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Preference (Austrian rules)

Preference is basically a game for three players but is very often played by four, with dealer sitting out of each hand. Preference is played in different versions across a wide area of Central Europe and Russia. Here the Austrian version is described - first the basic game and then some variations.

Other main types of preference include

The equipment

A 32 card pack is used - either German or French suited. The ranking of the cards in each suit, from highest to lowest is:

     French          German
      Ace             Ace (strictly Deuce)
      King            King
      Queen           Ober
      Jack            Unter
      10              X
      9               IX
      8               VIII
      7               VII
and the ranking of the suits themselves is:
     French       Bid        German
     Hearts        4         Hearts
     Diamonds      3         Bells
     Spades        2         Leaves
     Clubs         1         Acorns
In the bidding, each suit is represented by a number, as shown in the above table.

Throughout the rest of this description, we will assume French suits.

Although it is possible to score on paper or with chips, in Austria it is normal to use money. Dishes are used to hold the stakes, a larger one for the pot, and three (or four) smaller ones to hold the coins belonging to the players.

Before starting the players need to agree the stake - in what follows we assume the stake is 1 - this might represent one penny, one dime, 10 Groschen, or whatever is appropriate in the currency being used.

Idea of the Game

In each hand, one player (the declarer) chooses the trump suit and tries to make six of the ten possible tricks. The other two (the defenders) try to prevent the declarer from winning, but also have an objective to make two tricks each. A defender who thinks he cannot make his quota of tricks is allowed to drop out.

At the beginning of each hand there is an auction to decide who will be declarer. As the contract is always 6 tricks, the different bids relate to the different trump suits, and whether the declarer wants to make use of the two undealt cards.

Players and Deal

There are 3 active players at a time; if 4 wish to play the dealer sits out of each hand. The game is played clockwise.

After shuffling and after the dealer's right hand neighbour has cut, the cards are dealt clockwise 3 to each player, 2 face down to the table to form the talon, 4 to each player and then 3 to each player, so that each player has 10 cards. The turn to deal rotates clockwise.

The Pot

At the start of the game, each player contributes an equal sum to the pot. This amount should be divisible by ten. If the pot later becomes empty and the players wish to continue the game, each must contribute a further stake.

The Bidding

The player on the Dealer's left has first opportunity to bid, and the turn to bid passes clockwise. If all pass then the next dealer deals.

The possible bids are the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 representing the suits, "game", meaning that the player wishes to be declarer without using the talon cards, and "hearts", which is a game bid in hearts. A player who has bid a number does not necessarily have to play with the trump suit corresponding to that number - having seen the talon he may choose a higher suit. When bidding numbers, only the minimum legal bid can be made at any time.

Thus the first player to bid can only pass or say "one", "game" or "hearts". Saying "one" expresses the intention to exchange with the talon and then take 6 or more tricks in his choice of trumps. Saying "game" expresses the intention to choose trumps (not hearts) and take 6 or more tricks without exchanging cards. Saying "hearts" is an undertaking to win at least 6 tricks with hearts as trumps and without exchanging cards. A bid of "hearts" immediately ends the auction.

Once a player has bid "one", a subsequent player has the option of biding "two" or "game" or "hearts" or passing. Over a bid of "two", "three" can be bid, and so on. Numerical jump bids are not allowed.

No player who has passed may reenter the bidding and a player who has made a "number" bid cannot later increase his bid to "game" or "hearts". Therefore if you want to bid a game (or hearts) at all you must do it at your first opportunity to speak.

Once "game" has been bid only another bid of "game" or a bid of "hearts" can outbid it. If more than one player bids "game", they must each reveal their proposed trumps and the highest suit wins. In the unlikely event that more than one player wishes to play game in the same suit then the first player (counting clockwise starting from the player on the dealer's left) has precedence.

