Préférence is an Eastern European 10-card plain-trick game with bidding, played by three players with a 32-card Piquet deck, and probably originating in early 19th century Austria also played by Russia highest echelon. A sophisticated variant known as Preferans is very popular in Russia, and other variants are played from Lithuania to Greece.
Préférence appears to be derived from Ombre and Boston, although as a three-player game with 10-card hands and a 2-card talon it also has superficial similarities with other Central European games such as Skat and Mariáš. The game is named after the ranking of preferred suits for bidding purposes, an innovative feature at the time of its introduction. Once a mode of play has been declared, any player may drop out and only the remaining players play, if both parties are still represented. This feature is reminiscent of gambling games such as Tippen or Loo.
All 32 cards of a Piquet deck are dealt following the scheme 3–talon–4–3, so that each player receives a hand of 10 cards and there remains a talon of 2 cards. The players bid for the privilege of becoming the soloist and declaring the trump suit and mode of play. Each bid has a corresponding hand version (i.e. without taking up the talon) that ranks higher than all non-hand bids. (A hand bid in hearts is bid as preference. Any other hand bid is bid as hand, with further clarification as necessary.) If two players want to play the same suit, the player who sits earlier in the direction of play, starting with eldest hand, takes precedence. Aces rank high and tens in their natural position between jacks and nines. If everybody else passes, the dealer becomes declarer.
Except when playing a hand contract, the declarer takes the talon, then discards two cards face down. Declarer then declares the trump suit, whose numerical value must be at least that of the bid. Declarer must win 6 tricks, and each defender must win 2 tricks. Before the hand is played, the soloist or any defender may drop out. If one defender drops out, only that defender and the soloist play, so each trick consists of two cards only. If both defenders drop out, or if the soloist drops out, there is no card-play and the game is scored immediately.
The soloist leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if possible. According to the earliest rules, players must trump if they cannot follow suit. A trick is won by the player of the highest trump, or by the player who played the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next trick.
Each player contributes a certain amount to the pot before the first deal, and this is repeated whenever the pot is empty later on and players wish to continue.
After the hand has been played, declarer receives 10 units from the pot or pays 20 units into the pot, depending on whether declarer won 6 tricks or not. A defender who did not win two tricks pays 10 units into the pot. In any case, each defender who won at least two tricks receives 1 unit directly from the dealer. A special case is when declarer gave up before the hand was played. In that case declarer does not have to pay into the pot but pays 3 units to each defender, or 5 units to the remaining defender if the other also dropped out.
Original scoring rules
Before every deal, the dealer pays 10 units into the pot. All payments are multiplied by one tenth of the of value of the pot at the start of the hand.
In Illustrated Préférence, there are four additional no trumps contracts which again exist in an ordinary version and a hand version each. As a special exception, the non-hand versions of open bids rank higher than non-open hand bids.
In these contracts there are no specific targets for the defenders other than preventing declarer from making it, and no payments for tricks won by defenders. Defenders may not drop out of card-play individually.
If declarer wins a trick in a misère contract, or loses a trick in a slam contract, card-play is stopped immediately. In the open contracts, declarer plays with open cards and defenders may discuss how to proceed.
Scoring for the additional non-suit contracts is fundamentally different from that for suit contracts, as the pot is not touched. The value of a contract is 10 units for misère, 20 units for slam, 30 units for open misère and 40 units for open slam. In contrast to ordinary suit contracts, these values are doubled if the hand version is played. The resulting value is paid by the declarer to each defender, or by each defender to the declarer, depending on whether declarer made it or not.
In another form of Illustrated Préférence, the open contracts do not exist and to win a slam it is sufficient to win 6 consecutive tricks.
- In un-illustrated Préférence, all payments may be multiplied with the numerical bidding value of the contract.
- According to some rules, players must always play a card that heads the trick, provided this can done while following suit or trumping, as otherwise required.
- According to some rules (especially in German anthologies), a player who cannot follow suit need not trump.
- After one defender has dropped out, the other may invite them. In this case both play, but the invited player has no obligations and no direct interest in the game. All tricks won by either defender player count for the inviting player, who must win at least 4 tricks or pay 1 unit into the pot.
- In addition to the other rules, for a preference game, declarer receives 10 units from each defender if won or pays 10 units to each defender if lost.
- In addition to the other rules, a declarer who played with four aces wins 10 units from each defender if successful, but does not have to pay if not.
- In addition to the other rules, a declarer who has no aces among his or her 12 cards (including the discard) may announce this fact before leading to the first trick. In this case, declarer receives or pays 10 more units from/to each defender, depending on whether declarer makes the contract.
