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Contract belote and the Regina system

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What is the Regina System?

At contract belote, the bidding goes through several rounds, during which each player can declare a contract height (a number of points to make) and a suit (which will serve as trumps). Declaring 110 Spades is then committing yourself to making 110 points (or 112 points depending on the rule used) with Spades as trumps. Overbidding being allowed, there can be as many rounds of bidding as necessary, until a contract is followed by 3 Passes. The only requirement to overbid is to declare a higher contract height than the previous one.

As in bridge, contract belote players have developed bidding systems, some of which can be very sophisticated. In Bel Atout, a simple and easy-to-remember system has been implemented. It is called the Regina system. It essentially consists of 4 openings (an opening being the first bid other than Pass):

  • 80: The 80 opening promises a rather weak suit, generally 3 trumps with a high one (Jack or 9). The bid may promise 2 Aces depending on the chosen strategy option.

  • 90: The 90 opening promises a fairly strong suit, with at least 3 trumps headed by J9. When the 80 (two Aces) option is on, the 90 opening even promises J9A or J9xx.

  • 100: The 100 opening promises a strong but incomplete suit, usually Jxxx or 9xxx. The bid also promises additional values, but without specifying which ones.

  • 110: The 110 opening promises a strong suit of the J9A10 type, with total control of trumps. The bid also promises additional values, but without specifying which ones.

Each opening therefore has a precise meaning about the minimum it promises. But as the player must also be more or less able to win the contract on his own, this promise often comes with additional values (especially for high contracts). Thus, to open 100 with Jxxx, it is better to have an Ace in the side suits, or the Belote meld, or a fifth trump, or any other value allowing to hope to make 4 tricks. To open 110, a player must have the potential to win at least 5 tricks.


Learn to master these 4 openings by practicing on the small prepared games of the Contract Belote - Beginner 1 page.

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A question and response system

By his opening bid, the opener does not just describe his hand. He also asks a question to his partner, who then becomes the responder. For example, the two openings 80 and 100 ask about the presence of a high trump (Jack or 9). The responder bids +10 in the opening suit if he has the requested high trump, and may also add +10 per Ace in the other suits. The other two openings (90 and 110), which do not need values in the trump suit, ask the responder directly if he has any Ace in the side suits. This one overbids by adding +10 per Ace excluding the trump suit. This way, players can explore capot possibilities, while declaring reasonable contracts.

Contract belote players rarely resist the urge to declare a nice capot (a contract of 8 tricks). A capot scores more points (especially if in the rule preferences of Bel Atout a bonus has been set for a capot bid and made). But above all, it is a lot of fun when it is cleverly declared and well played afterwards. To bid a capot, you must at least check that:

  1. Your team has enough high trumps to draw all the opposing trumps.

  2. Your team has the adequate number of Aces so as not to lose an immediate trick (according to the opening lead).

  3. Your team has a total of 8 tricks, counting trumps, aces and sometimes 10s or length tricks.

To verify these different requirements, the declarer (the one who declared the suit first) and the responder (his partner) exchange information in the form of questions and responses. They check whether the high trumps are present, whether the number of side aces is satisfactory, and sometimes if there are any side 10s. This little bidding dialogue will stop as soon as one of the essential elements for a capot is missing. Here are two examples, in which it will be assumed that the opponents just pass:

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Example 1

North opens 110

I have full control of trumps in Spades, how many non-trump aces do you have?

South responds 120

I have one non-trump Ace.

North rebids 130

A capot still seems possible to me, how many non-singleton 10s do you have in side suits?

South responds 140

I have one non-singleton 10 in a side suit.

North bids 250

This is a sign off, unless South has the belote meld, in which case he will say 270 Spades.

Example 2

North opens 100

I have 1 high trump and 4 cards in Diamonds, plus side values. Do you have the missing high trump, and if so, do you have non-trump aces?

South passes

He has one non-trump Ace but no high trump. A capot is therefore very doubtful. And his ace in a side suit will not be too much to ensure the 100 contract.

In these two short dialogues, we see that it is North who is declarer and leads the bidding. In example 1, when he makes a rebid (he overbids his own suit by +10), he signals to the responder that a capot is still possible, and he asks him the following question.

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Tooltips to help you to bid

To make the bidding easier for you, Bel Atout offers help in the form of tooltips that describe what each bid promises and asks for. These tooltips are displayed by moving the mouse cursor over a bid in the bidding box, or over a bid on the table. Thus, to play, you do not need to learn the Regina system by heart. You make use of the tooltips and over time, without realizing it, you will end up memorizing the main bids of the system.

Bel Atout - Bidding 1

In Bel Atout, the tooltips of contract belote help you to bid.

