Tarot is a card game played with a deck of 78 cards. Compared to a classic 52-card deck, there is an additional figure, the knight, placed between the queen and the jack, which gives 14 cards per suit. A special "trump" suit is also added, different and independent from the four basic suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs), with 21 cards numbered from 1 to 21. Finally, there is also a very special card, the fool, which acts as a sort of joker
The following rules describe French tarot. There exist many other versions from various other countries and regions. The origin of the game is not absolutely certain, as it's a game that is already several centuries old.
Tarot is both an individual and a team game. At the beginning of each round, the game begins with a betting phase on the contracts to be made. The winner of the bet, called the declarer or attacker, will play alone against the other players, called the defenders, and will try to achieve the contract he has bet, possibly with the support of other teammates in games with 5 or 6 players. But the attackers and defenders, and therefore the teams, change with each deal!
Cards are usually dealt three by three. Each player receives 12, 15, 18 or 24 cards when playing with 6, 5, 4 or 3 players respectively. The undealt cards, between 3 and 6, form the kitty. The player who wins the betting phase can, depending on the contract chosen, eventually incorporate the kitty into their hand to improve it.
Contracts and betting
Once the distribution is finished, we proceed to the betting phase. In turn, each player can either pass, i.e. not play any contract, or take, i.e. choose to play a contract among those available. You can of course outbid another player by announcing a higher contract, as long as you have not already passed.
The contracts are as follows:
- Little: it's the smallest possible contract, when you think you have a sufficient hand to go alone but without taking much risk. It does not give you many points.
- Push: slightly higher than the little, it allows you to raise the bet without taking too much chances. The points won or lost at the end of the round are multiplied by 1.5.
- Guard: A contract already more important, with points multiplied by 2.
- Guard without the kitty: with a good game, you can decide not to use the kitty to improve your hand. The kitty will still constitute a small reserve of points acquired by the attacker. This contract multiplies the points won or lost by 4.
- Guard against the kitty: not only do you decide not to use the dog to perfect your hand, but you also give the points it contains to the defenders. A very risky contract, but also very profitable since the multiplier factor increases to 6.
If no one takes a contract, the deck is reshuffled and goes to the next dealer.
Once the betting phase is over, unless the contract that has been agreed is guard without or against, the attacker takes the kitty, shows it to everyone, then adds the cards it contains in their hand. Then they discard as many cards as they have taken and puts them back in the kitty. They can discard any card except kings, trumps and the fool, unless there is no other choice. They can, of course, discard one or more of the cards they have just drawn.
When ready, the game play can begin. At this point, no one can touch the kitty, and it will not be used again. Its contents will only be revealed at the end of the round.
When playing the guard without or guard against, this step is skipped completely. The kitty is only shown at the very end of the round.
The play of the hand is relatively classic compared to other trick taking games :
- The player who leads the trick can play any card of their choice
- You must follow suit if you have the possibility to do so
- If you can't follow suit, you must cut if you have trumps
- On a trump or on a cut, you must overcut. You are allowed to undercut only if you have no higher trumps.
- If you can't follow suit and someone has already cut, you are still obliged to play a trump, even if you have only smaller ones.
- If and only if you have neither requested suit nor trumps, then you can discard any card
The winner of the trick starts the next one. The winner of the trick is the one who has played the highest trump card, or, if there is no trump, the highest card in the requested suit. The king is the highest card, the ace the lowest, and the knight is between the queen and the jack.
The fool acts as a joker and can be played at any time, regardless of whether or not one can follow or cut. It can never win a trick anyway.
The fool also has the additional feature of always staying with its owner, no matter who wins the trick at which it's played, unless it is played at the last trick, in which case it is lost.
In the case of leading with the fool, the suit is determined by the second card played.
A game of tarot is in fact based on three main cards that are called oudlers. They are the 21 of trump, the 1 of trump and the fool. They are worth a lot of points in themselves, but they also reduce the number of points required to make the attacker's contract if he has them. The 21 of trump is impregnable, and so is the fool as long as one does not make the serious mistake of playing it at the last trick. Only the 1 of trump, which is called the little one, is vulnerable. A good part of the strategies of the game is constituted around the little one, either to try to save it, or to make it fall from the opposite team.
Scoring in tarot is quite complex. First of all, it is necessary to distinguish between the game points, which are the ones actually counted and saved, and the card points, which only serve to determine if the declarer's contract is successful or not, and its value in terms of game points.
A complete tarot deck contains 91 points distributed as follows:
- Oudlers (the 21 of trump, the 1 of trump and the fool) : 4½ points
- Kings: 4½ points
- Queens: 3½ points
- Knights: 2½ points
- Jacks: 1½ points
- All other cards: ½ point
To succeed in the declared contract, the attacker must obtain at least a minimum of points with their cards, defined according to the number of oudlers they have:
- With all three oudlers: 36 points
- With two oudlers: 41 points
- With only one oudler: 51 points
- With no oudler: 56 points
Points are counted to the nearest half. Thus if the attacker makes 35½ points with three oudlers, the contract is lost.
