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Iceberg Vira: The latest refinement of Vira in Levels

Raymond Gallardo
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Iceberg Vira (or Isbergsvira) is the version of Vira in Levels (or Nivåvira) played by Viraklubben 4V (Four Winds) in Sundsvall, Sweden. This version was developed in the mid-1980s by Staffan Sävén who has been continually refining and enhancing it over the decades. The last update was in 2020.

Isbergsvira gets its name from the shape of its bid table, which looks like the cross-section of an iceberg floating in the ocean.

From gallery of rayzg


Differences between Iceberg Vira and Nivåvira as played by Åstols Viraklubb

The biggest difference is the bidding is more streamlined and flexible. You essentially bid one of the column names, and that means you've bid the lowest available bid on that column. There's no need to jump bid if you have a really strong hand because at the end of the auction, you can upgrade any bid to any other higher bid in the same column. (For instance, you can't do that for Turné and Vingel bids in other versions of Vira.)

In addition, you can bid the same contract as any other player as long at it's on the same level as the highest bid and you restrict which trumps suits you can pick from (before, you can only rebid the last bid contract).

Because it's so much easier to outbid someone in Iceberg Vira, it's much easier to get into bidding wars!

However, the other big difference, which would probably get in the way of new players, is that there are a lot of edge-case rules that players will have to use once in about every 100-2000 hands! For example:

* The lowest bid, Minusgask, has a very different procedure than all the other Gask bids, but it's rarely played as it's so easy to overbid it.
* There's a new contract, Gökunge, that's on it's own level. Like Minusgask, it's rarely played.
* There's a blue horizontal line dividing the table. Contracts above this line are "above sea level" and score differently. However, bidding above sea level is quite rare.

Which version to play?

I think I prefer Iceberg Vira the most because it has the most liberal bidding rules. However, this is the worst one to introduce to beginners because of the edge-case rules. However, I do believe that many of these edge-case rules are inside jokes -- Iceberg Vira appears to be more playful and mischievous in tone than other versions of Vira! For example, Minusgask is an homage to to the Swedish Riksbank's introduction of negative interest rates in 2009, the first central bank to do so. And Gökunge's level, 4/3, is reminiscent of the half floor in Being John Malkovich. I think that Iceberg Vira is prodding its players to come up with their own baroque additions and variants to the game!

Some variants my friends are thinking about already:

* The Cuckoo contracts force the next player to bid unless they hold "low guards" -- a series of cards of the same suit that, if led in succession, will eventually lose a trick against a player holding the rest of the suit. If you pass and don't hold the prerequisite number of low guards, then you're subject to fine! In many situations, a player is forced to bid, knowing that they will surely fail.

We're thinking of imposing an additional penalty to the declarer who fails a Cuckoo contract!

* One player really wanted to bid a Solo contract (which means you have to win a certain number of tricks without buying cards -- although your opponents can). He wished that there were a contract where the opponents couldn't buy cards either. So we're thinking of adding this contract in!

So I think that's the best part of Iceberg Vira: it invites innovation!
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