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Take the time to read the tooltips of the different bids, in order to ask the right questions to your partner and to fully understand what he responds to you. And if he is the captain of the bidding, do not make mistakes in your responses, because any inaccuracy on your part may lead him to declare a bad contract or make mistakes during the card play.
  • My partner plays a low trump under his Jack and the opponent wins with his singleton 9!
    It's probably because you promised the 9 of trumps when you didn't have it.

  • My partner bids infeasible capots!
    It's probably because you promised aces that you didn't have.

  • My partner does not see my signals!
    It's probably because you denied having aces when you had some.

  • I bid 80 but my partner does not lead a trump!
    With your 80 opening, you show a weak suit, sometimes without the Jack. If he has the opening lead, your partner will leave you the initiative to draw trumps (unless he is sure he can help you by leading a trump). Do not open 80 when you have a strong hand. If you want to be sure that your partner leads a trump, open at least 90.

  • My partner bids a new suit over my 80 and he goes down!
    It's the same thing. With your 80, you show a weak suit. If your partner has no card in the trump suit you propose, and he has Jxx in another suit, he will attempt a 90 rescue bid to get you out of what he thinks is a tight spot. You will have the impression that he is intentionally ruining this pretty deal where you had a very strong trump suit in your hand. But your partner does not see your cards. He relies on the meaning of your first bid. If you want to reassure him and impose your suit on him, choose another opening.

Pay close attention to the meaning of each of your bids. To get along better with your partner, enable the comparison on the bidding and the card play (even temporarily). This is the best way to spot misunderstandings between North and you. Note that since version 5.90 of Bel Atout, a warning system helps you to avoid misleading your partner too much. If you are about to make a bid that does not match your hand, a warning window explains the situation and allows you to reconsider your decision. The introduction to the Regina system is thus facilitated. Warnings (critical, strong and weak) are activated in the general preferences on the Play / Warnings page.

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Improve your bidding to make more capots

Competitive bidding

In the Regina system, it is necessary to make the difference between competitive bidding situations and one-side bidding situations. In competitive bidding, both teams speak in turn, and therefore compete to decide the final contract. It is a bidding fight to win the contract or push the opponent to a contract height in which he risks going down. The opposing bids reduce the number of levels available, which makes dialogue between partners much more difficult. It is very often necessary to give up the idea of declaring a capot, because the most important thing is then to win the final contract. Here is a common example:

Example 3

North opens 90
The next opponent bids 100
South overbids 110

In this sequence, South tries to win the contract in Spades. He shows support for his partner's suit. He may have 2 Aces, or 1 Ace and some trumps, or the belote meld, etc. He thinks his team can win 110 Spades. For him, it's the final contract if the opponent does not overbid. His partner will never be able to know what he has exactly. If it's two Aces, he may be able to bid a capot, but it will be impossible for him to know.

In Bel Atout, the overbids that "stick" to the last opponent's bid are called strength bids. They show sufficient strength to hope to make the declared contract, but have no precise meaning. In the example above, South's 110 does not show two Aces. On the other hand, if he jumps one level by bidding 120 Spades, then his bid would become "free" and would regain its codified meaning, namely the promise of 3 Aces. But it is quite rare, in competitive bidding, to be able to jump a level.


Learn to master the competitive bidding by practicing on the small prepared games of the Contract Belote - Beginner 2 page.

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One-side bidding

In the simplest case of one-side bidding, the opponents are silent and only your team takes part in the bidding. As your team will inevitably win the contract, it is no longer essential to overbid and, with no hope for capot, you will seek to stop at the lowest level. What's the point of raising the contract by 10 or 20 points, if you can't reach a capot? Sometimes you risk losing more than 200 points for wanting to score 10 more. It's not a good bet. After all, opponents may have long trumps, ruffs, unexpected strength, etc. It is better to stay at the lowest level, as in the example below:

Example 4

North opens 100
The opponent pass
South passes too

In this sequence, South does not have a high trump to be able to hope for a capot. And even if he has an Ace, or 3 trumps, or the belote meld for example, he has no interest in raising the contract to put his team in danger. His values will be a good surprise for his partner. He must pass.

In the one-side bidding, you must therefore pay close attention to the precise meaning of each bid. Because otherwise, your partner North risks making huge mistakes both in the choice of contract and in the card play. For example, if South freely responds 110 over a 90 when he only has the belote meld, North will think that he has 2 Aces and will perhaps bid a capot. Expect spectacular failures! But if you follow the Regina system well, you should be able to avoid these big misunderstandings.

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Why are there many more capots for East-West?

I reassure you, the deals being completely random, there are not many more capots for East-West. But what often happens is that some capots are not declared by North-South, even though they were easily accessible. If the user seated South does not use all the resources of the Regina system, if he does not ask the right questions, or if he does not respond rigorously to the questions of his partner North, then it is normal that his team declares far fewer capots than machine players do in the East-West line. Here are the most common examples:

  • South (user) has J9xx in Clubs and Ace-10 in a side suit. By mistake he opens 100.
  • North, who has 2 Aces, passes since he does not have the high trump requested by the 100 opening.

