Uncle Garabed’s Notebook

Skambil/Ooshli Oyin

Iskambil is a Turkish term for a playing card or the name of a card game. Dikranagerdtsis use the term skambel for playing cards, and the term Ooshli Oyin for the game others call skambil. Ooshli is a corruption of uchli, Turkish for trey or three-spot, which is the highest ranking card in the game. Billi is a corruption of birli, Turkish for the ace or one-spot, the second highest ranking card in the game. Ikili is Turkish for the deuce or two-spot, the third highest ranking card in the game. Oyin is a corruption of oyun, Turkish for game, play.

Partnership game with 4 or 6 players. Partners sit opposite each other if 4 play;
interspersed alternatingly if 6 play. See diagram below.

                   B                                                                          A

A                                   A                                         B                         B

                 B                                                               A                        A


Using a bridge deck of 52 playing cards, 4s, 5s, and 6s are removed if 4 play, for a total of 40 cards. However, 4s, 5s, and two 6s are removed if 6 play, for a total of 42 cards.
Initial dealer selected arbitrarily. Dealer deals out 3 cards, one at a time, to each player, starting with the player to his left, and moving clockwise. He then turns a card face up and places it in the center of the table, with the remaining cards constituting a draw pack placed alongside the turned-up card. The suit of the card placed face up is trump.
Cards are ranked as follows, from highest to lowest: Trey, ace, deuce, king, queen, jack, 10–7 (or 6).
The partners exchange hands, without revealing them to the opposition, to see what they possess before the beginning of play, and then return them to the original owners. With 6 players, hands are passed to the partners to the left, and once again before being returned to the original owners.
Play begins by the player to the left of the dealer playing a card of his choice. Other players follow the suit led, playing clockwise, with a card of like suit. If a player is void of a card in the suit led, he can play any card of his choice, even trump, if desired.
The card of highest value, or trump, takes the trick, and one player of the partnership collects the cards for his side. After the round is complete, the players replenish their hands with a card drawn from the draw pile (face down), beginning with the winner of the previous trick. Play continues in this fashion until the draw pile is exhausted, with the face up trump card being drawn by the last player to draw. At this time, before the last three cards are played, the partners again exchange hands so as to know their partners’ holdings.

After the final play, preliminary points are added up with the following values:
Trey = 30 points
Ace = 11 points
Deuce = 10 points
King = 4 points
Queen = 3 points
Jack = 2 points
Total 60 points x 4 = 240 preliminary points

The foregoing translate into the following game points:
120 preliminary points yield 1 game point for each side;
121 preliminary points yield 1 game point for winning side;
161 preliminary points yield 2 game points for winning side.

A second round of play commences with the deal passing to the player at the left of the previous dealer. Play continues in this fashion until one side reaches a total of 11 (or 21) game points.

The scoring for the Dikranagerdtsi version is somewhat simpler, as follows:
Trey = 3 points
Ace = 1 point
Deuce = 1 point
Total 5 points x 4 = 20 preliminary points
Note: Face cards (kings, queens, jacks) are not counted.

The foregoing translate into the following game points:
10 preliminary points yield 1 game point for each side;
11 preliminary points yield 1 game point for winning side;
13 preliminary points yield 2 game points for winning side;
Final winner is the team that first reaches a total of 7.

Notes on secret signals between partners:
Blinking one eye: Possesses ace of trumps
Blinking both eyes: Possesses deuce of trumps
Sticking out tongue: Possesses trey of trumps
Moving jaw side to side: Possesses king of trumps
Placing tongue in cheek: Possesses queen of trumps
Move a shoulder up and down: Possesses jack of trumps
Jerk head to one side: Possesses outside (non-trump) trey.

Note: Men didn’t usually play the game, preferring Pinochle, unless collared by their wives to make up a foursome.

(Grateful acknowledgement goes to Aram Khatchadourian and Thelma Sarajian for their kind assistance in documenting this time-honored game.)

CK Garabed

CK Garabed

Weekly Columnist
C.K. Garabed (a.k.a. Charles Kasbarian) has been active in the Armenian Church and Armenian community organizations all his life. As a writer and editor, he has been a keen observer of, and outspoken commentator on, political and social matters affecting Armenian Americans. He has been a regular contributor to the Armenian Reporter and the AGBU Literary Quarterly, “ARARAT.” For the last 30 years, Garabed has been a regular contributor to the Armenian Weekly. He produces a weekly column called “Uncle Garabed's Notebook,” in which he presents an assortment of tales, anecdotes, poems, riddles, and trivia; for the past 10 years, each column has contained a deconstruction of an Armenian surname. He believes his greatest accomplishment in life, and his contribution to the Armenian nation, has been the espousing of Aghavni, and the begetting of Antranig and Lucine.
CK Garabed

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  1. Thank you for posting the rules for this card game. My family used to play this years years ago but since we haven’t played in a long time, we forgot how to play. Thank you for posting this.

  2. My cousin and I were trying to remember how to play this card game. We played with our grandparents growing up. Thank You for posting this. I think our grandparents had their own version.

  3. We play professional BRIDGE and we are looking for a BRIDGE card players club in Yerevan.

    If you know any professional clubs or members who play professional BRIDGE, I would be pleased if you could provide.

  4. Thank you for posting this. I used to play this with my grandmother and mother. Such great memories. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the rules, thank you again for providing them.

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