When the bidding reaches a player who bid a number on the first round and has been outbid by a higher number, the first bidder can either pass or say "hold". Holding is equivalent to bidding the same number as the second bidder, which is sufficient to allow the first bidder to be declarer. If the second bidder wants to continue, he must go on to the next number, which the first bidder may "hold" again, and so on.

Some examples of legal bidding sequences:

      A      B      C
     Pass   One    Two
            Hold   Three
            Hold   Pass   - B is declarer in three

      A      B      C
     One    Two    Three
     Pass   Hold   Four
            Pass          - C is declarer in four

The Exchange

If the contract is a number, declarer now picks up the talon without exposing it, adds the two cards to his hand, and then discards any two cards face down.

The Defenders' Decisions

After the exchange (if any) declarer announces the trump suit, which must be at least as high as the bid.

Now each of the defenders must decide whether to play. Playing is a commitment to win at least two tricks, and there is a penalty for failing to do so. A defender who does not think he can make two tricks can drop out, but dropping out makes it easier for declarer to win the pool.

First the defender on declarer's left announces whether he will play, followed by the other defender. If neither wishes to play then declarer has (by default) made 10 tricks. If only one defender wishes to play then he can choose to invite his partner to defend with him. This invitation cannot be refused, but the guest is not penalised if he fails to make two tricks - instead the host defender takes on the responsibility for the defending team making at least four tricks. A defender who does not wish to play and is not invited to do so lays his cards face down and takes no further part in the hand.

The Play

If both defenders have conceded there is of course no play - the declarer just wins.

If one or both defenders is playing, the declarer leads to the first trick. It is necessary

The winner of a trick leads to the next.

The Pay-off from the Pot

When ten tricks have been played, the players are paid from the pot according to the tricks that they took. This is the procedure:


These are paid by each opponent to the declarer or by the declarer to each opponent, irrespective of whether the opponents stayed in or dropped out.

Hearts Bonus
The declarer in a Hearts game (where the talon was not used) is paid an extra 10 units by each opponent if he wins at least 6 tricks, and pays 10 to each opponent if he fails.
Ace Bonus
If the declarer holds four aces he is paid an extra 10 units by each opponent if he wins his 6 tricks. There is no payment if he fails. The Ace Bonus is claimed at the end of the play.
No Ace Bonus
If the declarer has no aces and chooses to declare this before leading to the first trick, he is paid an extra 10 units by each opponent if he wins his 6 tricks, and pays them each 10 units if he fails. It is not compulsory to declare no aces - if an aceless declarer is not confident of winning he will keep quiet. It is illegal to discard aces into the talon in order to announce No Aces.


Other ways of handling the pot

  1. Unlimited Pot. This is probably the original method, but it is somewhat unsatisfactory and possibly dangerous, as the stakes can fluctuate rapidly, and some hands can be very expensive. The pot is initially empty, and each dealer adds 10 units as he deals. The declarer takes the whole pot and pays out one tenth of it for each trick won by the defence. A declarer who failed to take 6 tricks must put in double the amount of the pot which was being played for, and a defender must put in an amount equal to the pot being played for. For example if the pot contains 40, declarer wins 5 tricks, one defender 4 and the other defender 1, all having played voluntarily, then the declarer takes the 40 and pays 16 to one defender and 4 to the other. The declarer then pays 80 to the pot, the defender with only one trick pays 40, and the new dealer adds 10, so the next hand is paid for a pot of 130.
  2. Limited Pot. This is similar to unlimited pot, except that there is a limit to the amount at stake on each hand. This limit may by agreement be 5, 10 or 20 times the size of the basic pot (that is 50, 100 or 200 units). Should the pot grow beyond the limit, only the limit amount is played for. For example if the limit is 10 times the basic pot (100 units), after the example above, where the pot contains 130 units, the next hand would be played for 100. If the tricks split 6 for declarer and 1 and 3 for the defenders, the declarer would take 100 from the pot and pay 10 and 30 to the defenders. The losing defender then puts 100 in the pot and the new dealer adds 10 making 140. If on the next hand no one loses, the pot will reduce to 50.
  3. Styrian Version. The pot is initially filled, by each player contributing the same multiple of ten units. When the pot is empty a decision must be taken whether to refill it the same way or to end play. The amount of the pot which is played for depends on the trump suit - for example 20 (and 2 per trick) when clubs are trumps, 30 for spades, 40 for diamonds and 50 for hearts.