Hungarian and West Balkans Préférence
The cards are dealt following the scheme 5–talon–5. Numerical bids are as shown in the table. There is one corresponding hand contract for each normal contract. If several players bid hand, the highest contract takes precedence as for the non-hand bids.
In hand contracts, the talon is laid aside. Otherwise declarer exposes it to the defenders, then takes up the two cards and discards any 2 cards to get down to a hand of 10 cards. Declarer announces any contract whose value is at least that of the bid.
In ordinary suit contracts, declarer undertakes to win 6 tricks or more, and each defender must win 2 tricks or more. Before the hand is played, the soloist or any defender may drop out. If one defender drops out, only that defender and the soloist play, so each trick consists of two cards only. Alternatively, the remaining defender may invite the other. In this case the other must play normally, but does not take part in scoring. If both defenders drop out, or if the soloist drops out, there is no card-play and the game is scored immediately.
Card-play is as in Austrian Préférence. The soloist leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if possible, otherwise trump if possible. A trick is won by the player of the highest trump, or by the player who played the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next trick.
The base value of a contract is its numerical bidding value, or for hand contracts the numerical bidding value plus 1. Declarer receives 20 times the base value from the pot for making the contract or pays the same amount into the pot for not making it.
In suit contracts there are additional payments. Defenders pay 10 times the base value into the pot if they do not win the required number of tricks. If neither defender invited the other, this applies to any defender who did not win at least 2 tricks, and if one defender invited the other and both defenders together did not win at least 4 tricks, it applies to the inviting defender. Moreover, for each trick won by a defender, declarer pays 2 base values to that defender or to the inviting player. The payments for tricks are independent of whether declarer or defenders won their required numbers of tricks.
- If all players pass in the bidding phase, each player gets a refa marking. The next time a player with a refa marking declares a contract, the base value is doubled. The number of such refa markings per game session is limited.
- After the contract is declared and before declarer leads to the first trick, a defender who speculates that declarer will not make it can announce contra. In this case the other defendant is considered invited (whether he or she dropped out or not), and the defenders must win at least 5 tricks together. A confident declarer may respond with recontra. Contra and recontra each double the base value.
- In the bidding of non-hand contracts, each player in turn must either bid precisely one more than the previous player, bid hand, or pass. A player who has passed may not bid again later. A player who has once made a numerical bid may not make a hand bid later.
- The slam bid 7 may be replaced by a sans atout bid. Alternatively, sans atout and optionally also an uno bid (declarer must win precisely one trick) may be inserted between misère and slam.
Danube Swabian Preferánsz
For the Danube Swabians, a German-speaking minority in the former Kingdom of Hungary, a variant similar to West Balkans Préférence has been described. In the variant, declarer must win an additional trick if spades are trump, and another additional trick in case of a hand bid. Otherwise the main difference is a simplified scoring scheme and the fact that players cannot drop out.
If the two cards of the talon are of the same rank, declarer pays 2 units to dealer for artwork.
If declarer makes the contract, declarer receives the base value (numerical value of the bid) from each defender; otherwise declarer pays the same amount to each defender. For suite contracts, declarer also receives or pays 1 unit for each overtrick or undertrick.
After the contract is declared and before declarer leads to the first trick, each defender who speculates that declarer will not make the contract may announce contra, to which declarer may respond with recontra. Contra and recontra each double the payments between the two players involved.
Rules concerning collaboration of defenders
In most solo games the defenders have the common goal of preventing the soloist from making it, and the competition between the defenders is momentarily suspended. In Préférence suit contracts, however, the individual targets for defender cause a prisoner's dilemma situation, in which both defenders collectively profit most from cooperating, but a selfish defender might profit even more from strategically breaking this cooperation to win a trick that might have been more advantageously taken by the other defender. The resulting danger of discord is addressed by formalising a number of rules of thumb for cooperative play. These should normally be followed by all defenders – they invited their partner, in which case they are free to try more sophisticated approaches that may break these rules.
- A defender should never unnecessarily win a trick that is already headed by the other defender.
- A defender who leads to a trick in which the declarer comes last should play the highest card of a suit.
- A defender who leads to a trick in which the declarer comes second should lead a very high card (king or ace) or the lowest card in the respective suit.
These rules may have the status of noncommittal advice, or they can be regarded as strong ethical obligations with an understanding that infractions that harm the other defender usually lead to voluntary compensation by side payments. The first rule is sometimes even described as an inherent part of the game rules, so that infractions have the same status as revokes.
This unusual and extremely simplified variant of Préférence appeared in Foster's Complete Hoyle starting with the 1909 edition and was also included in the 1922 rules of the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC).