    The team misses a capot maybe very easy to play, after a badly chosen opening which does not ask the right question (the 90 opening, which asks for Aces, was more judicious).

  • North opens 110 (full control of trumps, asks for Aces).
  • South (user), who has 2 Aces, prefers to be cautious and bids 120 (only 1 Ace).
  • North goes no further. He passes because he is missing 1 Ace.

    Again, the team may be missing an obvious capot in the North-South line, due to an overly cautious response from South. You have to trust the bidding system. If the 110 opening is correctly declared, it promises the equivalent of 5 tricks. The two Aces add 2 tricks for a total of 7: the 130 contract must win.

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More successful capots for East-West

But you might say, all right, the North-South team did not declare certain capots. But those capots, it should have at least played them. The trumps are there, the Aces are the same. The team should have made these capots while not bidding them.

Well, no, not always. Some capots can only be made if they have been declared. Contrary to what we sometimes think, capots are not all trivial. It is not always enough to draw trumps and cash tricks. Some of them must be played very well. And to play them well, you often have to bid them. The best way to describe these capots that cannot be made without bidding them is to give a simple and relatively frequent example. North opened the bidding (he will have the opening lead). He passed, the next opponent too. And here is South's hand:

Contract belote - Hand to open 100
  • South opens 100
    Promises Jxxx or 9xxx + values, asks for a high trump (+10), and if present for Aces (+10 per Ace).

  • North responds 120
    Promises 1 high trump + 1 Ace in a side suit.

For South, who now knows that North holds the trump Jack and the Diamond Ace, it is clear that a capot is possible. North will open the lead with his Jack of trumps. If he then cashes his Ace of Diamonds, South will discard his 7 of Hearts (his only loser). He will get the lead back and the capot will be cold. Yes, but if North returns a trump after his Jack? If at the start he has two trumps and an opponent discards on the first trick, he may think that there is still an opposing trump out. And the normal play is then to return a trump, to avoid the ruff of the Ace of Diamonds if South has for example 10-8 in the suit. And as a result, the capot will fail because South, back on lead with the 9 of trumps, will no longer be able to entry North's hand, and will remain with his losing 7 of Hearts. It will be necessary to rely on the doubleton 10 in North (low chance). Too bad, while this capot seems very easy to make.

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Relay capots

At contract belote, there are two bidding levels that are rarely used: 160 (equivalent to 140 plus the belote meld) and 170 (equivalent to 150 plus the belote meld). In the Regina system, these two levels are used as conventional bids and are called relay capots. The easiest to understand is the 170 relay capot. It asks partner to bid 250, and to cash his Aces as soon as he has the lead (with the exception of his master and unbeatable trumps he will be allowed to play first, if he deems it useful).

In our example above, this is exactly the bid we need. Here is the complete sequence:

Example 5

South opens 100

Promises Jxxx or 9xxx + values, asks for a high trump (+10), and if present for Aces (+10 per Ace).

North responds 120

Promises 1 high trump + 1 Ace in a side suit.

South bids 170

Relay capot asking for the 250 bid, then priority play of Aces.

North obeys and bids 250

Once the bidding is over, North plays his Jack of trumps. Then, as requested by his partner, he cashes his Ace of Diamonds. The risk of ruff is then very low (South has none). And the rest of the capot is obvious.

It is clear that if the user does not know the 170 relay capot (and some other bids requiring precise opening leads), he will not be able to declare such capots. And that if despite everything he bids them in a classic way, they will probably fail for not having been played correctly. Hence the quite understandable difference between the number of capots made by East-West, and those made by North-South.

For the above sequence to be possible, both the Allow the 170 bid and Use relay capots rule preferences must be enabled. If 170 is not allowed, you can still use the 160 bid as a relay capot instead of 170.


Learn to master the capot bidding by practicing on the small prepared games of the Contract Belote - Advanced 1 page.

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Bel Atout - Bidding 2

In Bel Atout, tooltips explain how the relay capot works.

In the deal above, North bids the 170 relay capot which asks South to bid 250 Spades, while respecting the opening lead instructions. South will first play his Jack of trumps, to limit the risk of ruff while keeping the lead. Then he will cash his Ace of Diamonds as North asked him. And it is only afterwards that he will return a low trump to his partner, for a well bid and perfectly played capot! Now, it's your turn to do the same!

If this style of play tempts you, hurry up and download Bel Atout. It's a free and unlimited game that will allow you to train and improve your playing technique, to become the contract belote player you've always dreamed of being!

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