What is Baloot?
Baloot (بلوت) is a Four-Player partnership trick-taking card game that is extremely popular in Saudi Arabia, in the neighboring Arab countries of Yemen and Oman, and somewhat played in the Northern Arab Kingdom of Jordan and Republic of Iraq.
Baloot, related to the French Belote card game, and shares many of the rules from that game. Baloot may actually be the precursor to Belote, though this is not definitive.
The exact invention of this game is not recorded, though it is suspected to be a game that originated in the Ottoman Empire, which ruled over Saudi Arabia until 1932.
How to Play Baloot?
Baloot is played using a 32-card deck, modified from the Standard Anglo-American 52-card deck, in a fashion similar to the card game Sheepshead, where all cards except the Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, and cards numbered 10, 9, 8 and 7 of all suits are removed from the deck before Play.
With the smaller 32-card deck, the cards may be shuffled and partnerships decided before the Deal may begin.
There will be two partnerships, and partners should be situated across from each other at the table, so that players from the opposite partnership are always sitting to your clockwise and counterclockwise at the table.
The Dealer is chosen randomly; by whatever method the Players choose. In subsequent rounds, the Dealing position will move counterclockwise to the next immediate Player.
Cards are then shuffled by the dealer, and are then cut by a Player from the opposing partnership. The cutting Player is allowed to make several decisions:
- Do nothing and allow the game to continue normally.
- Take the first card from the top of the deck as though it were the public card, but without looking at it.
- They may either take the top or bottom three cards of the deck.
- They may also give the bottom three cards, but not the top three cards, to their partner.
The cutting Player may only do one of these actions.
The Public Card
Once the Cutting Player has made their choice, the Dealer will declare first and then place down the top card from the deck as the “public card”.
Players will then, in clockwise fashion, determine who shall take the public card. The option comes in order, and if a Player decides to take the public card, it goes into their hand.
The taker of the public card then declares if the game will be played with or without trump cards. These are known in Arabic as Sun (صـن), and Hokom (أوراق الحكم / حكم).
- Sun, translating to Sun, is the “no trumps” game of Baloot.
- Hokom, translating to Judges, is a game of Trump suits. In a Hokom game, the suit of the public card determines the “Judge’s” cards, or the Trump Suit.
If there is no public card, because it was taken by the Cutting Player, then the Cutting Player possesses the public card and may determine if the game will be Hokom or Sun.
Once the Public Card has been possessed, or the top or bottom three cards of the deck have been dealt out, the Dealer will then begin dealing cards counterclockwise, in packets of two or three, until each Player has a total of 8 cards in their hand.
Melds and Marriages
Like in other games related to Belote, there are also melds in Baloot.
Melds are groupings of cards that a Player possesses in their hand, before any tricks have been played. Players must declare their melds, showing the cards which constitute them at the start of the round. Points are then awarded at the end of the round.
There are several melds in Baloot, with special declarations to confer each of them.
Sira is declared if a Player possesses a sequence of 3 cards in ascending or descending order of rank. Example, J, Q, K. The cards must all be the same suit. If a Player declares 50, then they possess a sequence of 4 cards.
A Player which declares 100 may have a five-card sequence, a Four-of-a-kind of Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Ten, or 4 Aces in a game of Hokom.
A Player may declare 400 only in a game of Sun when they possess 4 Aces. 400 melds do not exist in Hokom games, as a group of 4 aces in a game of Hokom is a 100 meld only.
The names of the declarations do not in fact translate to the point values of each meld. The actual point values of each meld is determined by whether the game is Hokom or Sun, and will be explained in further detail below in the “Scoring” section.
The game may then begin, with the Player who took the public card leading the first trick.
In a Game of Sun, there are no Trump suits. This means that the raw rank of the card determines whether or not the trick is won.
Players must follow suit if they are able, meaning they must play a card of the same suit as the card which led the trick. If a Player cannot follow suit, they may play any card of their choice, but a card which does not follow suit cannot with the trick, even if its rank is higher than the leading card.
In a Game of Hokom, Players must still follow suit, unless they are playing a Trump card. A Trump card will always beat a non-trump card, even if the non-trump has a higher rank than the Trump card. Only a Trump of higher value can beat another Trump.
Scores are tallied at the end of the round, with melds accumulated not having their scores tabulated until the end of the round. If both Partnerships achieve the required 152 points required to win the game at the same time, the Partnership which accumulated more points in that final round will be the winner.