Bonus variations

There are several variations in whether and how the bonuses for four aces and no aces are played. For example:

Illustrated Preference - extra bids

Some players allow extra bids of 5, 6, 7 and 8 (or just some of these, for example some bid only up to 5 or up to 6. The game with these extra bids is called Illustrated Preference. The bidding mechanism is the same as in the basic game, except that the bidding can continue above 4. The declarer who has bid a number can play any contract which is at least as high as the winning bid.

The meanings of the extra bids are as follows:

Five - also called Bettel.
The declarer undertakes to exchange the talon and then take no tricks. There are no trumps, but the obligation to beat cards already played to the trick still holds for all players. Value 10 units.
Six - also called Durchmarsch.
The declarer undertakes to exchange the talon and win every trick. There are no trumps. Value 20 units.
Seven - also called Plauderer or Bettel Ouvert or Offener Bettel
As in a Bettel, the declarer exchanges the talon and must lose every trick. There are no trumps, but the obligation to beat cards already played to the trick still holds for all players. After the first lead, the declarer's cards are laid face up on the table, and the defenders are allowed to discuss how to defeat the contract. Value 30 units.
Eight - also called Offener Durchmarsch
The declarer exchanges the talon and must win every trick. There are no trumps. After the first lead the declarer's cards are exposed. Value 40 units.

In these extra contracts there is no opportunity for the defenders to drop out. The declarer receives or pays the value of the game directly from or to each defender. There are no bonuses for no ace or four aces.

These four extra contracts can also be played as games, that is, without exchanging the talon. In this case the payment for them is doubled. In the bidding they outrank the suit games.

Kontra and Rekontra

In Illustrated Preference, if the declarer plays one of the no trump contracts (Bettel, Durchmarsch, Plauderer, Offener Durchmarsch), with or without exchanging the talon, each opponent in turn has the opportunity to say "Kontra", which doubles the payment between that defender and the declarer (but does not affect the other defender). After both defenders have had their turn to speak, declarer may then say "Rekontra", which doubles the payment again to or from any defender who said "Kontra".

It is important that this is done in turn. If the first opponent says "Kontra" this may encourage the second to say "Kontra" as well. However, if the first opponent passes and the second says "Kontra", it is then too late for the first opponent to change his mind and say "Kontra" as well.


This is a common variation in Illustrated Preference. It occurs when the declarer has bid a number and at least one of the defenders also took part in the bidding (i.e. did not just say "pass"). After the declarer has discarded the talon but before he announces a trump suit or other contract he says "ich liege" ("I have discarded"). A defender who has bid may then take over the right to be declarer by picking up the discarded cards, adding them to his own hand, discarding two cards, and announcing his contract, which must be at least 5 (Bettel). It is then possible for either the original declarer, or the third player if he too has bid, may take the contract away from from the new declarer by the same method, and announce a still higher contract, and so on.

For example it might happen that A bids one, B bids two and A passes. B picks up the talon, and discards (intending to play in diamonds). But A picks up the low cards that B discarded, and discards two cards. A will now be declarer in a Bettel (B's contract is cancelled), unless B decides to pick up the cards that A discarded (hoping they are high ones). If A does pick up B's discards, he becomes declarer again and will have to play a still higher contract, probably Durchmarsch. This will stand unless B decides to use A's discards to bid a Plauderer.

Sans Atout

When Illustrated Preference is played with bidding up to 6 only, some players, instead of Durchmarsch, play 6 as a contract called Sans Atout. The declarer exchanges the talon, and there are no trumps. The player to declarer's right leads to the first trick and declarer's object is to win any 6 consecutive tricks.