This is a description of French Tarot for people who have no familiarity at all with tarot games, drawn from the descriptions at Pagat.com's Tarot games and French Tarot pages, Wikipedia, and Philebus's book Tarocchi: Introducing Card Games for Tarot, available online at Tarocchino.com. I've also referred to the rules at the Fédération Française de Tarot and French Wikipedia, through my weak French and machine translation, especially to clear up any ambiguities. The American Tarot Game Association has an English translation, and there are some videos at FFT as well as here, here, and here (seemingly using VASSAL). Also here. More information is also available at Trionfi.com, Tarotgame.org, the Association for Tarot Studies, and BoardGameGeek.
French Tarot is one of the few games that still use the full 78-card deck (so you can use a French deck to play other games by removing extraneous cards), and it preserves the historic role of the 'Scuse. I have a French Piatnik Jeu de Tarot deck I bought online; French decks occasionally pop up at Internet retailers, as here. It would be better to use an Anglo-American 78-card tarot deck, either purchased online or printed at home using images like these.
I. The DeckTarot is played with a French tarot deck of 78 cards, such as a Tarot Nouveau with corner indices to make playing easier. There are four suits (Spades, Clubs, Diamonds, and Hearts), each of which have ten numbered pip cards and four face cards: Jack (Valet), Knight (Cavalier), Queen (Dame), and King (Roi). These rank, from lowest to highest, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 V C D R. (Or, if you can find an Anglo-American Tarot deck, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 J C Q K).
In addition, there is a special suit of 21 trump cards (a.k.a. tarots), I-XXI. These function like the trump suit in Whist, Spades, or Bridge. The highest trump (XXI) is called the Mond ("the World"), while the lowest trump (I) is called the Pagat (i.e., "the Magician").
Finally, there is an unsuited Joker, known as the 'Scuse, which is sort of like a wild card and allows a player to avoid playing a card that the rules would normally require them to play. The Joker can excuse a player from the normal requirement to follow suit, for example.
Together, the 'Scuse (the Joker), the Pagat (Trump I), and the Mond (Trump XXI) form a trio of cards called the Ends. The three Ends are particularly valuable, since the more Ends you hold, the easier it is to win the hand.
II. Overview of the GameTarot is a point-trick game in which the object is to win tricks tricks containing valuable cards. In each hand, the four players break into two ad-hoc teams: one team consists of a single player, the Declarer, who attempts to win the game by accumulating sufficient card points, while the other three, the Defenders, attempt to win enough points to stop him.
Each hand consists of about six phases: the deal, bidding, optional announcements, playing cards and winning tricks, winning the hand, and scoring the hand. The dealer deals a hand of 18 cards to each of four players, as well as a face-down stock of six cards to the table, known as the talon or kitty. After examining their hands, the players bid to become the Declarer. The remaining three players array against him as the Defenders. Depending on the bid, the Declarer may or may not add cards from the talon to his hand at the beginning, and the cards from the talon may be counted as part of the Declarer's tricks or the Defenders' tricks at the end.
Actual card play is similar to Whist or Spades, although scoring and other elements are quite different. Moving counterclockwise, players play cards one at a time, attempting to capture tricks with higher-ranking cards while following suit or by playing trump cards. Once all the cards in a hand have been played, the players count up their card points to determine the winner.
Tarot has a very distinctive method of adding up the card points. There are several ways of going about this, but each system leads to the same result. The probably-original way of counting is slower, but easier to understand, so that's what I describe here. For more information see "Counting card points in Tarot games" at Pagat.com. First, you win one point for every two cards you take. Certain valuable cards are worth additional points, as follows: The Ends ('Scuse, Mond, Pagat) are worth 4 points each; Kings are worth 4 points each; Queens are worth 3 points each; Knights are worth 2 points each; and Jacks are worth 1 point each. For example, if a player took a trick with a King, a Jack, a 10, and a 3, these cards would be worth 7 points: That's 2 points for four cards, plus 4 points for the King, plus 1 point for the Jack. There are a total of 91 card points in a full deck, of which 52 points comes from face cards and the three Ends. Each trick of four cards is worth at least 2 card points, and the six cards in the talon are worth at least 3 card points.
After determining the winner, the players score the hand in game points that the loser(s) pay to the winner. Since losers pay the score to the winner, it may be easier to keep track of it with poker chips rather than pencil and paper. It's not necessary to play for money instead of game points or chips, but for conceptual clarity, here I'll just describe game points as money. One game point is $0.01, for the purposes of this description.
A tarot game usually consists of a number of hands equal to the number of players, usually four, although five may play by having the dealer sit out the hand that he deals. All play moves counterclockwise, rather than clockwise as is common in the U.S.
