidding on. This will be something that we will not explain, and is left for the player to learn as he/she plays more Balot.

First call and second call

We mentioned that a player gets two chances to make a bid, the first is called the "first call", while the second is called the "second call". During the first call, the player to the right of the dealer makes the first bid. Should the player pass, bidding goes to the player on to his/her right, and so on until someone makes a bid or the last player passes.

When someone makes a bid during the first call, if its a San bid (i.e., non-trump play), then the player picks up the card on the playing field, and playing would commence after rest of cards are distributed. If it was a Hokom bid (i.e., trump play), the player to the right of the bidder is asked whether he/she would like to call for a non-trump bid. If the player chooses to do so, then the bid is switched to trump, and the second bidder would get the card thats being bid on. If the second bidder passes, then the first person that bid trump wins the bid and get the card being bid on. The trump suit would be set to the card that has been won from bidding.

If no one bid during the first call, bidding commences for a second time with the exact same rules as the first call. There are two exceptions however. During second call, when a player bids trump and wins it, then he/she is obliged to choose a trump different from the card being bid on, or even choose to play non-trump. The second exception is that the dealer and the player left to the dealer can choose a special kind of San bid referred to as Ashkal. If these two players choose to bid ashkal, then game play follows the same rules as San, but the bid winner's team mate would pick up the card being bid on instead.

There is an optional rule that could be played in which, if the card being bid on is an Ace and everyone passed during first and second call, then the player to the right of the bidder (i.e., the first to make a bid) gets one more chance to make a bid. This is called the 3rd call and only a single player gets the chance to bid, and no one else. There is also another optional rule in which the Ashkal bid would not be allowed if the card being bid on is an Ace.

If everyone passes first and second call, cards are returned to the deck, the next dealer picks up the cards and starts dealing for a new hand.

Playing Balot

After finishing the bidding process and distributing the remaining cards, the player to the right of the dealer would commence play even if he/she didn't win the bid. Game play rules are exactly like spade and kout. However, it differs slightly and there are special considerations when the bid is San, and when its Hokom.

San Gameplay (and Ashkal)

There are no trump cards in this game. The first player to play in the round sets the round suit, and all other players must follow suit. The highest ranking card played of the round suit would win the round.

When a player is not the first to play in a round, he/she might be in a situation where he/she is not able to follow suit because there are no cards of the round suit in his/her hand. As such, the player can choose to play any card of any suit, and this card will not be able to win the round. As such, the player should choose to play low ranking cards with no point value if the opposite team is expected to win the round.

What confusing about Balot and especially the San play, is that card ranks do not follow the usual order in which everyone who plays spades, kout, or poker is familiar with. The cards ordered according to their rank are as follows:
A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7

As such, if for example in a single round the 10, K, Q and 7 of spades are played, the player that played the 10 would win this round and get the points.

Hokom Gamplay

When a trump suit is set during the bidding process, whether from first call or second call, then the cards that follow the trump suit have special value. Gaming continues exactly like San for all suits, that is, all players must follow the suit of the first played card in the round, and the player with the highest ranking cards wins the round.

The difference however, when a trump suit is set, is that when a player cannot follow round suit, he/she "must" play a trump suit if it is available. The trump suit would win the round if no other higher trump suit is played. Not that a player cannot play a trump suit if he/she can follow round suit and the round suit is not the trump suit.

Another difference is that whenever a player gets his turn to play and he/she can win the current round with a trump card he/she could play then this trump card must be played. Even if there are other players that could play after him/her.

The trump suit only differs in the ranking order also. Trump suit cards ordered based on rank are as follows (this is considered by some another confusing aspect about Balot):
J, 9, A, 10, K, Q, 8, 7

Finally, if a player plays the highest ranking card available in a suit that he/she is sure of winning the round (with the exception of beating trumps of course), and that player has a team mate who is playing after him/her, then the player can choose to call "Ekka" while playing that card. Calling out Ekka would allow his/her team mate to not play a trump card if he/she cannot follow suit, and instead, play any suit and allow his/her team mate to win the round. However, if an opponent were to play a trump card, then Ekka would have no effect and the players team mate must play a higher ranking trump card than the one played or play any other suit if he/she cannot win the round.

Last Trick

Last trick is the last round played in a game. The team that wins the last trick automatically get 10 points for doing so.

Points

Points collected from round win are calculated as follows based on the cards won in each round:
For all suits (except a trump suit in Hokom game)

  • A: 11 points
  • 10: 10 points
  • K: 4 points
  • Q: 3 points
  • J: 2 points
  • 9 & 7 & 8: 0 points

For the trump suit only:

  • J: 20 points
  • 9: 14 points
  • A: 11 points
  • 10: 10 points
  • K: 4 points
  • Q: 3 points
  • 7 & 8: 0 points

Points are tallied at the end of the game for each team including the last trick. Total points available in a San game is 130 points, and 162 in a Hokom game.

Additions

Additions are special sequences of cards (or melds) that appear in the hand of a player. If the player is able to notice them and announce them to other players, then the team gets additional points for possessing such combinations of cards.

What confuses players is that the sequence doesn't follow the newly introduced rank order from Balot (i.e., A,10,K,Q ...etc). Instead, it follows the traditional ordering of cards just like poker, Hand, Spades, and Kout. So, if a player posesses 3 or more sequential cards of the same suit, or 4 cards of the same rank but from different suits, he/she can declare the addition while playing the first card play by simply calling the type of addition.

