Preferans is one of the most popular card games in Russia. Russian Preferans appeared in XIX century as a regional variety in a family of related card games, such as German Skat and Austrian and Croatian Preference. It went through heavy development from that during the remaining part of the Imperial era, and was finally crystallized in its modern variant during the Soviet period. In terms of strategy versus luck, it is more luck based than Bridge, but much more strategy based than, for example, blackjack or poker. It's played with a deck of 32 cards, Seven through Ace. There could be 2 to 4 players, but the most traditional variety is three-player.
The game is played as a long party of many deals. Each deal, three of the players get 10 cards each, and the remaining two are put in a prikup. If two people are playing, 10 cards are put aside to the bolvan's, or dummy player's hand. Then the torgovlya (bidding) begins. How high you can bid, depends on what kind of game you want to play and how many of cards of each suit you have. The winner in bidding has the right to claim the prikup, discarding his two worst cards, and declare the kind of game and the trump suit for this deal.
There are two basic types of games in Preferans. The standard type begins with the highest bidder declaring the number of tricks (vziatka) he wants to take and the trump suit (his longest and strongest suit). The two other players can claim whist (declare to take the remaining tricks fully or partially, depending on the highest bidder's claim) or pass (drop out of this deal). If two players claim whist, they play against the highest bidder together and try to stop him from taking the claimed number of tricks. If one claims whist and the second guy passes, the whister plays both his own hand and the passer's hand. In a two-player game, the whister plays both his own hand and the dummy hand. If both opponents pass, the highest bidder wins this deal without fighting: record him bonus points and start another one.
The second type of game is mizer. When a bidder claims mizer during torgovlya, an opponent has to claim at least a game of nine tricks to win the bidding. If this doesn't happen, the mizerer wins the bidding and has to play this game, the purpose of which is to avoid all tricks. If even a single trick is forced on a mizer-player, he gets loads and loads of penalty points, and often after the first trick, others follow. That's the goal of the mizer-player's opponents. Mizer has no trump cards.
There is a third type of game in Preferans, which is played if every player passes out of bidding and no one claims any game. It is called raspasy (the word is plural) and its purpose is to dodge tricks and force them on others. The penalty points for tricks during raspasy are far less harsh than during mizer, but they apply to everyone, not just one player like in mizer. Raspasy have no trump cards.
Finally, there is a fourth type of game in Preferans, called Preferans. Sources vary about its nature. In some circles, Preferans is a claim of ten tricks without a trump suit. In some circles, it's a claim of ten tricks without a trump suit with mandatory discarding of two aces. In some circles, Preferans is actually a combination of cards, like in poker, that provides instant win without playing the rest of the game, and it's AKQ AKQ AK AK. Successfully playing this game in whatever its variety brings a huge number of bonus points which is almost guaranteed to make the lucky one a winner.
After a deal is over, the players record point scores and start another deal. Points come in three varieties: gora (mountain) are penalty points, pulya (bullet) are both bonus points and record points for the duration of the entire game, and whist are the usual kind of bonus points that represent money won from other players. The game is over when everyone has a predefined number of pulya points. If a player gets this number of pulya points before everyone else, he stops recording them and starts to perform American aid: he gives the excess bullet points to his neighbor and starts writing whist points against him (basically, stealing the neighbour's chance of winning) instead.
There are several regional varieties of Preferans: Sochi, Leningrad and Moscow-Rostov are the most common. Another variety is Classical Preferans as played in early XX century before the Revolution; it has a lots of obscure rules making it more chance-based.
Preferans is often played for money, but not much: in Soviet times, the usual rate was 1 kopeck (0.6 cents) per whist point, the usual modern rate is 1 ruble (1.6 cents) per whist point.
- Bizarro Episode: Mizer and raspasy. Instead of chasing tricks, you run away from them.
- Loads and Loads of Rules: The rules listed above are only a basic description.
- Oh, Crap!: Claiming mizer, taking the prikup and discovering it's two aces.
- Serial Escalation: some rules allow the raspasy to progress in monetary value exponentially, eventually becoming more dangerous than mizer. Mizer itself can lead to Oh, Crap! if someone forces a "train" of tricks to the mizer-claimer to take.
- Serious Business
- Surprise Checkmate: If someone claims and wins the Preferans sub-game.