Tarot is a game played with a deck of 78 cards. Compared to a classic 52 cards deck, there is an additionnal figure, the knight, which is between the queen and the jack, what gives 14 cards per color unstead of 13. There is also a special color « trump » which is different and independant from the four usual base colors (spade, heart, diamond, club) consisting of 21 cards numbered from 1 to 21. Last but not least, there is also another particular card, the fool, which serves as a kind of joker
Following rules describe french tarot. There exists many other versions coming from different other countries and regions. One is quite unsure of tarot's exact origins, because it's a game already being a couple centuries old.
Tarot is both an individual and a team game. At the beginning of each round, one start with a betting phase for contracts to ralise. The winner of the bet, who is usually called the declarer or the attacker, will play alone against the other players, called the defenders, and will try to met the contract he announced, eventually with the help of teammates when playing with 5 or 6 players. But attackers and defenders, and therefore teams, change at each round !
Cards are usually dealt three by three. Each player receive 12, 15, 18 or 24 cards when playing respectively with 6, 5, 4 or 3 people. Undealt cards, between 3 and 6, are forming the kitty. The winner of the betting phase will perhaps be able to, depending on the contract chosen, add its contents to his hand in order to improve it.
Contracts and betting
Once the deal is made, one proceed to the betting phase. At their turn, each player can either "pass*, so to say don't play any contract, or take, meaning announcing a contract to play ammong those available. One can of course bid higher than previous players by announcing an higher contract, given that one hasn't yet passed.
The following contracts are available :
- Little: it's the smallest available contract, when one think having a sufficiently correct hand to go alone but without taking too much risks. It isn't worth that many points.
- Push: slightly higher than the little, it allows to raise bet without taking much more risks. Points won or lost during the round are multiplied by 1.5.
- Guard: the main contract of the game, already more important, with a multiplicative factor of 2.
- Guard without the kitty: with a good hand, one can decide not to help ourselves with the kitty to improve one's hand. The kitty will nonetheless be a small reserve of points safe for the declarer. This contract will multiply won or lost points by a factor 4.
- Guard against the kitty: not only one decie not to use the kitty to make one's hand better, but even give the points contained in it to the defenders. A very risky bet, but worth many points with a multiplicative factor of 6.
if nobody takes any contract, the deck is shuffled again and passed to the next dealer.
Once the betting phase is ended, except if the defined contract is the guard without or the guard against, the attacker takes the kitty, show its contents to everybody, and then add it to his hand. Then, he discards as many cards as he has just draw and put them back into the kitty. HE can discard any card but kings, trumps or the fool, unless he asn't another choice. HE can, of course, discard one or more of the cards he has just drawn.
When he is ready, the play of the hand can start. At that point, nobody can touch the kitty anymore, and it wont be used again. Its contents will only be revealed at the end of the round.
When playing the guard without or the guard against, this step is completely skipped and the kitty is only shown at the very end of the round.
Play of the hand
The play of the hand is relatively classic compared to other trick taking games :
- The player who begins the trick can play any card of his choice
- One must follow suit if one can
- If one can't flollow suit, one must cut if having trumps
- On a trump or a cut, one must overcut. One is allowed to undercut only if having no higher trump.
- If one can't follow suit and if someone has already cut, one must always play a trump even if having only smaller ones.
- If and only if both unable to follow suit and having no trump, one can discard any card
The winener of the trick starts the next one. The winner of the trick is the player who played the highest trump card, or, if there is no trump, the higher card of the demanded suit. The king is the strongest card, the ace the weakest, and the kight goes between the queen and the jack.
The fool acts as a joker and can be played at any time, no matter of if able or not to follow suit or cut. It can anyway never win a trick.
The fool has additionnally the ability to always remain to its owner, no matter when it is played and who wins the trick which it is in, except if it is played at last trick, in which case it is lost and taken by the winner of the trick.
In case one begin with the fool, the suit is determined by the second card played.
