Zolite

Note from Nick

These instructions originally came from a student at the University of Washington and were hosted on his web page, which has since vanished from the Internet. I’ve re-posted them here with some slight edits. If you’ve played Hearts, Bridge, Spades or other trick-based games then that background will help you understand how Zolite is played. If you have questions feel free to contact me.

Also, if you’re an expert Zolite player and have some suggestions for improving these rules, or tips/strategies that might be helpful for new players, please let me know.

The King of Card Games a.k.a. Latvian Poker

This is the National Card Game of Latvia, it’s a very good card game but virtually unheard of in the West. It is one of the few quality three person (not more, not less) card games in existence. Playing with a Latvian the first time you play can help enormously. They can be found in most major metropolitan areas with Seattle and Toronto holding the largest Lett populations. It has many similarities with Hearts or Spades and knowledge of those games also helps in understanding Zolite.

Setup the Deck

Separate the correct cards from the deck. There are four “suits” that are in use: Trumps, Hearts, Spades, and Clubs (notice Trumps replace Diamonds). From here on out when referring to a “suit” I will mean these four categories and not the standard four suits. The cards in use are:

  • Hearts: Ace, Ten, King, Nine
  • Spades: Ace, Ten, King, Nine
  • Clubs: Ace, Ten, King, Nine
  • Trumps: all the Queens, all the Jacks, and the Ace, Ten, King, Nine, Eight, and Seven of Diamonds

Deal the Cards

Every player gets eight cards with two cards being dealt to the middle.

Choose

Play will begin with two people (Small Ones) lined up against one person (Big One). Starting from the dealer’s left, each person gets to choose whether they want to be the one playing alone. The choice is made based on the quality of the hand. If the person decides to be the Big One (lielais – lee-eh-lice), he/she gets to take the two cards in the middle and discard two cards into his pile. The other two are automatically the Small Ones (mazais – muh-zais). If the person passes (man garam – muhn guh-ruhm), than the person to his/her left chooses and so on. If all three pass, re-deal and add a branch to the Zole Tree (explained later).

Play

Play begins. There will be eight rounds (similar to “tricks” in the game of Hearts) with each round started by the winner of the previous round and the first round started by the person on the dealer’s left. In the round, the first player will play any card and the other two people in order play a card on top of it. The cards played on the original card must follow suit. Following suit means playing a card of the same suit. For example, if the Ace of Hearts is led, then either the King, Ten, or Nine of Hearts must be played. On the Queen of Hearts (a Trump), any of the other Trump cards must be played. The winner of the suit takes the three cards into his or her pile. The winner is determined by who had the highest card in the suit. The order of the cards are listed below:

  • Hearts: Ace, Ten, King, Nine (ex. Ten beats a King, King beats a Nine, Ace beats everything)
  • Spades: Ace, Ten, King, Nine
  • Clubs: Ace, Ten, King, Nine
  • Trump: Queen of Clubs, Queen of Spades, Queen of Hearts, Queen of Diamonds, Jack of Clubs, Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds, The Ace, Ten, King, Nine, Eight, and Seven of Diamonds.

If a player doesn’t have another card of the led suit, he/she can play any other card. If it’s a Trump card that is played, then it trumps the hand and regardless of who had the highest card in the suit, he/she wins the round. However, he/she can lose the hand if someone else also trumps with a higher Trump card.

Score the Game

Add up the points. After all the rounds have been played, the players add up their points with the two Small Ones pooling their cards together and the Big One getting the points for the original two cards he discarded. Points are as follows:

  • Ace = 11 points
  • Ten = 10 points
  • King = 4 points
  • Queen = 3 points
  • Jack = 2 points
  • Nines, Eights, or Sevens = 0 points

There are 120 total points possible in a game. The winner is determined by who has collected the most (more than 60). Then the true points are given out. Keep track of these points on a piece of paper.

  • If the Big One won with 61-90 points, he/she gets 1 point from each Small One (who each get negative 1 point)
  • If the Big One won with 91-118 points, he/she gets 2 points from each Small One
  • If the Big One gets all 120 points, he/she gets 3 points from each Small One
  • If the Small Ones win with 61-90 points, they get 2 points each from the Big One (who gets negative 4 points)
  • If the Small Ones win with 91-118 points, they get 3 points each from the Big One
  • If the Small Ones get all 120 points, they get 4 points each from the Big One and also get to slap him/her

For example, if the Big One won with 85 points, then his/her score would go up by two points, and each of the Small Ones’ scores would go down by one point. Note that the scores of all three players will always add up to zero.

You can keep playing for a specific amount of time, or play first to twenty. If you are an Old Latvian Man or a gambler, play with the points representing a monetary value (Example: Each person starts with five dollars and each point represents a quarter).

Etiquette

  • The Small Ones aren’t allowed to give each other hints during the game.
  • Use of the proper Latvian terms is appreciated! A glossary is listed at the end.

Zole Tree

If everyone passes at the start, or the game is tied at 60, a branch is added to the Zole Tree. The Zole Tree is a Tree drawn somewhere on the scorecard that looks like a capital Y with the top inverted and with a long stem. A branch is added anywhere on the stem jutting out. When a round is completed and there are branches on the Zole Tree, the winner gets an extra point from the loser (or each loser) for each branch on the Zole Tree. After the point is distributed, add another branch on the other side of the Tree directly opposite each branch to cancel them out (I’ll try to get a drawing up, if you don’t get it, just add a tally somewhere to keep track of the branches, and cancel them when the points for them are distributed).

Calling Zole – If the Big One decides his/her hand is so good that he/she doesn’t need the two cards in the middle, he/she calls “Zole” (Zole – Zoa-leh) and doesn’t look at those cards, immediately putting them in his/her pile. After the game, he/she can receive many more points, but also lose many more. Below is the new point table for games in which Zole is called.

Scoring Zole

  • If the Big One won with 61-90 points, he/she gets 4 point from each Small One (who each get negative 4 points)
  • If the Big One won with 91-118 points, he/she gets 5 points from each Small One
  • If the Big One gets all 120 points, he/she gets 6 points from each Small One
  • If the Small Ones win with 61-90 points, they get 5 points each from the Big One (who gets negative 10 points)
  • If the Small Ones win with 91-118 points, they get 6 points each from the Big One
  • If the Small Ones get all 120 points, they get 7 points each from the Big One and also get to slap him/her

Zolite Strategies

If you’re a Small One, watch what your partner plays. You don’t always need to Trump if he or she will win the hand anyway.

Sometimes, rather than using a Trump on a low point value trick (no Tens or Aces in the trick), you can attempt to “short suit” yourself to get rid of a single low card you have of a suit. For example, if you have no Spades and also have the Nine of Hearts and no other Hearts, then instead of trumping a trick in which the Nine and King of Spades have been played, play your Nine of Hearts—save your trump, so when someone plays the Ace or Ten of Hearts, you can trump it and take those big points.

When discarding, remember to consider shorting yourself of as many suits as possible. Also, since you’ll be getting the points of your discarded cards, if you have three or more cards of a suit you probably won’t win those hands so you might as well discard the Ace and the Ten to at least “lock away” those points.

If you’re confused about any of these rules, contact me and I’ll gladly explain them in more detail.

Glossary

  • Zolite – zoa-lee-teh – the card game
  • Lielais – lee-eh-lice – Big One
  • Mazais – muh-zais – Small One
  • Man Garam – muhn guh-ruhm – I pass
  • Zole – zoa-leh – indicates you will be the Lielais, using only the strength of your dealt hand
  • Nelabais – neh-luh-bais – Cheater or Bad One