All 32 cards of a Piquet deck are dealt following the scheme 3–talon–4–3, so that each player receives a hand of 10 cards and there remains a widow (or talon) of 2 cards. Starting with eldest hand, each player may bid a desired trump suit or pass. Subsequent players may only bid higher suits. For this purpose suits rank hearts, diamonds, clubs, spades in descending order. The player who names the highest suit becomes declarer and must win 6 of the 10 tricks as a soloist against the two defenders.
If all players pass, there is a second round of bidding in which each player offers a certain amount to pay into the pot for the privilege of becoming the declarer and being allowed to take up the widow and discard 2 cards before announcing the trump suit.
Card play is exactly as in Whist. Aces rank high and tens in their natural position between jacks and nines. Players must follow suit if possible, or else may play any card.
Before the game, players must all deposit a certain amount in the pot and agree on the reward paid from the pot for each trick. This may depend on the trump suit.
With two minor and possibly inadvertent changes that remove the game further from the European games (declarer must discard before taking up the widow, and in the second round of bidding players bid by paying immediately into the pot), these rules are still published on the USPCC website. Although this is not stated in any of the rules, players must also agree on a penalty in case declarer wins less than 6 tricks.
In spite of the game's French name and a number of French terms, it has always been mostly unknown in France. A game of this name was already mentioned as popular in Vienna in 1803, and the earliest known description is in an 1829 Austrian game anthology, Préférence quickly became popular in Imperial Russia as well. Via Vint, the suit order of Russian Preferans became the modern suit order of Contract Bridge. As of 1846, a German encyclopedia listed the games played by the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire (Greeks, Macedonians, Vlachs and Serbs, Slaves) as dice games, chess, backgammon, tarot games, Préférence and gambling card games.
- Parlett, David (2008), The Penguin Book of Card Games (3rd ed.), Penguin Books, pp. 67–70, ISBN 978-0-14-103787-5.
- McLeod, John, ed., Rams Group, Card Games Website.
- McLeod, John, ed., Preference (Austrian rules), Card Games Website.
- Kastner, Hugo; Folkvord, Gerald K. (2005), Die große Humboldt Enzyklopädie der Kartenspiele (in German), Humboldt Verlag, pp. 126–131, ISBN 978-3-89994-058-9.
- McLeod, John, ed., Croatian / Serbian / Slovenian Preference, Card Games Website.
- The Danube Swabians play with German-suited cards, but the description uses the equivalent French suits for easy comparison.
- Heli, Richard, Card Games of the Donauschwaben in 18th- and 19th-century Hungary: Preferánsz.
- Foster, Robert Frederick (1909), Foster's Complete Hoyle, New York: Stokes.
- Foster, Robert Frederick, ed. (1922), Hoyle Up-To-Date: The Official Rules of Card Games (26th ed.), Cincinnati: United States Playing Card Company.
- Preference, United States Playing Card Company.
- Depaulis, Thierry, Dissent on the Origin of Preferánsz/Preference, "In spite of its French name Preference is not a French game, and it has been constantly ignored in Western Europe (including Germany and of course Alsace and the Rhineland) and still is. It has always been strictly limited to the eastern part of Europe [...]".
- Vergnügungen der Wiener nach dem Fasching, Der Freimüthige, oder Berlinische Zeitung für gebildete, unbefangene Leser (in German) (58), 12 April 1803: 229.
- Parlett, David (1990), The Oxford guide to card games: a historical survey, Oxford University Press, pp. 208f, ISBN 978-0-19-214165-1, "It has a distinctly Germanic feel about it, and Dummett traces its earliest known description to Das neuestes[sic!] Spielbuch of 1802".
- Neuestes Spielbuch. Nebst einer gründlichen Anweisung zu einer leichten Erlernung des l'Hombre, Quadrille, Cinquille, Whist, Tarok, Patience, Kabale, Homme, Imperial, Triumpf, Piquet, Tressel, Boston, Trictrac, Tokkategli, Kasino, Konnection, Piquesept, Goodhope, Kleeblatt, Kriegs, Schach, Ball, Pielkentafel, Verkehren im Brettspiel, Billard, Neuen englischen Billard, Republik, und deutschen Kegelspiel; sammt den Ausdrücken deren man sich bey diesen Spielen bedienet (in German), Wien: Edler von Mößle, 1802.
- Depaulis, Thierry, Dissent on the Origin of Preferánsz/Preference, "Dummett made a confusion between two game books. Finally it is in the 1829 edition that the first rules of Preference are printed".
- Parlett, David (2008), The Penguin Book of Card Games (3rd ed.), Penguin Books, pp. 67–76, ISBN 978-0-14-103787-5, "Preference has long been popular in Austria, and can be traced back to about 1820".
- Krünitz, Johann Georg, ed. (1846), "Türkei", Oekonomische Encyklopädie 189, p. 552.