A tarot game is in fact essentially focused on three particular cards called oudlers. They are the 21 of trump, the 1 of trump and the fool. They are worth many points themselves, but they also decrease the number of points needed for the attacker to succeed in making his contract if he owns them. The 21 of trump is impregnable, and the fool is also if one don't make the big misstake of playing it at the very last trick. Only the 1 of trump, called the little one, is vulnerable. Most of the game strategies are based around the little one, in order either to save it, or to make it fall from the opposite team.
Scoring is quite complex in tarot. First of all, one must make the difference between game points, which are those actually counted and saved, and card points, which only serve to determine if the declarer met or failed his contract, and its value in terms of game points.
A complete tarot deck contains 91 points, as follows :
- Oudlers (21 of trump, 1 of trump and fool) : 4½ points
- Kings: 4½ points
- Queens: 3½ points
- Knights: 2½ points
- Jacks: 1½ points
- All other cards: ½ point
In order to meet his contract, the attacker must make at least a minimum number of points with his cards, defined according to the number of oudlers he owns :
- With the three oudlers: 36 points
- With two oudlers: 41 points
- With a single oudler: 51 points
- With no oudler: 56 points
Points are counted precisely and not rounded. So if the declarer mades 35½ points with three oudlers, the contract is failed.
Each contract is arbitrarily worth 25 points, to which we add the difference between card points actually obtained and those strictly needed to meet the contract. This score is then multiplied by the factor of the contract chosen by the attacker. And, finally, each defender wins or loses that amount of points while the attacker wins or loses as many times that amount of points than there are defenders. If the declarer succeeded, he wins points while defenders lose, and if he failed, he lose points while defenders win. All this so that the sum of all points of all players add up to zero.
Multiplier factors depends on the contract played :
- Little: factor 1
- Push: factor 1.5
- Guard: factor 2
- Guard without the kitty: factor 4
- Guard against the kitty: factor 6
Here are some examples for a better understanding :
- Alice plays a guard against Bob, Cedric and David. She owns two oudlers and obtained 47 points on her cards. The contract is worth 25 + (47 -41) = 31 points as a base. This is a gaurd so we multiply that by 2, what gives 62 points. Alice met her contrac since she made more than 41 points with her cards, she tehrefore gets 3 * 62 = 186 points while Bob, Cedric and David lose 62 points each.
- SEcond example: Alice took a guard against the kitty, only owns a single oudler, but got only 37 points on cards. The base value of the contract is 25 + (51 -37) = 39 points. It's a guard against, so we multiply 39 by 6 = 234 points. She failed her contract since she didn't obtain the 51 required points with her cards, she tehre fore lose 234 * 3 = 702 points while Bob, Cedric and David each win 234 points.
The little one brought to the end
A bonus is intervening if the 1 of trump is played to the last trick: if the little one is played to the last trick, each player gives 10 points so the winner of the trick. This player is said to « have brought the little one to the end ». The bonus is therefore of 20 points at 3 players, 30 points at 4, 40 points at 5 and 50 at 6.
This bonus ocurrs independently from teams, and only concerns the player who plays the 1 of trump at last trick. If the little one is played before, no bonus is given to anyone. The bonus is never multiplied by the contract multiplier.
Handles or poignées
If the declarer has many trumps in his hand, he can announce a handle (poignée in french). He must then show the required number of trumps to other players. The highest and the lowest ones owned are obligatorily shown, others can be kept conciled if he has more than the required number. The fool can count as a trump, but if it is shown, it implies that the announcer doesn't own any other conciled trump.
If the declarer wins the hand, each players give him 20, 30 or 40 bonus points. But if he loses, he, will give 20, 30 or 40 points to each other player. It can therefore be risky to announce a handle if one isn't really sure of winning the hand.
