Oral traditions and their expressions, including language as a vehicle of intangible cultural heritage
Latvian card game zolīte (2021)
Zolīte, zole, rarely - revelīts.
Zolīte is played throughout Latvia and also in diaspora – Latvian communities outside Latvia.
In Latvia the players of zolīte are mainly Latvians, but it has been observed that zolīte is also played by representatives of other nationalities. The zolīte players play from early youth to old age, from students to well-known people. Most of the community is composed of men aged 35-65. The community of zolīte are people who are united by the wish to have a good time by playing a game that makes it possible to involve and exercise the mind, think, stimulate the memory, and have a fun time. Playing zolīte can be a family tradition, an activity within work or hobby collectives, as the community consists both of hobby-level players and professionals that have united in zolīte clubs. The Latvian Zolīte Federation has a significant role in maintaining the tradition. The most professional zolīte players have joined and actively participate in the in-person zolīte tournaments organised by the Latvian Zolīte Federation (LZF). Each year, the LZF organises the Latvian Zolīte championship, which brings together the best players of the zolīte community (~120-150). In recent years, online play options have played a large role in maintaining the zolīte tradition. There are multiple online sites that offer the opportunity to play zolīte online - one such site is www.zolmaniem.lv, which gathers the players for whom online play is more convenient. Additionally, zolmaniem.lv also plays a role in the community by organising online zolīte tournaments, and collaborates with multiple Latvian municipalities, thus increasing the visibility of online zolīte tournaments as a good and valuable way of spending time that players from across Latvia use. There are multiple zolīte clubs, for example, the Riga Zolīte Club, the Riga Latvian Society Zolīte Club etc.
Importance in Community Life
Zolīte in Latvian society is regarded as a Latvian card game. Amongst the zolīte players, it has earned the title of the Latvian national card game.
There are skill- and luck-based card games; zolīte is a skill-based game because to win, a player needs good playing skills and a sharp mind more than luck.
This card game is known not only as zole, but also zolīte and used to also be called revelīts, as mentioned in Emanuel Lasker’s 1931 book Card Games. It is not exactly known when the game was first played in Latvia; however, it is clear that the game belongs to the German card game class Schafkopf (games of this class have certain trump cards - all queens or all jacks, or sometimes both - that are stronger than all other trump cards.)
This unique way of playing with 26 cards is characteristic only of the Latvian zolīte.
Zolīte is a special skill-based card game which has a unique set of rules that are not characteristic of any other skill-based card game. Zolīte plays a lot of roles in society, with the main one being the opportunity for people of different generations and genders to spend time together well. Similarly to the English game of Bridge, zolīte is a skill-based card game so the players of zolīte sharpen their mind, improve their memory and develop their logical and analytic thinking while playing - these aspects are valuable and important both in youth (for developing the mind) and old age (maintaining mental clarity), while simultaneously having fun, of course, and encouraging the player to exchange of playing skills with both familiar people and strangers.
Zolīte is a game for sharpening the mind, not playing for money. Zolīte is a skill-based card game and, according to the Gambling and Lottery Law of the Republic of Latvia, is not considered to be a gambling game - this is also confirmed by the gambling and lottery inspection.
Usually, zolīte is played by 3-4 people and 26 cards are used from the deck. Zolīte is mainly played at home (amongst family or friends), in different tournaments or competitions, as well as online (including online tournaments).
In-person tournaments fall under one of two categories:
1) Rating tournaments organised by the Latvian Zolite Federation. Such tournaments take place nearly every weekend and the tournament dates and details are published on the LZF homepage www.zolei.lv. Altogether, around 400 players participate in the rating tournaments, and these people can be considered the active representatives of this mind sport. The following tournaments are traditionally held each year: The A and B finals of the Latvian Championship; The Latvian Zolite Federation TOP 50 zolite tournament; the commemorative tournament of the zolite professor Edgars Tarānovs; The Grand Celebration Tournament in Valka, and many others.
2) Other tournaments that are classified as hobby tournaments, not rating tournaments, like the Carnikava Lamprey Festival Zolite Cup; the Olaine Zolite Championship, tha Garkalne Municipality Zolite Championship; the More Open Zolite Championship, and many others. championship”, and many others.
The Latvian Zolite Championship is organized every year in December by the LZF. The federation offers a set number of highest ranking players of the Latvian zolite player ranking system a chance to participate in this championship, which is held in two stages. Stage B invites all players ranked within the top 200, and 30 players from this group then earn the opportunity to participate in stage A or the finals of the championship, which has a total of 50 participanrs (30 from stage B and all players that hold the title of zolite master or grandmaster.) The zolite rating system gives each player points for certain accomplishments in zolite tournaments that have been organised in coordination with the LZF. These LZF tournaments have additional criteria that need to be met for top ranking participants to earn points. For example, the tournament must abide by the rules of the minimum number of players in the tournament, the allowed number of stages, and games to be played in each stage, and other prerequisites. Therefore, the tournament organisers are recommended to communicate with the LZF in a timely manner and to obtain the necessary co-ordinations so that the results obtained by the intended zolite tournament players are listed in the common zolite rating system. The Latvian zole championship and most of the tournaments co-ordinated with the LZF play the so-called classic zolite – which means that the zole is played with pules, without “minors”, and without all kinds of dark "zoles".