Each contract is arbitrarily worth 25 points, to which is added the difference between the card points obtained and those strictly required to make the contract. This score is then multiplied by the value of the contract chosen by the attacker. Then, finally, each defender wins or loses this number of points while the attacker wins or loses as many times this number of points as there are defenders. If the declarer has succeeded in the contract, he or she wins points while the defenders lose points, and vice versa. All this is done in such a way that the total of all the players is always equal to zero.
Multipliers vary depending 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 has two oudlers and obtained 47 points on her cards. The contract is worth 25 + (47 -41) = 31 base points. This is a guard so we multiply that by 2, which gives 62 points. Alice has succeeded in her contract since she made more than 41 points on her cards, so she scores 3 * 62 = 186 points while Bob, Cedric and David each lose 62 points.
- Second example: Alice has taken a guard against the kitty, has one oudler but obtained only 37 points on the cards. The contract is worth 25 + (51 -37) = 39 points. It is a guard against, so we multiply 39 by 6 = 234 points. She has failed her contract since she did not get the necessary 51 points on the cards, so she loses 234 * 3 = 702 points while Bob, Cedric and David each win 234 points.
The little one brought to the end
A bonus occurs when the 1 of trump is played at the last trick: if the little one is played at the last trick, each player gives 10 points to the winner of the trick. This player is then said to have "led the little one to the end". The bonus is therefore 20 points for 3 players, 30 points for 4 players, 40 points for 5 and 50 points for 6.
This bonus is independent of the teams, and concerns only the player who plays the little one at the last trick of the round. If the little one was played before, no bonus is counted. These bonuses are never multiplied by the value of the contract.
Handles or poignées
If declarer has many trumps in the hand, he or she can announce a handle. He or she must then show the required number of trumps to the other players, including at least the smallest and largest of them. The fool can count as a trump, but if it is shown, it implies that the declarer does not have any other trumps that he or she has decided not to show.
If the declarer wins the round, he or she receives 20, 30 or 40 bonus points from each player. On the other hand, if the contract is lost, he or she is the one who will give 20, 30 or 40 points to each of the other players. It can therefore be risky to announce a handle if you are not really sure of winning the round.
The number of points (20, 30 or 40) is determined by the number of trumps required to announce a handle, because there are actually three kinds of handles: the single, the double and the triple, each of which requires a greater number of trumps than the previous ones. The number of trumps needed for each kind of handle also varies according to 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 make their contract. After the distribution but before revealing the kitty to everyone, the declarer chooses a king to call. The player who has the king will play alongside the attacker, but their membership in the attacking team will not be known until the called card is actually played. The attacker therefore never knows who owns the called card.
If the king called is in the kitty or in the attacker's hand, then the attacker will play alone against the other four players. It is not forbidden to voluntarily call a king that you have, either to confuse the defenders who will not know until late that they are all together, or because you think you have a good enough game to play alone. In case you have all four kings, you can call a queen or any other card besides the trumps and the fool. In any case, one is not allowed to lead with the called suit at the first trick, except to lead precisely from the called card.
When the attackers are two, the points won or lost by the offensive team are divided two thirds for the taker, one third for the called. If the taker is alone, the base score of the contract is multiplied by 4 instead of 3.
- Alice took a guard and called the king of hearts owned by Bob. Celia, David and Elise play the defense. The two attackers got 57 points with no oudlers. The base score of the contract is 25 + (57 -56) = 26 points, which is multiplied by two because it's a guard = 52 points. The contract is met; Alice the taker wins 52 * 3 * 2/3 = 104 points, while Bob, the called partner, wins 52 * 3 * 1/3 = 52 points, and the three defenders each lose 52 points.
- Alice took a guard without the kitty, and called the king of diamonds which was unfortunately in the later. She obtained 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 loses 4 * 102 = 408 points while her opponents each mark 102 points.
Call for the queen
On the same principle as the call to the king with 5 players, a queen is also called in addition to the king when playing with 6 players. In the same way, you can voluntarily call cards that you have in your deck, and, similarly, you can call a knight or any other card if you have all four queens. However, it is forbidden to call a second king. It is also forbidden to start the first trick with one of the two suits called.
Depending on whether the two cards called belong to yourself, to the same player, or if one or both cards are in the kitty, you can end up playing three against three, two against four, or one against five.
When the declarer is alone, the base score of the contract is multiplied by 5 instead of 3. If the attackers are two, the points won or lost are shared 1/6-5/6, 2/3-1/3 or 1/4-3/4 depending on the cards called. If they are three, the declarer wins half of the points, the first person called wins a third, and the second called a 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 wins 27 points.
- Alice plays a guard and calls the king of spades and the queen of clubs, both of which unfortunately belong to Bob. Together, the pair scores 44 points with two oudlers. The base score of the contract is 2 * (25 + (44 -41)) = 56 points. The two attackers win 4 * 56 /* 3/4 and 4 * 56 * 1/4 = 168 and 56 points respectively, and the three defenders each lose 56 points.
- 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 scored 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.
Summary of keyboard shortcuts
- 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