DUBAI: Saudi Arabiainfo-icon has recognized the card game Baloot, which was considered taboo under strict interpretation of Wahabi Islam so far, and kicked off its first ever national cards tournament in the capital Riyadh.

The game is identical to the French game Belote and Rummy played in Indiainfo-icon and Pakistaninfo-icon.

The Baloot championship, being held at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Researchinfo-icon Center in Riyadh, kicked off on April 4 and will continue till April 18. 

According to Saudi mediainfo-icon reports, more than 12,000 people are participating in the tournament.

Several prominent personalities, including a former Imam of Kaba in Makkah, Aadil al Kabani, visited the tournament venue and even joined the players, reported Al Arabiya.

The card game is popular with Saudi men of all age groups and is commonly played by youth at family gatherings, and weddings.

Baloot or Rummy was considered taboo by many in Saudi society and an addictive game that according to Saudi clerics deprived God's blessing.

According to the Saudi General Sportsinfo-icon Authority, the top four players will receive prize money totaling more than $270,000, including $133,350 for the winner.

Baleegh Abdullah, a participant, hopes to see women compete in this unique game and expects its popularity to grow.

"Such prize money for a first-time championship is unprecedented. It was larger than expected, and I'm certain it will encourage people to develop an interest in the game," he added.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince and defacto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return the country to what he calls "moderate Islam".

In a recent interviewinfo-icon with the Guardian, the powerful heir to the Saudi throne said the ultra-conservative state had been "not normal" for the past 30 years with "rigid doctrines governing society".

"We are simply reverting to what we followed - a moderate Islam open to the worldinfo-icon and all religions. 70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won't waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately."

The crown prince's comments are the most emphatic he has made during a six-month reform programme that has tabled cultural reforms and economic incentives unimaginable during recent decades, during which the kingdom has been accused of promoting a brand of Islam globally that underwrote extremism.