Some notable people are also known to organise private tournaments, such as the Līgo zolite tournament organised by Raimonds Gerkens. (The annex contains interviews with different participants of the 2015 tournament).
Beliefs, Rituals, Unwritten Rules
There are several beliefs and rituals, but they are mostly held by each player individually and thus most often not disclosed to others, for example, to ensure luck in the tournament, the player must carry their lucky deck in their pocket, or at least one article of clothing must contain playing card symbols.
There are some unwritten zolīte rules, i.e. if while playing the game the “major” (one player who in the specific game is playing against the other players) loses in “jaņi” (a special type of loss in zolīte when the “major” has gathered 30 or fewer points during the game), after the closing of the game, the other players stand up to show respect to the “major”.
When playing in an informal setting, if the major places a trump, players must give a light whistle.
When playing a game that is special, peculiar, complicated or unusual in any other way, players like to share their knowledge to perform a collective post-game analysis and often have a good laugh if an amusing situation has occurred.
There are also some dark sides of the game - players cheating, playing for money, showing unbecoming behaviour during a tournament. Such actions have dire consequences, of course: after the tournament, the referees inform the Latvian Zolīte Federation, which then disqualifies the player and restricts them from participating in the official zolīte tournaments.
Inheritance and Transmission
One can inherit the skills of playing zolīte by 1) learning from another player (the best option), 2) self-teaching, by reading the rules of the game. The best way to learn is to play with others in-person because players can give each other valuable advice. When playing online, the opportunities for knowledge exchange and communication are more limited by time because online playthroughs are faster (due to the cards being dealt by a computer program), therefore, there is no time to discuss the game. It is more difficult to learn to play zolīte on sites that don’t offer a chat or discussion function.
Based on information that is available in the book Zolīte Latvijā un pasaulē (Zolīte in Latvia and around the World), published in 1996 by the writer and former president of the Latvian Zolīte Federation Andris Kolbergs, the exact origins of zolīte are not known; we know only that it has been played in Latvia for a long time, and the first written records on the rules of zolīte have been written down in Emanuel Lasker’s 1931 book Card Games where zolīte is called revelīts or zole. Most likely, E. Lasker’s 1931 book has been re-released in 1991. under the same name - Kāršu Spēles. A. Kolbergs’s book also reveals this on the origin of the game:
“The first descriptions of this game in Germany can be found already in the mid-19th century. Zolīte is a variant of the so-called "endischer Schafskopf", specifically "Drei endsch". (The standard Schafskopf is played by four players, but Drei endsch is played by three. Zolīte is something between the normal Drei endsch which is played with 32 cards and the quick Drei endsch with only 24 cards. Zolīte is played with 26 cards. I have looked through a vast number of German card game books, but found none that mention the variant of Schafskopf that Latvians play. It must then be concluded that zolīte is a special Baltics variant of Schafskopf. The Latvian name zolīte likely comes from the word solo because one is always playing against two.”
The most experienced players say that zolīte was also played in the interwar period and during the soviet era. Zolīte used to be very popular among students.
The 21st century has opened certain opportunities since zolīte can now be played online. On one hand, this allows experienced players to maintain the skill more easily and conveniently. On the other hand, it can be observed that fewer young people are learning the game because many other games can also be played online.
The important benefits that zolīte offers have always been very relevant - especially now that there are many entertainment opportunities that sadly do not give any real benefit to one’s mind. Of course, zolīte, like any other mind-based game, is more difficult to learn, so zolīte is played by fewer and fewer people. More people now prefer games that do not require as much mental effort as playing zolīte. Zolīte used to be a reason for meeting up, but nowadays, it is mostly played online. The ability to play zolīte online can be seen as a pivotal point in the further development of the tradition since the technological opportunities now allow people to play zolīte more easily and at any time and place, therefore maintaining this intangible cultural heritage.
Zolīte has a special player lexicon - the vocabulary they use both to name specific cards and their combinations (naked ace, kreicene, pīķene, jelgavnieks, platais, pusplatais etc.) and expressions - you’ll find luck in love, the table is not a pig, garām (past), nokosties (take a bite out of) etc. More on this can be read in the attachment Zolītes noteikumu manuskripts in the second section - Explanations of terms and expressions used in the game.