Below we listed the essential rules for Baloot:
- Games are played in either the Game of Hokom or the Game of Sun, which can essentially be seen as a “Game of Trumps” and a “Game of No-Trumps.”
- In the Game of Hokom, Jacks and 9s outrank all other Trump cards, with the Jack being highest and the 9 being second highest.
- Melds are declared before the first trick, but do not award points until the round has ended.
- If two Players from opposing partnerships play the same meld (Sira, 50, 100, 400) in the same round, only the meld with a higher card value will award points. If one Player has a Sira of 8, 9, 10 non-trump, and one Player has a Sira of 8, 9, 10, all in Trump, then the Trump Player, and only the Trump Player, will be awarded the points.
Baloot actually has a fairly complicated scoring system, and as such there are tables below which will hopefully help to explain the scoring of Baloot.
There is quite a bit of math involved, and a Player must remember that scores are accounted for differently, depending on whether the game was Played in Sun or Hokom.
The following tables explains the individual card values for a Game of Hokom:
|Jack of Trump||20|
All cards not listed in the above list score 0 points for being contained in taken tricks.
In a Game of Sun, assume all cards follow the “Non-Trump” card values listed above.
Calculating Final Score
In order to calculate the final score, after a round, the round score is rounded to the nearest 10. This means if a Player accumulates a round score with a final digit of 5 or more, then will round up.
If the final digit is from 0-4, then it will be rounded down. For example, a round score of 13 is rounded down to 10, while a round score of 15 is rounded up to 20.
Depending on the Game played, a round score is then multiplied. In a Game of Sun, the score is multiplied by 2. In a Game of Hokom, the Score is multiplied by 1 and left the same.
There are also the bonuses awarded for declared melds. These also depend on whether a Game of Sun or a Game of Hokom was played for the round.
A Sira awards 4 Points in a Game of Sun, or 2 Points in a Game of Hokom.
A 50 bonus awards 10 Points in Game of Sun, or 5 Points in a Game of Hokom.
100 Bonuses award 20 points in a Game of Sun, or 10 Points in a Game of Hokom.
400 bonuses may only be awarded in a Game of Sun, and grants 40 Points.
This is a special meld composed of the King and Queen of Trumps. Like all melds , it must be declared at the start of the round before the first Trick is led. The Baloot rewards 2 points, regardless whether the game is Sun or Hokom.
The following is a possible starting hand in a game of Baloot:
9♦, K♣, A♥, J♣, Q♣, 10♥, 10♣, 10♠,
Notice the marriage, Baloot. The three 10s do not award a meld, however, as a meld must be formed from a four-of-a-kind, not a three of a Kind.
However, there is a sequence in the King, Q, J, 10. As cards may only be used for a single meld, use the King and Queen for the Sequence, rather than the Baloot.
Strategy & Tips
- If you are the Player to take the Public card, you have not yet seen your hand. You do not know what will be advantageous for you before the game starts. This makes the game of Sun the less risky, but less rewarding option. Sun is the safe option, used if you are not feeling particularly lucky. This is because a Game of Sun will theoretically more evenly distribute high ranking cards.
- Conversely, a Game of Hokom is higher risk and higher reward. This is because there is only a single, out of four, suit of trumps. The Trump cards are more likely to not be evenly distributed to all 4 Players, simply because there are less of them in the deck. If you think you’ll get a good deal in the round, go for Hokom.
- Scores for Sun games are worth less than Hokom games, unless a Player manages to collect a 400 meld. So, if you already have a large lead, consistently play Sun games when able. This will prevent the opposing Partnership from closing the gap by having a particularly lucky Hokom round. Still, Sun rounds are overall worth more points, even though those points will be distributed relatively evenly.
What does Baloot mean in English?
Baloot, roughly, translates from Arabic into English as “Acorns.”
How do you Play Hokom?
Hokom, the “Judge” suit, is determined at the start of the game when the Public card is taken. It is up to the Player who takes the Public card whether the game will be Hokom, with Trumps, or Sun, without Trumps.
Is Baloot a gambling game?
The Baloot card game is particularly popular in the Arabian Peninsula, with the regional dominant power in the area being Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are predominantly Wahhabis, a particularly strict and conservative sect of Islam. For this reason, gambling is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Games of Baloot are played purely for sport in Saudi Arabia.