Female Baloot players show off their skills at Saudi championship

More than $500,000 prize money is up for grabs at the tournament. (AN photo)
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Updated 17 February 2020

Female Baloot players show off their skills at Saudi championship

  • Six rounds were played on day two of the Baloot Championship, 520 teams with two rounds for women

RIYADH, JEDDAH: Female Baloot players have been taking part in the second day of a tournament being held in Riyadh Front, with the inclusion of women’s rounds being seen as a boost for female enthusiasts of the card game.

Six rounds were played on day two of the Baloot Championship, 520 teams with two rounds for women.

The game is believed to have been brought to the Hijazi region from Indian immigrants through trading routes during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Its origins could also have come from France where it is known as Belote and migrated during the Ottoman expansion in the region. The objective is to outsmart and outplay your opponent. 

Four players are divided into two teams, with two players on each. The rules are strict and straightforward. One player distributes 32 cards and each player gets five cards each. The two players facing each other work as a team to win as many high-ranking cards as possible. The main goal is to win the rounds in which high-ranking cards are played. The players collect cards by “eating” the cards of the opponent. Baloot uses 32 cards only, cards with numbers from 2 to 6 are excluded from the game.


PHOTOS: Women join men at Saudi Arabia's Baloot Championship in Riyadh


Jawaher Al-Mansoour, a 24-year-old law student, said she was excited to be taking part.  

“I’ve just completed the first round, I can say that the atmosphere is a very professional one, everyone is understanding and there are no tensions between players,” she told Arab News. 

She learned the game alongside her friend, Deema Al-Mutairi, six years ago  and plays almost daily. “When we heard of the championship last year, we got excited but we weren’t able to participate because there were no female teams at the time,”Al-Mansour added. 

“We registered as soon as we heard that females were allowed in this year’s championship and though we weren’t taken that seriously by our friends and families, we made it to the next round and are looking forward to reaching the end, hopefully the SR2 million ($533,333) prize.”

It took her two years to learn the game correctly, playing with her brothers and father to hone her skills. Al-Mansour is keen on helping to teach the game to other women who want to learn.

Her friend, Al-Mutairi, is also a law student. She learned baloot from her older sister who is an avid player and then continued learning the tricks of the game with school friends.

“I enjoy playing the game and especially with my group of friends,” she told Arab News. “We’re nine friends altogether and play rounds. This is how I perfected the game and I’m excited to participate in the championship. I’m striving for the SR2 million prize, it’s what we’re here for.”

Both players said that many young women were keen to learn how to play the game, with the duo helping them out. 

Baloot has been one of the most popular games in the Gulf for decades, and Saudi Arabia in particular.

TheFace: Fatmah Al-Rashed, Saudi architect

Updated 6 min 46 sec ago

TheFace: Fatmah Al-Rashed, Saudi architect

  • "Ithra was a wonderful opportunity and a joyful experience that added so much value to my life."

Early on in life I learned that there is no one way to happiness, no one stereotype for accomplishment or self-satisfaction. This belief has been a drive for me to achieve more. I was born and raised in Alkhobar city; my father was a businessman and my mother was a housewife.

My life is rich with love provided by my family, my siblings, nieces and nephews and I’m enjoying motherhood and my family through nonconventional means.

My parents raised us as equals, they supported us, thought very highly of us and believed that we could excel in anything that we did. Our opinions were highly respected, but there were high expectations to be upheld.

My father once told me after finishing a novel on Marie Curie, “you know you’re no less than she is, you can be the Marie Curie in your own field. You have all it takes.”

I enrolled in the Imam Abdulrahman Al-Faisal University as I’ve always wanted to become a pediatrician. My parents raised my siblings and I with one motto in mind: “It’s not about you, it’s about how you can give back to your community.” My mother was not in favor of my chosen vocation. This is not to say that she went against me; in fact, I was given the freedom to decide my life path and my parents were supportive.

In those days, you had to apply to the university by physically providing all the necessary paperwork. As I stood in line to apply for medical school, I saw another queue. Inquisitive by nature, I went to ask what it was for. The administrators told me it was for the department of architecture and planning. Upon hearing that the course was just 5 years, I remembered my mother’s words, and within a minute, I decided to enroll in the department.

Two steps is all it took, stepping into the queue to the right and that decision changed my life’s path and helped make me who I am today. After graduating, I was hunting for jobs with no luck.

As I am not the type to lay back and do nothing, I volunteered to teach English at a local charity. One day, my father surprised me and said I had a job interview in Aramco.

I was shocked since I never applied and because it’s my father, he simply said that I applied for you because it’s time for you to give back. He told me: “The country invested in you, you are smart and you can take whatever job they give you. Who’s going to build the country but you and your generation?” Doors were opened.

I worked in my field for a while and that led me to the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra.

Twenty-five years later, I’m a still proud employee at Saudi Aramco and one of the first to bring the concept of Ithra to life. My role in Ithra began as an architect and was extended to be part of the creative team responsible for managing the creative program, its concept, and established the first Fablab at the King Fahad University for Petroleum and Minerals — the first in the Eastern Province. Building the concept of Ithra, or as I prefer to call it “the land of dreams,” was a group effort.

I joined with a dream and it was fate that we, the dreamers, were able to gather and meet at the right time and place, and most importantly we were given the opportunity to build something amazing.

This was a selfless act from our end because we wanted to see it come alive, to ensure that we played our part in giving back to a community that helped us grow to who we are today.

Ithra was a wonderful opportunity and a joyful experience that added so much value to my life. What comes next is going to also be part of my journey of growth, to explore our identity.

My life has been a whirlwind of opportunities. One lesson I learned was to never underestimate an opportunity no matter how small it was. You never know what you’ll get out of it.