Other nuances of knowledge and skills are revealed in the attached audio files.
The Latvian Zolīte Federation has developed a special rating system that allows players of zolīte earn the title of zolīte master and grandmaster - people with these titles have mastered the zolīte playing skill to the highest levels: they can justify their every move, use their mind and memory to evaluate the possible distribution of cards among players, and can memorize a large amount of information - the used and remaining trump cards, points earned by them and others etc. According to the Latvian Zolīte Federation’s 2020 Latvian Zolīte Player ranking, from the 370 players who made it into the ranking, Ojārs Polis ranked 1st, Raimonds Skuja ranked 2nd, and Normunds Dāvidsons ranked in the 3rd place.
Some of the most skilled and knowledgeable zolīte players and organisers of community life in Latvia are the active zolīte players with the Master and Grandmaster titles. Based on the evaluations of the Latvian Zolīte Federation, some of the very best grandmasters are Raimonds Skuja, Uldis Plieniņš, Ilgvars Gritāns. However, most of the great zolīte players of today will admit that the very best zolīte player is the late Edgars Tarānovs, who among other zolīte players had earned the fitting nickname professor because of his top tier playing level. To honour him, the Latvian Zolīte federation organises an annual commemorative tournament "The Zolīte professor Edgars Tarānovs commemorative tournament”.
More information can be found in the attachment Summary of Zolīte player statistics.
Institutions and Organizations
The Latvian Zolīte Federation (the first zolīte federation was founded in 1996, while the current Latvian Zolīte Federation was founded in 2014).
Multiple online sites that allow playing zolīte online, i.e. www.zolmaniem.lv and others.
Different zolīte clubs, for example, the Rīga zolīte club (founded in 2014), the Mārupe Zolīte Club (founded in 2017).
Multiple Latvian municipalities and cities where zolīte tournaments are organised as part of city or municipality festivals or as a part of other traditional tournaments, like Ādaži, Amata, Carnikava, Valmiera, Valka, Jēkabpils, Bauska, Ikšķile, Rīga, Inčukalns, Garkalne, More, Olaine and others.
Also, the Riga Technical University, Rīga Stradiņš University, the Latvian University Sports Federation and other supporters who offer great support in organising the Latvian Open Zolīte Championship for Students.
Strengthening the Tradition
1. By the Latvian Zolīte Federation - since 1996., the Latvian Zolīte Championship is organised annually (except for 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic). The Latvian Zolīte Federation intends to continue this.
2. By The Latvian Zolīte Federation and SIA ZOLMANIEM - since 2015, Latvian Zolīte Championship for Students is organised annually (except for 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic). SIA ZOLMANIEM in collaboration with The Latvian Zolīte Federation intend to continue organising these championships.soldiers.
3. By different companies - the option to play zolīte online is offered. SIA ZOLMANIEM and other online zolīte playing sites intend to maintain this option.
4. The Latvian Zolīte Federation and SIA ZOLMANIEM have started work on a manuscript for a new book on zolīti which will include rules and other information on zolīte, such as the names of all zolīte championship winners since 1996 and the zolīte code of ethics. SIA ZOLMANIEM in collaboration with the Latvian Zolīte Federation plans to release this book.
These activities have had a positive impact. Organising Latvian championships helps maintain the zolīte playing traditions at a professional level. Organizing the Zolīte Championship for students helps involve younger players and increase the popularity among the youth. Writing new and current rules of zolīte helps maintain the rules of zolīte at least virtually by publishing them on online zolīte playing sites, which helps maintain the playing skills at a larger scale than has been possible in in-person games.
So far, the tradition has received support in the shape of venues provided for the Latvian Zolīte Federation championships, volunteer work, and donations for the prize pool.
1. Research will be conducted to find out how the English card game bridge achieved its recognition as a sport, to do the same for zolīte, since zolīte is also a mind-based game as well as a sport, similarly to bridge and chess - SIA ZOLMANIEM plans to conduct this research in collaboration with the Latvian Zolīte Federation.
2. Deeper research into the history and origins of zolīte will be conducted - SIA ZOLMANIEM plans to conduct this research in collaboration with the Latvian Zolīte Federation.
3. A new book on zolīte will be published - this book will include the current rules and other information on zolīte, such as the names of all zolīte championship winners and the zolīte code of ethics. SIA ZOLMANIEM plans to publish this book in collaboration with the Latvian Zolīte Federation.
The execution of these actions is planned within the next 5 years with funding from the donations received by the Latvian Zolīte Federation, as well as funding received from sponsors and collaborators.
1. Develop a new online zolīte playing site that adheres to the current rules of zolīte (as they currently are after the clarifications and corrections of the zolīte rules made by the Latvian Zolīte Federation), as well as the introduction of the option to hold Latvian zolīte championships online – this is planned to be done by SIA ZOLMANIEM in cooperation with the Latvian Zolīte Federation
2. The organisation of Latvian Zolīte championships will be continued – this will be conducted by the Latvian Zolīte Federation.