III. Playing a Hand
A. The DealThe first dealer is chosen at random, by a card draw: low card deals. The player opposite the dealer shuffles the deck and hands it to the player to the left of the dealer, who cuts it. The dealer deals out 18 cards to each player in packets of three, and deals 6 cards face down to the talon. The first or last card cannot be dealt to the talon.
A player who has only the Pagat, and who has neither any other trumps nor the 'Scuse, declares this. This cancels the hand, the players discard their cards, and the next dealer deals a new hand.
B. BiddingBeginning with the player to the dealer's right, players either pass or bid to become the declarer. Rather than bidding on how many tricks they will take, players bid on whether they will become the dealer. In order to outbid previous bidders, they have to take higher stakes and more difficult conditions, such as not adding the cards in the talon to their hand, or giving the points in the talon to the Defenders.
Bidding goes counterclockwise beginning with the player to the dealer's right. Each player has one chance to either bid on the hand or pass. If every player passes, the hand is cancelled, the players discard their cards, and the next dealer deals a new hand. Each player has only one chance to bid.
There are four basic bids. In ascending order of priority, they are:
1. TakeThe player says "I'll take it," announcing that he'll take up the role of the Declarer if no-one outbids him. This is also known as a "small bid". If he wins with this bid, the Declarer turns over the six cards of the talon, showing them to the other players, then adds them to his hand. He then discards six cards from his hand face down, which may not include any trumps, any Kings, or the 'Scuse. If necessary, the Declarer can discard trumps if he has no other cards, but he must show them to the other players, and cannot discard any of the three Ends.
When counting points at the end of the hand, the cards discarded by the Declarer count as part of his tricks. A take bid does not multiply the winner's score when scoring the hand.
The FFT explains that this is usually an opening bid with an average hand with the hope of perhaps a 50% chance of success, and often relies on the hope of finding good cards in the talon. However, it's more common to open with a keep bid in tournament play.
2. KeepA player says "I'll keep it," to outbid a player who has bid "take". It works the same as a take bid, but the stakes are twice as high. This is also known as a "guard bid". As with a take bid, the Declarer adds the talon to his hand and discards six cards, which count as part of his tricks. When scoring the hand, a keep bid doubles the winner's score. See "Scoring the hand", below.
3. Keep without the talonA player says "I'll keep it without the talon," to outbid a player who has bid keep. The stakes are even higher, and the conditions of victory are more difficult.
When bidding keep without the talon, the Declarer does not add the cards from the talon to his hand, no-one looks at them, and they remain on the table. But when counting card points at the end of the hand, they are turned over and counted as part of the Declarer's tricks. When scoring the hand, this bid quadruples the winner's score.
4. Keep against the talonA player says "I'll keep it against the talon," to outbid a player who has bid keep without the talon. These are the highest and most difficult stakes.
With this bid, the talon is added to the Defenders' tricks. Nobody looks at it until points are counted at the end of the hand, but the Declarer does not get the benefit of the talon: instead, it counts against him. When counting points at the end of the hand, the talon is counted among the Defenders' tricks rather than the Declarer's tricks. When scoring the hand, this bid sextuples the winner's score.
C. Announcements and BonusesIf this is the first time you're playing, skip this step. At this stage, players have an opportunity to announce certain bonuses: Pagat Ultimo, a Slam, or a Handful of Trumps. There is no obligation to do so, but an announced bonus is worth twice as much when scoring the hand.
These bonuses do not affect who wins the hand, but only affect the scoring of the hand. See "Scoring the hand", below.
1. Handful of TrumpsA Handful bonus occurs when a player announces that more than half of the cards in his hand are trumps. Before playing the first trick, the player reveals the trumps that he wishes to declare as part of his Handful.
The player only needs to reveal the minimum number of trumps to demonstrate the announcement. For example, if a player has 12 trump cards and declares a Single Handful, he only needs to reveal 10 trump cards to the other players, and can conceal the other two. The 'Scuse can count as a trump for the purpose of declaring a Handful, but if the player uses the 'Scuse in this way, he must reveal all of his trumps.
The Handful provides a bonus to the score only when it is announced beforehand, and the bonus accrues to the team that wins the hand. So it may be beneficial for a player to not announce the Handful if he thinks his team will not win.
There are three kinds of Handful bonuses, depending on how many trumps the player holds. A Single Handful consists of at least 10 trump cards, and gives a $0.20 bonus to the score. A Double Handful consists of at least 13 trump cards, and gives a $0.30 bonus to the score. A Triple Handful consists of at least 15 trump cards, and gives a $0.40 bonus to the score.
The bonus for a Handful is the same regardless of the bid. That is, the bonus for a Handful is applied to the score after the base score has been multiplied by the bid factor. The Handful bonus is not multiplied by the bid factor.
2. SlamA Slam is a bonus for winning every trick in the hand. A Slam doesn't need to be announced in advance, but the bonus is significantly larger if it is. An Announced Slam must be declared before the first trick is played.
