Card games are widely popular around the world, and the Middle East is no exception to that. Although gambling is prohibited in many parts of the region, social card games with friends and family are relatively present.
It’s estimated that in fact, Arabs have started playing card games more than 700 years ago. Taught by Chinese and Middle Eastern traders, until it spread into the western world. This article is going to take a look at a number of card games that you’ll often see played when you visit Middle Eastern countries.
This is arguably the most popular card in the Middle East. It’s a trick-taking game played with a standard 52-card deck and four players – in two teams of two. In essence, it’s a memory and strategy game. Each player gets 13 cards, and then they bid on how many tricks they believe they will win. The team with the highest bid is called the ‘declarer’. Their objective is to take as many tricks as the bid while their opponents try to prevent this.
The players take it in turns to lay one card down. They must follow the suit of the lead card, if possible. Those who don’t have a card from the lead suit can lay any card down. The winner of the trick is the player who puts down the highest trump card or the highest card from the led suit if no trumps are put down.
Mostly played in Egypt, Conquian is usually called Konkan by locals. The game shares several similarities with rummy and 3 card poker in that you must forge a hand into flush draws. A game consists of two players, each with 14 cards. The players then take turns drawing a card from the pile as they build hands with cards of the same face value or the same suit. Each mini hand must contain at least three cards.
Although there are many regional variants of this game, the fundamentals described above will stand you in good stead if you ever sit down for a game.
Baloot is a trick-taking game. It’s played with 32 cards, which are all the 7s, 8s, 9s, 10s, Js, Qs, Ks, and Aces. There are four players involved – once again in two teams of two. There are two systems to Baloot – San and Hokum. The order of the cards (strongest to weakest) differs between these systems. This makes Baloot a little more complicated than Tarneeb, but no less fun. As a testament to its popularity, the Baloot mobile game is one of the most downloaded apps in the Gulf region.
Trex is a four-player compendium game which is widely popular in the Middle East. There are four rounds (one for each player), and each round is made up of five games. A complete round of five games is known as a cycle, where, one-by-one, the players take it in turns to be the ‘King’ and decide which contracts to play.
Whereas most trick-taking games reward players for taking the trick, Trex effectively works in an opposite manner. The player who loses the trick is given a minus score. To add to the interest, there are some danger cards which carry a hefty deduction of points if you’re the unlucky player forced to take those tricks.
We have only introduced four games. Hand, Ashok (Cheating), Estimation, and Kent are a few more that deserve to be talked about, as each has a loyal band of players. One thing is for certain, this region adores its card games, particularly, the strategy-based trick-taking variety.