3. All still living Zolīte championship winners will be interviewed in order to gather their wisdom and maintain their valuable opinion on this important Latvian card game – this is planned to be done by SIA ZOLMANIEM in cooperation with the Latvian Zolīte Federation
4. A special guide will be prepared to make it easier for young players to learn zolīte more easily and faster – this is planned to be done SIA ZOLMANIEM in cooperation with the Latvian Zolīte Federation.
5. A new book on zolīte will be issued – this is planned to be done SIA ZOLMANIEM in cooperation with the Latvian Zolīte Federation
The execution of these actions is planned within the next 5 years with funding from the donations received by the Latvian Zolīte Federation, as well as funding received from sponsors and collaborators.
1. Promote zolīte in Latvia, involving more and more younger generations;
2. Promote zolīte to the wider public;
3. Promote a positive image of zolīte so that it is more associated with the mind-based card game;
4. Develop zolīte as a form of mind sports.
Threats to the Tradition
Since A. Kolbergs's 1996 book on zolīte, which also included the rules of the zolīte, the rules have, in fact, slightly changed over time and that knowledge is currently only maintained among the active players. Mainly among those players who actively play zolīte in tournaments across Latvia – the number of such people is only ~ 400 (four hundred). As a result, online zolīte is often not played in line with the current actual zolīte rules. Consequently, the current rules of the game and the nuances associated with them are not defined and written down, so the continuity of the game is endangered.
The game variant most frequently played is the so-called “classic zole”, which means that zolīte is played with an opportunity to play a “major” or “zole”, but if no one applies for either of these two options, then one collective “pule” is recorded and the cards are re-dealt for a new game. However, there are other variants of play, such as “small zole” and “table”. There is currently a lack of research to be able to make evidence-based conclusions on how the behaviours of zolīte players have changed over time as regards the variants of the game of zolīte. There is a hypothesis that the option to play “small zole” has been increasing in popularity among zolīte players.
Of course, another threat to the tradition is the decreasing number of players, which is showcased by the fact that few in the student population and the general youth know how to play the game. The reason is the opportunities for digital leisure of the 21 st century; the ability to play zolīte online has not only brought changes to the tradition, but also raises the issue of competition with other online games and offers. Perhaps, one of the threats is also the level of public awareness of card games, linking them mainly to gambling and the playing of money, not the sharpening of mind and the well-spent time.
Kāršu spēles: Rokas grāmata visiem, kas vēlās iemācīties kāršu spēles, derīgi padomi, aizrādījumi un paskaidrojumi tiem, kuri jau spēlēt prot / Sastādīta pēc Dr. Emanuela Laskera u. c. autoriem. Rīgā: Praktiskā Bibliotēka, .
Kāršu spēles: rokasgrāmata visiem, kas vēlas iemācīties kāršu spēles, derīgi padomi, aizrādījumi un paskaidrojumi tiem, kuri jau spēlēt prot / Sastādīta pēc Emanuela Laskera u.c. autoriem. [Rīga]: Atbalss, 1991.
Kolbergs A. Zolīte Latvijā un pasaulē: Rokasgrāmata pratējiem, nepratējiem, sacensību rīkotājiem un tiesnešiem / piedaloties Latvijas Zolītes Spēles Federācijas (LZSF) sacensību galvenajam tiesnesim Pēterim Aleksandrovičam un vēsturniekam Kārlim Kangerim (Stokholma). [Rīga]: Latvijas Zolītes Spēles Federācija, 1996.
The website of the Latvian Zolīte Federation - information on zolīte; in-person and online tournaments and other events surrounding zolīte.
The article on Zolīte in Wikipedia - general information on zolīte in Wikipedia
Zolmaniem.lv - Online zolīte playing site
Raccoonzole - Online zolīte playing site
Zole Spoki.lv - Online zolīte playing site
Spelezoli.lv - Online zolīte playing site
Zolmaniem.lv zolīte page in the social media site draugiem.lv zolīte page in the social media site draugiem.lv
Zolmaniem.lv zolīte page in the social media site facebook.com. Zolmaniem.lv page on the social media network Facebook.com
An old video on a zolīte tournament in Saulkrasti An old video on a zolīte tournament in Saulkrasti
A podcast on zolīte. A podcast on zolīte.
News Article: Collection of signatures for the inclusion of zolīte in the general education curriculum.
On the collection of signatures for the inclusion of zolīte in the general education curricula. - CARD GAME TO BE INCLUDED IN THE GENERAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM.
Zolīte Masters and Grandmasters the best Latvian zolīte players with the titles Master and Grandmaster.