Written by Howard Fosdick ©

Overview: If you're a bridge player looking for a two-person game, try Jo-Jotte! It was in 1937 by Ely Culbertson, the man who single-handedly popularized Contract Bridge in the 1920’s and 30's. Jo-Jotte is based on Clobyosh, a popular game whose origin is claimed by many cultures. Varieties of Clobyosh are played world-wide under such names as Klaberjass, Kalabrias, Bela, and Darda. As Belote, it is the “national card game” of France.

If you play Bridge, you'll feel right at home in Jo-Jotte. It features a similar scoring system and many familiar concepts. It makes the perfect game for when you have a partner but not a foursome.

If you'd like a game like Jo-Jotte but a bit less complicated, try Klobber-Nuggie. It's our own invention -- a simplified, streamlined version of Jo-Jotte designed for folks unfamiliar with Bridge.

This web page is the most comprehensive on the Internet devoted to Jo-Jotte. Jo-Jotte's sophistication will continue to hold your interest long after you learn it.

Objective: To win a Hand by winning the most points in tricks. Note that tricks, in themselves, are worth nothing. Only specific cards captured in tricks score points.

To win a Game across hands, by being the first player to attain 80 points.

To win a Rubber across games, by being the first player to win two games.

To win the most Rubbers in a sitting, as may be previously agreed upon by the players.

Deck: Jo-Jotte is played with a standard 32-card deck (a 52-card pack with everything below 7's stripped out). The ranks of cards depends on the context in which they are used.

Here are the card rankings, from high card to lowest:

Trump suit in tricks:J-9-A-10-K-Q-8-7
Non-trump suit in tricks:A-10-K-Q-J-9-8-7
For honor melds:A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7

One of the keys to learning Jo-Jotte is learning these (admittedly) unusual card rankings. You may want to print this page handy for quick reference. Or print the handy Scoring Summary chart.

The Deal: The Dealer in the first hand is determined by a single cut of the deck, with the low card being the first Dealer. Thereafter, the deal alternates between the two players.

Dealer deals 6 cards to each player (3 plus 3).The 13th card is turned face up and placed next to the remainder of the deck.

Bidding: Bidding now commences. The player who "wins" the Bid dictates the trump suit. In return, he is bound to win the bid by scoring the most points in the hand (or else suffer a penalty).

Bidding proceeds as follows until a suit is nominated as trump:

  1. Non-dealer may accept the suit of the turned-up card as the Trump. Or, he may pass.
  2. Dealer may accept the turned-up card as the Trump Suit. Or, he may pass.
  3. Non-dealer may name any other suit as Trump. Or, he may name No-trump. Or, or he may pass.
  4. Dealer may name any other suit as Trump. Or, he may name No-trump. Or, he may pass.
  5. If no trump suit has been named, the deal is thrown in and the next deal goes to the non-dealer.

A bid to win at "No-trump" means that no suit will be a trump suit, and that the hand will be played without any trumps.

A trump suit once named may be overcalled subsequently by a bid of "No-trump" by the opposing player.

Any successful bid (called the contract) can be Doubled, and any Double may be Redoubled. These calls double or quadruple (respectively) the final score of the hand.

Bidding: Once the trump suit (or no-trump) has been selected and doubled or passed, the Dealer deals three more cards to each player. Each player now has a hand of nine cards.

The Dealer then turns up the bottom card in the deck face-up and places it on top of the deck. This card is the Information Card-- like the card turned-up previously as a possible trump, this card takes no part in the play of the hand. These two face-up cards together provide both players with information as to what cards are not in either players' hand.

After the draw, the Defender (the person who did not win the bid), may-- declare his intention to bid Nullo, if desired. He may then declare his Honor Meld, if any. Or he may just pass.

The Declarer (the person who won the bid), may then-- bid a Slam, if desired, and declare his Honor Meld, if any.

A Nullo bid is a bid to not to win even a single trick, and it is always played at "No-trump," i.e., without any suit as Trump. A Slam is a bid to win every trick. Like the Nullo bid, it gives the declarer a special bonus if he succeeds, or a penalty if he fails. Should the Defender declare Nullo and the Declarer bid Slam, the Slam bid overrides the Nullo bid.