The number of bonus points (20, 30 or 40) is determined by the number of trumps required and shown to announce the handle, because in fact it exists three kinds of handles: simple, double and triple, where each needs more trumps than the previous ones. The number of required trumps for each kind of handle also depends on the number of players:
- 3 players: 13, 15 and 18 trumps respectively for simple, double and triple handle
- 4 players: 10, 13 and 15
- 5 players: 8, 10, 13
- 6 players: 7, 9, 11
Call for the king
When playing with 5 players, the attacker is no longer always alone to realise his contract. After dealing but before revealing the kitty's contents to everybody, the declarer choose a king to call. The players owning it will play on attacker's side, but the fact that he is in the ofensive team will only be known when the called card is effectively played. At start, the declarer therfore never knows who is called and is going to be with him.
If the called king is in the kitty or in the attacker's hand, then he plays alone against his four opponents. it isn't forbidden to volontarily call one of the kings owned, either to confuse defenders who will only know quite late that they are all together, or because one think having a sufficiently good hand to go alone. In case one have the four kings, one can call a queen or any other card except trumps or the fool. IN any case, it is forbidden to start the first trick with the called suit, unless by beginning exactly with the called card.
When attackers are two, points won by the offensive team are shared two thirds for the taker, one third for the called person. If the taker is alone, the base score of the contract is multiplied by 4 unstead of 3.
- Alice took a guard and called the king of heart owned by Bob. Celia, David and Elise play the defense. The two attakers got 57 points with no oudlers. The base score of the contract is 25 + (57 -56) = 26 points, multiplied by two because of being a guard = 52 points. The contract is met; Alice the taker wins 52 * 3 * 2/3 = 104 points, Bob the called parthner wins 52 * 3 * 1/3 = 52 points, and the three defenders lose 52 points each.
- Alice took a guard without the kitty, and called the king of diamond which unfortunately was within the later. She realise 35½ points with the three oudlers. The base value of the contract is 25 + (36 -35½) = 25½ points, multiplied by 4 because it's a guard without = 102 points. She was alone and failed, she therefore lose 4 * 102 = 408 points while her opponents each mark 102 points.
Call for the lady
With the same principle as the call for the king when playing with 5 players, one also call a queen additionnally to the king when playing with 6 players. In the same way, the taker can volontarily call cards he owns, and, equally, he can call a knight or any other card if he owns the four queens. However, it's forbidden to call another king, because the advantage of doing so would be too important. It's also disallowed to start the first trick with one of the two suits called.
Depending on who the two called cards belong to, or if one or the two cards are in the kitty, one may play three against three, two against four, or one alone against five.
When the taker is alone, the base score of the contract is multiplied by 5 unstead of 3. If the attakers are two, won or lost points are shared 1/6-5/6, 2/3-1/3 or 1/4-3/4 depending on called cards. If they are three, the taker gets half of the points, the first person called one third, and the second called person one sixth.
For example :
- Alice, Bob and Celia play a Little against Donald, Elisa and Fanny. Attackers get 39 card points with two oudlers. The base score of the contract is 25 + (41 -39) = 27 points, which aren't multiplied because we are playing a little. They failed; Alice loses 27 * 3 * 3/6 = 40½ points, Bob loses 27 * 3 * 2/6 = 27 points, Celia loses 27 * 3 * 1/6 = 13½ points, while each defender win 27 points.
- Alice play a guard and calls the king of spade and the queen of club, which unfortunately both belong to Bob. Together, the couple reach 44 points with two oudlers. The base score of the contract is 2 * (25 + (44 -41)) = 56 points. The two attackers win respectively 4 * 56 /* 3/4 and 4 * 56 * 1/4 = 168 and 56 points, and the three defenders lose 56 points each.
- Alice plays alone a guard against the kitty against her five opponents because she has volontarily called a king and a queen she owned. She reached a total of 65 card points with all the oudlers. The base contract is worth 6 * (25 + (65 -36)) = 324 points. She has greatly deserved her victory and win an huge score of 324 * 5 = 1620 points while the five other players all lose 324 points.
Keyboard shortcuts summary
- C: view cards currently on the table
- F: announce the current suit
- P: pass, don't take any contract
- Space: bet, take a contract
- Shift+P: announce a handle
- S: announce score
- T: announce who is playing