An Unannounced Slam gives the winner a bonus of $2.00 when the hand is scored. An Announced Slam gives the announcing team a bonus of $4.00 if they succeed in taking every trick, but if the announcing team fails, it takes a penalty of -$2.00.
The bonus for a Slam is the same regardless of the bid. That is, the bonus for a Slam is applied to the score after the base score has been multiplied by the bid factor. The Slam bonus is not multiplied by the bid factor.
3. Pagat UltimoPagat Ultimo is a bonus for winning the last trick when it includes the lowest trump, the Pagat. It doesn't need to be declared, it's just added if the last trick includes the Pagat, but it's listed here with the other bonuses for convenience.
The Pagat Ultimo bonus modifies the score by $0.10, which benefits whichever team won the trick (even if it didn't win the hand). For example, if the Declarer won the hand and won the final trick with the Pagat, $0.10 is added to the score. But if the Declarer won the hand while the Defenders won the final trick with the Pagat, then $0.10 is subtracted from the score.
Unlike the other bonuses, the bonus for Pagat Ultimo depends on the bid. That is, Pagat Ultimo is added to the base score before the base score is multiplied by the bid factor.
D. Playing Cards, Winning TricksOnce bidding and announcements are complete, the Declarer says "Play", and card play begins. The player to the dealer's right leads the first trick: he plays a card by laying it face up in the center of the table. Moving counterclockwise, the other players play a single card each. They must follow suit if they can, playing a card from the same suit that led the trick. Otherwise, they must play a trump. If a trump as already been played to a trick, they must play a higher trump, if possible. If a trump leads the suit, each player must play a trump. If a player has neither a card of that suit nor a trump, he can throw off (discard) a card from another suit, but it cannot win.
The trick is won by the player who played the highest-ranked trump card, or otherwise who played the highest-ranked card in the suit that led. He adds the cards to his pile of tricks captured.
The 'Scuse is so named because it excuses a player from the normal requirement to follow suit or play a trump. A player can play the 'Scuse to any trick, regardless of whether the player the player has cards in the lead suit or trumps. With one exception, the 'Scuse cannot win a trick, but the player who played it does not lose it. Whoever wins the trick must return the 'Scuse to the player who played it, who adds the 'Scuse to his pile of captured tricks. In compensation, the player who played the 'Scuse must then pay a numbered pip card to the player who won the trick. If the 'Scuse-player doesn't have one yet to pay, he must pay it later.
A player can lead the 'Scuse, in which case the next card played is considered to lead the trick for purposes of following suit.
If the Pagat is played in the last trick, the team that wins that trick gets the Pagat Ultimo bonus of 10 points when scoring the hand.
Normally, if the 'Scuse is played to the last trick, it switches sides. For example, if one of the Defenders plays the 'Scuse on the last trick, the Declarer wins the 'Scuse even if he does not win the trick, although he must compensate the Defenders (as above). However, if one team has won every trick in the hand, and leads the 'Scuse on the last hand, then the 'Scuse wins the trick. This rare case is the only time that the 'Scuse can win a trick.
E. Winning the HandOnce all the tricks have been played, the Declarer and the Defenders count their card points. If the Declarer bids keep against the talon, then the talon is added to the Defenders' tricks. Otherwise, it is added to the Declarer's tricks.
As noted above, a team gets one card point for every two cards it has captured. The team also gets card points for capturing face cards and the three Ends, as follows.
|Ends ('Scuse, Mond, Pagat)||4 points|
|Kings (R)||4 points|
|Queens (D)||3 points|
|Knights (C)||2 points|
|Jacks (V)||1 points|
For example, if a player won a single trick containing the Queen of Hearts, the Knight of Hearts, the 8 of Hearts, and the Pagat, then those four cards would be worth a total of 11 points.
To win, the Declarer needs to accumulate a target number of card points that varies depending on how many of the three Ends he has in his pile of captured tricks.
With no Ends, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 56 card points to win.
With 1 End, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 51 card points to win.
With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 41 card points to win.
With 3 Ends, the Declarer needs to meet a target of at least 36 card points to win.
If the Declarer has the minimum number of card points, then he wins, and each of the Defenders must pay him. If the Declarer does not have the minimum number of card points, then he loses, and must pay each of the Defenders.
F. Scoring the HandWhoever loses must pay the winner(s). The amount to be paid is determined by calculating how well the Declarer won or lost, adding the Pagat Ultimo bonus if necessary, and multiplying the score by a factor determined by the bid. Then bonuses for a Slam or Handful are added to the score, which is then paid to the winner(s). See also "Announcements and bonuses", above, or "Examples of scoring", below.