Nullo and Slam bids are not common, as they require unusual hands to be successful. But their existence in Jo-Jotte provides plenty of excitement when a player does make one of these special bids.

Whether or not a player makes either of these special bids, he may declare for Honor Melds, as described below.

Honor Melds: Honor Melds are special combinations of cards that give points to the person who shows them to his opponent. Honor Melds are declared and scored after The Draw but prior to the play of the hand to tricks.

There are two classes of Honor Melds:

Class A      Four of a Kind      100 points

(Card rank for Trump Contracts: J, 9, A, 10, K, Q)
(Card Rank for No-Trump Contracts: A, 10, K, Q, J)

Class B      Sequences

Run of three (in same suit)  20 points
Run of four (in same suit)    40 points
Run of five (in same suit)    50 points

(Card rank for Sequences is: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7)

In a particular hand, only one player may score for Honor Meld(s) in each Class. The player who has the higher meld in that Class gets to score. For Class A melds, if both players claim this, the player who states the higher cards (as per the above rank) is the one who gets to score. For Sequences, the player who has the longer run gets to score. If both players have the same length of run, the player whose highest card is higher gets to score. If two sequences are of equal length and both have the same high card, the trump sequence, if any, wins. To determine who gets to score for melds, the players interrogate each other concerning the details of their melds in the order described in this paragraph, until it is clear who wins the declaration in each Class. The winner then must display the cards constituting the meld(s) to his opponent.

Although only one player gets to declare in each Class, he may display and score for more than one meld in that Class. For example, if a player has more than one Sequence he could display and score for both of them in the hand.

It is not required that players display and score their melds. Melding has the advantage of scoring points, but the disadvantage of providing information to the opponent. There may be times when a player decides he would rather not show cards to his opponent and therefore passes up the opportunity to score honors.

The 7 of Trumps (the "Dix"): If the suit of the turn-up card was accepted as Trump by either player, the player who holds the 7 of trump in his hand has the option of exchanging it for the turn-up card. He may do this any time after The Draw but before the play of the hand to tricks. He can only do this if he has not used the 7 of trump in an Honors Meld declaration.

Since the 7 is the lowest trump, this rule allows the player holding this card to improve his hand by exchanging it for a known trump. Where the turn-up is a high-ranking trump (like the Jack or the 9), holding the dix can be significant.

The Play: After melds have been declared (if any), and the special bids Nullo and Slam have been declared (or passed), trick play begins.

The Defender (the player who did not win the bid) leads a card to the first trick. The other player then plays a card. The winner of one trick always leads to the next.

The rules of following a card to a lead are as follows:

  • The non-leader must follow suit, if possible
  • If he cannot follow suit, he must trump, if able
  • A trump lead must be won, if possible

The rules of winning a trick are as follows:

  • For two non-trump cards, the higher card of the suit led wins
  • For two trump cards, the higher trump wins
  • For a non-trump card and a trump card, the trump card wins

See the section on "The Deck" above for the relative rankings of cards in trump and non-trump suits.

Scoring: Jo-Jotte features a Bridge-like scoring system.

All points are recorded as scored either above the line or below the line. Only points scored Below the Line count towards the Game Score.

Each player's points for Honor Melds (if any) are scored in his own column Above the Line.

After all nine tricks have been played, each player adds his Trick Score and Honor Meld Score together. The Trick Score and the Honor Meld in Score added together are referred to as the player's Total Score.

You determine the Trick Score from cards won tricks, according to their point value in the chart below.

If the Declarer has the higher Total Score, he scores his Trick Score Below the Line (towards the Game total), and the Defender writes his Trick Score Above the Line. If the Defender has the higher Total Score, he adds Declarer's Trick Score to his own, and scores the total Below the Line. Only one player will score points Below The Line after any given hand.

On any Doubled contract, the player with the higher Total Score receives the two players' combined Trick Score, at twice their regular value, Below the Line. On any contract that was Redoubled, this same procedure is followed, but the combined Trick Score is rated at four times its regular value.

