Biritch, or Russian Whist

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Biritch, or Russian Whist  (1886) 
by John Collinson

Transcriber's Commentary This is the earliest known description of a form of the game of bridge. Modern writers usually refer to this obsolete form of the game as straight bridge or bridge-whist.

Only a few original copies of this document are extant. This transcript was taken from the one at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University. The author's name does not appear on it, but apparently he was one John Collinson (November 7, 1842 – April 21, 1922); some details about his life can be found in the article First Steps of Bridge in the West: Collinson's 'Biritch' by Thierry Depaulis and Jac Fuchs, in The Playing-Card, volume 32, number 2. The Bodleian's catalog shows the author's name as J. Collinson, and their date stamp reads 23 OCT 86 (meaning 1886).

The document does not have any of the physical forms that we would expect today. It is actually a miniature bound book, containing 56 pages (28 sheets) of paper about 3 by 5 inches between fairly hard covers. The covers are plain brown with no writing visible; the spine is covered with the library's tape (on which they have written the title, a catalog number, and the date 1886). Of the 56 pages, only 4 have anything printed on them — the first 2 and the last 50 are blank.

Spelling, punctuation, normal capitalization, and italics are reproduced verbatim. Outside of headings, boldface on this page represents (capital and) small capital letters in the original. Headings in the original are centered, which the wiki markup does not support, and below the main title in the original is a decorative line of Maltese crosses. Tables are reproduced as monospaced text in order to protect the alignment (perhaps someone better at HTML tables could convert them to that form). Ditto marks in the tables in the original take a form resembling a double comma, or a closing double quote moved down to the baseline, and hence are shown as double commas here.

The original document and this transcription are in the public domain.



The value of the cards is the same as at short whist.

Tricks are taken in the same manner, and the odd tricks, over and above six, are counted as at short whist.


There are four players as at short whist, the cutting for partners, shuffling and dealing is the same, except that no card is turned up for trumps.

The dealer, after the cards have been looked at, has the option of declaring the suit he elects for trumps, or of saying "pass," in which latter case his partner must declare a suit for trumps.

In either case of the dealer or his partner declaring, the one declaring may, instead of declaring trumps, say "biritch," which means that the hands shall be played without trumps.

After the declaration of trumps, or "biritch," either of the adversaries may say "contre," in which case the value of all tricks taken is doubled, the dealer or his partner may however thereupon say "sur contre," in which latter case the value of all the tricks taken is quadrupled, and so on ad infinitum the doubling of the last established value may go on until one side ceases to call a "sur" to the previous "sur contreing."

When the declaration has been made, and the "contreing" and "sur contreing" (if any) have ceased, the person to the left of the dealer leads a card.

Then the partner of the dealer exposes all his cards, on the table, which are played by the dealer as at Dummy Whist.

No suggestions as to play may be made by the one standing out (Dummy) to the dealer.

A revoke counts the same as at Short Whist, but the exposed hand cannot revoke.

A misdeal does not change the deal, but in such cases the cards must be re-shuffled, re-cut, and re-dealt.

After each rubber there is a fresh cut for partners.


A game is won by the first side which scores in play 30 points. The honours do not score towards the game.

The Rubber consists, as at Short Whist, of two games out of three.


The odd tricks count as follows:--

      If "Biritch" is declared   .  .  .  .  each 10 points.
      ,, "Hearts" are made trumps      .  .   ,,   8   ,,
      ,, "Diamonds"    ,,    ,,        .  .   ,,   6   ,,
      ,, "Clubs"       ,,    ,,        .  .   ,,   4   ,,
      ,, "Spades"      ,,    ,,        .  .   ,,   2   ,,

If all the tricks are taken by one side they add 40 extra points. This is called "Grand Slamm."

If all the tricks but one are taken by one side they add 20 extra points. This is called "Petit Slamm."

The winners of each rubber add 40 points to their score. This is called "Consolation."

There are four honours if "Biritch" is declared, which are the four aces.

Equality in aces counts nothing.

             3 aces  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  = 3 tricks.
             4  ,,      .  .  .  .  .  .  = 4   ,,
             4  ,,  in one hand  .  .  .  = 8   ,,

There are five honours, viz:--Ace, King, Queen, Knave and Ten, if trumps are declared.

             Simple honours (3)  .  .  = 2 tricks.
             4        ,,      .  .  .  = 4   ,,
             4        ,, (in one hand) = 8   ,,
             5        ,,   .  .  .  .  = 1 trick
                 additional to the score for four honours.

The honour points are of equal value to the other points, except that they do not affect the games or rubbers, and are not doubled by a "contre."

If one hand has no trumps (trumps having been declared) his side, in the case of it scoring honours, adds the value of simple honours to its honour score, or, in the case of the other side scoring honours, the value of simple honours is deducted from the latter's score. This is called "Chicane."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1922, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.