Zole—or, in its diminutive form, zolīte—is by some accounts the national game of Latvia. That’s probably true… unless of course you’re a diehard novuss player. Zolīte certainly is a favorite pastime among young and old. For some North American Latvians, however, the card game has become only a memory.
We’ve searched in vain for information about the history of zolīte in Latvia. The closest we’ve come is to learn more about the German game called “sheepshead,” which has similarities to zole and may be related. Sheepshead, however, employs 32 cards rather than the 26 Latvian zole players use.
When about two months ago SVEIKS.com posted a request for zolīte rules, we didn’t get much response from people in the know. Rather, several readers sent e-mail saying they’d like to know the rules, too. Finally, however, Rūta Vitande of Chicago came through. Below, we present her understanding of the rules for zolite.
How to play zolīte
From a regular deck of cards, use only face cards, aces, 10’s, 9’s, 8 of diamonds, 7 of diamonds—a total of 26 cards. Three players are needed, but generally four are preferred. When four play, the dealer sits out.
Decide on the dealer by drawing cards. The deck is cut by the dealer’s right Deal four cards to the left, next four to his or her left, next four, then two to the pot. Repeat four at a time.
The player to the dealer’s left has first say as to whether he or she wants to “buy” the middle cards, meaning the player will add those to his or her hand and discard two (which do count for points) and take on the other two players.
The object for the “solo” player is to get 61 points or more, thus the duo wins if the solo player only gets 60 (or less).
If the first to the left of the dealer turns down the chance to “buy,” he or she defers to the next left, etc.
If all three players pass, each adds a chip to the ante, to be taken by the next winner (however, an ante is not distributed during a “zole” play). Only one set is doled out at a time to the next winner, should the ante accumulate. If a pool has been started and a player loses, he owes the ante a single round (three or four chips, depending on number of players).
The player to the left ofthe dealer leads the first card, regardless of the who the ‘soloist’ is. Each player must follow suit, if possible; if not, any card goes.
Whoever takes the trick leads the next card.
If a trump is led, trump must be played.
Zole has 12 trump, in descending order of power: Queen of clubs, queen of spades, queen of hearts, queen of diamonds, jacks in same suit order as queens, ace of diamonds, 10 of diamonds, 9, 8, 7 of diamonds.
The point system, however, seems to have nothing to do with trump power:
Total possible—120 points
And remember these notes:
- A solo player may decide to “zole,” in which case the player forfeits the cards in the middle and they are revealed only after the game and added to the duo’s score.
- For winning with points 61 to 90, the solo player wins a chip from each player, thus two chips in a threesome or three in a foursome. A win of 91 to 119 gets the player two chips from each; 120 (or all the tricks), three from each. If the player has declared “zole,” add four chips from each player to the regular scoring schedule, thus five for a score of 61 to 90, six for leaving the opponents in “johns,” seven for an all-tricker.
- For losing to the two opponents, add one to the above scoring pattern and, of course, these points count against the soloist.
- The language that accompanies this game is very much a part of the game and can only be learned with time and exposure.
- The game has many “rules” or nuances ranging from where one sits after drawing cards to determine the dealer, to not allowing the dealer to look at the two cards in the middle. Usually they differ according to the region of Latvia in which the game originated. Defining the nuances before starting is recommended, especially with serious players.
As Vitande notes, zolite has many nuances. If you know of different rules or variations, add your comments at the end of this article. In the meantime, our thanks to Rūta Vitande for supplying the rules for this game.
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on SVEIKS.com.)
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