Trick-Score Count: Cards taken in tricks have these values:

Jack of Trumps 20
9 of Trumps 15
Any Ace 10
Any 10 10
Any King   5
Any Queen   5
Winning the last trick
(except at Nullo)
Jo-Jotte (see below) 20

These values are doubled in the cased of a Doubled Contract, or quadrupled in the case of a Redoubled Contract..

Scoring for Jo-Jotte: The scoring declaration called Jo-Jotte is the King and Queen of Trumps. It is scored as part of the Trick Score. This only happens if:.

  • One player has both these cards
  • There is a trump suit
  • These two cards are both members of the trump suit
  • The announcement of "Jo" - "Jotte" is properly made

The player who holds the King and Queen of trump must do the following to receive the 20 points for them. He must play the King before he plays the Queen. When playing the King, he must announce "Jo." When playing the Queen, he must say "Jotte." If these announcements are not made, no points are awarded. The player does not have to win the tricks to which these cards are made in order to score the 20 points..

The Role of Honor Melds in Scoring: What role do Honors Melds play in scoring? First, when a player wins the right to display a meld to his opponent, the points for those meld(s) are immediately scored to him Above the Line. Regardless of who wins the hand, these points remain in his column Above the Line and cannot be lost..

Second, remember that a player's Total Score consists of his Trick Score added to any points he scored as a result of Honor Melds prior to trick play. So melds play a key role in determining who has the higher Total Score and thus who wins the hand..

Scoring for Nullo and Slam Bids: Nullo and Slam are special bids with their own unique scoring. Nullo is a bid to lose every trick at no-trump. Slam is a bid to win every trick using a suit nominated by the Declarer. If both Nullo and Slam are bid, the Slam contract takes precedence..

Special scoring applies to the case of a Nullo contract. All cards used in play are counted at their no-trump value (and the 10 points otherwise awarded for winning the last trick is not counted). These points are then put in prison (typically designated by writing them on the scoring pad in a circle). Points put in prison are won by whomever wins the next hand. This player must score them Above the Line..

The exact same procedure is followed in the event of a tie Total Score when a regular bid is made. Points are put in prison and won by the winner of the next hand, who scores them Above the Line..

Bonus(es) are also scored as a result of a Nullo contract. If the Declarer is successful and manages to lose every trick, he scores a bonus of 200 points. This goes in his column Above the Line. If he is unsuccessful in his bid, his opponent scores 200 points Above the Line for the first trick he forces the Declarer to win, and a further Above the Line bonus of 100 points for each additional trick won by the Declarer..

When a player wins a Slam (all tricks) but has not bid it, he scores an extra 100 point bonus. When a player bids a Slam and wins all tricks, he scores a 500 point bonus. If a player bids a Slam and loses one trick (or more), he has lost his bid regardless of the actual Total Scores. In this case, the Defender scores the combined Trick Scores of both players Above The Line. The Defender can only score points Below the Line if he actually attained a higher Total Score than the Declarer (very rare when the Declarer has bid a Slam)..

Bonus points for both unbid and bid Slams are scored Above the Line..

Scoring Game and Rubber: The first player to achieve 80 points across hand(s) wins Game. The first player to win two Games wins the Rubber. The winner of the Rubber scores a 300 point bonus.

Players typically play until one of them wins some previously-agreed-upon number of Rubbers.

Sources: Summaries of Jo-Jotte are rare. This forces you to go to the original source for further information: Jo-Jotte by Ely Culbertson (Winston: Chicago, 1937). This 160-page book contains a general description of the game, chapters on strategy and special bids, a tutorial including sample hands, and the Official Rules to the game. You can often find an original copy very inexpensively at any used bookstore on the web.

In contrast to Mr. Culbertson's tremendous success in popularizing Contract Bridge, Jo-Jotte died stillborn. The game is sophisticated and great fun, but its creator did not put the same effort into popularizing it as he did Contract Bridge.

Culbertson led a fascinating life, encompassing everything from participation in the Russian Revolution, to single-handedly popularizing Contract Bridge, to testifying before Congress with a world peace plan. Read his biography here.

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License: Feel free to print, copy, and distribute these rules, so long as you retain this paragraph. Written by Howard Fosdick © 2023, distributed under Creative Commons License BY-ND.      HOME