The base score for a game is $0.25. To this, add the difference between the Declarer's target and the number of card points he captured. For example, if the Declarer has 2 Ends, then he needs 41 card points to win; if he captures 56 card points, then add $0.15 to the base score. On the other hand, if he captures 40 card points, then instead add $0.01 to the base score.
Next, add the Pagat Ultimo bonus if applicable. Winning the Pagat in the final trick benefits whoever won the trick, giving a $0.10 bonus. If the winner of this trick won the hand, then add $0.10 to the base score. If the winner of this trick lost the hand, then subtract $0.10 from the base score.
Then, multiply the base score according to the Declarer's bid. Take bids do not modify the score. If the Declarer bid keep, multiply the base score by 2. If the Declarer bid keep without the talon, multiply the base score by 4. If the Declarer bid keep against the talon, multiply the base score by 6.
To this modified score, add bonuses for an Handful or a Slam, as described in the Announcements phase of the hand. A Slam is when a team wins every trick in the hand; this adds $2.00 to the score. An Announced Slam, announced before the first trick is played, adds $4.00 to the score if the announcer's team succeeds at winning every trick, and subtracts $2.00 from the score if the team fails to take every trick. A Single Handful adds $0.20 to the score; a Double Handful adds $0.30 to the score; and a Triple Handful adds $0.40 to the score. The Handful and Slam bonuses are not multiplied, but added to the score after this multiplication has taken place.
After the final score is calculated, every member of the losing team pays every member of the winning team that amount, and a new hand begins. The player to the dealer's right becomes the dealer of the next hand.
IV. Examples of ScoringNorth deals. West bids take and South, East, and North pass, so West becomes the Declarer. At the end of the hand, the Declarer needs 36 points to win with 3 Ends, and South has 36 points, so South wins. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus nothing for card points, plus nothing for the bid or bonuses. Each of the Defenders pays West $0.25.
West deals. South bids keep, and East, North, and West pass, so South becomes the Declarer. With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs 41 points to win, and South has 40 points, so South loses. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.01 for card points, times 2 for the bid. South pays the Defenders $0.52 each.
South deals. East bids take. North bids keep, West passes, and South passes, so North is the declarer. There are no announcements. With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs 41 card points and North wins 56 card points. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.15 for card points, times 2 for the bid. Each of the Defenders pays North $0.80.
East deals. South bids keep, becomes the Declarer, and the Defenders win the final trick with the Pagat. With 2 Ends, the Declarer needs 41 points, but South only has 40 points, so he loses. The final score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.01 for card points, plus $0.10 for Pagat Ultimo, times 2 for the bid. Having lost, South pays $0.72 to each of the Defenders.
North deals. West bids keep and becomes the Declarer, and wins the final trick with the Pagat. With 3 Ends, he needs 36 card points and wins 49. The score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.13 for card points, plus $0.10 for Pagat Ultimo, times 2 for the bid. Each of the Defenders pays West $0.96.
South deals. East bids take. North passes. West bids keep against the talon. South passes, so West is the declarer. West declares a Triple Handful and a Slam, and succeeds, taking the final trick with the 'Scuse. With all three Ends, the Declarer needs 36 points and takes 88 points (since the talon is counted as the Defenders' tricks), so he wins. The base score is $0.25 for the game, plus $0.52 for card points, times 6 for the bid, plus $4.00 for the announced Slam and $0.40 for the Triple Handful. Each of the Defenders pays the Declarer the final score, $9.02.
Interestingly, it looks like the maximum score is the same if West had taken the last trick with the Pagat instead of the 'Scuse: although West would get the Pagat Ultimo bonus, the Defenders would get the card points for the 'Scuse if West is to get a Slam.
AddendumIn this description of the French game, I've used English terms as well as terms from Austrian Tarock and other tarot games, since this may make it easier for Anglophone novices. In France, of course, French terms are used.
|Ends||bouts, "ends"; oudlers|
|the Mond||le mond, "the World"|
|the Pagat||le petit|
|the 'Scuse||l'excuse, "the Excuse"|
|Declarer||le preneur, "the taker"|
|the talon||le chien, "the dog"|
|Take (bid)||Je prise, la petite|
|Keep (bid)||Je garde|
|keep without the talon||garde sans le chien|
|keep against the talon||garde contre le chien|
|Pagat Ultimo||petit au bout|
There are several main ways to count card points in tarot games. As explained here, you can count 1 point for every two cards, plus additional points for valuable cards, so a pip card and a King (worth 4 points) are together worth 5 points. It's more common in descriptions of French Tarot to describe pip cards as worth 0.5 points and Kings as worth 4.5 points, so that a pip card and a King are together worth 5 points. Another way is to count pip cards as worth 1 point and Kings as worth 5 points, but subtract 1 point from each pair of cards, so that a pip card and a King are together worth 5 points. These all yield the same result, and just offer a tradeoff between speed of counting and ease of understanding.