The team with the highest rank of addition or type wins the points from their additions, while the other team doesn't get any points from their additions even if they had any. During the second card play, the players with the additions can show other players the additions in their hand and then simply put the cards back in the hand.

So for example, if team A has a player with an addition that wins 100 points while team B has 4 additions that win 50 points each for a total of 200 points for the team, then team A win the additions and gets to keep the points their earned from the additions given that the rank of their addition is higher.

If both teams have additions that win 100 points (i.e., equally ranking additions), then the highest cards are compared from each addition and the team with the higher ranking card (not according to the Balot rank sequence, but the usual kout or poker rank sequence) would win the additions. If it happens that its a trump gameplay and one of the additions are trump cards, then the trump cards win even if they are of lower rank. If additions have the same rank, then the person closest to the right of the dealer is chosen as winner (Dealer is considered the last person to be considered for a win in this case)

Type of additions

  • Serra: Serra consists of a sequence of 3 cards and gives the team 20 additional points. The following are examples of Serra's:
    1. Fifty: Fifty consists of a sequence of 4 cards from the same suit and gives the team 50 additional points. The following is an example of a fifty addition:
    2. One Hundred: As the name suggests, one hundered wins the team a hundred additional points. It consists of either 5 sequential cards of the same suit, or 4 cards of similar rank but different suits. The following are examples of one hundered:
    3. Four Hundred: This is a special addition that can occur only during San play (i.e., non-trump gameplay). It occurs when a player possesses 4 different aces and wins the team 400 points. The following is an example of four hundred which only occurs in Hokom game play:

Balot

This is a special kind of addition that is not declared at the beginning of the game, but during game play. It only occurs during Hokom gameplay (i.e., Trump game). If a player possesses the King and Queen from the trump suit, then he/she can say "Balot" while playing the 2nd of these cards to win 10 additional points for the team. However, if the King and Queen are part of a sequence of 5 (one hundred), then they cannot win the team an additional 10 points. Example of Balot when Hearts is the trump suit:

Scoring

Scoring is by far the most complicated aspect of Balot. As scoring different in Hokom and San gameplays.

Hokom Gameplay (Trump)

The total points available for a game without additions is 162 without any additions. We count the points won for each team, add the additions, then we divide the points by ten. If the remainder from the division is equal to or greater than 6, then the team is given an additional point.

For example, if the points team A is 96 with all the additions counted, dividing by 10 gives the team 9 points. But the remainder from this division is 6, so the team gets 10 points instead. This is true whether the team was the bidder or not.

There is however a single complication in Hokom gameplay. We mentioned that the total points from winning the rounds is 162. It is possible that one team would get 76 points while the other gets 86 for a total of 162 points. The problem is, if we use the division and rounding team, the team with 86 points gets 9 points, and the team with 76 gets 8 points. 8+9 makes the total points from the game 17, which is not allowed. Total points won from a Hokom game without additions must always be 16 points only. The rule is, the bidding team would lose this additional point because they are supposed to be in control of the game. So, if the bidding team got 86, they only receive 8 points, and their oponents get 8 points from 76 points. As such, the hand ends in a draw. If the bidding team got 76 points, then they only receive 7 points and lose the hand because their oponents would get 9 points from 86 points.

With additions, such special cases could occur, but it would not be for the 76-86 scoreline. What we do to detect it is to count the total point that are allowed to be won in a game, and determine that the special case occurs if the points won are greater than the available points.

For example, we know that 16 points are allowed to be won in Hokom gameplay, with a single Serra addition, the total points to be won become 16 + 2 = 18. As such, the problematic scoreline would be 86-96 which should give 9 and 10 points for a total of 19 points. The same rule could be applied for different types of additions.

San Gameplay

Calculating points for a non-trump gameplay is much easier. The total points are tallied for each team and additions added. The score is then divided by ten and the remainder calculated. The result of the division is multiplied by 2, and if the remained is 6 or greater, 2 additional points are added. If the remainder is equal to 5, then only a single point is added. If the remainder is less than 5, no points are added.

For example, if a team in a San game got 36 points, then we divide by 10 to get 3 and the remainder is 6. When we multiply the result of the division by two we get 3 * 2 = 6. Since the remainder is 6, we add 2 additional points to the 6, which give a total of 8 points added to their final score.

If however a team got 35 points, then dividing by 10 would yield 3 and the remainder would be 5. We multiply the division result by 2, which gives us 3 * 2 = 6. Since the remainder is 5, we add only 1 point to the result to get 6 + 1 = 7 points only added to their final score.

Finally, if the team for 34 points, then dividing by 10 yields 3 points that we multiply by 2 for 6 points. Since the remainder from the division is only 4, then we don't add any additional points and the team gets 6 points only added to their final score.

Winning, Losing and Drawing a Game

In cases where bidding team wins or draws, each team gets to keep the points and additions they won. The bidding team wins if they get more points than the non-bidding team, and draw if they get equal points.

The team that bids must at least score a draw against the opposition to be able to gain points towards their final score. Should the non-bidding team win more points than the bidding team in a round, then the bidding team is declared a loser and they get no points, no even their additions. The non-bidding team that won would receive all points including any additions declared by the bidding team (except for the Balot addition). That would be 16 points + additions in Hokom game, and 26 points + additions in San play.

If any team wins all rounds, they get 25 points if game was Hokom (trump) and 44 points if game was San (non-trump). There is a special case however, when the card to be bid on during the bidding process is an Ace, and the non-bidding team wins all rounds, then they get 88 points and all additions if the gameplay was San (non-tump).